08 April 2009

Abortion & Christianity II

The Theist
On the Sending-Fetuses-to-Heaven Objection
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 16, 2009

My colleague The Objectivist argues that Christian pro-lifers are inconsistent in believing (1) that (many or most) abortions are morally wrong and (2) that all fetuses go to heaven. ("Christians on Abortion", Observer, March 19, 2009 ) How are these inconsistent? At first glance, they seem entirely consistent. The Objectivist's idea is that Christian pro-lifers must accept another claim, something like: (3) Any action which on the whole greatly benefits the recipient of the action is not morally wrong. Going to an eternally long, blessed life with God and his people is a benefit of infinite value. His idea is that dying early is bad, but that this harm is infinitely outweighed by the gain of heaven. (He's arguing from pro-life premises here, and assuming the fetuses are just smaller versions of the beings which later go to college, get married, etc.)

The Objectivist is correct about one thing: arguably, the three claims just listed cannot all be true. He's mistaken, however, in thinking that the Christian pro-lifer must accept (3). This third claim, I'll now argue, is false. Anyone, whether Christian or atheist, pro-lifer or pro-choicer, should reject it.

Thus, it doesn’t matter if (3) conflicts with (1) and (2).

Imagine a spoiled brat born to absurdly wealthy parents--call him Ritchie Rich. Ritchie's parents think he can do no wrong, and indulge his every whim. When he comes of age, Ritchie discovers a new interest--rape. His parents decide to enable their son's new hobby--whenever he commits a rape, a quick-response team swoops in, pays the victim one hundred million dollars and gives her a quick and painless shot that erases only her memory of the last hour. Add one more element to the story: Ritchie is known to be infertile.

Ritchie knows about this whole arrangement, and continues his career as a serial rapist. Is he doing anything wrong? Not according to The Objectivist. After all, while he's inflicting temporary harm on his victims, in every case he knows that he's also guaranteeing that his victim practically wins the lottery, and will suffer from no unpleasant memory relating to the rape. To the contrary, it is obvious that what Ritchie is doing is wrong. This is so, even if looking back on it, some of his victims are glad that they were victims (because they're enjoying their new wealth).

We should distinguish three ways a good thing can swamp a bad thing: outweighing, compensating, and morally justifying. Suppose your parents promise you summer camp, and then arbitrarily, for no good reason, break their promise. As a result, you happen to find a very enjoyable summer job. It may be that your getting this job outweighs the good things you would have gained from going to camp. But this doesn't compensate you for the broken promise, or morally justify your parents' promise-breaking. Again, perhaps your parents realize they've wronged you, and they ask if it'd be fair for them to double your allowance in compensation. You say yes. Here, the increase in allowance may outweigh your loss (of summer camp benefits), and may be a just compensation for said loss, although it doesn't make your parents' promise-breaking morally right. For an example in which a good swamps a bad in all three ways, suppose that you come down with appendicitis, and your parents force you, against your will, to have your appendix removed. Here, the good (avoiding further pain and complications) outweighs, compensates you for, and morally justifies your being forced into surgery.

Back to aborted fetuses. That you send little Freddy fetus to heaven probably outweighs the harm he suffers. His life is cut short, and importantly, he's deprived up the opportunity to freely decide what sort of person he will be, and in particular to decide whether he will be God's friend or enemy. He gets an infinite gain. But did he also suffer an infinite loss--of the one chance to control what sort of person he becomes? It's not easy to compare this loss with this gain. Let's grant, though, that his gain strongly outweighs his loss. Still, it doesn't follow that Freddy has been justly compensated for his loss, or that your action in aborting him was morally justified.

The Objectivist argues back, lamely, that in aborting Freddy you're saving him from certain...risk--that is, risk of wrongdoing, and ultimately risk of hell. The answer to that is that we all greatly value opportunities to control how our lives go and what sorts of people we become. Suppose The Objectivist decides to head to the store for more Doritos, but on the way to his car, a group of would-be do-gooders tackle him and hog-tie him with duct tape, on the grounds that driving is risky. It is, but he would rightly argue that he has the right to assume that risk, because he has the right to control how he lives his life. If he could talk, Freddy the fetus would say, "Me too!"

The Objectivist's argument is hopeless. If it were right, then not only would Christians be inconsistent in opposing abortion, they’d be inconsistent in opposing any kind of homicide whatever. Consider a church shooting, where, let’s say, a bitter (but not insane) ex-boyfriend enters his ex-girlfriend’s church and fires at anything that moves. Suppose all the victims are heaven-bound. Does anyone think that it is really inconsistent to believe this, and that the gunman did something morally wrong? Again, a husband, out of sheer greed, kills his wife to get her insurance, and (let’s suppose) knows she is heaven-bound. It is inconsistent to agree that she went to heaven and yet hold that the husband’s action was wrong? Gimme a break.

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