November 22, 2017

Perfect storm

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, November 23, 2017

Perfect storm

I think our culture is facing a convergence of three popular philosophical theses which threatens to undo us. I'll set out the three theses and then I'll set out the storm.

Thesis 1: There is no objective truth.

This means that truth can't be a relation between what one believes and what is actually the case independently of what one believes, so one cannot be mistaken about what is real. (One can only be “inauthentic, i.e., not in touch with one's feelings, which leads to thesis 2.)

Thesis 2: Truth is subjective, i.e., it's what you feel.

Thesis 3: Disagreeing with someone is the same as hating that someone. Witness the negative reactions on some university campuses to speakers expressing views contrary to the views of students, faculty, and administrators.

Here's the perfect storm: I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that.

Let's put some flesh on this storm.

Recently, white American man Adam Wheeler, who now calls himself Ja Du, has decided he is transgender and Filipino. And people are defending Ja Du's status as a Filipino woman.

How so? Here is journalist Cathy Areu, who has a BA and an MS in English, is publisher of Catalina magazine, and defends Ja Du on Tucker Carlson's talk show:

“It's totally OK. It's very American to be who you want to be. This person has the freedom to be who she wants to be. And she wants to be a Filipino woman. So that's OK.

“It's what's on the inside that counts, not what's on the outside. There's a growing movement. There's many people that are now identifying as the other gender and as another culture or race or ethnicity.

“If this person's not hurting anyone, then what's wrong?

“If you're identifying as a woman and you're not hurting anyone, there's nothing wrong with that. If you [a man] want to be a woman, that's fine, that's perfectly fine.

What about becoming a different sex, race, or species? “If you're not hurting anyone, then what's the problem? It's very American to be who you want to be. So I think it's wonderful. I think it's beautiful. I think it's great.

Didn't we used to call this delusional? “It's 2017. It's OK now to be transracial and transgender. We're accepting. We're an open society. We're a modern society.

What if you have a friend who thinks he is Napoleon: “That's OK!

So it's not a sign of mental illness, but a sign of personal actualization? “Absolutely! As Ja Du says, it's what's inside that counts… it's that person's choice.

Folks, this is a perfect storm—of insanity.

To weather this storm, please think about the following (Facebook comment) from Robert Gagnon, former professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:

“Caucasian man identifies as Filipino woman, at once 'transsexual' and 'transracial.' Woman publisher defends it as a very 'American' thing to do (because we all know that Franklin, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, et al. embraced these notions).

“No word yet whether this person has any plans to identify as a 5-year old so as to excel in kindergarten, or as a 65-year-old so as to collect Social Security benefits and get Senior Citizen Discounts. Nor have we yet heard whether he intends to identify as blind in order to collect disability benefits….

“Who does this harm? For starters, it messes up children by indoctrinating them into the gnostic nonsense that biology has no bearing on reality. It penalizes with loss of employment, fines, and threats of imprisonment anyone who does not acknowledge (indeed, celebrate) these lies to be true.

“It forces the whole of society to subsidize sickness and falsehood. It harms the persons who are mentally troubled by feeding the self-dishonoring behavior and convincing them not to get the help they desperately need. It makes a mockery of programs designed to help women and ethnic minorities.

“It represents a complaint and rebellion against God for being made the way God has made us.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

November 08, 2017

Remembering communism

Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will go on living
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, November 9, 2017

Remembering communism

Fall 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the beginning of a grand experiment in communism. This social experiment had bitter fruit that shouldn't be forgotten.

Influenced by Karl Marx, the leaders of Soviet communism—Lenin, Stalin, and Co. (Comrades)—strived to create a utopian society. After taking power, the communists abolished private property and took control of the means of production (factories, farms). Their promise was that state control (a “dictatorship of the proletariat”) would be temporary. Eventually, new men and women would come into being.

Moreover, these men and women would be transformed from self-oriented to other-oriented.  Their lives would be characterized by this mantra: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” A socialist heaven would finally come to earth.

Apparently, however, nobody seemed to be aware of the saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It turns out that the temporary dictatorship by the communist elite wasn’t temporary. And the Soviet experiment was a disaster.

In fact, Soviet communism's killing of its own people makes Nazi death camps pale in comparison. Whereas 6 or 7 million died in the Nazi holocaust, multiple millions more died as a result of Soviet communism.

Some historians estimate the Soviet death toll was 20 million, whereas Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who lived in the Soviet Union) estimates 60 million.

