23 March 2009

Abortion & Christianity

The Objectivist
Christians on Abortion and the Afterlife: Inconsistent Doctrines
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 9, 2009

Many of the leading pro-life groups are Christians. The pro-life position generally holds that abortion is wrong and should be illegal. One of the leading pro-life groups, Operation Rescue, is a Christian-activist group. The Catholic Church holds that abortion is a grave sin and excommunicates anyone who directly participates in bringing one about, assuming they knew of the penalty when they acted. Before he was the current pope, Cardinal John Ratzinger wrote that priests should tell politicians who support abortion that they should avoid taking communion or risk being denied the Eucharist. This is bad news for Joe Biden (D-DE), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Ted Kennedy (D-NY). Other evangelical and fundamentalist Christian organizations oppose abortion, as does the Mormon Church. These groups’ influence has led the U.S. Republican Party to call for a ban on abortion.

Traditional Christianity also accepts that some people go to heaven and some go to hell or are annihilated (cease to exist). The Bible repeatedly states that there is post-earthly existence and many will not be saved. Consider Matt. 13:49-50, 25:41, 25:46, Luke 13:23, and Matt. 7:13-14. The Catholic Church and some types of Protestantism explicitly accept that hell exists and is a bad place to reside.

The Catholic Church recently issued a report, approved by Pope Benedict, which expressed hope that unbaptized babies will be sent to heaven. The church is committed to a similar conclusion about fetuses because both fetuses and babies are created in the image and likeness of God and hence are sacred. This position makes a lot of sense. It is hard to believe that an all-loving person like God would send an innocent child to hell or annihilate her.

Compare this to the doctrine which holds that because unbaptized infants and fetuses are tainted by original sin, if they die unbaptized God sends them to hell. Just imagine the mean-spirited religious leader who would tell a heartbroken woman who recently lost a newborn that her child is wailing in hell and will do so until the end of time because she did not move quickly enough to have him baptized.

The problem arises when we combine the pro-life position with the above view on heaven and hell. The problem is that if traditional Christianity is true, then a person who aborts a fetus guarantees that it goes to heaven. If someone guarantees that a fetus goes to heaven, then she does a wonderful thing for it. If someone does a wonderful thing for a fetus, then her action is permissible. Hence, if traditional Christianity is true, then abortion is permissible. As a result, on pain of contradiction, traditional Christians cannot be pro-life.

Even if we assume that fetuses have rights, specifically human rights, and that abortion infringes on them, the infringement is still permissible. After all, we often think that it is okay to infringe on someone’s right when doing so prevents a tragedy. Consider the following. There is a car accident and a three-year-old black girl’s arm is cut off. If reattachment surgery doesn’t begin soon, she will permanently lose the arm. A bystander knows the only way to get the child to the hospital in time is to hotwire a parked car. The bystander knows the car owner and in particular that he is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a vicious racist organization, and would never consent to allowing his car to be used to help the girl. Intuitively, it seems permissible to hotwire the car. A similar thing permits us to break into a storefront and steal a syringe of insulin if it is necessary to save a diabetic child’s life. In short, it’s okay to infringe on someone’s right when doing so prevents a horrific tragedy. Note that the worst tragedy that can befall someone is spending eternity in hell.

One objection here is that abortion is not similar to the above cases because it is not clear that the aborted fetus would have gone to hell. The fetus might have grown up and freely chosen Christianity. Still, we often praise people who act to reduce risk. If an emergency medical technician gives lifesaving shocks to a woman whose heart has stopped and thereby reduces her chance of permanent brain damage from 99% to 1%, we think that he did the right thing even though there is some chance the shocks weren’t necessary to prevent brain damage.

A second objection is that because our bodies are on loan from God, we have no right to take others’ lives, and this includes unborn children. One problem with this is that this would prohibit self-defense and defense-of-others killings (for example, consider the U.S. military). A second problem is that God must have a reason to prohibit persons from sending their unborn children to heaven; otherwise his prohibition is arbitrary. The fact that he owns their bodies is irrelevant.

A third objection is that if traditional Christianity is true, then sending persons to hell is morally permissible. If God may send people to hell, then he must have a reason not to send everyone to heaven. The objection continues, if God has a reason not to send everyone to heaven, then so do women and physicians. Hence, they should not try to send fetuses to heaven. This objection fails. Just because God may not do all he can to ensure human beings go to heaven, the same is not true for human beings. After all, God has the power to change individual’s thoughts and human beings do not. That is, when he acts, he interferes with human freedom in a way that differs from how human beings interfere with each other. The concern for freedom might explain why it would be wrong for God to kill monsters like Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stalin, or Adolf Hitler, but why the same is not true for human beings trying to stop them.

