September 17, 2020

Pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born?


By Hendrik van der Breggen

September 17, 2020 

Pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born?

When it comes to the topic of abortion, I often hear the claim that pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born. The idea/objection is that pro-lifers are hypocritical and thus shouldn’t speak out against abortion.

Is this a good objection? I don’t think so, for two reasons.

Reason 1

First, is it true that pro-lifers aren’t helping people after they’re born? Well, maybe some aren't. But many are.

Witness the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centres/ pregnancy care centres. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, in the U.S. in 2017 there were 2752 such centres, providing much help to women and their children. See: Pro-life Pregnancy Centers Served 2 Million People, Saved Communities $161M in 2017.

Also, witness the fantastic response gotten from a newspaper editor who asked via Twitter (disparagingly and dismissively, expecting no good answers) what pro-life people have done personally to help lower-income single moms. It turns out this editor received 13,000 responses indicating that pro-life people in fact do a lot! See: 13,000 Tweeting Compassionate Pro-Lifers.

Permit me to speak from personal experience. My wife Carla is deeply pro-life. But she is also humble and doesn't talk much about the good things she does. She sees such talk as morally inappropriate—as bragging. So I will brag on her behalf!

When Carla and I were dating and during our first years of marriage, Carla worked in a group home caring for—helping—children who were severely handicapped physically and mentally.

Later (while I was completing my PhD and beginning to teach philosophy courses) we lived for eleven years in a low-income, high crime neighbourhood. During this time Carla (along with a couple of her friends) began a community centre to help our needy neighbours. This community centre was supported by one church initially, then two, then three, then seven—and more.

Carla also tutored some of our neighbours' kids. She also taught single parents how to make inexpensive but nutritious meals (Carla even took the time to become certified by our local health department to do this). She also helped organize a weekly food distribution. She also helped a neighbour (a low-income single mom with five kids) learn to drive, obtain a driver's license, and find some part-time employment (subsequently Carla often loaned our car to this mom for grocery shopping). Carla also helped a young woman deal with her abusive husband. Carla also used her nurse training to help injured neighbours as well as neighbours with young children, including a home birth. Carla also was instrumental in having our family provide ongoing financial support for an orphanage in Bolivia begun by a young couple at our church. And there's much more, but space doesn't permit. 

(She also homeschooled our two sons during this time!)

You get the picture: Pro-life people (like my wife) are against abortion and they often do lots of good stuff—which we tend not to hear about.

Reason 2

Second, an important logical point should be made: Even if pro-lifers weren't (contrary to fact) helping people after they're born, this would not make the killing of unborn children morally correct or permissible. And it wouldn’t mean pro-lifers shouldn’t speak out against abortion. Pro-lifers hold the view that abortion is the killing of an innocent unborn child—and is wrong, period.

Maybe the following parable from Scott Klusendorf will help (keep in mind that pro-lifers think the unborn are actual human beings who have intrinsic value and have the moral right to life, i.e., they’re not mere blobs of tissue or mere clumps of cells): 

Joe found the young girl unconscious in her upstairs closet. By the time he got there, the structure was a raging inferno. No one else dared go inside. Scooping up the girl, he took his only exit, straight out the second story window and into the bushes below. The girl lived. Joe sustained three cuts and two sprained ankles—and an avalanche of questions. The media wanted to know how he planned to pay for the girl’s food, clothing, and health care now that he’d rescued her. A pastor asked if time spent saving the girl from temporal flames might be better spent saving people from eternal ones. The social justice coordinator at a local parish insisted that if Joe truly cared about saving lives, he’d care about all life and spend equal time rescuing poor workers from rich corporations. The local Congressman asked if Joe supported tax hikes aimed at reducing fire risk. Joe just kept looking at the girl. The above story is contrived, but it’s played out in the real world every day. Only the issue is abortion. The minute you state your pro-life convictions, foes attack.

Or think of it this way: I believe that killing kittens by suctioning off their legs (via a high-powered suction machine) is wrong, period. Objecting to my view because I don’t volunteer at my local animal shelter is beside the point. (Oh, by the way, our cat Rupert came from our local animal shelter.)

