I have been engaged in a discussion elsewhere regarding my position on abortion. I wanted to run this by the atheistnexus community as the perspectives here are particularly rational and helpful most of the time. Before I start, just know my mind is not made up. That is reason I am starting this discussion. Here are my arguments for my positions, which I openly admit may not be completely sound.
I support the practice of a death penalty. Yet I am resistant to some of the arguments of the pro-choice movement.
Regarding the death penalty, I am aware of the problem of wrongful convictions. This is a problem for the legal system. But in principle, I have no problem putting criminals to death that lack any hope for rehabilitation (mass murderers, genocidal war criminals, etc) if we can know for sure they are indeed guilty. The amount of evidence required needs to be extremely high to justify the death penalty. But if overwhelming evidence exists, then why keep these animals alive?
But abortion to me is the killing of innocent infant humans. It is a matter of location. If the child was only one minute 'old', having exited the womb, then killing the child would be murder. But because it is still inside a woman, we give it a different term 'abortion' and make it a choice. Isn't abortion just a nice way of saying unborn-infant-murder?
A common argument is that of choice. It is a matter of a woman's right to make decisions that affect her body. The pro-choice movement treats the opposition as weirdos that want to pass laws restricting what she can and cannot do with her own body. I feel they miss the point completely. There are TWO bodies in question, and the laws restricting abortions address the OTHER body - that of another human - living inside the woman.
I understand there is a huge grey area here. When does the fetus become a human with the intrinsic right to life? Is it only when the brain has developed? But at what point in the brain development? I get it. It is not an easy question. That is why I do not actively oppose the pro-choice movement. I am still collecting information on the subject to refine my position. I certainly don't support the pro-life movement either. I am currently unable to form a completely justified position either way.
I can see abortion as necessary or preferable in the cases of rape or to protect the mother's life. That makes sense. In other cases, where it is just promiscuity that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, I feel a vacuous moral subjectivity seeping into society.
I also do understand that for the vast majority of mothers, the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one and continues to affect them emotionally well after the event. But that is how it should be. We should not be just OK with the idea of killing infants. It should be taboo. Abortion should be thought of as terrible, whether you support the practice or not. Would this perspective of taboo discourage irresponsible sexual encounters? Would this would discourage inception when not in stable healthy relationships? For some who have abortions for selfish reasons, it certainly does not seem that the taboo nature of the act has any affect on their habits. It is not unheard of for some women to get multiple abortions in their life time. How the heck does that happen?
And of course, 99% of the time, this only applies to people willing to engage in unprotected sex. Why on Earth would you engage in irresponsible unprotected sex? Accidentally? Broken condoms?
I have no problem with recreational sex. But we have several highly effective birth control methods. If a woman is on the pill and the male uses a condom, the chances for an unwanted pregnancy approach zero. If for some reason a birth control method fails, adoption is an option preferable to the death of a human.
Abortion is not a birth control method. It is a life control method - the act following a decision to kill an innocent human. It is a decision we give no other person in society. It is illegal in ALL other cases to kill an innocent human. But since it is a woman, and the human in question is inside her, we grant the woman this unique ability, even in cases where the pregnancy was just due to irresponsibility.
So please be kind and help me out here. I am not going to bash anyone's personal position on the matter as I want my own position to be as sound and fair as possible. I just want to hear the opinions, specifically from people with superior understanding and life experience. I might challenge a bad argument, but it only be to seek clarification, not as an attack on any individuals beliefs.
Specifically, my questions are as follows:
1. In the case of irresponsible conception, why do we permit women to kill another human?
2. If it can even be answered, when does a human fetus get the intrinsic right to life? This is an unalienable right of all Americans (and all humans, I would argue. When does this right kick in?
3. Why are many atheists opposed to the death penalty but absolutely (in all cases/situations) pro-abortion? How is that at all morally consistent?
4. Is the practice of abortion detrimental to the social health of our society? Is the religious right to blame for a lack of sex education?
I share your desire. I am pro choice and against abortion - that means to me that a woman must be the one to decide about herself and unborn child, and at the same time she must do the utmost never to need an abortion. I've lived by this rule and I'm very happy that I never needed to choose.
But people are often unable to order their lives. Someone I knew (multiple addictions, bipolar) left her baby of not yet a year old with ´friends´. I hate to think how that baby must be; motherless, learnt addiction in the womb and probably inherited a bad disorder. She has a bleak future and I think she had better not been born.
