Monday, August 12, 2013

The Problem with Personhood



"Personhood" is not an uncommonly heard word when engaged in discussion about abortion rights.  I am not exactly certain what this phrase means, and I do not believe the people who use it know what it means either, as debates involving this word typically sound like a quarrel between Webster and Wikipedia.  One thing only is certain--that whatever the word may actually be defined as, it is used for only one purpose: to determine who matters and who does not.  

I once pointed out that abortion is a conflict between two human individuals with rights that are at odds, hoping that a discussion would ensue revolving around which right supersedes the other (as it goes in any other situation, like self-defense, war, child-support, etc.).  I received, however, not a discussion on rights, but a denial of the situation itself.  

"The fetus can't have rights."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't a person."

One of the human individuals in the situation didn't matter enough to affect any decision made--and it did not matter because it was not a person.
I never mentioned the word person, so I inquired of him what a person is, and received this response:

"A person is a human who is sentient and conscious, can feel and think."

According to this abortion-on-demand advocate (and many others of his position) it is not enough to be a human individual.  To have rights, to be considered a relevant party in a life or death situation, one must have some additional characteristic.

 

I call this the "Human Individual Plus" mentality.

I refuse to discuss the particulars of this additional characteristic.  What characteristic is needed, exactly, will change slightly from debater to debater.  Some will say consciousness, others the ability to feel pain, others free will, and still others skin color.  I myself rebel against the insinuation that ANY additional characteristic is necessary for a human individual to matter, to have basic human rights.  

Abortion advocates and others would have us believe that while every "person" is a human individual, not every human individual is a person--and only persons can have rights.  In effect, they say some human individuals do not have basic human rights.   I assert that all one need be to have human rights, is a human individual.  I maintain that if one need use the word "person" at all, he can only mean by it "human individual".  Any other definition of this term is arbitrary and relative, for two reasons.

The first is that the addition of a characteristic to the life line of a fetus...that point of personhood at which we say "You have basic human rights now; congratulations, you matter!"...breaks a fluid process.  From the moment of fertilization to death, the conceptus-zygote-embryo-fetus-infant-adolescent-adult is the same single entity.  It is a human (as opposed to a canine) organism.  And because it is an organism, it is individual.  It not only has its own unique DNA, but grows toward its own end, on its own genetic pattern, unique to its own compilation of cells; its eight life signs are separate from any other organism.  Some have claimed that because it appears to be a parasitic life it is thus not an individual life, but no one has ever argued that a parasite is part of its host and not an individual organism.  Thus, it is a scientific, biological fact that the unborn is a human individual; and to choose a single point in this line for the human individual to suddenly be more than a human individual is arbitrary unless that point is relevantly significant.

Yet I have yet to hear a Point of Significance that is truly relevant.  Most commonly, this Point is named as consciousness.  "One must be conscious to have rights!" I hear all the time.  But this begs the question: what does consciousness have to do with rights?  Really?  And the same may be asked of any other stated Point of Significance.  Why is this additional characteristic relevant?  I have never found a satisfactory answer, and I therefore maintain that *if one can exercise the right without having this additional characteristic, one does not need this characteristic to have the right.* 
To maintain otherwise would be sort of like arguing that one must own a television to have Netflix.  While Netflix and television, admittedly, often are found together, in practical reality, television has nothing to do with Netflix.  It certainly is not a necessary part of owning an account and watching Sherlock.  If one need not be conscious, feel pain, be viable, or have free will to live, then one need not have it to claim living as a right.  If one need not have a television to watch Netflix, then one need not have a television to watch Netflix.  The two are superficially, but certainly not really or relevantly, connected.  Naming a Point of Significance for "rights-owning" that has nothing to do with exercising rights, is arbitrary. 

 Choosing any moment when a human individual begins to matter is relative.  These Points are chosen with little regard for the actuality and substance of the human individual in question, but instead are influenced by the mentality and situation of the one doing the choosing.  To say that one doesn't matter, is always to say that the speaker doesn't care.  

