October 01, 2015

On judging

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 1, 2015

On judging

“Don’t be judgmental,” we are often told. Many people today take this to mean that we should not judge positions/ views as true or false, or right or wrong. With all due respect, these people are mistaken.

Yes, of course we shouldn’t be judgmental if by “judge” we mean to proudly dismiss another person as morally inferior (usually when compared to oneself) or we mean to damn that other person (to hell). After all, didn't Jesus say, “Don't judge”? It would seem that this sort of judging is God’s job, not ours.

But wait. When Jesus tells us not to judge, Jesus has more to say.

Here's the entire passage (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge other, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus continues: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

In other words, Jesus seems to be saying that if we judge another's behaviour or attitude or claim, we should judge ourselves by the same standard, and, after we've done that, then we should help others with their “specks.”  This seems very much to mean that Jesus is encouraging us to make at least some judgments.

Am I misinterpreting Scripture here? Well, let's look at context: what else does Scripture say?

Jesus also says this: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).  It appears, then, that there is another sense of “judge” which is our job, not just God’s.  By this sense of “judge” we mean the cognitive activity of making an accurate discernment.

This makes sense, surely.

There is more.

Consider the fact that Jesus calls us to forgive others. But to make sense of forgiving others requires the judgment—yes, judgment—that somebody has done something wrong.

Moreover, Jesus calls us to resist temptation and not do evil. But to make sense of resisting temptation and not doing evil requires the judgment—yes, judgment—that there is something wrong/ bad/ evil that we shouldn't do.

Furthermore, Jesus calls us to beware of false prophets. But to make sense of being aware of a false prophet as opposed to true prophet requires a judgment, namely, that one is right and the other wrong.

Clearly, some judgments are true and right: e.g., that the earth orbits the sun; that clean drinking water and food are necessary for good health; that we should try to alleviate the suffering of others (yes, the current refugee crisis comes to mind here).

Clearly, too, some judgments are false and wrong: e.g., that the earth is the centre of our solar system; that oil spills help animal life flourish; that it’s morally permissible for men to rape, enslave, and murder children (yes, the behaviour of ISIS and Co. comes to mind here).

Thus, contrary to popular opinion—and as odd as it may sound to contemporary ears—sometimes we should be judgmental (in the sense of making an accurate discernment).

Such judgment requires cautious, careful thinking plus patience and perseverance in collecting relevant information, pro and con. It also requires the recognition that our knowledge is fallible and non-exhaustive, though not impossible, and that we should show respect to those with whom we disagree.

Finally, it requires an honest heart, i.e., a willingness not merely to seek truth but also to live in accordance with it.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

September 17, 2015

Refugee crisis

Aerial View of the Za'atri Refugee Camp (Wikipedia)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 17, 2015

Refugee crisis

As a result of the sad and horrific photo of a drowned three-year-old boy washed up on a Mediterranean beach, many Canadians have become deeply aware of the refugee crisis caused by ISIS and Co.

In response, our political leaders are calling for greater efforts in accepting refugees and providing humanitarian aid. I applaud this.

And I applaud Prime Minister Stephen Harper's response to the problem: we will accept more refugees, provide more humanitarian aid, and provide military aid—i.e., we will help the victims and stop those who victimize.

In other words, the wise and just use of force is needed along with our aid. It's comparable to sending paramedics and police to help out at a school shooting rampage, not just paramedics.

PM Harper explains further: "Resettlement [of refugees] is obviously part of our plan, as it is with many other countries…. But the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be solved—cannot even become close to being solved—by refugee policy alone. We must stop ISIS."

Harper adds: "We can accept thousands or tens of thousands, and maybe all the countries in the world together [can accept] hundreds of thousands of refugees. But ISIS left to its own devices will create millions—tens of millions—of refugees and victims on a monthly basis. That's why the international community intervened…. We were witnessing mass slaughter at an alarming, lightning pace that was sweeping across the region."

Harper continues: "[F]or Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair to say things like 'Well, we shouldn't be participating militarily, we should just be doing humanitarian assistance,' let me quote what the representatives of Diaspora groups in Canada [i.e., citizens forcibly dispersed from their homeland] said about that policy: 'If your policy is humanitarian assistance without military support, all you're doing is dropping aid on dead people.'"

I agree with Harper: "That's not acceptable. We're a country that can contribute militarily and in a humanitarian sense, and we are doing both."

Of course, there are complexities. We must address questions concerning Middle East politics and our "end game."