Of this total, approximately 5 or more million died at a result of the Soviets’ 1932-33 deliberate starvation of Ukraine (some say the number was 3 million, others say 7 or more million; this genocide is known as the “Holodomor” or “Death by Hunger”).

Millions of Soviets also died in slave labour camps (a.k.a. Gulags, made famous by Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago). Underfed and living in sub-zero temperatures, citizens were worked to death or were murdered in the woods.

In addition, many Soviet citizens were simply arrested, tortured, and shot. Why? Often times only for criticizing government or for suspicion of being a saboteur, other times to fill government quotas.

Was the Soviet disaster merely peculiar to the Soviet Union’s attempt at communism? Apparently not.

According to The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press 1999), other communist regimes had similar disastrous results. 

  • China: 65 million deaths
  • Vietnam: 1 million deaths
  • North Korea: 2 million deaths
  • Cambodia: 2 million deaths

In total, over the past 100 years communist regimes have been responsible for about 100 million deaths (of their own people).

At this juncture, one might object that western capitalist societies are not wholly innocent and we should, for comparison’s sake, account for the evils done by capitalist societies.

In reply, we should keep in mind that capitalist societies have done wrong, of course. (And crony capitalism is especially problematic.)

Nevertheless, whereas communism requires total government control, governments in capitalist societies tend to be limited in their power. They protect private property, voluntary exchange, and individual freedoms; they do not tend to murder their own people en masse.

It remains, then, that the killing of one's own people has been extraordinarily huge in—and a salient feature of—communist societies such as the Soviet Union (Gulags), China (under Mao), Cambodia (Pol Pot's killing fields), etc.

When I was an undergraduate student, I was enamored (briefly) by Marx. I wrote an essay for my Marxist philosophy professor in which I critiqued capitalism with its emphasis on self-interest (though I failed to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, I failed to discern selves whose interest included doing business for the good of others, and I failed to notice how free markets could harness the selfishness of some/ many for the benefit of others). I received an A+ for the essay.

I showed that essay to my late uncle [Oom George], a businessman, whose only comment was this: Isn’t it great that we live in a society that allows us to criticize it?

My late uncle was right.

The 2008 film The Soviet Story (available on YouTube) provides additional historical perspective on the bitter fruit of the 1917 Russian Revolution, bitter fruit that should never be forgotten.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always represent the views of Providence.

For further thought:




October 25, 2017

About my abortion columns

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 26, 2017

About my abortion columns

Readers might be wondering: What's with Hendrik and his many columns about abortion? Well, it's a long story.

When I first became a serious follower of Jesus (in the early 1980s), God placed a burden on my heart for the least of “the least of these”: unborn children. I had a sense I was to speak up for them (Proverbs 31.8a). I did.

I wrote lots of letters to the editor of our local newspaper (I lived in Medicine Hat, Alberta, at the time). I spoke for the unborn at our local college, radio stations, churches. These letters and various speaking engagements turned into a book: An Enquiry Concerning Human Abortion (1988).

My wife Carla and I gave the proceeds from that book to the Calgary Crisis Pregnancy Centre. We also sent a copy of the book to each Member of Parliament. In Calgary we walked in protests at a hospital and at a court house. We provided more financial support to CPCs as we were able.

We also sensed God's direction for me to go to university to study philosophy (with considerable emphasis on logic) with the aim of serving Christ's Kingdom via Christian apologetics, which includes the study of ethics. I ended up becoming a professor of philosophy, which includes teaching courses in ethics.

Now, every year at this time, in my annual ethics course, I teach a section on abortion. Now, every year at this time I freshly realize that in Canada, since last year, there have been another 100,000 children destroyed.

It depresses me. Maybe it should depress you, too.

Consider this: Canadian law does not recognize the unborn as human beings until after they’re born.

But contemporary science—biology, fetology, and embryology—tells us that the human fetus is in fact a human being. It's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity that belongs to the human species. It's not feline or canine; it's human. It's not a cat or a dog; it's a human being. It's not a kitten or a puppy; it's a child.

Our law is here simply out of touch with reality. And our government(s) haven’t helped a whole lot in setting the record straight.

Also, in view of recent concerns about gun control, consider this. (Note: Gun control is important and the recent mass murder in Las Vegas is horrific.)

As I mentioned, every year in Canada about 100,000 unborn children are killed by abortion. The significance of this number may be difficult to grasp, so some perspective is helpful.