As long as Personhood asks "when does a human individual begin to matter?" and not "when does a human individual begin?" it will be an arbitrary and relative discussion, a poor base for opinions that determine the life or death of a human individual, and no base for politics.  The only way to avoid this flimsy foundation is to say that all human individuals, nothing more and nothing less, possess basic human rights.  

The Problem with Personhood is that it is meant to exclude those who would otherwise be considered persons.  


 





Friday, April 19, 2013

Love all the Peoples!


There are several reasons I am attracted to the religious life.  One of them has already been mentioned.  I would like to explore a second today.  What is it, you ask?  Well, in short, it is the inherent ability of the religious state to help one “Love all the Peoples!”


A religious sister I know once told me that when she was young she would dream of being a mother.  Sitting in front of the mirror, brushing her hair, she would imagine her future children, what they would look like, what their names would be, etc.  One day, as she braided her locks, she tried to figure out how many children she would have. 

Four?  No, four was not enough. 

Ten?  Ten was nice. 

…no, not ten.  Fifteen! 

Still not enough. 

The number went up and up until she arrived at sixty.


That was when she realized she needed to become a religious sister, because religious are mothers.  This might seem like an odd thought, seeing as religious are not even mothers in the physical sense, but as I have pointed out before, “mother” is a verb.  To mother means to love and serve unconditionally, and as human beings—but especially as religious—we are called to love and serve everyone in this way.  Religious and Consecrated are freer to do this than those in other states.

“It is the vow of chastity that gives us the freedom to love everybody instead of becoming a mother to three or four children.
A married woman can love but one man;

We can love the whole world in Christ.”

~Mother Teresa

The purpose of marriage is to get yourself, your spouse, and your children to heaven (a wonderful and admirable goal).  But the purpose of the Religious is to get themselves and as many people as they possibly can to heaven.  They are only able to fulfill this goal because they are unconstrained by the obligations of a natural family, the distractions and duties of the world. 



“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34)



I have always felt the need, more or less, to “love all the peoples”.  So while I would love to have “my own” children* I have had to think about the quandary of how I am going to bring that homeless couple to a restaurant if I have a bunch of kids at home to worry about.  I cannot very well go about giving all my money to the poor when I have a family to support.  I cannot pray six hours a day if I have kids to homeschool or a house to clean or a job to work.  While I would love to have a husband, and all the intimacy that that entails, especially emotionally, I cannot help but wonder if that would leave me free to be a spiritual support to others.  Wouldn’t my husband be jealous of my time and attention?  When I spend hours talking to someone about their vocation, when they call me at 1:00 in the AM crying out of sheer frustration (and they have) wouldn’t it only be reasonable for my husband to be a bit frustrated and put out himself?  It would not be fair to expect him not to be!
With so many people directly dependent on you, you have to prioritize, and you have to let some go.  You can’t help everyone…and you are not really free to actively try.  That is not a bad thing, it simply is, and I simply do not want to be limited in this particular area.  I do not want to be a mother to a few, I want to mother many.   I want to actively love and serve all the peoples.   That is the point of a Religious, and that is one of the reasons I am attracted to the religious life.
*I put this in quotes because, while here I mean “my child” in the biological sense, no child is really ours.  They are Gods, put into our care for a while by Him, and when you think about it for a while, it doesn’t matter how He puts this child into your care, the end result is the same.  So any child can be your child, if God has placed him or her in your care. 




Sunday, March 31, 2013

Someone Else Went Fishing

I just found Soldiers of the Hidden Battles on this Catholic Blog directory, which I thought was pretty neat because I didn't know anyone other than those googling memes ever stumbled across SHB.  It's a really good directory (I am not just saying that because SHB is on it!) and you should check it out.  Add it to your favorites as a resource. 


