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Three things you’re NEVER supposed to discuss…

February 2, 2010
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Politics, Sex & Religion.  And I’m about to roll all three of them into one post.

[sigh]

Sooo…everyone’s probably heard of Scott Roeder by now; he’s the guy that shot & killed Dr George Tiller, the abortion provider from Wichita, a crime which Mr Roeder did not deny, and which the jury ultimately found him guilty.

I really hadn’t paid too much attention to this case, but there were some things revealed during Mr Roeder’s recent testimony and cross examination that I want to comment on.

As is typical when the topic turns to abortion, inflammatory language & rhetoric dominate people’s thoughts and words.  For example, Mr Roeder said

“There was nothing being done and the legal process had been exhausted, and these babies were dying every day,” Roeder said. “I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children.”

Babies.  Children.  Little people you’d expect to see crawling around the living room floor or running around a day care or elementary school.  Words like these conjure up certain images in our minds, and these are the words that Roeder used, which tells me that it’s very likely these are the thoughts he has, and the way he views the unborn.  That is, he doesn’t view the unborn as mere fetuses, he views them as babies, as children; helpless, defenseless, precious.  Now, I’m not going to focus on whether we should call the unborn fetuses or children; both seem to evoke extremist thinking and neither seems fully adequate.  Frankly, I think arguing about what we’re going to call an unborn child/fetus is counterproductive, but we’ll come back to this in a moment.  In the meantime, there are some other ideas that need to be mixed in.

After news of Roeder’s conviction, Kansas pro-life leader Troy Newman of Operation Rescue is reiterating the fact that Roeder’s actions fell “outside the realm of Christianity and the pro-life ethos.”

“Our reaction is the same as it was the day, the moment that we found out that Mr. Tiller was brutally murdered in his church,” Troy Newman president of the pro-life group Operation Rescue told CNA on Friday.

Newman also insisted that the murder of Dr. Tiller “does not comport in any way shape or form with the pro-life movement commitment in extending life and liberty to every individual nor does it comport with the age-old, 2,000 year old Christian ethic of laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

“This really falls outside the realm of Christianity and the pro life ethos,” he stressed.

Well now.  That’s interesting, because Scott Roeder had this to say about the role that Christianity played:

“The lives of those children were in imminent danger if someone did not stop George Tiller,” Roeder said. “I shot him.”

He said his anti-abortion beliefs “go hand in hand” with his religious beliefs. He said he became born again in 1992 after watching an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Must be awkward to be in the position that Mr Newman is in.  On one hand, he’s probably very pleased that Tiller is no longer in the killing business, though he certainly can’t show it!  On the other hand, he’s probably frustrated because [slaps forehead] dadgummit, sum crazy sumbitch done went and killed Dr Tiller”, and not only that, but hasn’t minced any words about the direct, “hand in hand” relationship between his religious views and his anti-abortion beliefs.

Then again, not everybody is as politically correct about it as Mr. Newman:

Rev Donald Spitz says:

A great day for unborn children scheduled to be murdered by Babykilling Abortionist George Tiller.
Now those children lives are spared from the Kansas BabyButcher, George Tiller.
George Tiller reaped what he sowed and is now in eternal hell.
Psalm 55:15 Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.

Anyway…back to the theme I’m trying to develop which, since I haven’t stated it clearly yet, and since you might be scratching your head, justifiably asking yourself, “Where is this going?”, is this: abortion is and always will be a highly charged topic, and the presence of religious-based thinking not only doesn’t help things, it actually encourages and facilitates ridiculous thinking.  In other words, it’s hard enough to deal with the questions posed by abortion without factoring in the inflammatory, emotionally-reflexive, thinking vacuum which passes itself off as a righteous argument against abortion.

For example:

[Roeder] said he did not believe abortion was justified in the case of rape. “You are taking the life of the innocent. You’re punishing the innocent life for the sin of the father. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

This, coming from a man who murdered another man.  This, coming from a Christian, who, as a Christian, must accept the notion that he, personally, is being punished for a crime that he did not commit.  Original sin, anyone?  Doesn’t Scott realize that the reason Jesus had to come “save” all of us is because Adam didn’t follow the rules, and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and Jesus/God/The Holy Spirit/etc were so pissed off about it that they decided to damn not just him, but ALL of mankind, from that moment on?  Apparently this dichotomy escapes Roeder completely.

And by the way, if it hadn’t been for Eve, Adam would have never been duped into eating the fruit in the first place.  SHE ate from the fruit first, and therefore KNEW what she’d done wrong, and yet she still persuaded Adam to eat it.  And another thing, how in the hell were Adam or Eve supposed to know they weren’t supposed to converse with talking snakes?  They hadn’t eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil yet, so there’s no way they could have known that talking snakes are always, ALWAYS up to no good.  There’s no way they could have known that the magic sky voice was good, or that the talking snake was evil, or vice versa, until AFTER they ate the fruit.  They couldn’t have even known it was wrong to disobey the magic sky voice.

