The Catholic Church and abortion to save a life

This story in the Seattle Times (Now also in the Guardian) tells us about a Catholic hospital that has had its affiliation with the church withdrawn because they performed an abortion that was the only way to save the mothers life. The woman in question was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, which could only be resolved by ending her pregnancy. Doctors gave her a 100% chance of dying within hours.

The story has been picked and written about by a prominent atheist and denounced as proof that the church is evil. Although I left the Catholic church a couple of years ago in protest at several other teachings that I disagree with, I rushed to comment and defend the church. I wanted to say that this was a misreading of what the church teaches, that it was just this Bishop that was wrong. Except that I couldn’t.

I was always under the impression that the Catholic Church would allow an abortion if it would save the life of the mother and otherwise both mother and baby would die. However on reading the catechism and New Advent it seems that I am wrong. The catechism is absolutely clear that abortion is never allowed and it makes no mention of abortion as an accidental result of life-saving medical treatment. The only exception that I could find in New Advent says

However, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother’s life, is applied to her organism (though the child’s death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fetal life is thereby directly attacked.

While this allows for providing life-saving medical treatment that might inadvertantly cause an abortion, it makes no exception for performing an abortion if ending the pregnancy itself is the only way to save the mothers life.

I cannot agree with this view. What sense does it make to condemn both mother and baby to death? There is no way that I can defend the punishment of those doctors that saved a mothers life, after convening their hospitals ethics committee too, I should add. The staff at this hospital do their utmost save lives and ease suffering and to abide by the ethical and moral code of the hospital and the church. To those atheists that say the churches decision is evil; I can’t argue that you are wrong.

On scepticism and god

Warning: contains religion and uncertainty

I have come to realise that the way I think about things has a name. Scepticism. It’s easy to spot sometimes. Internet scams, bogus medicine, bizarre ideas and rumours, I can easily see that I am a sceptic when it comes to those. Generally when something new comes up I use the scientific method to determine fact from fiction.

Over the last few months I have been paying a lot more attention to sceptics and scepticism. I follow a few well known sceptics and scientists on Twitter and read their blogs. In the last few days an argument has been brewing relating to the Skepticon convention. They have been accused of being a purely atheist convention rather than catering to all sceptics. It has led several prominent atheists to stand up and say that scepticism and atheism are the same thing, and others have said that they are not the same thing but religion is the most important thing to be sceptical about because of the amount of harm that religion has done. It has also been said that Skepticon is not an atheist convention, with only three out of fifteen speakers talking about religion, although others have claimed that more talks ended with atheist conclusions.

Since it is not possible to prove a negative, it is impossible to say that god does not exist. Technically this means that a sceptic that has concluded there is no proof of god should become an agnostic, not an atheist. The justification that has been used for becoming an atheist instead has often been the Null Hypothesis If you have a hypothesis about something, you must come up with the opposite hypothesis, and then test statistically whether one or the other is more likely. For a brilliant explanation involving aliens and socks, have a look here. Atheism can be seen as the null hypothesis, with the existence of god as the alternative hypothesis to be tested.  To me, it seems partly a cop out that non-believers would choose to be atheist rather than agnostic, but at the same time I can see how the same concept applies to things like homeopathic remedies or horoscopes.

It does seem to be the case that most self-identified sceptics are also atheists. I have had conversations where I have been told that I cannot be a sceptic without also being an atheist. I have to admit to struggling with this idea. Why do I believe in god when I question everything else? I can’t answer that in any acceptable way. I just don’t know.

This leaves me in a difficult position. I believe, not because of any kind of logic, but purely through experience. I have been to church, prayer times and worship meetings and have worshipped god, and been truly lost in the worship. I have seen great examples of faith around me. At the same time, I constantly struggle with claims of healing, (which seemingly does not apply to me) and recently walked out of a healing service our of sheer frustration. I struggle at people that pray and ask god for things that I think he is never going to give, often because people can sort that stuff out themselves. I frequently have the thought “God doesn’t work that way!”

I am left with the option of compartmentalising my faith away from my scepticism, or going with logic and losing my faith completely. I have gone with the first option for months now, but I am consciously aware of the division in my thinking, and not owning an electric monk, the breakdown in logic is causing a lot of frustration.

Christian AND Goth?

Today a friend asked me for any help I could give for someone that was worried about their son becoming a goth. As a Christian with a lot of goth friends, and, dare I say it, a bit of goth in my past, I tried to gather some thoughts on the subject. This is what I wrote. It might be total drivel, it might not. What do you think?

I would have thought that any fears about goths are divided in to a few different categories.

  • Goths will stop a person being a christian
  • Being a goth will involve hedonistic behaviour
  • Goths are satanists

To be quite honest, there are very few christian goths, but goths will respect someone for being a christian. They won’t usually ridicule anyone for it. Many of them will be Wiccans but those will not attack someone for having a different religion. Exposure to other beliefs might affect a christian, but it is my opinion that you have to go in to the real world at some point, and your faith will stand up to it if it is strong enough. If it is not, then it doesn’t matter where you are exposed to other views.

Some goths do get drunk a lot, but I don’t think more so than many other groups of people. Many goths also drink less alcohol than average. It’s usually about the atmosphere, the socialising, the common interest in the genre of music, and the identification with others.

Most goths are not satanists! Quite a lot think it’s funny to make devil horn signs, and like bands which allude to satan in their name, but it’s nearly all a veneer of bravado. Whether this is harmful or not I couldn’t say.

Quite honestly, my advice is not to worry. The outcome of this persons faith depends on what has shaped them in the past, not what is to come. Their behaviour, tastes, and drinking habbits might change, but they could equally change with any other peer group. I have always been of the opinion that my christianity has more impact on my goth friends than their spirituality might have had on me.

All my pain is good

Today I was grossly offended by a hymn that we sang at church. The hymn in question is titled “Happy are they, they that love God” and was written by Charles Coffin in 1736.  The line that offended me was “Then shall they know, they that love him, how all their pain is good.” I was singing this song along with the rest of the congregation, but as we started to sing that line I stopped. I couldn’t sing it. All my pain is good? How could anyone write that?

I should explain at this point, that I suffer from M.E. and from chronic migraines. As such I have near constant pain that takes a great deal of effort to control so that I can live my life. I have no pretensions here; many many people suffer far more pain than I do and may be completely crippled by it. My pain is minor compared to those people, but is still greater than that of normal healthy people.

This bold statement that all my pain is good made me angry. More than that though, it led me to some serious thinking. How is pain good? Can any possible good resulting from pain cancel out the bad, to the point that I can say it was all good?

Continue reading “All my pain is good”

Hymns old and, err, older.

I often complain about the music in my church. Let me explain why.

The church I attend has an ageing congregation. It also has a choir made up of 15 or so people. It is a very serious choir. They take all their music seriously, sing it perfectly, and have robes and everything. Unfortunately most of the hymns that they sing were written in the 18th or 19th century. Very occasionally they sing something modern, by which they mean written after 1900.

Now, there are some very powerful hymns written in the last few centuries, the best of which are still sung in churches around the world today. Most of the hymns sung in our church, though, are at best obscure and at worst have no consistent tune, are completely unpredictable and are impossible to sing without being taught the tune and practicing extensively.  I get the impression that the music is selected to allow the choir to show off their technical competency. In contrast, modern church music (And I include anything written since 1970 in this group!) is normally easy to learn, easy to remember, and (to me anyway) much more meaningful during worship.

But this brings me to an important question.

What is the purpose of church music?

Continue reading “Hymns old and, err, older.”