Catholic Blogs

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mini Meditation on the First Station


He stood beside the favored of the crowd, listening without a sound as His fellow prisoner's name rang through the air, repeated by the multitude of passionate faces and angry voices.  He could name the vices of every one of them.  Every fault of character, every lapse in charity, every lie they had ever told, every law they had ever broken--He could name them all.  Soon, He would carry them and die because of them.  Yet He watched quietly as the fallen favored the fallen.  His blood pooled in the crevices of the stone beneath His feet, but still no sound passed His lips.  Silently, patiently, with infinite Love, the Innocent took the place of the guilty.

Dearest Jesus, with little effort does my sympathy extend to the wrongly condemned.  It is natural to feel kindly toward them, to help them, to see You in them.  But, Dearest Lord, how difficult it is to be so compassionate when it is myself that I see in them!  It is easy to love the wrongly condemned, but easier still to condemn those who have done wrong.  When it is the guilty that are condemned, all my charity flees, for the guilty are hard to Love.
My Lord and my God, please help me to see others as You see me.  Help me to understand, appreciate, and imitate You Who defended the woman caught in adultery.  Help me to understand, appreciate, and imitate You Who gave Your life for the entire sinful human race.  You Loved the guilty even unto death--death on a Cross.  Please help me to Love them with this Love.  Amen.

The Justly Condemned


Today is Good Friday, the day on which we recall more vividly than usual the suffering of Christ.  With Passion Walks, Living Stations, and re-runs of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” we reflect upon Jesus’ agony in the Garden, His unjust death sentence, and His tortuous walk up Calvary.  My day today was not very different from that of most other Catholics; I found myself at a reenactment of Jesus’ trial, walk to Golgotha, and Crucifixion, and then at the usual 3:00pm service.  However, today, unlike other Good Fridays before, I found myself mediating continually upon one specific part of the Passion:  Jesus’ Condemnation to death.

 




When I hear of the First Station, I typically hear of it from two different viewpoints.  The first is that of compassion, or pity.  I read about Jesus, the innocent man condemned to death.  Jesus, the meek Lamb being led to an underserved slaughter.  The second is that of guilt, the mentality that whispers, “It is I who should have died, not Him.”  Today, I began with a bit of both.  I imagined myself looking at Jesus as I peered at the actor who played Him, and was disturbed at the thought of an innocent Man being condemned (aren’t we always?).  Then I transitioned into the common second, and was simultaneously horrified and touched at the thought that He took this condemnation from and for me. 

 

 But then, ever so suddenly and ever so subtly, the scene in my mind shifted, and instead of me looking at Jesus, it was He Who was looking at me. 

 




It was a slight shift, but at the same time a very large one.  No longer was I looking at Jesus, the innocent Man.  Nor was I looking upon myself, and feeling the guilt.  No longer was it me doing the looking and the thinking; it was Jesus.  Instead of me thinking of Jesus, or me thinking of myself, it was me thinking of Jesus thinking of me. 

 

Maybe others do it all the time and I am just weird, but this was a whole new viewpoint for me.  I was taken aback, because suddenly I was faced with a scenario that I’d never been confronted with before, not in this context.  No longer was I the guilty man staring at the innocent one; I was the innocent man, staring at the guilty one.

 

This forced me to reflect upon my idea of compassion, and the extent of my charity and love of others. 

 




It is very easy to feel compassion for the unjustly condemned.  We see people affected by an earthquake, a hurricane, cancer, some natural disaster that they could never have brought upon themselves, and we want to help them.  Who among us would not weep to find that a man put on death row for murder had been framed, and was totally innocent?  It is natural and easy to help innocent people unjustly condemned.  Not so for the justly condemned.

 




Not very long ago, there was a man who beat a two year old to death.  It was on the news, and naturally it was on facebook.  So many statuses and comments I read, even those of church-going, highly-involved, Catholic adults, ranted.  “He is evil,” they said. 

“He should be beaten.”

“He should get the death penalty.”

A great many ill-wishes were brought upon him.  Not once did I see a suggestion of prayer for the man, a request for his conversion, an expressed desire to see him in heaven instead of in prison or in a grave. 

