Good Lord

I admit that for me, it's galling to see Christians playing the game of claiming discrimination when challenged on their own discriminatory policies.  It's usually about sex, whether about insurance covering contraception or gays in the military, but its always a confusion about whether they have a right for their bigotry to ground policy.  When bigotry isn't the law of the land, they say they're being discriminated against, because their religious views aren't applied to all.  But George Neumayr over at the American Spectator takes it to a new level. He rehearses all the usual pieties about how Christianity is under fire in a secularist state, and it looks to be the AmSpec boilerplate.  But then when he moves to the contraceptive issue, he's got a surprising twist to his argument.

The sheer idiocy of the HHS mandate was illustrated recently by Senator Tom Harkin, who, in a comically desperate attempt to cast the absence of free contraceptives and abortifacients as a form of corporate oppression, said, "There are many women who take birth control pills, for example, because they have terrible menstrual cramps once a month, some of them almost incapacitated, can't work. I know of young women myself who, because of this, aren't able to work and be productive, and it's prescribed by their doctor." Harkin, apparently, can't rest until these women are back working on Obama's animal farm, having received, under the gaze of government, all the suitable injections to guarantee their productivity for years to come. Harkin's paternalism is so touching: What would women do without his monitoring of their ailments?

Holy cow.  I mean, is Neumayer trying  to miss the point?  Just for the sake of making the whole thing clear, here's Harkin's argument:  The point of the mandate is to ensure that people can live their lives even when they face health care challenges, and some health care challenges take the form of menstrual cramps.  If we don't make medicine to address this part of the mandate, we leave these women out.  We shouldn't leave them out, so we need to cover their medicine — which is a contraceptive.  Now, for sure, having contraceptives covered by the mandate is also part of a larger human right to control your own destiny (by having control over when one has children), but Harkin's not making that argument.  He's just talking about how people have debilitating problems, and resistance to covering contraceptives leaves them out.  Simple, right?

Well, apparently not.  Here's how I see the Neumayr reply.  1) He's claiming that the government is giving these people injections and thereby controlling (or monitoring) their reproductive lives, and 2) He's claiming that it's just about putting people to work.  But this entirely misses the point.  For sure, if government helps you get the care, there is a measure of control and monitoring in that, but that's more control for you, too, assuming that without the help, you won't have the meds at all!  And the point about work is just silly, really.  Harkin's using work as merely an example of productive life.  He could just as well have said: read the Bible closely, or be a stay-at-home mother, or write for NRO.  You can't do any of those things, either, if you've got debilitating cramps. 

And animal farm?  Sheesh. First off, how many readers at AmSpec got the Orwell reference?  And second, of those who did, how many were only because they saw the movie?

13 thoughts on “Good Lord”

  1. Scott,
    I feel you cross the line of civility here with your personal note at the beginning of this blog entry: "t's usually about sex, whether about insurance covering contraception or gays in the military, but its always a confusion about whether they have a right for their bigotry to ground policy.  When bigotry isn't the law of the land, they say they're being discriminated against, because their religious views aren't applied to all."
    Comments like these are exactly what's wrong with this messed up political environment. While I'm sure you can point out to examples of incivility everywhere, that does not excuse your comment. How is name calling helping anyone? Calling Christian bigots? Really? It's pathetic and regrettable. I don't remember you naming president Obama a bigot before when he didn't condone gay-marriage.

  2. BN, you're confused.  First, about civility.  Civility doesn't require that we refrain from making judgments about others.  Civility requires that we give arguments and reply to them.  The faith-based case against gay rights is appallingly weak, and only dishonest arbiters of the dialectical situation would deny that. The failure of conservative Christians to properly run their intellectual lives on this matter is evidence of their character.  Civility doesn't require niceness, and if you think it's more important to be nice than honest, then you're not grown up enough to discuss important issues.
    And if you're interested, this is a case of appropriate evaluation of character (discussed on this blog a number of times).  See:
    Second, about what you see as a double standard with moderate Democrats.  Not relevant, because moderate Democrats don't play the persecution of the persecutor game. 

  3. Scott,
    The great thing about civility is that it invites an honest dialog. When you call the other "bigot", it is hardly a starting point of a conversation. Your rant reminds me of a Bible proverb : "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions."

    You also stated: "The faith-based case against gay rights is appallingly weak, and only dishonest arbiters of the dialectical situation would deny that. The failure of conservative Christians to properly run their intellectual lives on this matter is evidence of their character."

    Correct me if I get his wrong: because their argument is "appallingly weak"  in your view, then they must be motivated by something else to oppose gay-marriage; therefore, it must be because they're all bigots. Is that the argument you're making here?

  4. No, BN.  Being nice may be a good thing, but it's not a requirement for argument.  Civility requires reason-responsiveness — you give and reply to reasons.  That's the game, and when you fail to give good reasons, have them corrected, but you keep giving the same old bad arguments, that's a failure of civility.  Your comment here is like someone who keeps cheating at chess, and when called out for being a cheater, says something like, "Please be a gentleman… we are playing chess, you know."
    And please follow the link above — the distinction between being wrong and being stupid is hard to keep in mind, and the move isn't from one piece of evidence (one bad argument), but from persistent resistance to criticism.

