Russell and Duenes

“We need not resolve the difficult question”

with 13 comments

My seniors and I have been discussing Roe v. Wade (coming soon to a public school near you, I’m sure), and there’s an explosive little statement in the Court’s decision that requires some analysis. Justice Blackmun, writing for the Court, says, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” This sentiment was echoed, I believe, by president Obama when he said that determining when life begins is “above his pay grade.” Thus, the question I asked my students was: If we’re talking about something that is living (as clearly the embryo is), and something that is growing within a woman’s womb, and we’re not sure what it is, shouldn’t prudence dictate that we proceed with caution, you know, err on the side of restraint? But no, the Court plowed ahead and reasoned that, since we don’t know whether it’s human, let’s make it legal to end it. I said to the class, “If there was something out on the basketball courts that was glowing and I didn’t know what it was, you can bet that I wouldn’t go up to it and start handling it or dealing with it. I think I’d hold off until I could determine what it was. I’d definitely want to use some gloves or maybe a mask or something.” This is normal behavior in most areas of life, but not when it comes to preserving human life in the womb (for it really can’t be any other kind of life. Surely the Court knew this, even in the Stone Age that was 1973). The question the Court avoided answering is precisely the question that is at issue in abortion, and frankly, there’s a lot more consensus on the question of unborn human life here in 2010.

What this points up, and what we can say in a Christian classroom that it points up, is that with abortion we are not dealing with intellectual and legal issues. We are dealing with a spiritual issue, and the Court reasoned as it did because it was profoundly under the influence of Satan, and we are still, as a culture, under his influence. Repentance is in order, and it begins with us, the people of God. Satan tells us that we had to have abortion because we have contraception, and we had to have contraception because babies get in the way of our god: Radical, individual autonomy. Or to put it another way, babies get in the way of “the heart of liberty,” namely, “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey).


Written by Michael Duenes

January 11, 2010 at 11:07 pm

13 Responses

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  1. Though Roe v. Wade was, in my opinion, a terrible work of legal reasoning (as was Planned Parenthood, to a lesser extent), I do not know if I can agree with the statement that it was in itself immoral. The court, because it did not wish to settle the question of life (nor did it absolutely need to, though I think it should have), engaged in a balancing act over rights of the mother and those of those of society to regulate this “thing” called a fetus. What I am getting at is that the lack of caution you criticize the court for was not imprudent or immoral. The lack of caution was a result of viewing a grown-up being’s rights (to have control of their body, etc.) as trumping the dignity of the baby. The way the Court developed the (completely arbitrary and stupid) trimester criterion is evidence of this balancing act.
    Once again, I disagree with the Court’s analysis, but I don’t know if I can criticize them for being immoral for using a utilitarian ethical calculus anymore than I would C.S. Lewis for being a socialist.

    Joshua House

    January 12, 2010 at 12:42 am

  2. Josh,

    How could the act of legalizing the death of babies not be immoral? By what standard do you deem something immoral? Are you seriously arguing that baby killing- or mommy killing for that matter- isn’t part of that equation?
    (By the way, the C.S. Lewis comparison seems to come from out of left field).



    January 12, 2010 at 5:05 am

  3. Well, legalizing something is completely different from affirmatively performing the said act. For example, I firmly believe it is unconstitutional (implied under the 14th, 5th, and 9th amendments) for the federal government to prevent me from growing marijuana on my own property. Yes, I know that excessive marijuana intake, like alcohol, has many negative effects on a person, but my judgment on the constitutionality of an issue is not equal to me getting someone high.

    In the same way, the court’s constitutional judgment is, in theory, based on their interpretation of the constitution. Much of the majority’s interpretive framework is based on a utilitarian calculus given society’s interests and mores balanced against established rights. Do I disagree with this interpretive method? Yes. But I cannot safely say that such a method of reading the constitution is immoral. C.S. Lewis firmly believed that socialism helped people. I think it did not. But that does not force me to think he is immoral for wanting socialism. He is not being evil by simply being a bad economist.

    Remember, the justices were presented with evidence of back-alley abortions and the like. Who is to say they weren’t more afraid of those evils than others? Again, just because I don’t buy into their utilitarian calculus doesn’t mean I think they are immoral. For all I know, they could all have believed in life at conception, but were more afraid of teenage deaths than the potential death toll of aborted fetuses.

    In sum, yes I disagree with their interpretive methods. Yes, I realize that, if allowed the generous assumptions I stated in my last paragraph, they are foolish. But to say they meant to cause evil or were moved by Satan in their interpretation of the constitution is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

    Joshua House

    January 12, 2010 at 6:31 am

  4. And just to make my statement more factually sound, even if you don’t buy that I have an implied right of economic freedom on my own property (as I noted by citing the amendments), I would argue that Article I does not give Congress the power to regulate what I grow on my property – no matter what the current Court says.