 

It is hard to refrain from condemning the justly condemned.

 




I once invited a drug addict to hang out with me and my friends.  I knew that he could change. I knew that there were not many people in his life who would encourage him to do so.  I thought to myself, “If the only thing keeping him from heaven is a lack of good influence in his life, then I am certainly not going to deprive him of such an influence.”  I knew all this.  But he was so rough, had so many problems, had gotten himself into so much trouble, and was just so not the kind of person that I usually hung out with that it was incredibly difficult to invite him along with us.  I did not want to be seen in public with him.  I did not enjoy having him along. 

 

Another time, I brought a roadside beggar and his girlfriend to eat at a restaurant with me.  I sat across from them and talked with them as they ate.  The guy spent the next thirty minutes complaining about all his problems.  I obviously won’t go into detail about what they were, but I will say that they were all “his fault”.  He was one of those young, na├»ve, rebellious kids (he was just a kid, little older than myself) who makes stupid decisions and gets into trouble.  It was very difficult not to think this as I listened to him talk.  When they finished eating, I left.  You know that good feeling you get when you help someone?  Well, I didn’t have it.   

 

It is so difficult to feel sympathy for people who appear to deserve their situation.  It is so easy to condemn the condemnable, to say, “It’s your problem, you fix it.  You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out of it.”  It is terribly difficult to help someone who doesn’t realize they need help, to sacrifice yourself, your time and money and emotion and effort, for something that was 100% preventable, for someone who won’t appreciate it. 

 

We hear all the time about Saint Jude’s, children’s shelters, Food for the Poor.  Most of us probably give to organizations like these on a semi-regular basis.  But who donates to AA?* Visit a nursing home, sure, but a prison?  A drug rehabilitation center?  As proven above, I am not a good, sympathetic person.  Maybe people do this all the time, and I just don’t hear about it because it is the last thing on my mind.  I don’t want to help the justly condemned.  I’m not at all like Christ.

 

I think I need to look at Him looking at me a bit more often than I do. 
 
 
*If you are like me, you didn't even know that AA doesn't accept donations.

United with Christ

When we unite ourselves with Christ on the Cross, our tears become jewels with which we can decorate our mansions or pay the debts of others.
Otherwise, they are just tears.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Problem with Our View of Hell

This is an argument used by many non Christians. It is also a very good one. However it is only good because so often our view of Hell is rather flawed. We see Hell as a place of punishment. “If you don’t follow the commandments you’ll go to Hell,” many will say. But let us take a closer look at this and realize why this argument is flawed, yet stops many in their tracks because they themselves have a flawed view of Hell.

People do go to Hell because of their sins. However, there is more to the subject than it seems. God gives us free will. He allows us to love Him if we want or not love Him if we want. He also allows us to choose how we want to spend eternity. We can either spend it with Him or separated from Him. There is no middle ground. When we are in full communion with God we are in Heaven. When we are separated from God we are in Hell. Hell does not necessarily consist of actual fire (we don’t know what it is like) and the actual suffering that comes from Hell is in the fact that we know that forever we are separated from God.

God has given us the choice to be with Him in Heaven for all eternity. All that we must do is show Him that we love Him and therefore our fellow man. We do this by following the commandments that God has given to us. It doesn’t matter if we say that we want to be with God, unless we show with our actions that we want to be with Him.

If someone said that he only ate scrambled eggs, but then ate over easy eggs all the time, you would know that he doesn’t really eat only scrambled eggs. He would have shown by his actions that he was not sincere in what he had said.

So in reality the argument that “if God is loving why does he send people to Hell?” is a useless argument. It has no weight because in reality it is our own choice to go to Hell. We have chosen that we do not wish to be with God. We have told him by our actions that we do not wish to be in full communion with him. God is loving. He will not force himself on anyone who does not want him. So just as he does not force us to worship him (which he could do if he wanted) he will not force us into communion with him. He will always allow us to make choices with our free will, and will not deny us our choice.