Many Christians accept the pro-life position on abortion and yet hold that aborted fetuses go to heaven. These ideas are inconsistent. They ought to dump their pro-life stance.

04 March 2009

Obama #3: Out-of-Control Spending

The Objectivist
Democrats Gone Wild: Obama and the Democrats Have a Spending Orgy
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 2, 2009

Critics of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress made three predictions: they would push government spending through the roof, jack up taxes, and damage the economy in the process. The critics were right about the first and the second is clearly in the works. The jury is still out on the third, although things do not look good.

President Obama and the Congress are engaged in a spending orgy. On the heels of its $787B stimulus bill (actually around $1.2 trillion once interest costs are added), the House passed a $410B omnibus spending bill that covered 9 of the 12 federal categories. When the two are combined, the spending increases per department are astounding. According to the Wall Street Journal, here are a few of the increases when compared to 2008. The first number is the additional dollars and the second the percentage increase: Energy & Water ($46.7 billion, 151%), Transportation/Housing and Urban Development ($68 billion, 139%), Labor/Health and Human Services ($131.8 billion, 91%), Interior ($11.9 billion, 45%), and Agriculture ($8 billion, 45%). The percentage of federal spending as a share of the GDP is heading up to 28% from 21% at the end of the Bush administration.

Obama and company are gearing up to spend a lot more. The spending plan authorizes but does not yet spend $634 billion over the next ten years to extend health coverage to the 46 million who are uninsured and to subsidize the premiums of others who already have insurance. This figure probably underestimates how much this will cost. USA Today points out that one firm estimated that Obama’s plan would cost around $1 trillion. It also authorizes but does not spend another $750 billion for further bailouts. Clearly, this is just the beginning. Even on defense, where one would expect the Democrats to cut, they propose to increase spending by 4%.

This spending is the height of irresponsibility. The deficit in 2009 will be 12.3% of the Gross Domestic Product ($1.8 trillion), nearly four times larger than in the last year of the spendthrift Bush administration (3.2% of GDP and $460 billion). Nor is this a one-time shot. The Obama administration predicts that in 2010 the deficit will be $1.2 trillion (8% of the GDP). Given that this is based on economic models that are more optimistic than those of private economists, the 2010 figure likely underestimates it. The added spending will become the baseline for spending in years to come, thereby ensuring that the government will siphon out more and more of our wealth.

As one would expect of the professional politicians, the budget includes massive pork-barrel spending. The taxpayer watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, asserts that the omnibus bill includes around 8,600 earmarks costing $7.7 billion. When he signs this, President Obama will break yet another campaign promise, this time his promise not to sign bills loaded up with earmarks.

Obama and his merry band of spenders plan to pay in part for the spending by soaking the rich. Obama’s proposal slams the top 5% of taxpayers, specifically individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000. Their tax rates will rise roughly from 35% to 39.6% (a 13% increase). They would also be assaulted with limits on itemized deductions and a massive rise in capital gains and dividend taxes. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the increase will raise their effective rate to 42% (a 20% increase). Nor will this soak-the-rich approach stop the bleeding. The Journal points out that using 2006 figures, even if the government confiscated 100% of all income above $500,000 this would only yield $1.3 trillion. This figure ignores the recent loss in stock-market wealth and in any case barely covers the 2010 deficit.

As a side note, the golden-goose rich already pay far more than their share. Using 2006 IRS data, the most recent available, the richest 1% made 22% of U.S. income and paid 39.9% of income-tax revenue. The top 5% paid 60% of personal income tax and the top 10% paid 71%. I defy anyone to explain why this is just or fair.

Before you smile at the thought of the rich being squeezed, note that you too are on the menu. According to the Tax Foundation, reverting back to the higher Clinton-era rates on the two highest-income-tax brackets will hit 45-55% of small businesses. Obama also plans higher fees for companies drilling on federal land and $600 billion in carbon taxes. These taxes will be passed on to consumers, thereby acting as a silent tax. They’ll swamp the tax rebate ($400 for an individual, $800 for a couple). Worse yet, because the rebate is not accompanied by a decrease in income-tax rates, the rebates will be taxed as income. That is, the government will claw back part of checks. In addition, the looming problems with Social Security and Medicare will exacerbate all of the debt- and tax-related problems.

It is not yet clear how the economy will respond to massive growth in debt-fueled government spending. The initial response is not good. The stock market (S&P 500) has dropped over 30% since the day that Obama was elected. To the extent that this reflects disinvestment in American corporations, trouble is on the horizon.

President Obama is well on his way to producing a seismic shift in the United States. Specifically, his attempt to vastly expand government, run up the debt to do so, and jack up taxes to pay for some of the expansion is indeed real change. Whether this will harm the economy has yet to be seen, but the initial indication is scary.