  5. Scott,
    Here's the crux of the matter for me: I think it's wrong to call someone a bigot because they don't support gay-marriage. And just because some people's opposition to gay-marriage is based on their faith, does not make it automatically invalid as you seem to argue.
    Carl Henry said it best: "Because theological and ethical statements cannot be verified by empirical methods does not mean, as the positivists erroneously and arbitrarily conclude, that they are beyond verification. Such a judgment stems purely from the metaphysical theory that only empirical experience supplies evidence about reality”

  6. BN,
    First, let's note that now the issue is less the ettiquette or tone of calling someone a bigot and more an issue of accuracy.  Fine, and that's no longer a civility issue, but one about the arguments.
     Now, think about what a constitutional democracy is supposed to do: preserve individual rights and prevent coersion.  If you're beholden to a law justified on the basis of reasons you don't see as reasons (the sayings, perhaps in a book you don't recognize as authoritiative), then you're being coerced.  People who care more for their individual pieties than for the rights of others are making an error.  And the problem is that the costs of their errors aren't payed by them, but by others.  There are many harsh words for that mode of operation.

  7. Scott,
    I think you make a very valid point. However, how is that different from laws on a number of other issues? I am coerced to follow a number of laws for which I am see no good reason: having assault weapons legal,  late term abortions, and so on.
    You make is sound very simple choice: piety vs rights of others. It is not. CS Lewis said "Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst." He was right. And sadly, too many of those are supposed to represent us. He also added  "Most of us are not really approaching the subject [Christian society] in order to find out what Christianity has to say: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or – a Judge."  I think this is the worst kind of manipulation, and without a doubt Republican politicians have been guilty of this for years.
    The issue is that marriage as currently defined in our society has married state with religion. And as Christian, one can't accept the idea of gay marriage in that context. I think that's the root cause of this problem. That is also in my opinion the reason why most Americans approve of  gay civil unions and not gay marriage (
    As solution, I think CS Lewis had it right more than 50 years ago:
     "Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christians lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with the rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

    Maybe the solution is for the state to only recognize civil unions and marriage to be reserved to religious ceremonies.

  8. Hey, BN.
    A reasonable compromise on the issue proposed with civil unions. If only it were the going line…
    Now, about other laws, here's the rough line from political liberalism.  It's one thing to see a reason as having no merit whatsoever and another to see a reason as relevant but insufficient.  For nonbelievers and those of other religions, Biblical backing belongs to the former.  For libertarians and those opposing abortion, social justice arguments, I presume, belong to the latter.  It's coercion when you have to live under reasons you don't see as relevant, not when you have to live under reasons you see as insufficient. 
    Ironically enough, it was John Rawls who called this distinction the requirement of civility, namely that reasons to justify policy have to be accessible to all those upon whom the law bears.  It's not that they have to be convincing, just accessible.  So long as you can see, say, the use of taxes for schools as a reason for taxes (even if aninsufficient one) or you can see the autonomy of pregnant women as a relevant consideration, then it's not coersion, but unhappy conditions.  Those are conditions were it's possible that you can address the other side's case, understand it, and argue with them.  If the reasons aren't accessible, you aren't even an arguer with them anymore — you don't have standing in the deliberations.  That's what it's like when you're an atheist and have to talk Bible to make any headway with gay-rights opponents.

  9. Scott,
    The area between reason with no merit whatsoever and reason as relevant but insufficient is not as clearly defined as you make it. I can see how a religious argument against gay marriage is irrelevant in the sphere of political debate. However, it can become relevant if freedom of speech and freedom of religion is at stake. For example, take the Islamic scarf debate in France. The argument for wearing it is purely religious. Do you think it's just of the French government to trump their right of expressing.
    In general though I agree with everything you stated, and I understand the need to put forth a "secular" argument in the political sphere. Like I stated before, with a little bit of common sense, this whole gay-marriage debate can be solved in a few weeks. I doubt, however, that either side would love to accept that compromise.

  10. BN,

    Your view (the CS Lewis one) seems to be the view of gay marriage proponents. You wanna have a “Christian marriage”?, have it. Don’t ask the government to require it of others. Your church will then be free to deny marriage to all those it wants.

  11. BN, you're right that the demarcation between public and private reasons is fuzzy.  That's a longstanding problem for political liberalism.  But the fact of there being hard cases for the difference doesn't mean we shouldn't invoke it in easy cases.  Gay marriage is one, that's enough for the argument.  I am sympathetic to your invoking the headscarf laws in France, as that seems a real case of a government not respecting individual conscience.  

  12. Soctt/John, I appreciate your patience and our dialogue on this topic.

    John, to reverse your challenge, do you think gay-marriage advocate would accept civil unions that have all the rights entitled to marriages as a valid compromise? I really think the big holdup is the actual word: "marriage". I know it sounds silly, but that's it. I think factcheck summarized it well: "The least concrete difference between civil unions and marriage is also perhaps the most polarizing: the term “marriage” and the social and cultural weight it bears. For many, this is not just a semantic issue. Opponents are concerned that allowing gays to marry will dilute the term “marriage,” threatening the institution it stands for.  Supporters, meanwhile, feel that setting up a marriage-like institution for gays (such as civil unions) while defining marriage as fundamentally heterosexual is an example of flawed “separate but equal” legislation."

  13. Um, BN, your view is that nothing but “Christian” marriage is “marriage.” Few people would hold this. So why not call everything but Christian Marriage, as you define it, “marriage.” You can call yours something else.

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