This illustrates my point: I can be moral about myself, but with regard to other people we just try to limit the suffering. That is my way to be human: I won't sacrifice my humanity.
That is a good point. I can be pro choice regarding the legality and rights issue and against abortion on moral grounds. Makes sense.
Regarding the case you brought up, adversity often breeds excellence. Though it is possible this child may indeed fail in numerous aspects and inherit the flaws of the mother, the possibility also exists that this child might grow up very independent, overcome its limitations and flaws, and become a profound member of society.
I overcame a diagnosed bipolar disorder, alcohol addiction, and marijuana addiction eventually. I am fighting with tobacco currently, and winning. I came from a crazy family with a bipolar mother and severely emotionally abusive circumstances (Church of the Nazarene). I am now a published author, a loving father, and an agnostic atheist. If my parents had been more pleasant and part of a less insane church, I might still be an irrational theist, might still turn to drugs and alcohol for release (due to an indoctrinated distrust of head-shrinkers), and might have never pulled out of that spiral. It was the severity of my upbringing that made me independent and rebellious which initially expressed itself in harmful destructive ways, but ultimately lead me to truth and freedom.
I have been in the crucible myself, of almost indescribable ferocity. And have been annealed and honed by it.
You had a difficult start in life! I'm glad that you overcame so many horrors, and I do hope the child I mentioned can do the same some day. Yes, churches and dysfunctional families are the breeding grounds for substance abuse and other suffering - I think we all got a helping of that. But I overcame my religious upbringing, alcohol and tobacco, and built the life that I wanted; people, books, cats, and work in which I can help people to function better. Good luck with the tobacco fight!
Atheists are somewhat more likely to be against the death penalty, at least in one poll I saw.
With no belief in divine justice or forgiveness, it makes sense for an atheist to be against the death penalty.
If someone is executed, they are forever beyond exoneration if innocent. If guilty, they are beyond rehabilitation, beyond punishment, beyond any encounter that anyone else - their victims wishing to confront them, scientists studying their minds, anyone who might learn from them or benefit from knowing them - might have had.
I don't believe in divine justice or forgiveness and that's why I like the death penalty. If the person is guilty of premeditated murder beyond a reasonable doubt, you know that the SOB won't kill again if you kill him. That's his punishment and it was not divine. I can never show him forgiveness and most likely the families of his victims cannot either.
The altenative is to house and feed him for the rest of his life as you keep him confined. The cost is staggering. I might add that in some cases someone will come along after a few years to prononce him "cured." Why would we ever take that chance?
Now, here is the hard part about this belief in the death penalty. Making sure of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The first thing is to guarantee that the judge and prosecution are not elected officials. Maybe the police force should not be elected either. (IE, police chief.) Elected officials have a tendancy to lie and make shit up just to get the job done while furthering their own agenda. I've seen trials where someone was convicted and there was no evidence. Juries are often guided along areas that make no sense. The public is often taught to think that if a person is arrested he must be guilty. One of the biggest examples of this that I have ever seen was the West Memphis 3. I saw no evidence and just a desire to get something done, with one boy led like a lamb through his entire confession. They went over it again and again untill the boy "got it right." The 3 murders were a tragedy and so was the 3 convictions.
Perhaps one way to solve this problem is to make changes like I have hinted at above in our system, then make a change in jurors also. What if we could no longer have manipulated juries of "our peers" and used people that were professional jurors? Move them around all over the country and try to get our system back to "conviction because of the evidence" like it is supposed to be.
You didn't address what I wrote.
The altenative is to house and feed him for the rest of his life as you keep him confined. The cost is staggering.
Actually, it's a lot more expensive to execute someone than to keep them in prison for life. The cost of the death penalty is staggering.
I read about a woman who was on death row for many years. She had taken part in a horrible murder, when she was quite young I think. She was part of a group of hitchhikers who were taken in by a man in return for helping him do some work. They decided to rob the man.
They ended up murdering the man and his friend. The leader of the group directed her to hold the rope he used to strangle the man.
Soon after, she felt bad about it. At a risk to her own life, she got away from the group of hitchhikers and started calling police to report it. The leader dragged her back.
Later, she ran to a police car and told the cop about the murder. She gave a full confession and helped convict the other people in the group.
Because of her freely given confession, she was sentenced to death.
I was glad she got off death row. To me, that's a case where someone can be clearly guilty of murder, but they shouldn't be condemned to death. She helped with the murder under someone else's command, when she was very young and easily influenced.
