Friday, January 19, 2007

Lassen County Times in Review, Jan 16 Edition

More to talk about this week...

A Letter to the Editor comes to the defense of LCT's editor, Barbara France, and chastises a "local blogger" for criticizing France. A few people thought this person was referring to me - they weren't; they were referring to another local blog kanwehelp. In regards to France, this letter states:

A local blog states it is getting a mailbox full of e-mails saying people have had enough with her religion. I suppose when a mailbox is used to being empty, getting three or four e-mails can be a flood.
The blog also says Ms. France has not written a legitimate news story or editorial since she began as editor.

As readers of the blog know, I have had my issues with Barbara France; however, I can't say I agree with the accusation that she hasn't written a legitimate news story, although I suppose it depends on how one defines "legitimate". My beef has always been the way she (and other staff members) use the paper to constantly publicize fundamentalist Christianity. I have accused the editors of the LCT, including France, of having an agenda and I stick by that. I also think that when she and others go off on their Christian tangent, they usually get the facts wrong or significantly distort the issue. I can also verify the claim by that many people in the community are sick and tired of the regularity with which this occurs. Many sarcastically refer to our local paper as the "Lassen Christian Times". I have received large numbers of phone calls, emails and general around-the-town verbal pats on the back by local folks after every editorial I've written for the paper. There is a large proportion of the community that doesn't like the Christianity being thrown in everyone's face. The letter writer obviously doesn't believe this kind of complaint is occurring, and I really don't care. It has been sufficient for me to continue writing editorials and it has been sufficient for me to continue writing this blog. The local readership of Northstate Science is growing...

The letter writer wants us bloggers to stay off Ms. France's back because she's a "nice person". You know, I happen to think that she probably is a nice person. I frankly stayed away from commenting on her first editorial when I started this series, in large part because it was kind of a classic "turn the other cheek" sort of thing and I can respect her Christianity on that level. But she and other members of the staff are singly wrong on a lot of things; they misrepresent ideas and issue; they fail to tell the whole story sometimes, and I'm going to continue to call the editor, her staff and other writers on those issues.

And speaking of the editor...Barbara France's editorial this week, Supreme Court of 1973 Changes U.S. History, starts well and good, although the nature of it was predictable from the outset. She sympathizes with those who are fighting (or have loved ones fighting) in Iraq and Afghanistan and bemoans the loss of 3,000 U.S. military men and women in those conflicts. No problem here...I share Barbara's sentiments in this record. But then comes the kicker...

However, that number is insignificant when compared to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow American women to abort unborn babies.

Yeah, here we go...fetal tissue is the same as a young man or woman with spouse, children, relatives, a past history and a potential future. The only thing missing here is the usual obligatory reference to Stallin or Hitler. France quotes figures of 43 million "babies" having been aborted since 1973 or approximately 4,000 per day. Those figures may or may not be correct, but their validity is irrelevant to the point of my discussion: it doesn't matter. France and I take significantly different philosophical stances toward this issue. She, citing her Christian background, would claim these are individual lives the equivalent of any other human being. Aborting one is no different than killing someone. After all, the Pope has declared that lilfe begins at conception.

Sorry, but I don't see it that way. I have three fundamental issues with the anti-abortion mindset. First, it is predominately a religous issue and readers of my blog know that I have a serious distate for anything religious dictating public policy. Attempting to legislatively restrict or elilminate a personal choice on the basis of religious dogma begins to take society down a Talibanesque road that will ultimately destroy this particular iteration of civilization, not preserve it. In addition, declaring a few cells equivalent to a human essence on the basis of religious belief demands that society critically evaluate the historical, philosophical and political motivations of those religious viewpoints. In doing so, we are justified in seriously questioning whether such viewpoints are philosophically accurate, logically and scientifically sound, or even historically consistent. Hence we are further justified in publically questioning whether religions espousing such viewpoints are in fact necessary, or whether they actually pose a danger to the fabric of society.

Second, I see anti-abortion advocates as largely hypocritical at two levels. At the political level I think most politicians and a significant proportion of the the anti-abortion crowd are not personally serious about the issue. It is useful only so far as it functions as both a good cause célèbre to rally a base of voters and as political cover to draw attention away from the real goals of tax cuts, business deregulation and making sure the bulk of national wealth is retained at the upper levels of society. I suspect that if tomorrow the Democrats became raving anti-abortion activists but continued to insist on regulating business and raising taxes, even modestly, few Republicans would jump ship. (I do not, however, believe Barbara Fance is a hypocrite in this regard).

At another level, the obsession with fetal tissue as a respected human life form has reached such a state of hysterical allegiance as to approach the level of cultic fervor. Anti-abortion activists have become the "Cult of the Fetal Tissue". In the mind of a fetal cult activist, a few uterine cells have more status in the human societal pecking order than a six year old in a poor New Orleans suburb. However, the fundamentalist Christian "concern" for human life stops suddenly at birth, when the housing, feeding, education and opportunities for that child suddenly become somebody else's responsibility and by the way, God help you if you dare raise my taxes to create a better societal health care system, educational opportunity or healthier environment for that kid.

