Abortion, Euthanasia, Hell, Marriage, and the Problem of Evil

question

A regular commenter by the name of Scott asked me to comment on:

  • Abortion
  • Euthanasia
  • Hell
  • Marriage
  • The Problem of Evil

Scott describes himself as:

Spoken by a closet unchristianising (??) Reformed doubter (sorry believer) of 40+yrs, who still gets something out of Christianity although I never tell those around me where I’m really at….

Those of us who have deconverted from Christianity can readily understand where Scott is right now. It’s like standing in the middle of a busy highway with traffic coming at you from both directions. Do I go this way, that way…if I go the wrong way I am sure to be hit by the traffic. The good news is Scott understands where he is and he continues to read, ask questions, and consider carefully what direction he should go.

While I will certainly not be able to give each of these subjects the time they deserve, I do want to take a stab at them. If I have written on the subject before, I will link to the appropriate post.

Abortion

I have written on abortion previously, Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions.  At one time, I was an ardent life begins at conception, abortion is murder, pro-lifer.  As my politics became more liberal so did my view on abortion. While I agree with the pro-lifer that we should protect human life, I disagree with them on when that life begins. Does life begin at fertilization? The pro-lifer says yes and I say no. At the moment of fertilization potential life is created and if left undisturbed it may grow into a human that can exist outside of the womb of its mother.

The line for me is viability. Once a fetus reaches the point that it can live outside of the mother’s womb, then government should regulate when an abortion is permissible. This would mean that 1.5-5% of abortions would be regulated by federal/state government.

The bigger issue is making sure that there is no need for abortion, and here the United States we must put an end to the Christian/Political right’s incessant war on abortion. They want to prohibit all abortion, yet they are also against woman/teens having free access to birth control. Their religious beliefs get in the way of what should be sound government policy; free birth control, including morning after drugs, for all.

Euthanasia

My position on euthanasia (physician assisted suicide) is quite simple. I think a person who is mentally competent should be able to determine how and when they die. I do think the government should regulate the who, what, and why of the discussion, but every person should have the right to say, I don’t want to live anymore.

This subject became a real topic of discussion recently when we had to have our cat euthanized. I decided to let Polly and our youngest daughter handle Salazar and his declining health. For several weeks, I reminded them that he was suffering, that it was “time.” They just couldn’t bring themselves to make to the call. Finally, I realized they never were going to make the call so I said, call the vet, it is time. Once I made the decision, they were relieved and quickly acted upon my decision.

This taught me an important lesson and it caused me to rethink my end-of-life plans. If Polly can’t make the hard decision to euthanize a cat, how can I expect Polly to make the right call when it comes my time to die? (and I am not criticizing her here. I am simply being a realist)  While I have an advance directive, I have decided to add my two oldest sons to the list of those to be involved in my end-of-life decisions. Polly knows what I want, she knows at what point I no longer want to suffer with pain, but I don’t know if she can or will do what I want her to do. So, I think having my two oldest sons as part of the process will be a great help for Polly when the end of life comes for me.

I see no value, in fact I think it is cruel and inhumane, to require someone to suffer until the bitter end. I think Christian teaching on suffering, which permeates our society,  promotes needless pain and suffering, and vilifies those who want to end their own life. It is my life not God’s or the church’s, and, as a free moral agent, I should have the right to determine when, where and how I die. Because I write about chronic illness and chronic pain from time to time, there are a lot of sickies who read this blog. I suspect most of them want when, where, and how they die to be in their hands. They don’t want the government or religious do-gooders to get in the way of them negotiating their own death.

Hell

I have written several posts on the subject of hell, Do You Still Fear Going to Hell?, Dear Christian, If You Believe There is a Hell, Learning to Face Death.

The only hell is the hell that human beings and nature causes. Since I don’t think there is an afterlife, I have no thoughts of eternal life in hell or heaven. We live, we die, end of story.  The only hell and heaven we have is in this life, so my goal is to lessen the hell and expand the heaven.

