Monday, January 19, 2009

Checking Your Sources

A disturbing trend has been plaguing my attention lately. It began near the top of the year when atheistic activists began decrying the phrase "So help me God" in the presidential oath. However, given more thought, evidence of this trend can be found most places within modern life. The trend is simply, if there is no (consistently) documented proof, then the statement (or tradition, custom, etc) is invalid.

As a general rule, people today like having information. For most, a small article is enough, for others, many lengthy texts. For myself, I've found from experience that scanning articles is fine, but if something seems wrong or if there are holes in the arguments, then more research is in order, especially if I want to discuss the issue. The internet being the wonderful tool that it is, the source can often be found and most lingering questions put to rest. But what if the source is unavailable? What happens when the event happened a long time ago and the author is not available for comment? What does one do when the written record is interpreted differently by many scholars?

In times before our information age, people went to tradition. Religious traditions in particular are very rich, as they tend to last. Even those who disagree with a faith-based mindset have to agree that religions are steeped in tradition and enjoy longevity as a result. However, traditions related to national history are also very difficult to disturb. Why? Simply, because to tell people that their traditions need revising is to tell them that people they revere are mistaken or liars.

Until recently, this would be a horrible accusation to level against someone, especially against parents or other figures of authority. Lies have always carried with them a strong social stigma and rightly so. Someone who has a history of falsehoods obviously cannot be trusted and as such it is very difficult for them to operate in society.

However, this attitude has begun changing. After many political leaders and other public figures have been caught in one scandal or another, perjury seems almost cliche. The public has become jaded about our leaders, almost expecting them to lie. As a result, other long-held beliefs based in tradition are being opened to attack. If I can't believe what my political leaders are telling me today, why should I believe my historical leaders, or religious leaders?

Which brings us back to verification. If something is documented, then at least we have some "proof" that we have not been lied to through the centuries. Best to check that several sources exist, just to make sure that one wasn't a mistake. We modern people often rely on scraps of information to "prove" large theories, or discount important points that, at the time, would have been considered as common or base knowledge, not something that needed to be spelled out for posterity. Somehow, a written record, something that can be seen and touched, makes the past and its traditions real. Without that evidence, those traditions are completely invalid, unless someone can take them on faith.

Interestingly enough, the only area where physical, historical evidence is not accepted as evidence that the tradition is valid is in the area of faith. People on both sides of a religious debate can attain a great deal of information that proves or disproves their points, but those who counter them are seldom moved. The birth of most religions is so far removed in history that there are only a rare few individuals who can even comprehend such a large span of time. The traditions of those religions got to the present somehow; the believers will say from a particular source, the non-believers from a misconception that got out of hand.

In the end, people either believe or do not believe in traditions, religions, or whatever else, for their own reasons. Maybe the opposition conflicts with their worldview. Perhaps the person is a natural skeptic, or naturally trusting. For those who must have everything empirically or scientifically proven to them, faith is a mystery, mere arguments for validity need not apply. For those of faith, proofs are nice, but are not required.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Aaaand, we're back

Welcome, everyone, to the year 2009 AD.

After some time off to research and decide where I want to take this little site of musings, I'm finally back to writing again. In truth, I've had so many different subjects that I've had difficulty deciding what to write about.

I've been musing a lot lately on a particular question and I'm curious if anyone else has some insights on it. So far, net searches have been unfruitful. I want to know what a pro-choice person can say to someone who is dealing with a miscarriage.

To be perfectly clear, I'm not saying that pro-choice people are bad. I'm not saying that they're unintelligent or uncaring. I just don't know what they can say to someone (a friend or co-worker) that is trying to cope with a miscarriage.

The most common statement that I've seen so far is a pro-choice person stating that, if abortion is outlawed, then miscarriages will become legal issues, with possible criminal charges. They like to cite this article to emphasize the point. Again, I want to be clear. In cases where a woman miscarries, it does not and should not involve the police. However, it should involve a doctor and, depending on the woman's age, her parents or spouse. And the situation where a fetus, clearly identifiable as human, is flushed into the sewer should be disturbing to anyone. Many funeral homes and charities will donate to a proper burial for miscarriages (I've known a number of people who've needed that service).

Another argument is that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. This is citing a statistic, not what is a morally acceptable way to proceed with any particular pregnancy. The argument continues by declaring that because God does not protect all pregnancies to term, we shouldn't have to either. This objection is flawed on a number of levels. It is like saying that, because God allows people to contract diseases and die from them, we are morally justified if we inject people with those diseases with the intent that they die. God does things for reasons that are far beyond what we can know, and we are not exempt from any morality if we rationalize our position with "well, God does/allows it."

Others point to Exodus 21:22-25, or other biblical verses to state that God is most definitely pro-choice. This argument is largely based on poor translations. Going directly from the original Hebrew, the real meaning is much more clear:
22 And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life
In other words, if the woman gives birth prematurely, but the baby does not die, then there is a fine. Should the baby die, more serious consequences will follow.

Ultimately, the argument arises that, in the case of the miscarriage, the baby was wanted by its mother/family, but in the case of abortion, the "fetus" was not wanted for some reason. Reasons for abortion will be covered in another post at a later date, as it is a very large discussion. Personally, I find this a very poor argument, not only from the strength of persuasiveness, but also due to what it says about the value of life to a staunchly pro-choice person. Again, they are often wonderful and caring people. The general conclusion I draw from such arguments is that they do not understand what it is that they are arguing for.

I simply must become somewhat better at posting here. That can be a New Year's resolution.