Of course, if Roeder can simultaneously keep the notion of an infinitely benevolent, infinitely powerful “God” in his head at the same time he keeps the notion that this same “God” has created a special place of eternal and infinite torture, or that this “God” can allow evil to exist (God’s comments in Isaiah 45:7 notwithstanding), then I reckon he is probably quite adept at keeping utterly irreconcilable, self-contradictory, mutually exclusive ideas on somewhat parallel paths in his mind.

This, to me, is the thing I find most repugnant about the manifestations of religious belief; that it stops the thinking process and substitutes it with a “just because” answer which the typical believer then seems willing to accept.  (Note: If you’re not a typical believer, then I don’t mean “you”, so don’t take it personally)

By the way, when we’re talking about God and infinite qualities, recall Graham’s number, and consider that as big as G64 is, it wouldn’t be a pimple on a gnats ass compared to infinity.  And the pious man says, “Yep, pretty cool huh!  Our god is an awesome god!”  As if, encountering the notion of complete absurdity, the reaction is instead to imagine that it’s somehow profound and important.  Not senseless, meaningless, or ridiculous, but profound.

Weird.

One more thing, if you feel the need to tell me that the “correct” interpretation is such and such, or that the original scriptures say yadda yadda, don’t.  Seriously, don’t even bother.  As much as I appreciate the offer, I too, can read.

[Pauses for two full days, trying to decide if I even want to continue with this post or not.]

Sorry.  I really had no intent to go off on that tangent, it just seemed to fit quite nicely with the whole, “It’s wrong to kill, so I must kill to stop the killing” duplicity demonstrated by Roeder.  This is very much like saying, “I like square circles”.  But, religion is full of it (pun not originally intended, but…), and Christianity fares no better than any other religion.  Anyway,  moving on…

An article on CNN reported this:

Eventually, the abortion issue took center stage as prosecutors portrayed Tiller as a target of Roeder’s anti-abortion agenda, and defense lawyers attempted to mitigate his culpability under the theory that he believed Tiller’s death was justified to save the lives of others.

Defense attorney Mark Rudy told jurors in his closing argument that Roeder “thought that the babies kept on dying” and he had to stop Tiller from “killing more babies.”

His testimony was intended just as much for the jury as it was to convince Judge Warren Wilbert that evidence existed to support a possible conviction of voluntary manslaughter. A conviction on the lesser offense, which is defined as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force,” would have set Roeder free from prison after five years.

Earlier in the trial, Wilbert said he would rule after hearing evidence in the case, acknowledging that he felt the defense faced “an uphill battle.” Ultimately, he rejected the theory, saying testimony did not support the defense claim that Roeder’s beliefs justified using deadly force against Tiller.

“There is no imminence of danger on a Sunday morning in the back of a church, let alone any unlawful conduct, given that what Tiller did at his clinic Monday through Friday is lawful in Kansas,” the judge said.

That’s quite disingenuous, to say the least.  I watched several segments of Roeder’s testimony, and I came away with the perception that he was being very straight-forward, matter-of-fact, and sincere.  It just seemed like he was “telling it like it is”.  As much as I agree with the murder conviction the jury decided on, I don’t see how the judge could have ruled that Roeder did not have an “unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force”.  Roeder was quite clear about his motives and why he did it, so for the judge to come back and say, “Oh, well…I don’t believe there was any need to use deadly force on that particular Sunday morning, while Tiller was at church”, just seems to be a way for him to avoid granting the defense a possible manslaughter conviction.

More “square circle” thinking, if you ask me.

Anyway, so where’s all this headed?  Well, regardless of what Tim Tebow and his mother tell us to think during the SuperBowl next week*, I think we’d ALL be better served to leave any and all religious arguments on the shelf.  In it’s place, may I suggest a system that’s worked pretty darned well: It’s called science, and I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of it.  Here’s what we know about the unborn from science:

Excerpt from “Billions & Billions”, by Carl Sagan

“…if only a person can be murdered, when does the fetus attain personhood? When its face becomes distinctly human, near the end of the first trimester? When the fetus becomes responsive to stimuli – again, at the end of the first trimester? When it becomes active enough to be felt as quickening, typically in the middle of the second trimester? When the lungs have reached a stage of development sufficient that the foetus might, just conceivably, be able to breathe on its own in the outside air?