I know that shaking thoughts of hell can be very hard for someone who no longer believes. Remember, these thoughts are just vestiges from your religious past. I call them a fundamentalist hangover. Over time, as our minds are cleared of mythical and harmful religious beliefs, thoughts of hell, heaven, and the afterlife fade away. What matters is now, this life, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Of course, you need to decide this for yourself. I don’t want to be in hell someday and have a reader of this blog come up to me and say, So much for listening to you, Bruce!

Marriage

Polly and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary in July. I am a happily married man 99% of the time and I think Polly and I are a great match for each other. I love her dearly and I don’t regret for one moment asking her to marry me. Our marriage is quite traditional, not much different from the marriages of our parent’s generation.

That said, what I may like about marriage or what I think is a good marriage might be different for someone else. So, from a legal and social perspective, I think marriage is a legal contract between two people. The government regulates the legal parameters of marriage. Culture, religion, and personal beliefs regulate the moral and practical structure of a marriage. I don’t think the government has any business, outside of setting the age for marriage and determining whether a person can marry someone they have a familial connection with, determining who can and can not marry.

35 years ago, Polly and I stood before our family and friends and said our vows. We made a commitment to each other and we expect each other to keep the terms of our commitment (contract). (though how we define these commitments has changed over the years) But, our commitment should not be the standard for anyone else. Each couple must decide what the terms of their contract is. Polly and I committed ourselves to a monogamous relationship, as I suspect most Americans do. But, different strokes for different folks. Some couples have an open marriage or their marriage is bound by economic, social, or political terms rather than physical/sexual terms.

The Problem of Evil

I think Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, is an excellent read on this subject.

The problem of evil (theodicy) is one of the primary reasons I deconverted. I came to the conclusion that, according to the Bible, God  created/allowed evil and that he capriciously holds humans accountable for what he alone is responsible. He could have created humans so they couldn’t sin. He could step into human history and stop evil from happening. If God is all that Christianity says he is, then he is quite the monster if he refuses to stop evil. Everywhere I look I see evil. I see sickness, disease, suffering, violence, starvation, and war. And what does God do? Nothing.

Of course, the reason God does nothing is because he does not exist. It is up to humans to stop evil and to help those who are afflicted. God is not coming to rescue us. There is no miracle fixing to happen if we just believe. It is up to us, as thousands of years of human history clearly show us.

Does evil exist? Sure, evil exists in the bad actions of humans, whether they act alone or as a political, social, or corporate body.  For our own sake and the sake of our species future, we must stand against evil.

Scott asks whether we should kill people who are mad or bad?  It depends. We must first decide what is mad or bad. All of us agree that getting drunk and then driving an automobile is a bad thing to do. Sometimes, people die because inebriated people cause an accident. Should we be proactive and kill every person that is inebriated? After all, if we did this we would put an end to people being killed by drunk drivers. I doubt many people would advocate preemptive strikes against people who drink too much.

But, what about the drone strikes that are now routinely carried out by the Obama administration? We know that terrorists can and do commit evil acts, but should we preemptively kill all suspected terrorists? Some might say yes, but I say no. Why? Because I think drone strikes are too subjective and they lead to innocent people being killed. (and I think they do little to decrease the threat of terrorism)

I strenuously oppose both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, but I would have supported the government hunting down and killing the men responsible for 9-11.  Punish those who are responsible for the evil, thus eliminating their ability to commit evil acts again.

I realize this is a complex issue and there are many nuances and shades of gray to consider.  While I am a pacifist, I am not so naïve to think that the US government can/should sit by when evil men do whatever they want. Unfortunately, the US government has often perpetrated their own evil, like the nuclear bombing of Japan, the fire bombing on Dresden, and the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Like an evil Dr. Jekyll, the US government has conducted evil experiments on blacks and the mentally handicapped. They have rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps. They supported and profited from the subjugation of an entire race when they supported or turned a blind-eye to slavery.

