Monday, May 31, 2010

Nuclear war

Oh Kristof, where to begin. You really have to do a little thinking before you write these lovely pieces about the church.

Anywho, I would quote something from the article but you can pretty much just make it up and it will be correct. This story is about the nun who was automatically excommunicated for signing off on an abortion that was deemed necessary to save a mother's life. So of course Mr. Kristof talks about patriarchy, oppression, etc.

Now to address one point he makes in passing: no, people who abuse little boys are not excommunicated for whatever reason. Maybe because murder is generally considered to be worse than sexual abuse? Not sure. However, they can not, as he puts it, "take the sacrament". Raping someone doesn't automatically excommunicate you, but it does automatically keep you from communicating, which is perhaps too subtle a point to make a good story. For the confused in the audience, committing a mortal sin (e.g. abusing a minor, or probably covering up said abuse) means that you can't receive communion, and it is automatic, requiring no judicial procedure before kicking in. Signing off on the abortion resulted in the same punishment, plus an additional one.

But on to the main point, or at least what I felt to be the main issue raised. The Church's rule here is not the result of some peculiar hatred of women that only a bunch of men could come up with. As I see it, it is simply an application of the idea that you can not do evil that good may result.

Mr. K. seems to be applying a somewhat utilitarian approach here. If nothing happens, the score is one dead woman, one dead child. If you perform the abortive surgery, the score is one dead child. -2 < -1, therefore the second course of action is the correct one. He would probably weigh it more like -10 > -1, if I had to guess, but even I would admit that if we're living in Bentham's paradise, Kristof is correct and I am wrong.

This particular case touches on a pregnant woman and abortion, and so seems particularly heinous to the orthodox Left. However, let us take another example from the not so distant past, and see how I would apply the same principal. The setting is the second World War, in particular the endgame in Japan. The United States justified the use of nuclear weapons on civilian targets with the argument that lives were saved due to the overwhelming show of force, etc. This is probably true. Let's round all estimates up and say that about 200,000 people died quickly and another 400,000 had lingering radiation effects, birth defects, etc. Best Allied estimates on invasion casualties were a million Allied soldiers and several million Japanese civilians and soldiers (never easy to attack an island nation, I guess). Round down, let's say a million deaths on each side, all soldiers.

Ok, let's be Jeremy Bentham again. 600,000 < 2,000,000. Therefore, nuke 'em. Now, maybe you'll want to calculate this differently, maybe it's better to be dead than to survive a nuclear bomb, etc. But I'm fairly confident that no matter how you weigh this, the invasion will cause more death and destruction than nuclear war. Nota bene, this only applies when you have the only two nuclear bombs in existence.

Now we have here something of an issue of prudential judgment that statesmen must engage in. However, I think it's fair to say that many churchmen have been deeply skeptical of the claim that such bombings are moral:

The destruction of huge numbers of civilians, especially when their death is expressly intended or foreseen, can never be moral. There should never be a repetition of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden or the London blitz

Thank you Cardinal Pell for supplying that quote. The check is in the mail. Well, this seems, as far as I can tell, to be an application of the principal that you can do no evil, even if in a utilitarian sense the result is "good".

So what do we have here? We have one principal - do no evil. We have two results - one excommunicated nun, one cardinal opposed to the use of nuclear weaponry. And we have one condemnation of the church as patriarchal and oppressive due to the first result. I would think that by a simple extension of the logic, one could say that the church is anti-soldier, or anti-Japanese, because some of its leading thinkers have said that the use of nuclear weapons against civilians, even if it saves lives, is morally illicit. Perhaps you could say the Church is a civillianarchy, and if there were more soldiers in the Vatican we would have greater church support for bombing the hell out of civilian targets.

Kristof, to his credit, is consistent in thinking that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally good. So be it. I'm not arguing that particular point with him. Merely pointing out that the Church's opposition to this abortion is not the result of some particular hatred or disdain for women, but the application of a general moral principal that is opposed to the utilitarian ideas that seem to dominate today. It makes no more sense to say that the Church hates women for opposing a procedure that could save a life than that the church hates soldiers for opposing a bomb that could save their lives.

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