Nevertheless, I think our Prime Minister is on track with Canada's military engagement (along with refugee and humanitarian aid). Why? Because the longer we hesitate, the more ISIS rapes, enslaves, and murders multitudes, and the longer we hesitate, the more ISIS gains strength.

I see the situation as similar to pre-World War II, where there were military forces (Germany and Japan) whose ideologies pushed them to conquer and enslave the world. The more that the Allies hesitated back then, the more powerful the forces bent on conquering the world became. And the tougher it became to stop them.

ISIS is a force bent on conquering the world. ISIS is growing in the havoc it wreaks, and ISIS is growing in strength—and boldness. I am concerned that nuclear weapons will soon fall into the hands of ISIS.

I appreciate Canada's (generally) good reputation in helping refugees. If our government can help more refugees—and do so more quickly—that would be better, though we must be cautious not to import terrorists, and we should make efforts to help the most vulnerable (such as persecuted Yazidis and Christians). Moreover, I think that churches, temples, mosques, community groups, and individuals should pitch in.

But military action is also needed to stop innocents from being raped, enslaved, and murdered so there needn't be refugees in the first place.

Significantly, PM Harper reports the plea of the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church: they don't want to have to become refugees.

Thus, along with accepting refugees and sending humanitarian aid (more and faster is better on both counts), wise military action is also needed. Wise military action is needed to stop the ongoing rapes, enslavements, and murders by ISIS and Company—as the wise lethal force of a police officer is needed to stop a killer on a shooting rampage.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

September 03, 2015

We need an abortion law

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 3, 2015

We need an abortion law

With the recently publicized horrors of human fetuses/babies being torn apart and their body parts sold by Planned Parenthood (a major abortion provider in the U.S.), it's reasonable to think that Canada should introduce law to protect unborn children.

Presently, abortion in Canada is legal right up to birth. Most abortions occur much earlier, and most doctors don't do late-term abortions. Nevertheless, a law would be appropriate to protect at least those children in their, say, twentieth week who risk an unjust death by abortion because their body parts may be in demand.

Also, a law would be appropriate to protect children from sex-selective abortion, i.e., the killing of children merely because they are girls ("gendercide" is popular among immigrants who value boys more than girls). Moreover, a law would be appropriate to protect children who risk being killed because they have Down syndrome (90% of U.S. pre-natal children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted).

In Canada such a law could save hundreds of lives, probably thousands, yearly.

Still, some say abortion legislation is misguided: we should instead deal with the underlying causes that drive women to abortion. A pregnant woman may be facing psychological problems, so that should be our focus.

In reply, we should keep in mind that abortion kills an unborn child—a human being. That's hugely significant.

Also, we should consider Scott Klusendorf's insightful critique of the focus-on-the-underlying-causes argument:

"[T]his is like saying that the 'underlying cause' of spousal abuse is psychological; so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men."

Klusendorf adds: "There are 'underlying causes' for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it 'misguided' to have laws banning such actions."

But doesn't Canada's Criminal Code tell us the unborn are human beings only after they are born? Yes, but our law is mistaken.

Contemporary science—embryology, fetology, and biology—tells us that the human fetus is in fact a human being. It's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity which 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.

At this juncture, one might grant that the unborn child is in fact a human being, yet object that it isn't a "person." That is, the unborn human being lacks some specific developmental feature which confers the right to life.

However, this approach to personhood is problematic. The allegedly decisive features fail because they weaken the personhood of many human beings who clearly already have the right to life.

For example, if self-awareness and rationality are the crucial criteria of personhood, then the right to life of newborn infants as well as sleeping, stunned, or mentally disabled persons is jeopardized. As a result, the equality in equal rights gets ungrounded.

At this juncture, one might object that difficulty in policing and enforcing abortion law would render it useless. In reply, we should note that it is difficult to police and enforce laws against, say, texting and driving, but the law works to discourage texting and driving. The point: if an action kills or threatens to injure innocent others, a law against the action is not unreasonable, even if not 100% effective.

Notice that there's room to be creative here. Perhaps a law against abortion should (a) criminalize the abortionists, not the women pressured into abortion, plus (b) help the women who are so pressured (just as our anti-prostitution law criminalizes pimps and johns, not the women pressured into prostitution, plus helps the women get out of prostitution).

Folks, most abortions are due to social problems (abortions for the horrific circumstances of rape, incest, or when a mother's life is threatened account for a small percentage only). Surely, social problems require social solutions—not the killing of children.

We need an abortion law.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

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