I think the US government is quite hypocritical when it decides what evil it goes after. Evil terrorists, yes. Genocide in Sudan and Rwanda, no. As an aging man, I have come to realize that the US government can be evil and it can be good and often it can be evil and good at the same time.

Here’s what I know. Few people would object if we could go back to 1933 and put a bullet in the head of Adolph Hitler. In fact, I would abandon my pacifistic principles to do so myself.  Every one of us have the obligation to root out evil and promote good. Unfortunately, most people don’t give a shit, think they are powerless, or have a warped, shallow understanding of evil and good. (i.e. the people on Faux News who think Christians being persecuted in America, you know the “war’ on Christians, is evil. Their ideology keeps them from understanding what evil really is. We all need to be aware of this.)

Have I said enough in this post to piss everyone off? :) Hopefully, I adequately answered Scott’s questions. I am sure he will let me know if I didn’t.
 

Comments (15)

  1. Persephone

    Hi, Bruce, I have to make a comment about your response to the abortion question. Late term abortions are rare, performed mostly by specialists, and basically always based on the health of the mother and/or the health of the fetus. The cases of government legislating these abortions are causing women to die, to suffer through a pregnancy with a dead or dying fetus, and to suffer extreme health issues because an abortion puts the hospital and doctor at risk of prosecution if they cannot prove risks without a doubt. This legislating of late term abortion is contributing to medical schools no longer teaching abortion methods.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      There are about 12,000 late term abortions in the US each year. Since the late term fetus is by all accounts a human being, I think it is proper for the government to set the parameters for such procedures. Surely this can be done while still maintaining the woman’s right to choose? These rules could deal with the very situations you mention. At 13 weeks, I am completely on the side of the woman. If she wants an abortion she should be able to have one without interference. But, once the fetus is viable, I think the rights of the child must be considered along with the rights of the mother.

      Reply
      1. Kat

        I’ve always found this distinction a little confusing. If the fetus is viable, why is it “abortion” and not a C-section? If there is some danger to either mother or fetus at a place in the pregnancy where the fetus could live outside the mother’s body, why not just remove it and…I dunno…let it live outside the mother’s body? If removing it causes it to die, it wasn’t viable, was it? If the procedure happens so late in the pregnancy, the mother is probably not trying to abort because she doesn’t want the child, but even if that were the case, couldn’t the child be put up for adoption? (I understand there might be different “procedures” involved in abortions and C-sections, but if we’re concerned with viability, why not just do the C-section?)

        My personal beliefs are a little more “liberal.” A woman’s control over her own body should be absolute, and as long as the fetus is in her body she should have absolute say as to whether it continues to be supported by her body or not. Until women belong completely to ourselves — not to governments, men, churches, or social opinion — we will never be fully equal to men.

        Reply
  2. exrelayman

    A wee anticipation of a potential criticism. You said God could create us so we can’t sin. Yeah, but then we would not have free will (is there actually such a thing? – another discussion). We gotta have free will so we we can freely come to God, right? Well then give us free will! Does God have free will? (Hint: if not, how powerful is the dude?) So God can have free will and yet never sin. Couldn’t God then create us with free will and yet we would never sin? Then no one would go to Hell. Why didn’t He do this (if He is good and loving)?

    (This has been a hypothetical point about an entity that does not exist because a) no evidence and b) logically inconsistent.)

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Welcome to the merry-go-round. :) I tend to avoid complex philosophical arguments. They seem to go around and around and….. For me, it is simple. I look at the world and say, where is God? Where is this God described in the Bible? Conclusion? Either he is AWOL , on vacation, doesn’t give a shit, or he doesn’t exist. My money is on doesn’t exist.

      Reply
  3. Scott

    Thanks Bruce. Your answers are very close to the way I think (for better or worse…ha.ha.) Like you I’ve been deeply involved in Christianity (of the Calvinistic ‘Tulip’ type) for a long time, long before it became fashionable for creeps like Mark Driscoll and the YRR. Heck I’ve taught, shepherded, and tick all the right conservative Christian boxes and have always been part of a true church….. (ha, ha)..