The critics' objection is beside the point, too.


In conclusion, the objection that pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born is often false and it’s not relevant to whether or not a pro-lifer should speak out against the killing of innocent human beings via abortion.

Hopefully, pro-choicers are helping people after they're born, too, to provide a real choice, and thus not merely advocating for the right to kill unborn children.

P.S. Permit me to brag about my wife once more. Carla donates blood regularly. At time of writing, she once again donated blood—for the 73rd time! Seventy-three blood donations. SEVENTY-THREE. Pro-lifers aren't helping people after they're born. Yeah, right.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.

For further thought on the abortion issue:

July 29, 2020

About slavery

Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce in 2006 movie Amazing Grace
Ioan Gruffudd (left) as William Wilberforce in 2006 movie Amazing Grace


By Hendrik van der Breggen

July 29, 2020


About slavery

I’ve written previously about my experience of students’ lack of common knowledge, but it seems that today, in general, many young people (and not-so-young people) seem unaware of the history of slavery. This is disturbing. I hope what follows helps set the record straight.

Here is a transcript that provides a historical overview of slavery and some philosophical-theological insight concerning its demise. It’s from a short video by Dennis Prager of PragerU: “Every Society in History Had Slavery” (July 26, 2020): 

Every society on Earth in all of history had slavery. Every single one. The Europeans/ Americans had slavery. The Arabs had slavery, massive slavery. The word for black person in Arabic is “abeed” which means slave. That’s how common slavery was. Slavery in Asia, obviously. Slavery in Black Africa. Black Africans had Black Africans as slaves. Indigenous Native Americans had slaves. Every society in history had slavery. So the only question that is honest is not “who had slavery?” It’s “who abolished slavery?” That’s the only important question. And then you come up with the answer—woah people in the West. Western civilization with its Judeo-Christian values abolished slavery. It was a Christian movement. Now I’m a Jew telling you this. It was a Christian movement in Britain. Wilberforce was the man’s name, who led this movement, seeing that it was evil and it violated biblical principles. 

Prager continues: 

And you know how many Americans died to end slavery? That was the Civil War that was about slavery. It’s one of the only things [about which] left and right agree. It was caused by slavery. Southern states wanted to maintain slavery; northern states wanted to abolish it, so the southern states seceded and that’s how you got the Civil War. And when it ended slavery was abolished. Abraham Lincoln was regarded until this very morally perverse present as one of the greatest humans we’ve ever produced. And now every statue was taken down. Washington and Jefferson had slaves. So therefore what? Who didn’t have slaves in the 18th century? But they made a country that abolished slavery. 

Pause and let Prager’s points sink in (skip the bit about statues for now; I’ve written about statues here). Prager’s first point is that, historically, slavery was widespread, even universal. That’s true, it’s terrible, and it’s often missed by many today. Also often missed by many is Prager’s crucially important second point: A hugely significant feature of the West is that it abolished slavery.

I would add that the West also planted and nurtured the philosophical-theological seeds needed to continue to fight slavery.

Prager mentions the English politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833). While the world was for centuries awash with slavery, Wilberforce and his friends fought long and hard—peacefully, for about 50 years—to abolish slavery in Britain. Why? Because they held to the view that all people were created in the image of God and therefore had great worth—and equally so.

Wilberforce and company got this view from the New Testament, which includes the letters of the Apostle Paul. Significantly, as historian Tom Holland points out, Paul’s writings are a “kind of depth charge deep beneath the classical world” that has had “ripple effects” throughout the modern Western world, resulting in concepts such as international law and human rights, which we now take for granted.

Sadly, slavery continues today, even in the West. It’s called human trafficking. Happily, people of good will—people who respect international law and human rights—continue to work hard to end it. In fact, July 30th is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

I hope that an accurate historical and philosophical-theological understanding of the battle against slavery/human trafficking will help us persevere over the long haul, as we follow Wilberforce's example. An accurate understanding and taking to heart of the Gospels and the letters of Paul (and letters of others in the New Testament) will probably help, too.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.