The trouble with these particular developmental milestones is not just that they’re arbitrary. More troubling is the FACT that none of them involves uniquely human characteristics – apart from the superficial matter of facial appearance. All animals respond to stimuli and move of their own volition. Large number are able to breathe. But that doesn’t stop us from slaughtering them by the billions. Reflexes and motion and respiration are not what make us human.

Other animals have advantages over us – in speed, strength, endurance, climbing or burrowing skills, camouflage, sight, smell or hearing, mastery of the air or water. Our one great advantage, the secret of our success, is thought – characteristically human thought. We are able to think things through, imagine events yet to occur, figure things out. That’s how we invented agriculture and civilization. Thought is our blessing and our curse, and it makes us who we are.

Thinking occurs, of course, in the brain – principally in the top layers of the convoluted ‘grey matter’ called the cerebral cortex. The roughly 100 billion neurons in the brain constitute the material basis of thought. The neurons are connected to each other, and their linkups play a major role in what we experience as thinking. But large-scale linking up of neurons doesn’t begin until the twenty-fourth to twenty-seventh week of pregnancy – the sixth month.

By placing harmless electrodes on a subject’s head, scientists can measure the electrical activity produced by the network of neurons inside the skull. Different kinds of mental activity show different kind of brain waves. But brain waves with regular patterns typical of adult human brains do not appear in the foetus until about the thirtieth week of pregnancy – near the beginning of the third trimester. Fetuses younger than this – however alive and active they may be – lack the necessary brain architecture. They cannot yet think.”

That may or may not make you feel any better (which isn’t my intent anyway), but it *does* provide a way to talk about abortion with a mindset that is more receptive to meaningful dialogue.  That is, I think people would be more likely to listen to an argument if it started from a position of, “Well, here’s what science tells us”, rather than, “Well, here’s what God tells us you baby-killing murderer”.

Since we can already have somewhat meaningful discussions about when to pull the plug on brain-dead individuals, it seems that we could transition towards discussions about when to pull the plug on individuals that don’t even have (thinking) brains.

Just an idea folks.

* And by the way, as an adopted child, I too am thankful my biological mother didn’t choose to pull the plug.  Then again, if she had, I wouldn’t have ever known about it, and you wouldn’t have to put up with my irritating opinions.

It’s complicated.

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8 Responses to “ Three things you’re NEVER supposed to discuss… ”

  1. Pancake on February 2, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Dear Mr. Smarty Pants,

    I really liked your post today – you tackled the triumvirate of no-nos (sex, politics and religion)and you did it well. Also, Yay Science!

    Regards,
    Jane

  2. Nat on February 2, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Much as I admire you (you Big Numbers posts were mind-blowing, and I wanted to comment but felt intimidated) and Dr. Sagan, his definition is still philosophical and not scientific. Yes, we may be able to scientifically prove when a fetus is capable of thought, but defining a person based solely on the fact that it can “think” is a philosophical distinction, and a poor one at that.

    Pedantically, you could disprove that via a gedankenexperiment (I just wanted to use that term). But really: Suppose there’s this thing called a Whatchamacallit that looks something like a duck but has seven arms, two navals, and reproduces asexually–something that’s clearly not human–and yet it, too, can “think.” Obviously we wouldn’t call that a human, so whatever we want to define as “human” can’t be just the fact that it can think.

    But suppose now that we do have something that’s recognizably human but doesn’t think, maybe someone in a vegetative state or even a deep slumber–when we go to bed do we abandon our humanity? I don’t think so, and you could counter that by saying “Yeah, but they have the potential for thought.” And you could counter the counter by saying, “Yes, but so, too, does a fetus have the potential for thought.”

    Point is, I’m not convinced by the “thought” definition of humanity. I freely admit that I don’t know when life begins, but I do know that I don’t condone killing people (even abortionists), so because of that, I’m willing to grant the fetus the benefit of the doubt and let ‘em live.

  3. Mr. Smarty Pants on February 2, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Danke Frau Pancake!

    And by the way, anytime I get a comment from you folks I consider it an honor; all of the contributors to this blog are fantastic writers, in my indirectly-self-congratulatory opinion.

    Nat, I hear what yer saying. It’s a damn minefield of a topic, and every question posed by the discussion is a tough one.

    I guess I’d reply that whether a Whatchamacallit can think or not is irrelevant to our discussion about humans. That is, it’s hard enough to stay on topic when we’re just talking about humans, to say nothing about the additional complexity of adding all the various “What if’s?”. To your point, virtually every animal can think to some degree, so the process of thinking, in and of itself, is no more uniquely human than respiration or digestion. But I do think it’s fairly safe to say that the “thinking threshold” is a reasonable (not perfect, not error free, but reasonable) place to draw the line at when a child/fetus/person becomes a “full-fledged” person. Of all the arbitrary places to draw the line, that seems to me to make the most sense. What are we without our thoughts?