    You know Bruce some of the things that are drawing me away from Christianity include – the issue of what of those who die without hearing the gospel? For a Calvinist the simple (real dumb simple) is to say that God is sovereign and He has His elect from everyone nation tribe and tongue. (bugger the rest – from any other time period, nation, tribe etc…. the secret things belong to God as to how, why, when..). For the Arminian – his job is to make sure all have a chance to hear and make a response for Jesus….. (Still the problem of those who haven’t had a chance to hear – they’re still doomed…. from the darkest depths of a South American rainforest to the Inuits of old – all going to hell because they’re the children of Adam). I guess I could become a universalist and declare that God will save all for a new heavens new creation…

    - then there is the problem of evil – I simply cannot believe that God had His purpose in allowing Hitler (or Pol Pot or George W etc) to murder so many innocent people. Why for goodness sake? Just because they too are children of Adam and so deserve to die because their forefather chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….?? The simplistic fundamentalist answer is no longer sufficient. Maybe I should join the ranks of Boyd and Open Theism and say that God too suffers as He sees what’s happening… but doesn’t intervene…

    - then there’s the problem of creation and miracles…. Once I was a YEC – but I’m a scientist (albeit a veterinarian) and once i saw how dumb YEC really is I’ve abandoned it. As for things like global flood etc – forget it.

    - well marriage – once seen as between male-female. I can’t quite get my head around same gender marriage but I’m so very sympathetic as to what goes on in some blokes (and sheillas heads)….

    - euthanasia – well as a veterinarian I’m doing it for animals all the time and once I felt annoyed by people who said – oh. wouldn’t it be good to end human suffering this way….. now I’ll agree, yes there may be room for people to make end of life decisions.

    - abortion…. can’t see why one would hold this back from someone who’s suffered rape or who can’t in any way see themselves supporting another child…

    Well we’ve cleaned up a few moral issues Bruce! Piper would probably say Goodbye Scott – nice knowing you.. (as he said to Rob Bell when he started stating his objections to traditional hell….)

    Reply
  4. Scott
    Reply
  5. Stephanie

    I don’t know why but I still tend to have more conservative views about life and death. I have gotten somewhat more liberal but I just can’t shake the thought that some things are wrong. Like a lot of liberals would get mad but I really wouldn’t want elective abortions after the first trimester but at the same time I realize it would do no good to regulate it since the number of elective procedures after that point is so minimal. Medical reasons prevail. And plus it would be based on my own personal feelings with no concrete reason, so no go. Late term abortion is something I struggle greatly with. Even though I know the reasons, have read the stories something doesn’t set right. But again, feelings. As for euthanasia I am actually more lenient on that one, I guess because the person actually has a say, as opposed to late term abortion. But I still don’t know if that is the doctor’s place.

    Reply
  6. davewarnock

    I’d like to see some responses to this generic Christian response to the problem of evil.
    Me: How can a loving, omnipotent God allow continued evil in the world?
    Christian: What are you calling evil? As an atheist, you have no basis for objective morality. Who gets to decide what is good and what is bad? Everyone just does what is right in his own eyes.
    Responses, please…

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      All morality is subjective, even for the Christian. No Christian obeys all the laws and commands of the Bible. They can’t even agree on what those laws and commands mean. When circumstances warrant they ignore, reinterpret, or theologically explain away the very laws and commands they say are moral absolutes. Christians can’t even agree on whether the Ten Commandments are binding today. Or us it nine commandments since few Christians remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

      So, let’s first establish the Christian does not have the moral high ground.

      Once we have done this, we then must determine, from a cultural and sociological perspective, what is what is legal/illegal. Again, this process is quite subjective, changes over time, and differs from place to place. Humans gather together in tribes, communities, states, and countries and at every level humans make laws to govern themselves. One country may say girls can marry at 13 and another says they can marry at 18. Is one moral and the other immoral or is one legal and the other illegal depending on where you live?