Perhaps she should never be released from prison, but there's life without parole. She was a middle-aged woman in the documentary, many years removed from the person who did the murder.
I didn't address what you wrote? Sorry. I was writing what I felt in regards to what you wrote.
As for your example about this woman, it does appear that she was not treated fairly.
As for the death penalty costing more money in the long run, I never indicated that people on death row should be there for years. The whole idea of doing this is insane. Once guilt is determined beyond a reasonable doubt the sentence should be carried out quickly.
The big problem with our system is that people are convicted and reasonable doubt remains. Often they keep on with new trials until they get the "results" they wanted in the first place. It gets rediculous.
I've even seen murder trials in which they convicted a man who was documented to have been at his workplace by many people, but the police surmised that he could have left work anyway and he had a short time to commit the murder. This got him convicted and he worked on a production line. Almost impossible! Where is the evidence?
I didn't address what you wrote? Sorry. I was writing what I felt in regards to what you wrote.
Often, people just talk past each other in these discussions. They just state their pre-existing opinion.
A murder leaves a lot of unfinished business in people's minds. One thing religion does for people is to give them the belief that their unfinished business will be taken care of by God.
We don't know that. Any unfinished business likely involves the murderer themselves. I saw one case where a victim came to the prison to confront the murderer. To his surprise, the murderer said he was extremely sorry and begged forgiveness. The victim said he forgave the man on the spot, and it healed something in him.
That could never have happened if the murderer had been executed.
And when someone is executed, it creates unfinished business just like a murder does. It damages the family of the executed person, and they may have done nothing to deserve it. The person who was executed, was likely loved by their family. An execution hurts the family for generations. Maybe they also get permanently angry at the government.
Executing people is violence just like murder is violence, and it creates further damage. That's what violence does.
As for your example about this woman, it does appear that she was not treated fairly.
Well, she did commit the murder. So you can see extenuating circumstances where someone who clearly did murder someone, shouldn't be executed.
But quite often people who murdered someone, were influenced by really bad company. There are extenuating circumstances.
People are very influenced by others. Someone who would never consider killing another human being, can go into the army, get extensive training in killing people, and then they go off and kill other people. Regular, non-criminal people learn to be killers.
To me, the idea of actually murdering someone is bizarre. It's hard to imagine circumstances where I would do that. But - given an upbringing that somehow made it conceivable, put me in the company of people where killing was done easily, socially approved of - perhaps I would kill someone.
We can't well judge people in other circumstances, from our own circumstances.
People change in prison. They may be safer than they were on the outside. They're less in an actively criminal society, where violence is approved of.
You can look at people who get the death penalty, or people who go to prison in general, and see that they are disproportionately black, and disproportionately lower-class.
There's no evidence that I know of, that black people are inherently more likely to be violent. Or that people with deprived upbringings are genetically more likely to be violent.
So how can it be fair to execute them more often?
I've seen some cases where the murderer really does seem like a monster. Like something is wrong in their brain, perhaps genetically wrong or organically damaged, so that they don't have any regard for human life. For example there was one man who apparently liked to butcher people. So he became a serial killer.
It's in cases like that that I'm closest to be OK with the death penalty. I think, that person is so repellent that they just shouldn't exist.
But, even in those cases I ask myself - is my perception right? I don't really know the person. I don't know where they came from. Perhaps they will change in prison.
You're in favor of a "reformed" death penalty. A death penalty where wrongful convictions never happen.
But people do get convicted on what seems like good evidence, but later the evidence is debunked. Ryan Ferguson for example was convicted on the basis of testimony from two eyewitnesses, who definitively identified him as the murderer. It turned out both eyewitnesses were lying or wrong (I don't remember) and he was eventually released.
Juries put great weight on eyewitness testimony, but in fact it's very unreliable.
False confessions also cause a lot of wrongful convictions. Juries put great weight on confessions. That's because people don't understand how someone could be pressured to confess to something they didn't do.
Probably you also want to eradicate the racist and classist aspects of the death penalty? But the USA has been struggling with those issues for centuries. We may never have a truly equal-opportunity society.
I never indicated that people on death row should be there for years. The whole idea of doing this is insane. Once guilt is determined beyond a reasonable doubt the sentence should be carried out quickly.
I shudder at the idea of an "efficient" death penalty. The appeals process is there for good reason.
My opinion is that someone convicted of these horrible crimes, where you never want them to be free again, should be given a choice between death and life without parole. They should be able to choose death at any time, with a suitable waiting period.