For further thought:  


July 23, 2020

On taking down monuments


By Hendrik van der Breggen

July 23, 2020


On taking down monuments

I’ve been thinking about all the monuments that have been toppled and/or vandalized recently in the U.S. by mobs because of their anger over slavery. Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. History is messy. Contrary to what seems to pass for common knowledge these days, whites aren’t the only people who owned slaves. It turns out that Native Americans owned slaves. It turns out, too, that Arabs and Asians were heavily involved in slavery. And it turns out that blacks also owned slaves and sold fellow blacks to slave buyers. Rich African chiefs even protested the abolishing of slavery—an abolition that started first in 18th century England which was for the most part … white.

For further reading and substantiation, see The Native Americans Who Owned Slaves and Africa’s Role In Slavery and 'After All, Didn't America Invent Slavery?' and 'My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves' and The Real History of Slavery.

2. I think some monuments should come down, especially if they celebrate some kind of moral atrocity. I’m okay with taking down monuments that celebrate Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the like. These men are responsible for the murder of well over a hundred million people. I think the monuments of some Confederate slave-holders should come down, too. I would also favour the taking down of the monument of Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood to use abortion to help rid the world of black people.

3. About the method of taking down monuments: I think it would be wise to do this in a way that respects peaceful and law-respecting democratic processes. We should take time to investigate the actual history of the person whose monument is on the chopping block, then petition the city council or state/province (or whomever) that’s in charge, and then present our case, providing carefully thought out reasons (including pros and cons and alternatives for the monument, besides destruction, e.g., placement in a museum). Otherwise a mob mentality takes over, resulting in some “innocent” monuments (among other things) getting destroyed.

Speaking of “innocent” monuments, I think of the recent destruction of a statue of Hans Christian Heg in Wisconsin. Ironically, it was destroyed in the name of anti-racism. But Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War so slavery could be ended. Other innocent monuments that have been recently toppled or vandalized include those of Matthias Baldwin (an abolitionist), John Greenleaf Whittier (another abolitionist), Ulysses S. Grant (a Union general and later president who helped end slavery in the U.S.), and Frederick Douglass (yet another abolitionist). (Note: Some speculate that the destruction of the Douglass statue was some sort of “retribution” for the destruction of statues like that of Heg—but this strengthens my point. Peaceful and law-respecting democratic process is to be preferred over mob mentality/rule.)

So, yes, some monuments should come down. But let’s do it wisely. Also, if there are monuments honouring black people, indigenous people, or people of colour, it’s probably also wise—and fair—to discern whether they had slaves or committed other moral atrocities.

4. The desire to take down monuments seems to be related to seeking justice for past injustices related to slavery. But when it comes to reparations of past injustices having to do with slavery, things get complicated. Slavery was practiced by all peoples, including whites, blacks, indigenous people, and people of colour (see the above linked-to articles for substantiation). So attempts to seek justice for those who were enslaved gets seriously complex. For example, it gets very difficult to seek justice for the offspring of black people who were sold by other blacks and enslaved by indigenous people who in turn bore injustices. We may have noble goals about sorting out the injustices of the past—and those goals ARE noble—but history is, as I said, messy. This means historians need to be given time to do the necessary historical work, without pressure from the mob, and citizens should become familiar with history and respect the rule of law—and thereby resist becoming a mob.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.

July 17, 2020

Neutrality? Yeah, right. Get off my lawn!

Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski in the movie Gran Torino (2008)


By Hendrik van der Breggen

July 17, 2020 (slightly revised and improved July 20, 2020)


Neutrality? Yeah, right. Get off my lawn!

I can relate to the character Walt Kowalski played by Clint Eastwood in the fine 2008 film Gran Torino. Like Walt, I’m fed up with foolishness.

Let me explain. I’ve noticed that many people attempt to appear neutral on certain moral issues, but actually aren’t. When I was young I used to think these folks seemed sophisticated and intelligent—so above the fray, so “with it.” I used to get fooled, but no more. Maybe I’ve turned into a cranky old fogey, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of these attempts at neutrality are epic fails.