      Current American law says it is illegal to share music via BitTorrent. If I do this is it immoral? If I believe, like I do, that when I buy something, I am free to do with it what I want, am I immoral if I share online the music I bought? Am I immoral if I do this or am I just a lawbreaker?

      We the people decide what is legal or illegal. Each of us then choose whether to obey or disobey these laws. (And we are all lawbreakers) am I being immoral if I break the law?

      I think deciding what is moral/immoral is different than what is legal/illegal. I suspect the list of things we consider immoral should be quite small. For me, my moral code is informed by my humanist beliefs and, to some degree, influenced by my Christian past. I have talked with my counselor about this many times. Christianity gave me a morality to live my life by, and now that that is gone I have to rethink and formulate my moral beliefs. I value personal freedom and I think I should not do anything that harms other people, animals, or the environment. There is a tension here between personal freedom and the rights of others. Of course, once we group ourselves together personal freedoms and rights are diminished. We trade the loss of freedom and rights for security, safety, economic stability,etc.

      After all this, the Christian will say, but why? In their mind, if there is not a God to fear or a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, why live a moral life? In others words, they are only moral because of fear and the promise of a divine payoff. The why for me is quite simple. I want to live a quiet, productive, happy, and free life and I want everyone to have the same life. We live we die, let’s try to enjoy what is between these two points.

      Make sense? I still have a lot of thinking to do on the subject of morality but this is where I am today.

      Reply
  7. Persephone

    Bruce, the problem with legislating late term abortion is that it is made a criminal matter. A doctor is not going to risk his freedom, his practice or his life if he can’t prove 100% that he is correct. And with medical issues, as I’m sure you’re well acquainted, almost nothing is 100%. A hospital is not going to risk it. This is why women are dying. I don’t see how you can justify the death of a human being.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I realize these are reasonable and important issues, but a late term abortion is a medical procedure and it should fall under the same laws and regulations as any other medical procedure. It shouldn’t be over regulated but neither should it be under regulated. In my opinion, several stories in recent years about the lax procedures and medical care at several abortion clinics tell me that regulation is needed. How hard is it to set up a process where any late term abortion must have a second opinion? (Unless it is an emergency) The reason this is important, again IMO, is that the mother’s life is not the only life that must be considered. Again, if the fetus is dead/dying or has a severe birth defect that will result in great suffering and no quality of life, then I have no problem with a late term abortion being performed.

      You mention ” how can you justify the death of a human being?” That question cuts both ways. Because it is two human lives that are at stake, I think we must regulate late term abortion. ( and please don’t lump me together with right to lifers. My view is much more nuanced and pragmatic than that)

      Of course, the real problem is that abortion clinics have been over regulated and pushed to the margins of our society. Instead of the clinics being treated and perceived as evil places where evil doctors do evil abortions, they need to be seen as medical facilities that provide a necessary service to women.

      Look, I don’t want to get into a debate about this. I know it is a contentious issue and the last thing I need is an argument about abortion. The abortion rights groups can count on my full support most of the time. If that is not good enough, it is their loss because I really am, most of the time, in their corner.

      Reply
  8. carmen

    Bruce, I read in Jeanette Walls’ book The Glass Castle, that her mother referred to them as the Ten SUGGESTIONS – I think that is a far more sensible outlook! I’ve adopted it.

    Reply
  9. Casey

    Another great post, Mr. Gerencser. Your strong emphasis on the need to stop evil was especially inspiring for me. While I’m Presbyterian and pretty strong pro-life, abortion is one of the reasons I support the Democrats since they tend to pursue policies that will actually reduce the number of abortions both by expanding access to birth control and creating a better environment for children via higher income for families, expanded daycare etc rather than pursue laws that get blocked by the courts as soon as its passed.

    Reply
  10. ashualec

    Very reasonable and open approach. Good post.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>