The nightmare of childhood

The perfect is the enemy of the very good. And while I doubt this post could be construed as ‘very good’, I’m finally realizing I’ll never get the ‘perfect post’ with the information that I found during my research following Adrian Peterson’s child abuse indictment.

Beware: this is really long.

I’ll begin by addressing Matt Walsh’s post on the whole affair because it is a pretty good example of the arguments made by spanking advocates.  Continue reading

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The role of women in Christianity and Rome

Having finished Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, I have revised my ideas on early Christian misogyny and sexual mores. According to what I learned growing up in the church, Romans were notoriously immoral people. Sexually immoral, of course, but they were violent and pretty barbaric when it came to treatment of their own people. Continue reading

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Have you REALLY thought about it?

It’s a funny thing, about the internet. I couldn’t tell you how I stumbled onto the vast majority of what I find. In trying to figure out how and when exactly I started following Defeating the Dragons, it’s a bit hazy. I’m pretty sure I followed a link from LoveJoyFeminism at some point. And I found my way there via Pharyngula. No idea what first drew me to PZ’s blog, though.

In addition to following her blog, I follow Samantha on Twitter and she has complained of, on at least a couple occasions I’m aware of, internet atheists being total assholes (roughly paraphrased…)

It’s the latest of these that prompts a resurrecting, as it were, of this blog. Continue reading

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Public opinion

In light of Minnesota’s recent law legalizing gay marriage, this seems relevant even if the column isn’t new.  Usually I ignore Cal Thomas, but his column on the dangers of following public opinion hit a nerve.

He asserts that

History is full of warnings about what happens when people follow public opinion instead of standing by their principles.

Apparently it’s lost on him the number of times public opinion or cultural norms have been misplaced, at best, or downright evil, at worst.  There seems to be some confusion about the validity of public opinion.  Thomas himself rails against following public opinion for most of the piece, but then in the fifth paragraph cites  passage of California’s Proposition 8 as proof that public opinion believes gay marriage should remain illegal.  But the proposition was passed by popular vote; does the popularity of Proposition 8 make it invalid?

The popularity of one position on a given issue doesn’t make it right or wrong any more than the popularity of a singer makes them good or bad.

The second part of Thomas’ argument is no less frustrating

Some liberals believe the Constitution is a “living” document that must constantly evolve to fit the times. It is not. Some liberal theologians believe the same about the Scriptures. They believe these, too, must evolve, because serving God is no longer the standard; serving Man is.

If the constitution isn’t a living document then why did its creators include a provision to amend it?  And why did they start amending it almost immediately.  Amending the constitution requires a change of public opinion, so does that mean that each amendment since 1791 is invalid because it bows to a change in public opinion?

As far as scripture goes, interpretation of the Bible has evolved over the past 2,000 years – or more, if you use the Talmud as an example.  Christianity was used as a basis to deny interracial marriage, as this quote from the 1958 case Loving vs. Virginia

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The scriptural basis for opposition to gay marriage is no less tenuous than the scriptural argument against interracial marriage.  And even if there is an ironclad Biblical argument against gay marriage then we still shouldn’t be using the American legal system to enforce Biblical laws or morality.

Outlawing marriage between two people of different races seems ridiculous to us now and today’s laws against marriage between two people of the same sex will seem no less silly to people forty years from now.

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Ireland’s 20-year rain

The working title of my new, perpetually-ongoing series will be Conservapedia: real or troll?  The only way it won’t be perpetual is if Conservapedia decides to stop posting nonsense.

The site features a sidebar with the heading In the News: what the MSM isn’t fully covering. The following bit was featured there in the past couple days.

Expert says that the discovery of a 20-year long rainfall in Ireland points to the Great Flood of the Bible being historical.

Do Conservapedia’s moderators actually engage any brain cells before they post and/or approve this stuff? More likely, they see some snippet that validates their worldview and greenlight it before giving it full consideration.

Let us break this thing down just a bit. The linked article cites the “ancient Annals of the Four Masters” which supposedly records the history from Noah’s Flood to the present day. This 20-year rainfall is recorded as occurring the exact same year as the Biblical Flood, as calculated by young-earthers using the Bible to determine the date of Old Tesetament events.

Unless they are just going on an end run around all logic by saying that God inspired this “Four Masters” bit, then there needed to be people around to witness and record this 20-year rainfall. But, and here’s the tricky bit, those same people who witnessed and recorded the 20-year rain would have been wiped out by Noah’s Flood along with whatever record they left behind.

It hurts my brain just to think about how anyone can think this is rationally possible. The Bible is easy enough because you can just say “well, no one recorded what Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and Joseph did. But God told Moses or whoever later on.”

I won’t deny that parts of this “Annals of the Four Masters” may very well be true and useful as a historical document. But if you’re going to tell me that an account, whether written or oral, survived a flood that destroyed the whole earth leaving eight people alive thousands of miles away, then I’m just going to shake my head and laugh.

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Olde Tyme morality tales

If I believed in such things, this would be quite the providential week. The timing was pretty impressive when I finished a book about education just as Libby Anne asked “What is the purpose of public education.” Now just days after reading Tracey’s recap of Elsie Dinsmore I run into the perfect response to that kind of over-dramatic morality tale.

In a collection titled The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain I stumbled across a story that I had never heard before called simply The Story of the Bad Little Boy. Apparently Mark Twain found stories like Elsie Dinsmore just as irritating and he lampoons the style to great effect. Given Elsie’s near-death experience, this part in particular tickled my funny bone.

He struck his little sister on the temple with his fist when he was angry, and she didn’t linger in pain through long summer days, and die with sweet words of forgiveness upon her lips that redoubled the anguish of his breaking heart. No; she got over it.

