The advantages of threatening to kill a baby

An article that argues that newborn babies do not have the same moral status as people, and therefore that it’s acceptable to kill them, has created a storm of outrage. The Journal of Medical Ethics has had to defend its decision to publish the article, bemoaning “the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement”.

I’m not sure they’ve quite got it right. I don’t see this as opposition to liberal values but rather a symptom of demented inconsistency that clouds people’s ability to think clearly.

Our laws protect people and don’t, at least not nearly to the same extent, protect non-people. By and large, you can kill any animal you want to without fear of being hauled in front of the courts for murder. By contrast, an animal that kills a human can expect summary destruction without so much as a trial. People and non-people are different, and the courts reflect that. So, in order to deny Giubilini and Minerva’s conclusions, you must either claim that they’ve drawn the line between personhood and non-personhood at the wrong place,  or that we need a special set of laws for special non-person things like foetuses and newborn babies.

The first of these is probably easier to argue. Many of those who hate Giublini and Minerva’s article may well be opposed to all types of abortion. And that’s fine; you may a coherent position from that starting point, while needing to address how to deal with situations where perhaps the mother lacks capacity or the child is severely disabled. But these issues aren’t insurmountable. You can rightly argue that life is sacrosanct and that it begins at conception. Therefore it’s always wrong to abort in all cases, including when the baby is newborn.

The second is more tricky. Are you to say that the pre-person thing gets a subset of the rights people enjoy? If so, how do you define what that subset is to be? Why should it get the right to life where we deny it to certain animals? Of course, please feel free to make the case if you think you can do it.

What upsets me most about people’s reaction to the article is the inconsistency. Regardless of the line you want to take, you are basically arguing that it’s always wrong to kill a person. And therefore it’s totally absurd to argue, as some people have done, that it’s justifiable to “do away with people who believe in doing away with live babies” or that they “would personally kill anyone doing a after-birth abortion”. If these people can conceive of a situation where it’s acceptable to kill a philosopher, then they must similarly be able to contemplate a situation where it’s acceptable to kill a baby?

No, the correct response must be to thank the authors. By illustrating just how appalling and absurd it is to kill a newborn baby, they help to highlight the difficult ethical dilemmas raised by abortion. Those who seek to restrict abortion further should celebrate this contribution to their cause. Even those who can accept abortion in certain situations should welcome this challenge to their principles. Abortion is morally difficult and articles that help us think about it more clearly are to be welcomed. What’s particularly unwelcome is a rash of mindless thuggery in response.  That does nothing to improve the civility of our society.

Lynne Featherstone misses the point on marriage

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages, which she says would be a “change for the better”.

Ms Featherstone also appealed to people not to “polarise” the debate about same-sex marriages.

“This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs,” she said.

“This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms.”

Lynne Featherstone wants to allow gay marriage. Here at the Church of the Dead Dad, we’re all for it. However, we’re observant enough to notice that our friends at the Church of England aren’t quite ready. The Anglican Church encompasses a wide set of beliefs, held together somewhat loosely (and occasionally tenuously) by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The issue of gay marriage is likely to create huge problems for the unity of his church and it’s right that he should be given more time to allow others in his church to get comfortable with the idea.

Unfortunately, the Coalition has continued much of the clumsy and cack-handed approach to equality as the Labour government. Lord Carey’s comments reflect a justifiable fear that, once gay marriage is legalised, churches may be forced to accept gay couples for marriage, on fear of being sued under discrimination law. This is much in the same way as Catholic adoption agencies have been told they must consider gay and lesbian couples as potential parents and Christian hotel owners were sued for refusing to rent a room to a gay couple.

Were the government to make it crystal clear that no church would ever face legal challenge for refusing to marry gay or lesbian couples, I suspect the Church of England’s criticisms would melt away. It would then have time to acclimatise itself with our more liberal social attitudes, as indeed it has done many times in the past. But beating up the church without recognising that it’s the government’s own policies that are to blame is particularly shameful.

Thought for the day, “Dawkins and slavery”, Monday 20 February

Here is the text for my forthcoming ‘Thought for the day’, to be broadcast on Monday 20 February on the subject of “Dawkins and slavery”.

