Posts tagged ‘Sherif Girgis’

Texas, Abortion, and the Terrible Triumph of the Human Will

Supreme Court Texas Abortion Case

Credit: Associated Press

A front page for the The New York Times caught my eye during a layover at the Phoenix airport last week.  Its headline read, “Justices Overturn Texas Abortion Limits.”  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against a Texas law that required abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges in order to continue operating.  The Justices ruled that this and other standards in the law placed an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.

Along with the headline, there was an infographic with this caption: “The Supreme Court Drifts to the Left.”  Sadly, this is the way the abortion debate is often now cast:  conservative versus liberal, right versus left.  But there is far more at stake in this case than just political or ideological points.  What is at stake in this case is human lives.

Yes, the lives of the babies lost to abortion are at stake.  But so are the lives of the women who suffer through the loss of a child to abortion.  Abortion can change profoundly the lives of the women who endure it – and not necessarily for the better.  Indeed, some studies have shown that women can suffer under a crushing weight of hidden hurt and regret after obtaining an abortion.

Yet, regardless of its mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual tolls, many in our society continue to fight for the widest possible access to abortion and, as the Supreme Court ruling symptomizes, raising any concerns about the way the abortion industry operates is regularly met with little more than scorn and skepticism.  The right to abortion, in this view, is sovereign.

The problem, however, with making the right to abortion sovereign is that it makes physical reality subservient to the human will.  The physical reality of life in utero becomes becomes dependent on a person’s choice.  To borrow a quip from 2004 presidential candidate Wesley Clark: it means that “life begins with the mother’s decision.”

Except that it doesn’t.  Life begins in spite of a person’s choice.  But life, tragically, can be ended by a person’s choice.  To try to make the physical reality of life subservient to the human will is to deny that physical reality really matters at all.  But the denial of physical reality in light of human decision seems to be en vogue – not only with babies in wombs, but with people in their lives.

Several weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the connection between transgenderism and Platonism.  Just like Platonism sees that which is non-corporeal as more important and, in some sense, more real than the physical, transgenderism gives preference to a non-corporeal inner identification over a person’s physical biological sex.  Sherif Girgis made a similar observation about the relationship of the physical to the internal in an article for First Things:

The body doesn’t matter…Since I am not my body, I might have been born in the wrong one. Because the real me is internal, my sexual identity is just what I sense it to be. The same goes for other valuable aspects of my identity. My essence is what I say and feel that it is…

On the old view, you could know important things about me unmediated, by knowing something about my body or our shared nature. And our interdependence as persons was as inescapable as our physical incompleteness and need: as male and female, infants and infirm. But if the real me lies within, only I know what I am. You have to take my word for it; I can learn nothing about myself from our communion. And if I emerge only when autonomy does – if I come into the world already thinking and feeling and choosing – it’s easy to overlook our interdependence. I feel free to strike out on my own, and to satisfy my desires less encumbered by others’ needs.[1]

Girgis’ final line is key.  If we are fundamentally defined by our internal wills rather than by our physical bodies, our wills must be held as sovereign and defining.  Anything and anyone that would encroach on our wills – even a baby growing inside of us – must be put it in its place.

In this way, everything from same-sex marriage to transgenderism to abortion is of one piece.  It privileges the human will over everything else.  I can choose who I want to marry without any regard for a created complementarianism.  I can choose my gender quite apart from what are, in most cases, very clear biological markers.  And I can choose to keep a baby inside of me or to rid myself of it.

I understand and am sensitive to the fact that, in each of these cases, there are strong stirrings that can lead to difficult decisions.  The stirring of affection for someone of the same-sex can lead to a same-sex marriage.  The stirring toward the lifestyles of the opposite gender can lead a person to live as transgender.  And the stirring of fear over what it takes to raise a child can lead to an abortion.  But even when these stirrings are strong, I think it is worth it to at least ask the question of whether or not it is wise to make human stirrings so defining that they can eclipse and even try to deny actual physical states of being.

According to the Supreme Court, the stirring of a person’s choice in pregnancy is defining.  And if anything – even a raising of medical standards for abortion clinics in Texas – impedes that choice, choice must have its way.  So it will.  And with deadly results.

_________________________

[1] Sherif Girgis, “Obergefell and the New Gnosticism,” First Things (6.28.2016).

July 4, 2016 at 5:00 am 1 comment

The State Of Our Public Debate: Same-Sex Marriage As A Test Case

Red Equal SignWhen the Facebook page of the Human Rights Campaign changed their profile picture to a red and pink equal sign on March 25 in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing cases on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal marriage benefits to only opposite sex marriages, the response of many in the Facebook universe was nearly instantaneous.  By the time the Supreme Court was listening to arguments for and against Proposition 8 the next day, roughly 2.7 million people had changed their profile pictures to the red and pink equal sign.[1]

Welcome to the way we debate and discuss watershed issues in the digital age.  We post a profile picture.

