Friday, May 23, 2014

Right to Life - but No Right to Support?

One of the arguments proposed by advocates of permitting intentional abortion is that even if a fetus or embryo has a "right to life" (by virtue of being a separate human being), that right does not include a right to insist on another person's assistance.  For example, if you need blood transfusions to live, that does not mean you have a right to demand blood from another person, nor to demand continued blood transfusions from someone who has begun to volunteer.

One possible response to this argument is to say that humans do have a duty to preserve the lives of others, and if your neighbor needs a blood transfusion to live, you do have a moral duty to provide that transfusion.  The Westminster Standards, and Jesus' example of the Good Samaritan, suggest that such a duty exists - not as a "right to life" but as a duty to preserve life.  That response really should suffice.

Suppose that we are wrong on this counter argument and that there is no general moral duty to inconvenience oneself to preserve one's neighbor's life.  Still, there are clearly cases everyone accepts in which a person has a moral duty to support the life of someone else.  We may be able to convince our friendly opponents of this with several examples:

1. The case of the car accident victim.  Suppose you crash into another person and they are dying unless you act to save their life.  In that case, I think most people would agree that you have some duty to try to save their life, even if it is inconvenient for you.  This is somewhat analogous to the embryo or fetus, because the person is in the womb of his mother due to something his mother did.  Therefore, she has a duty to save his life, even if it is inconvenient for her.

2. The case of paternal child support.  Suppose you father a child out of wedlock.  Most people seem to agree that the father has some duty to (at least) financially support the child, even if the child's life itself does not absolutely require such support.  The justification seems to be either that the father acted by begetting the child and/or that the father has paternal duties toward the child. Much more so, a mother likewise acted, has maternal duties, and should minimally be required to save the child's life for a few months.

3. The case of a young infant.  Suppose the fetus is born and consequently becomes designated an "infant." If a mother were simply to refuse to nurse (or otherwise feed) the child, we would view this as neglect and as murder if the child died from it.  The same would be true if a single father refused to feed the infant.  The justification here is pretty clearly parental duty.

Thus, in short, a general answer to this argument is that (a) we do have a general duty to preserve life and (b) that general duty is heightened in the case of parents with respect to their offspring.  The only thing that remains to be seen is whether such a duty applies to offspring who have not yet offsprung.

But surely the duty is one that is based on the helplessness (or negative maturity) of the child, not on the self-sufficiency or maturity of the child.  This can be seen from the fact that failure to feed a 30 year old son is not neglect, unless that son has a serious disability such that he cannot feed himself.  An embryo or fetus is much more helpless and immature than an infant.  Thus, the parental duty of support should be much greater for a fetus or embryo than for an infant.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Garry Wills on the Title "Holy Father"

Garry Wills (self-identified Catholic, but rejecter of the papacy and transubstantiation), in "Why Priests?" has this interesting comment (p. 12):
Jesus is telling his Followers not to be like the Sadducees and Pharisees who seek the "first places":
Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels. They like the most important place at meals, and the chairs of honor in their synagogues, and to be cheered on the street, and to be called by people "Rabbi." You, however, must not be addressed as "Rabbi," since you have only one Teacher, and you are brothers to each other. Do not address any man on earth as father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. And you must not be addressed as leaders, since you have only one Leader, the Messiah. The greater among you will be your servant. For whoever boosts himself up will be lowered, and whoever lowers himself down will be boosted up. (Mt. 23.5-12)
What could be more against this teaching than popes who adopt the title "Holy Father"?
Wills is exactly right.  While the "call no man father" command does not mean we can never in any way refer to other men as fathers, the kind of behavior it does prohibit is precisely the behavior of Roman Catholics, in elevating a single man above all others.

Wills continues (p. 12):
Thus the post-Gospel literature of the Jesus movement introduces people in administrative roles--Servants, Elders, Overseers. These are not charisms bestowed by the Spirit, but offices to which people are appointed by their fellow human beings--and once more the priesthood is missing from the list.
Wills is right again.  He goes on to explain what "Servants" (deacons), "Elders" (presbyters), and "Overseers" (bishops).  Wills notes that Paul, in his letters, uses the plural term "episkopoi" once (at Philippians 1:1).  Luke, in Acts, similarly reports Paul as using the plural term.

In Philippians 1:1, Paul and Timothy greet, as Wills explains (p. 13) "(1) God's people, (2) the Overseers, (3) the Servants."  These are the overseers, plural, for the church at Philippi.  Similarly, at Acts 20:28, Paul speaks to the overseers, again plural, of the church at Ephesus.

In two other cases, the singular form is used, but even there the occurs in conjunction with elders (presbyteroi plural) or board of elders (presbyterion - which implies a plurality of people).

I would, naturally, disagree with Wills' suggestion (p. 14) that these possibly later singular usages point towards a development of the monarchical episcopate, such as argued-for by the letters of Ignatius.  Nevertheless, Wills historical points that Paul's usage suggests that the leadership of the church is not a leadership by one, but by plurality of more or less equals.

Furthermore, Wills is right in noting the fundamental distinction and discontinuity between the apostles (whose gift was a charism of the Holy Spirit) and the elders/bishops that followed them, whose appointment was by men, even those who were appointed by the apostles themselves.  Even though these offices of deacon and elder are divinely authorized offices, they are divinely authorized in a different way from the apostolic office.

Significantly - both for Wills and us - none of this pointed to a priest or high priest over the local assembly.  The apostles themselves were not priests, and they did not even set up a human office of priest.

- TurretinFan