    So, on one hand, you’re right not to be convinced that “thought” is what makes us human. But on the other hand (and I know this seems like I’m begging the question), I do think that so far as human beings are concerned, the point at which we develop brain activity is arguably a VERY strong candidate for the point at which we become “people”.

    Regarding a vegetative state, I actually thought about referencing the Terry Schiavo case, but decided I’d just be fanning the flames even more, and shooting myself in both feet, just for good measure. But she was definitely in my mind when I referenced “brain dead individuals” in my post.

    Anyway, I guess the point is: (1) It’s always going to be a thorny issue when we’re talking about ending a life. That being the case, (2) we need some objective, rational, logical way to approach it and deal with it, and (3) the process of science is the best thing we have to do that. Again, not perfect, but the best thing we have.

    Thank you for your comments, and my apologies in advance if my comments about religion rubbed you the wrong way. I’m not trying to be provocative, but given the subject matter, there’s really no way to avoid it.

  4. Sara on February 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I maintain my status question of, ‘What if you don’t believe in Christianity? Does that make every action alright?’
    Also, isn’t ‘Babykilling Abortionist’ a bit redundant?
    In addition to ‘also’, how’s about all these Pro-Life junkies getting together and pooling their monies to sponsor clinic in which one can have their baby-making parts removed? Then, there might not be a need to cringe and shoot every time they see an abortion doctor.
    Also, (times three) I am aware this happens, but I don’t think nearly as much as knocking off abortion doctors, the ‘Mums’ have their own say in having this baby sucked outta their bodies but you really don’t hear a lot about people shooting them.

  5. Mr. Smarty Pants on February 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    In regards to the status question, no. First, I think the real question you’re asking is, “What sort of rules do you follow, if you don’t believe in an ultimate rule-maker/enforcer?” That is, if there’s no cop, what’s to stop you from stealing? (or worse)

    Just off the top of my head, but for me, in no particular order I (1) try not to hurt people, but say I’m sorry and/or otherwise make amends if I do (2) recognize my own, natural tendency to want other people to see things the way that I do, but then resist the urge to try to *make* them see things the way I do (3) be thankful and grateful that I have this tiny little window of consciousness (100 years if I’m *really* optimistic), and try to use my time on earth to make it a better place for all of us.

    This seems to be a pretty safe way to conduct things, and it doesn’t require that I believe in any code or creed beyond the intrinsic value of those things I mentioned, in and of themselves. For example, I was walking into a store the other day and a lady ahead of me had her arms full with a toddler, and his shoe fell off. It was VERY cold and windy, and it’d have been a lot easier to pass her by and let her deal with her own problems, but I decided to stop, pick up the wayward shoe, and carry it to her (she was a tad late in realizing she’d dropped it). I did this because I felt it was the right thing to do, not because I felt that some “being” somewhere wanted me to do this, or would reward me for it. I just did it, and moved on. Actually didn’t even think about it again until right now, and I’m not even sure what triggered it. Maybe it was the last nice thing I did? (I hope not) At any rate, it is possible to have a working system of ethics sans religion, not just sans Christianity.

    Babykilling Abortionist is redundant, but it also sounds unnecessarily harsh. That is, I just don’t think anybody gains anything by creating barriers to communication, and dropping the “babykiller” label into a discussion would seem to be a page right out of “How to get people to stop listening to you 101″. And besides, as you pointed out, if there weren’t a demand for abortions, then there wouldn’t be any abortionists, so it’s hardly fair to single them out as being the bad guys (and gals) in this whole thing, when there’s women (and men) involved in that whole baby-making process as well.

    This is a decidedly un-frothy topic, but (crosses fingers),so far, so good; I haven’t received any death threats yet.

  6. Sara on February 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I am also (x4!) of the faith that I’ll believe what I wanna believe and not be pushy about it.
    However, I am gonna be pushy about clinics to remove baby-making parts. I think it’s a fabulous idea and I’m going to recommend it to the next group of Pro-Lifers I run into.
    You be mindful of death threats and make sure to live to write about the irony.

  7. anncine on February 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    I commend you, Mr. Smarty Pants for tackling such a treacherous subject matter. Well done.

  8. Mr. Smarty Pants on February 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Thanks Anncine ~ I shared this post with a friend of mine who’s forgotten more about religion than I will ever know, and he dropped the hammer on my (admittedly) unfair, broad-brushed dismissal of *all* things religion based on the actions and beliefs of a very narrow, small, and particularly ugly form of *one* religion. I really *want* to be accepting of religion, but…I struggle with it.

    At any rate…thanks for your comments!

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