Third, I (and many others) simply cannot envision cells in an uterus as the equivalent of a one year old sitting in a car seat in the family Volvo. I agree that there is ample discussion to be had on what stage in the developmental process that equivalency is attained and yes, I happen to think that it comes somewhere before birth. It does not, however, begin at conception and probably does not kick in for some time after that. Certainly not within the initial decision space for a woman to consider having an abortion. Consider this: throw a viable embryo and my daughter into a raging river and I believe almost no one would fault me for jumping in and saving my daughter at the expense of the embryo (except perhaps for a few zealous fetal cultists). However, there is a LONG laundery list of humans, animals, plants and a few inanimate objects I would jump in to save well before considering getting wet for a few blastocytes. The Pope may have defined this blob of cells as life by religous fiat, but it is not a definition that attains any level of practical application to human behavior, except where it intersects with poltical goals.

Barbara France also trots out the Argument-Of-Potentially-Lossed-Contributions regarding the abortion of fetal tissue:

Perhaps we would have a cure for AIDS, Parkinson's, and cancer if one of those 43 million babies lived.

Perhaps we would have a cure for Parkinson's if we stopped treating cells like they had more rights than the Parkinson's patients themselves... Perhaps the potential lies with the poor six year old who won't get a chance to prove herself in medical school because she can't afford to go... Perhaps we lose hundreds of good scientists to leukemia each year because we allow business to run amuck and pollute our environment... Perhaps we lose great contributions to society from people who have to spend all their time working minimum wage jobs just to eat... Perhaps we lost the next Einstein in Iraq this year...

Finally, staff writer Ruth Ellis responds to last week's letter lamenting the potential loss of Cornerstone Christian school to the Susanville community. I posted about this last week. Ruth is an alumni of Cornerstone and her mom teaches I can sympathize with her concern and effort at lauding her time there (hey, I'd be doing the same thing if the University of Wisconsin were going under...). I also appreciate that her paragraph on hard working teachers in the community, regardless of where they teach:

I cover all of the schools in Lassen County; public, private, high school and alternative education and have respect for the teachers who put a lot of hard work and dedication into their students' education.

Great. Thanks Ruth! I think that was a fine tribute to the teachers in the community. Unfortunately, I have to take issue with something written a little further on:

Not only did I receive a good education, but being in a Christian school helped reinforce the biblical foundations my parents were already building at home. Bible classes were mandatory and the high school participated in a mission trip to Mexico every year.

I'm sorry, but all that tells me is that you received a very limited education, had your perceptions of the world reinforced at an age when you had neither the experience, nor the diverse education, nor the intellectual capacity (because of development, not innate ability) to be able to question whether the "reinforcement" was either 1) reasonable; or 2) correct. In effect, you have not come to your beliefs honestly. Furthermore, you work at a small town paper, surrounded by a staff with limited perspective, and apparently lack the education necessary to compete in a wider world. Just how much has that "Christian" education bought you? My advice: get out of town; go to a big university somewhere, find out about other worldviews, other ideas, other outlooks; prepare to listen to criticism of your own worldview - if you do this honestly and find your beliefs still suite you, then you've come by them for reasons other than indoctrination. Just a suggestion...

But not to end on a critical note: Ruth did take wonderful photos and had a good write-up of Diamond View Middle School's rendition of "Oklahoma!", which premiers tonight.

Until next week....


jon said...

Dr. O'Brien,
Of course Barb's column polarized people. As her husband, I know how strongly she feels about abortion but to give you more information, she did not come to her conclusion because the Pope said life begins at conception. Actually in 1973, as a Catholic girl she was pro-abortion. Her believe comes from reading the Bible, especially Psalm 139. She is not longer a practicing Catholic and neither she or I consider ourselves religious, just believers. To us there is a difference.
You are right when you say a lot of people spout about no abortion and then abandon the child and mother after the child is born. It is shameful as is anyone who advocates killer abortion doctors or criticising those who choose abortion. Our goal is to help and love those who feel abortion is the only answer. Barb and I have not done enough but we have been able to help about a dozen teens while living in Illinois find adoptive families or heal from the effects of abortion.

On another very different note: your daughter did a nice job in Friday's performance of DV's Oklahoma. She has a beautiful voice. My daughter thought you took the pictures in the calendar. They are great!!!!!!! We are lucky to have dedicated teachers help our children act, sing and dance.

Christopher O'Brien said...

I can appreciate Barbara's concern with abortion (and I can tell she feels passionate about it, which is why I specifically mentioned that I don't count her among the hypocrites using it as a political tool). The Pope comment was a counter to my Catholic friends (although I do know many who would take the Pope's word on just about everything) - I certainly can understand that people come to their opposition to it for many different reasons. I'm sure we disagree on many things concerning religion/belief, but I do applaud you and Barbara for your demonstrated concern for teens in those situations. I still believe it should be legal, however like most people I know, I also think we should work to make it rare.

Thanks for the kind words about my daughter. Unfortunately, she lost her voice in Saturday's performance and was pretty upset about it. I think all the kids did a wonderful job - I am particularly impressed with the boys: I'm sure it takes a lot to get a 7th/8th grade boy up on stage to sing, dance and act. They did a great job!

Thanks Jon!