Dawkins and slavery

The Sunday Telegraph carried an astonishingly stupid and ill spirited character assassination piece on Richard Dawkins this Sunday, in which it publishes “revelations” that one of his ancestors profited from slavery. The assets from that trade remain in the Dawkins family.

There is plenty to criticise Dawkins for without having to resort to grubby smears. So what really can we learn from this story?

Firstly, it’s a timely reminder of just how appalling and wicked slavery was. In a week that lazy left wing campaigners have accused Tesco of “slave labour” for having offered work experience to the unemployed instead of letting them languish on the dole, it’s highlight just how inappropriate that comparison is. Slaves did not have the freedom to walk away or to improve their lot. Benefit claimants do, even if it might be financially difficult.

Secondly, the Church of the Dead Dad rejects the notion that the son should be held accountable for the sins of the father. One should take responsibility only for one’s own sins. In Deuteronomy 24, verse 16, we find the following:

“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

The message here being that you cannot be held responsible for your father’s sins (not that you should be put to death for sinning!). But by all means, use your father’s life as an opportunity to learn and to improve yourself. As the proverb goes, “A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own.” By this measure, we can reject calls for Dawkins to pay reparations. He was not the party that enslaved other people. Nor, even if you could make a case that he continues to benefit from that wrong, there is no person today who can legitimately claim to be the wronged party.

We should also pause to take Dawkins to task for his claim that “William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.” The Bible is a book about Love. Dawkins wouldn’t claim to understand the Bible, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t. Just because a book may have been used, wrongly, for a particular purpose, doesn’t change its true meaning. A man who uses a telephone directory to crush a spider doesn’t turn it into a treatise on animal cruelty. Similarly, we shouldn’t blame the Bible for the frailties of man.

The Sunday Telegraph piece is a woeful piece of journalism, which allows Dawkins to shed his bully image and appear as a victim. Instead, sensible Christians everywhere should reject this appalling article and refocus our efforts on rebutting Dawkins’s ill-informed and uncharitable attacks on people of faith everywhere.

God Save the Queen

Earlier this month, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 60 years as our queen. Queen Elizabeth is very important to this church as she is our Supreme Governor, a role she also holds in respect of the Church of England.

It is indeed entirely proper that she should be our leader. Having been brought to the throne by the death of her own father at such a young age, she understands what it means to lose one’s father and the transformation it makes to one’s life. For sixty years, she has demonstrated strength, endurance and courage, even while harbouring the intense grief brought on by his departure. She is a true example of how, bereft of one’s paternal parent, you can still lead a wholesome and fulfilling life.

Prince Charles, whose own father still lives, is by contrast a feeble and monochromatic character against this lion-hearted figure. May she reign forever!

Leave your children’s genitals alone!

The Dead Dad wasn’t circumcised, and he never circumcised me. The very idea that my sister might have been “circumcised”, ie mutilated, was never an issue for our white, comfortably middle class family.

But, as Newsnight last night showed, female genital mutilation remains a problem in certain parts of the world, even though it might be technically illegal there. And, of course, male circumcision, or male genital mutilation if you like, remain widespread and legal across much of the world.

The Church of the Dead Dad does not require FGM or MGM. In fact, we will excommunicate any parent who does either procedure to a child. It’s laughable to presume that our loving Father would exclude an innocent child from Heaven merely for having intact genitalia. Should any person wish to hack at their bits when they’re old enough to know what they’re doing  that’s their prerogative. But it’s an appalling abuse to inflict it on an unconsenting child.

Some will argue that their religion “makes” them do it. No. Religion does not. You are a parent first. Treat your innocent child with the respect they deserve. And don’t you fucking dare mess with their naughty bits.

After prayer, what will the National Secular Society ban next?

The High Court has ruled that Devon town council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said before meetings, in an action brought by those sour-faced halfwits, the National Secular Society.

Pray tell me, if you’re an unreligious person, what actually is your problem with prayer? For the religious, it’s an essential part of our daily routine. But, if you’re not, it’s just a bunch of words. In that respect, how is it actually different to any of the other rituals that modern society makes us endure? As someone who’s rather further along the autistic spectrum than most, there are plenty of daft routines that people practice. It had never occurred to me to request that they be banned, merely because they’re meaningless to me.

But, then again, unlike the members of the National Secular Society, I’m not an illiberal cunt.