There’s a matching story, The Story of the Good Little Boy, that comes at it from a different angle. The good boy, Jacob Blivens, cannot catch a break no matter how good he behaves or virtuous he is.

According to a University of Virginia site dedicated to Mark Twain, the naughty boy’s tale was first published in 1865 and the story about the virtuous boy came out five years later.

So it’s mildly satisfying that there has been eye rolling about Elsie Dinsmore and its ilk for at least 150 years.

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Against abortion

Many opinionated bytes were thrown around about ‘Monster’ Grosnell and his abortion clinic and, now that it has taken me so long to get this post whipped into shape, he’s been convicted.  Much has already been said about the root problem being lack of access to abortion, so I’ll just say I agree and won’t flog that horse any more.

The argument that has always grated on me, and seems forever tethered with anti-abortion rhetoric, is the idea that abortion sprung up suddenly in the 1960s after a decline in American morals.   One side effect from taking forever with this post is that it coincides nicely with Libby Anne’s dissection of an anti-abortion blog post.  Kae Am implies that something has changed for the worse when she writes

…in a culture in which women are considered things for use, the results of such use are likewise considered things to use or to throw away. In other words, when women are regarded as things for sexual use and then as things for disposal afterward, then natural result of this use (the conception of children) are likewise regards as things for disposal.

To challenge that narrative here are two stories gleaned from books I recently read tied together with one I read some time ago.

From The Wild Place by Kathryn Hulme, a heartbreaking story that shows how much grey area there is in this discussion.

An almost parenthetical bit of the plot in The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins reveals that abortions weren’t at all uncommon for women over a century ago.

If we can’t completely eliminate abortions, the story found in This Common Secret by Susan Wicklund gives an ideal that abortion doctors can strive to emulate.

In The Wild Place, Kathryn Hulme describes a Polish woman in postwar Germany’s Wildflecken Displaced Persons (D.P.) camp. The woman had become attached to an American soldier who told her he would take her home with him when his service ended. Then he was transferred to another location in Germany she never heard from him again.

Some months later Hulme writes that the body of a baby was found in a dumpster, having been strangled after birth. Some investigation found that the same Polish woman left stranded was responsible, having been impregnated by the American soldier before they parted.

After consulting with the presiding military officer, and at his suggestion, Hulme declares in the official report that the woman killed her baby as a result of post-birth insanity.

Keep in mind that Hulme was a devout, lifelong Catholic and expressed absolutely no reservations in the book about letting this woman go unpunished for what was not even an abortion, but the killing of a newborn. Why did she let it go? I believe it was because Hulme new the woman was already struggling and would have kept the baby had she been able to stay with the father and if there wasn’t a stigma attached to being an unwed mother. She didn’t ruin the rest of the woman’s life because this circumstance led her to make the unconscionable decision to kill her child. Likewise, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to make a woman ‘pay’ for a mistake by requiring her to keep a baby or carry it to term for adoption and I don’t think society should stigmatize those who do elect to have an abortion.

In The Murder of the Century, Collins writes about a killing and dismemberment that captivated New York City and its tabloid newspapers in 1897. Augusta Nack was in the middle of a love triangle that turned deadly, but her profession is the pertinent part. She was a German immigrant and performed abortions around the neighborhood in her capacity as a ‘Licensed Midwife’ – even though there was no licensing body at that time.

Although it’s but a tangential subject to the book, the brief explanation seems to make it clear that abortions were outlawed at least as much because it was as likely to kill the woman as much as end a pregnancy. Nack’s work was used against her in court as the prosecution wondered why she would have any compunction about killing a man if she already killed babies for a living.

It was a bit amazing to learn that women were struggling to control their reproduction even prior to 1900, dispelling the myth that women suddenly became selfish with the advent of feminism, the Pill and legalized abortion. And they weren’t accepting constant pregnancy meekly but willing to attempt risky procedures by questionably-qualified people.

Finally, in her book, This Common Secret, Susan Wicklund details the harassment that anti-abortion groups are willing to put abortion doctors through. She also outlines her philosophy and methods as an abortion provider.

Granted, the overwhelming majority of her procedures was routine, but I was surprised as Wicklund described counseling a young woman against having an abortion since she wasn’t ready to make the decision. Wicklund went out of her way to keep from coercing the girl into making a premature, regrettable decision. The descriptions of the circumstances that women come to her with are some of the most impressive parts of the book. If for no one else, I want abortion to remain legal for those who are trying to keep from being tied to an abusive relationship by a child or for those whose birth control has failed and they can’t afford a pregnancy much less a child.

An explanation of my general view of abortion didn’t seem to fit earlier in the post, but I’ll lay it out for those keeping score at home.

I am pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean I like abortion. If I could snap my fingers and make all abortions disappear then I would do so. The difference between me and most on the pro-life side is that I wish to solve the problem – unwanted pregnancies – rather than addressing symptoms – outlawing abortion and even extramarital sex.

I cannot in good conscience look a woman in the eye and declare that she must carry a baby to term if she otherwise does not want or cannot afford to do so. I am willing to call a fetus a baby because I know, and everybody else knows, that if allowed to come to term and birthed, it will be a baby.

 I agree that the ban on late-term abortions should remain, but I don’t believe a baby should be afforded legal status until it leaves the womb.  I am perfectly aware that pre-term babies survive and I’m also aware that there is no physical difference between a baby on the day before birth compared to the day after. So is it arbitrary to fix birth as a human’s legal designation as personhood? Certainly, it is arbitrary, but no more so than designating legal adulthood at age 18.

I will celebrate as loudly as anyone when there are no more abortions, but outlawing abortions will not solve the root problem. If the pro-life side wants to work with pro-choice side to eliminate the need for abortion then we should be working to reduce unwanted pregnancies to the greatest degree possible.

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