Here is an example from a few years ago: “I’m neither for abortion nor against abortion.”

Sounds “neutral,” doesn’t it? But it isn’t. It actually assumes a particular view on the abortion issue. It takes the view that others can make the choice for an abortion if they want to. If you hold the view, it means that you don’t think the fetus is a human being with the right to life. That is a particular view—not neutral at all.

Think of it this way: If one says about slavery that one is neither for it nor against it, then one is assuming/taking the view that the slave isn’t a full human being with rights. And it means one will let people choose to have a slave if they wish. That ain’t neutral, folks.

Here is a more recent example. Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter stated the following: “I don’t condone nor do I condemn rioting.” And: “I just want black liberation, and black sovereignty. By any means necessary.”

Newsome seems to be taking a neutral position on rioting. After all, he says he doesn’t condone it nor does he condemn it. Neutral, right?

Wrong. Newsome’s I-don’t-condone-or-condemn-rioting claim is NOT a neutral position. Rioting hurts innocent people. It destroys their livelihoods, and it usually escalates to such an extent that innocent people get killed.

Again, think about slavery. Not condemning or condoning slavery is not neutral. It’s to suggest that if you want a slave, then go ahead and have one. Or think of it this way: Not condemning or condoning, say, killing Jews isn’t neutral, either.  It’s to suggest that if you want to kill a Jew, that’s your choice. Newsome’s I-don’t-condone-or-condemn-rioting suggests/implies that you can go ahead and riot—it’s merely a matter of your choice. No big deal.

Yeah, right. Say that to the folks in Minneapolis who lost their livelihoods and to the families of those who lost their lives.

What is worse (for Newsome’s view) is that Newsome’s so-called neutral position—especially when it doesn’t condemn rioting—is legitimized as appropriate or right if it serves his ends (which are righteous in his eyes). Recall that he wants to get what he wants “by any means necessary.” But this anything-goes-if-it-supports-my-ideology is the reasoning of ruthless authoritarians, as history shows. (Think of the 1985 film The Killing Fields.) In other words, it’s anything but neutral. It’s like a bystander who shrugs his shoulders and walks away as somebody gets raped and murdered.

Here is another example. In Canada, a recently passed Calgary city bylaw concerning conversion therapy (helping a person resist his/her same-sex attractions if the person wishes to do so and asks for such help) requires that such therapy should be allowed only if it involves a “person’s non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.”

Jyoti Gondek, a Calgary city councillor, defended the bylaw as follows: “I think that the bylaw that’s before us has been written in such a manner that it is open to any conversations that people want to have as long as they’re non-judgmental. And for me it’s that phrase ‘non-judgmental’ that is key. The minute you pass a value judgment and call it a truth, you are going to hurt somebody. And that’s really all I want to say about this. We cannot say that just talking to somebody is not dangerous because it is. The words that you say will hurt that person.”

Sounds neutral and non-judgmental, doesn’t it?

Nope. It isn’t. First, Jyoti Gondek is talking to us and assuming that her view is true—so her assumption is a judgment that she’s already made and is passing off as “non-judgmental.” Her words aren’t hurting me, but her illogic is hurting my brain.

Second, for the law to claim under the banner of “non-judgmental” that it's okay only to promote views that go one particular way (i.e., “acceptance” in terms of how the city councillors such as Gondek think it should go) is also to make a judgment. It is to be the opposite of “non-judgmental.” And it is to be deceptive, whether wittingly or unwittingly. The banner of “non-judgmental” may make it seem that the position is neutral, but in fact it isn't neutral!

So, like Walt Kowalski, I’m fed up with foolishness. And maybe, like Walt, I’m even getting a bit cranky in my old age. It turns out that, nowadays, when I see people claim to be neutral on certain moral issues when in fact they’re not neutral, I just want to shout, “Get off my lawn!”

And maybe throw an empty beer can in their general direction.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a cranky retired professor of philosophy who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada.

For further reading

 On abortion

 On Black Lives Matter

On conversion therapy