I don't want to force someone to remain alive, either. That would be cruel. I don't want my government to be cruel.
Luara, your entire post here is well said.
Let me point out that everyone has "unfinished business." This term could be used of someone murdered, their families, or any person that died for any reason. Unfinished business is often used by phychics or any of those who believe the supernatural. If I die tomorrow I will have much "unfinished business."
As for black people getting the wrong end of the stick in convictions and the death penalty, I believe this all has to do with wanting to deal with the crime quickly, even manipulation of evidence, and the fact that most of the justice system and law enforcement are white. Make them all black and you would see more whites being convicted, possibly even wrongly convicted just like the blacks. I'm not sure this is all racial, but it does have to do with ability to have a good defense. Poor people of any color are then at risk, and if you are a gangbanger and into drugs, don't look for the gang to divert any profits to defend you. It means you are simply screwed.
As for one race or another being geneticly predisposed to do something or to commit a crime, drugs is more likely the culprit here. With this being so, you can see why people in prison might change. Not everyone in prison has access to drugs. For those who claim to have "found Jesus" in prison it might be said that he was part of the Mexican cartel. (Pun intended.) People might change in prison, but they do get out and often look for what they were familiar with from before. Rehabiliation programs are not working for the most part.
I have 3 grandchildren and they have all been in prison. The granddaughter was the first to go. The 2 grandsons are in there right now. In state prison because of drugs and disillusionment with drugs. They think this is the "real world" but I would point out that the one with authority to send you to prison is probably from the real world. You do not "pass go and collect $100" here. One of these grandchildren was a hairs breadth away from a murder, but did not actually commit the murder.
You mention eyewitness testimony, and I agree that it is most unreliable. My opinion is that this is not evidence unless it is caught on camera. If a person cannot recall who starred in their favorite movie, how are they going to identify someone they saw only briefly? In fact, I knew a black man who worked as a stuntman in hollywood at one time. He showed me scenes of his work and you could zoom in and see the stunt was done by a black person. Ironicly, the people he was most often doing the stunts for were white. This makes eyewitness testimony totally useless.
I like your ending that people convicted of horrible crimes could be given a choice of life in prison or taking the death penalty at any time. This would put their fate back into their own hands to a degree. Attorneys would fight against it. They charge mega bucks just to keep your loved one from the death penalty.
Keep in mind that my ideas here are about using a different form of judge and prosecuting attorney. This would involve different defense as well. It would involve evidence beyond a doubt. Confessions would be filmed and presented to the professional jury panel for evaluation. All evidence would add up and nothing would be assumed. In many cases there would be no conviction for a lack of good evidence, and there could be no re-trial unless new evidence was found. In my ideas of the system there would be less railroading.
It seems everyone has a place where the draw a line, in terms of respect for life. Some people have not respect for life. That makes an easy choice.
But if one does, where are the rational limits to set, on ending life? What are the consequences?
Is the limit that, human life is respected, but not other life forms?
Is it sentience? Consciousness? Experience of pain and pleasure?
Is it DNA? Are humans to be respected, but other creatures that experience pain and pleasure, and appear to know fear and love, are not?
Does guilt or predation mean a life is not to be respected? Is that because each creature has free will, and is fully self determinative? We should destroy, say, lions and tigers, and herbivores like cows and sheep that appear to be without predatory intent? But humans, the most predatory of creatures, deserve different respect?
If the decision for maintaining a fetus at its mothers expense, is that it can appear to experience pain, why is that a reason to avoid abortion, but nonhuman creatures are OK to kill?
Please know, I am not promoting an animal rights agenda, or making a statement that animals and humans are the same, in a moral sense. But I honestly don't know why we deserve different consideration. If we set the line at sentience, or set the line at experience of pain or pleasure, or at having human DNA, my question is, from an ethical sense, how can we be consistent, and why is that a valid place to draw the line?
We can all suffer; perhaps that knowledge can bring us closer to the other inhabitants of this planet. I can find no moral ground for our predatory lifestyle. We write our own history from the winners' perspective, and it gives us a warped view, because we have written our family out of our history.
I'm thinking of the story - don't really know if it's true - that American Indians apologized to the animals they killed. That seems to me a way to acknowledge a killing that cannot be defended by rights. I've apologized often, and I found that it keeps me close to our family. But it's not something for our horrible slaughter houses - I'm so sorry, sister Cow...