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Monday, February 20, 2012


As I remark in my Autobiography, when I was a boy, I was much taken by a little book called HEAVENLY DISCOURSES which I found in the attic of our tiny home in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens.  The book, by an interesting character named Charles Erskine Scott Wood, was a series of conversations among famous figures from world history who could only be imagined to meet in heaven:  Socrates, Nietzsche, Buddha, and Dostoyevsky -- that sort of thing.  Well, now that I am definitively recovered from the mystery illness that afflicted me in late December, all of January, and early February, I am back to taking my four mile walk each morning.  Even though I see the occasional deer or jogger, the walk, which takes an hour or a bit longer, is basically pretty boring, so of course I day dream a good deal.

This morning, bundled up in sweaters and long johns and scarves and a hoodie against the cold, I passed the time on my walk by having an imaginary conversation with Rick Santorum.  For a variety of theological, political, and practical reasons, such a conversation is even less likely than a C. E. S. Wood dialogue between Jesus and Ghenghis Khan, but the mind being the flexible instrument it is, I had no trouble imagining a conversation lengthy enough to pass most of the hour of my walk.

The subject was Santorum's religious objections to abortion and contraception, and he held still for my probing questions for quite some time.  I began by asking him how he could possibly know that a foetus is from the moment of ferilization a person -- which is to say an entity with a soul -- even before the fertilized egg has been successfully attached to the uterine wall.  Since the ensouling  of a foetus, if I may put it that way, is a miracle, not a natural process [I was pretty sure I could get Santorum to agree to that], no medical test, however invasive, can possibly establish the presence of the soul.  This is, as it must be, a matter of faith.  But there is nothing in either the New or Old Testaments about such matters, because, although the author of those two books -- which is to say, God -- is omniscient, He chose, for his own inscrutable but unassailable reasons, not to include in His Revelation any information about the moment at which He performs the miracle of combining an immortal soul with the all too mortal flesh.

Santorum hemmed and hawed, but eventually was forced to confess that his belief rested on the infallability of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra.  Since there is really nothing to be said, dialectically speaking, to someone who relies for his information on the infallibility of the Pope, I moved on.

Assuming that the Pope is correct, I said, there is something that I find troubling, and I offered the hope that Santorum could enlighten me.  I assume you believe that abortion is murder, I said, because it is the termination of the life of a person with a soul.  That was pretty close to being a rhetorical question under the cricumstances, and of course, in my imagination, he agreed.  Well, I put it to him, there are, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, roughly 4.3 million live births each year in the United States.  Now, Wikipedia tells me that as many as 50% of conceptions are spontaneously aborted by the body in the first three months, frequently before the mother even knows that she is pregnant.  That means that perhaps four million pregnancies spontaneously abort.  This proess of spontaneous abortion is a natural process, regulated by the laws of nature.  And inasmuch as God is the author of those laws, we may say that He is personally responsible for the abortion of some four million or so fuilly besouled in utero persons every year in the United States alone.  The mind reels at the thought of how many abortions He is responsible for world wide.

Now, I said to Santorum in my mind, God is omnipotent as well as omniscient, so He could quite well have arranged the laws of nature so that every impregnated human egg would become a viable foetus carried to term unless murdered by a sinful abortionist.  Why do you suppose he chose not to do that?  Oh, I said, I am fully aware of the passage in Genesis in which God curses Eve for her disobedience, telling her that she shall conceive in pain and sorrow, but why do you suppose He decided to take it out on all those poor spontaneously aborted foetuses?  What is that all about?

At about this point, I passed Five Guys hamburger joint and Brixx pizza parlor, and made my way across the street to the front door of my condominium building, so I never did get an answer from Santorum.  It would have been interesting to hear what he had to say.


imcdpe said...

Sounds like your argument is a variation of the incompatibility of omniscience, omnipotence and benevolence. You can only have two out of three (like when choosing a bicycle, you can have two of strong, light and cheap, but not all three).

Superfluous Man said...

I've harped on this from time to time. The Bible says life doesn't begin until the first breath of air. I don't have a link for you but it is in numerous places in the Bible as I looked in the past. I don't even remember the exact language but it's meaning is clear, unless old King James had some trouble with translations. But the King James is supposed to be the one that's the only valid one according to the true believers, the fundamentalist ones at least. Don't know if that applies to Catholics. I'm a southern boy so I heard that from time to time when a Baptist friend invited me to their services or revival or some other wild and crazy affair. Google it and I'm sure you'll find it in various versions of the Bible. The fundamentalists essentially believe in the infallibility of the Bible. If so, how can they not see the fallacy of the fetus argument? Curious minds want to know.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Very nice. Give me a chapter and verse if you can. Otherwise I will go hunting about in the Old Testament. That is, after all, what you would expect it to say, isn't it?

Superfluous Man said...

Here's Genesis chapter 1 verse 7

7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

In Job 33:4, it states: “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

I'll give you the rest in a link as someone has already done the work. The first verse above from Genesis is from King James, not sure about the rest but if you want me to determine if they are King James and his minions I'll find out.

Superfluous Man said...

Here's another interesting link related to your conversation with Santorum. This time the conversation is with one of Santorum's relatives, Satan. Have fun with this if you can.

Superfluous Man said...

Oops. I made a slight mistake. The version 7 in Genesis is in Chapter 2. Those chapters in the Bible are quite short.

Superfluous Man said...

My wife is more of an expert on these matters tells me that Catholics don't accept the King James Bible. That's why they created their own separate school system she says. They believe in Douay-Rheims, which is a different translation. So their is an inherent conflict with the Catholic and Protestant versions. Catholics were virtually non existent in the regions of South Carolina I lived in. Their were a few churches here and there, but there were also abandoned Catholic churches that were still owned by whatever Catholic entity holds title to them. Some of those have been being reinstituted with the influx of Hispanic workers down South, but I've been away from their for almost ten years so I'm not sure how that is working out. But I'm clueless about the Douay-Rheims translation. My wife's first and now deceased husband was Polish and Catholic, having been smuggled out of Poland as an infant by his parents after WWII, but he quickly became an atheist as he came to study these things. So she knows this stuff fairly well.

Superfluous Man said...

Sorry about the their/there problems in my comments My fingers move faster than my brain sometimes. I know better but my fingers often don't.

Don Schneier said...

I'm waiting for Sanctum Santorum to declare that Arabic numerals are "phony" Mathematics, and to vow to return the U. S. to the Roman numeral standard, as the true God and the Founding Fathers intended. (Not entirely facetious. In his 'Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra', Leo Strauss crony Jacob Klein insinuates that Algebra is an Islamic plot to undermine Western Civilization, i. e. the introduction of variables, with universal scope, is an egalitarian depreciation of noble Numbers, etc.)