Friday, 25 July 2014

Acting against our convictions

While there are arguments concerning the public and private funding of health, I would like to pick up on the more sinister aspects around recent court rulings that many on the right and some on the left have seen: concerning to corporations funding contraceptives. Note that some oppose contraceptives because they view artificial contraception as immoral, others do not oppose contraception in principle but believe that certain contraceptives destroy embryos and thus destroy human life.

Julian Sanchez who does not personally oppose contraception or contraceptive abortifacients notes that the ruling (not to fund contraception) is cost neutral for various reasons including that pregnancy cover is more expensive than providing free contraceptives. He shrewdly comments,
In light of this, the outraged reaction to the ruling ought to seem a bit puzzling. If what you are fundamentally concerned about is whether women have access to no-copay contraception, then there’s no obvious reason to invest such deep significance in the precise accounting details of the mechanism by which it is provided. You might even be heartened by a ruling that so centrally turns on the premise that accomodation for religious objectors is required when no women will lack such coverage who would have enjoyed it under a mandate.

The outrage does make sense, of course, if what one fundamentally cares about—or at least, additionally cares about—is the symbolic speech act embedded in the compulsion itself. In other words, if the purpose of the mandate is not merely to achieve a certain practical result, but to declare the qualms of believers with religious objections so utterly underserving [sic] of respect that they may be forced to act against their convictions regardless of whether this makes any real difference to the outcome. And something like that does indeed seem to be lurking just beneath—if not at—the surface of many reactions. The ruling seems to provoke anger, not because it will result in women having to pay more for birth control (as it won’t), but at least in part because it fails to send the appropriate cultural signal. Or, at any rate, because it allows religious employers to continue sending the wrong cultural signal—disapproval of certain forms of contraception—when sending that signal does not impede the achievement of the government’s ends in any way.
He states that opponents contraceptive coverage are undeserving of respect and therefore it is viewed as acceptable to force them to act against their convictions.

In my mind the 2 concepts are not logically associated. One can have no respect for an idea or a person without compelling behaviour. Lacking respect is frequently justified. But my lack of respect (if warranted) means that I can disregard a person's foolish claims, not that I can force him to adopt my preferences. You do not get to force people to act against their convictions because you do not respect them. You do not even get to do that if you are correct and they are mistaken. Making a man act against what he strongly believes is to coerce him into sin. It is making him do something that he believes will offend God. Regardless of whether he discerns the issue rightly or wrongly, to make him offend God is forcing him to blaspheme.

I suspect many people including Christians fail to recognise how diabolical—and I choose that word intentionally—forcing men to blaspheme is. Such a man does not care for the opinion of God for if he did he would not try and make another do something he thinks offends God. It is akin to idolatry, though of the very worst form that tries to make others idolaters as well.

Damon Linker classifies himself as liberal: seemingly in both the modern and classic sense. I am not so certain he fully apprehends the issue, but he gets aspects of it.
On a range of issues, liberals seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life — and sometimes coerced into compliance by the government.
And why might this be? Linker suggests,
From the dawn of the modern age, religious thinkers have warned that, strictly speaking, secular politics is impossible — that without the transcendent foundation of Judeo-Christian monotheism to limit the political sphere, ostensibly secular citizens would begin to invest political ideas and ideologies with transcendent, theological meaning.

Put somewhat differently: Human beings will be religious one way or another. Either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things. 
Thus secularism (presumably left or right) tends toward idolatry.

Blasphemers often claim their demands are reasonable. Just a little incense to Caesar and you can worship your God the rest of the year.

Requests to affirm Islam (a false God), or provide health (and cover the cost of murder), or just bake a cake (affirming the goodness of sodomy); are all considered by many as competing claims against God. As I have written previously, forcing men to blaspheme is amongst the most grievous of sins. Not only must we avoid such coercion, we must oppose our ideological allies when they support such measures.

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