    Joshua House

    January 12, 2010 at 6:34 am

  5. I suggest that it is not a Constitutional question at all, even in the hands of the Supreme Court. I could care less what the Constitution says about moral issues if it is in disagreement with the standard held in Scripture. The issue isn’t whether or not more people would be harmed without Roe v. Wade, it is how many will be hurt with it. If we are boiling this down to utility, then more women are making choices to murder for their own interests and the utility lies in favor of the baby. Very few women are aborting based on some odd conundrum of mom’s life vs. the child’s. So Duenes is right in saying that if we are to err on the side of caution (utility), we err on the side of aiding the true victims (the babies). Regardless of the utilitarian argument, I assert that if any interpretation of the Constitution undermines the authority of God’s standard, then it it wrong. Killing millions of babies to save a woman’s right to mutilate a baby is not moral.
    As for C.S. Lewis, I wouldn’t condemn him because Socialism isn’t inherently immoral. You are right in saying that it may not be economically sound, but immorality and economic soundness are two very different things.

    On a side note- I do appreciate your comments. I am glad this blog is a place where we can have thoughtful discussions on important issues. So for that, thank you.



    January 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

  6. Haha, yes I enjoy posting as well.

    I completely agree with your analysis of the arguments of utility. My point is exactly that they were factually mistaken, but (as I tried to show with my C.S. Lewis example) it is precisely factual mistakes that can lead someone to follow an economic system that hurts people. It is not immoral to be factually mistaken.

    On the whole, I think it is clear that our views on this would diverge given your statement that “I could care less what the Constitution says about moral issues if it is in disagreement with the standard held in Scripture.” The Supreme Court’s sole job, under Article III, is to decide the cases before it. In this case, the question was whether there is a right to abortion. I disagree with the Court’s conclusion that there is, but if, as a people, we disagree with their interpretation of the text then we should change the text. In the end, the Court’s only job is to interpret a really old piece of paper, not public sentiment or moral codes. If moral codes conflict with our constitution, the people can amend it. To blame the court is not only unfair, but also unproductive in solving the problem.

    Joshua House

    January 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    • Interpretive judgment requires a standard. In Article III, it is clear that the Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution. By what standard do they do this? Legal Precedent? If so, then Roe v. Wade had no legal precedent. However, I suggest, again, that the Supreme Court, you, me, C.S. Lewis, Duenes and Grandma Moses are all subject to one supreme authority and our decisions of morality can only come from this. The Supreme Court’s job is not just to interpret, but to interpret correctly. How do they do this with no moral standard?


      January 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  7. Roe v. Wade, according to the court, had a lot of precedent. Again, I do not defend their poor reasoning or lawyering. I do not agree that the cases they cited were actually “precedent”. Overall, it is one of the worst decisions I have ever read. I just don’t believe that God will condemn them for being poor interpreters (as they are, in my opinion) anymore than he would C.S. Lewis for being a bad economist.

    That being said, we’re all sinful, so I’m not denying sin has a role. I just think that calling the court immoral or “of satan” is not productive to debating the merits of the argument. Indeed, the abortion debate should forget about Roe and argue Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as that case, in my opinion, supplanted much of the reasoning in Roe.

    Joshua House

    January 13, 2010 at 1:58 am

    • Josh – Doubtless the Court thought they had a lot of precedent, but as John Adams once said, “facts are stubborn things.” There’s no use in continuing to repeat what the Court thought they had; they didn’t. To the theological point, whether God condemns the justices specifically for their misinterpretations is up to God (though each of us will give an account of all our actions). People are condemned for their sinful impenitence and unbelief. The Court’s decision to give legal sanction and cover to murder surely falls under God’s condemnation. It was not simply misinterpretation, it was unbelief and rebellion, with no regard for the lordship of Christ. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. Do you find this objectionable? On what biblical grounds? Being a bad economist and being a justice on the highest court in the land who gives legal sanction to murder are not moral or spiritual parallels in any sense.

      Quite right about our sin, but I’m not here to be “productive.” I’m here to call a spade, a spade. I’ve argued against the Court’s decision on the merits of the case, but I think it is entirely necessary to consider the spiritual implications, and the Bible is clear that Satan hates God and his image-bearers, that he is the “god of this world” and that he has “blinded the minds of unbelievers.” And in this case, there is an obvious moral and spiritual blindness. Where we see such blindness, we can be sure that Satan and his minions are involved. There are very smart people who support abortion. They even have the ability to see that their arguments are futile. Yet they persist. This is spiritual deadness, and it needs to be exposed. As it is written, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11).



      January 13, 2010 at 4:30 pm

  8. “The Court’s decision to give legal sanction and cover to murder surely falls under God’s condemnation.”

    I think that this is where we differ. I simply don’t believe that legalizing an act is morally culpable. As a philosophical anarchist, I want everything to be legal, but that does not mean I want sin to occur. I just believe that there are better ways to deal with a harmful act aside from government (i.e., an entity with a monopoly on violence) intervention.

    Joshua House

    January 14, 2010 at 1:52 am

    • It’s fine for us to differ, Josh, but what I want to know is this: Does biblical authority and teaching supercede and inform your “philosophical anarchism?” You would need to justify biblically your view that “everything should be legal.” Frankly, I don’t think you can.



      January 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  9. […] 23, 2010 Recently, on Russell and Duenes, I was asked: Does biblical authority and teaching supercede and inform your “philosophical […]

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