Compare the abortion number to the number of homicides that occur yearly in Canada.

Here are the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada for homicides (where “homicide” includes murder, manslaughter, and infanticide, whether a gun is used or not): 

        Year 2011: homicides 605
        Year 2012: homicides 548
        Year 2013: homicides 509
        Year 2014: homicides 521
        Year 2015: homicides 604

That’s about 550 homicides per year versus about 100,000 unborn children destroyed per year. In other words, approximately half a percent of killings in Canada are due to homicide, and approximately 99.5 percent are due to abortion.

Yes, there are tough cases that might justify abortion. For examples, rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the mother.

But these tough cases account for a very small percentage of the total abortions. Fordham University ethicist Charles Camosy, in his book Beyond the Abortion Wars (2015, see my review here), says the tough cases amount to 2 percent of the total cases. I’ve heard others report that it might be 5 percent. Whether 2 or 5 percent, it’s a small percentage. That means an awful lot of cases are due to social problems.

But, surely, social problems require social solutions—not the killing of children.

I think Canada should have a law that protects unborn children and addresses the social problems that pressure women to abort.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

Past APOLOGIA columns concerning abortion, for further reading: 

 For support for crisis pregnancy: 

October 11, 2017

Resisting the Culture of Death

"Death Skull" by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 12, 2017

Resisting the Culture of Death

Support Bill 34

I support Manitoba's Bill 34, which provides conscience rights to healthcare professionals who refuse to kill or help kill patients.

Introduced by Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, this bill is presently making its way through the Manitoba legislature.

Why is Bill 34 important? Because medicine should care for those who suffer, not kill them.

Also, we should heed the lessons of history.

Consider this passage from Dr. Leo Alexander (1905-1985), medical advisor to the U.S. Chief of Counsel at the Nuremberg Trials, in which representative Nazis were convicted of crimes against humanity (this is from Dr. Alexander's paper "Medical Science Under Dictatorship," New England Journal of Medicine, July 4, 1949):

 "Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived."

Dr. Alexander continues: "This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in the category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted, and finally all non-Germans."

Dr. Alexander warns: “But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitatable sick."

I don't believe a Nazi Party is on Canada's horizon (thank goodness). But I do believe that some philosophical principles of what Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) called the “culture of death" are becoming prevalent in our society.

Medical, social, and psychological problems require medical, social, and psychological solutions—not killing.

If we're concerned about suffering patients, then we should increase the quality and availability of palliative care, not require doctors to kill.

No discrimination against pro-life Members of Parliament

I think the Liberals' blocking of pro-life MP Rachael Harder as chair of Canada's Status of Women committee is unjust.

Yes, I have pro-life biases. So don't take my word on this. Instead, consider the following extended quote from the pro-choice editors of The Globe and Mail:

“The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has sent a terrible message by blocking the election of a Conservative MP to the position of chair of the House of Commons committee on the status of women solely because of her opposition to abortion."

“Think of it this way: Were Rachael Harder, the Alberta MP in question, fired from a job in a private company, or from the public service, for the same reason, she would be the victim of a violation of her Charter rights...."

“The right to abortion is one we support, but there is a higher principle at play here—the right to hold beliefs, and to act on them legally, without interference from the government, and without being discriminated against by society."

“The Liberal government's shameful actions this week send a contrary message—that it is perfectly acceptable in Canada to discriminate against people who oppose abortion."

Some pundits defend the Liberals by arguing that a pro-life appointment to the Status of Women committee is like appointing a racist to the Human Rights Commission. But this is a faulty analogy.

Racists have no good reasons for their racism. However, pro-lifers like Harder have good reasons for their pro-life position. There is scientific evidence, e.g., biological humanity of the unborn, and moral principle, i.e., all human beings have the right to life—whether young or old, black or white.

Canada's Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that Canada's parliament should limit abortion justly, suggesting a gestational-age approach. To date, Canada's governments have failed us.

Most Canadians now favour at least some abortion restrictions: e.g., no abortion merely because baby is a girl, no late-term abortions.

Clearly, our democratic government should encourage parliamentary debate, not unjust discrimination that favours the culture of death.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence

For further reading on the issues of abortion and physician-assisted suicide (a.k.a. medical assistance in dying), please see Apologia archives for my columns on these topics.

For an insightful 3-minute video by some Manitoba healthcare professionals who favour Bill 34, please see Call for Conscience - Manitoba