As I have watched the national debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have been struck by the daftness of so many of the arguments concerning such a monumental issue.  As a Christian, I have grave theological and moral concerns with same-sex marriage, but others have registered cogent concerns with same-sex marriage quite apart from the traditional moorings of biblical Christianity.  For instance, in their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George offer an excellent argument for traditional or, as they call it, conjugal marriage over and against a revisionist view of marriage.  The heart of their argument is this:

If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage.  They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life – but as essentially an emotional union…If marriage is centrally an emotional union, rather than one inherently ordered to family life, it becomes much harder to show why the state should concern itself with marriage any more than with friendship.  Why involve the state in what amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?[2]

The authors’ argument is simple, yet brilliant.  Those who argue for same-sex marriage seem to define marriage based strictly on affection.  But there are many relationships that are affectionate, such as friendships, and yet are not state-regulated.  So marriage must be something more than simple affection.  But what more is it?  This is a question that proponents of same-sex marriage have a difficult time answering with any uniformity.

Sadly, the work of these authors has not been well received or responded to.  Ryan Anderson, appearing on the Piers Morgan Show to explain the arguments of his book, was attacked by Suze Orman who dismissed him as “very, very uneducated in how it really, really works.”[3]  Considering that Anderson is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who received his degree from Princeton and is currently working on a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame, I find it hard to believe that he is “very, very uneducated.”

In another example of supporters of traditional marriage being flippantly dismissed, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones took Ross Douthat of the New York Times to task for daring to suggest that an orientation toward procreation ought to be part of the definition of what constitutes a marriage:

It was opponents [of same-sex marriage], after realizing that Old Testament jeremiads weren’t cutting it any more, who began claiming that SSM should remain banned because gays couldn’t have children. This turned out to be both a tactical and strategic disaster, partly because the argument was so transparently silly (what about old people? what about women who had hysterectomies? etc.) and partly because it suggested that SSM opponents didn’t have any better arguments to offer. But disaster or not, they’re the ones responsible for making this into a cornerstone of the anti-SSM debates in the aughts.[4]

In his response, Douthat questions Drum’s account of the origin of the procreation argument for traditional marriage:

If gay marriage opponents had essentially invented a procreative foundation for marriage in order to justify opposing same-sex wedlock, it would indeed be telling evidence of a movement groping for reasons to justify its bigotry. But of course that essential connection was assumed in Western law and culture long before gay marriage emerged as a controversy or a cause. You don’t have to look very hard to find quotes…from jurists, scholars, anthropologists and others, writing in historical contexts entirely removed from the gay marriage debate, making the case that “the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation” (that’s a California Supreme Court ruling in 1859), describing the institution of marriage as one “founded in nature, but modified by civil society: the one directing man to continue and multiply his species, the other prescribing the manner in which that natural impulse must be confined and regulated” (that’s William Blackstone), and acknowledging that “it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution” (that’s the well-known reactionary Bertrand Russell).

Douthat ends his response to Drum with a brilliant one-liner:  “Once you’ve rewritten the past to make your opponents look worse, then you’re well on your way to justifying writing them out of the future entirely.”[5]

This line, more than any I have read in a long time, encapsulates the problem with our public debates – not just over same-sex marriage, but over many controversial issues.  No longer are people interested in debating a big issue with the kind of intellectual rigor or careful thought such issues deserve. Instead, we change our Facebook profiles to an equal sign.  Or we ridicule a Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate as “uneducated.”  Or we make patently false claims about the historical origins of our opponents’ arguments.  We try to write our opponents out of the future entirely.

We, it seems, are much less interested in intelligently discussing and debating an issue and much more interested in asserting our will on an issue.  We no longer care whether or not we arrive at the right position on an issue as long as others bow to our position on an issue.  And, lest I be accused of intimating that only proponents of same-sex marriage engage in such dubious debate tactics, let me be clear that I have seen opponents of same-sex marriage pull these same kinds of sorry tricks.  After all, they’re on Facebook too.  They host cable news shows too.  They write less than thoughtful columns too.

The nihilist Nietzsche seemed to take special delight in laying bare the basest corners of human nature.  In his seminal work Beyond Good and Evil, he summarizes his thoughts on the heart of humanity:  “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is Will to Power.”  Nietzsche purported that people, at their cores, desire to assert Machiavellian power over others much more than they ever desire to converse with others.  This is why Nietzsche saw “slavery in some sense or other”[6] as necessary to human advancement.  Those who are strong must assert their wills over those who are weak.

As I have watched the debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have become worried that Nietzsche just might be right.  In this debate, winning against the other side has become more important than discussing and reasoning with the other side to arrive at the right side.  And because of that, I can’t help but think that, no matter who wins, we might just all lose.


[1] Alexis Kleinman, “How The Red Equal Sign Took Over Facebook, According To Facebook’s Own Data,” The Huffington Post (3.29.2013).

[2] Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson & Robert George, What Is Marriage?  Man and Woman:  A Defense (New York:  Encounter Books, 2012), 7, 16.

[3] Jamie Weinstein, “Fresh off his Piers Morgan confrontation, Ryan Anderson explains his ‘un-American’ views on marriage,” The Daily Caller (3.30.2013).

[4] Kevin Drum, “The Gay Marriage Debate Probably Hasn’t Affected Straight Marriage Much,” Mother Jones (3.31.2013).

[5] Ross Douthat, “Marriage, Procreation and Historical Amnesia,” The New York Times (4.2.2013).

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1907), 20, 223.

April 8, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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