Thursday, August 11, 2011

The wishy-washy "Protestant-ethos" in Eastern Orthodox moral teaching

[I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. I've been very busy (and still am). I'm not the type to post too frequently (I believe it leads to burn-out), but a few posts a month is not asking too much. It seems that I have a lot of posts in the "drafts" box that I never seem to have the time to finish up, and though this post was not an exception, I want to post something so I've decided to post what I do have on this subject.]

Posts like these cause me heart-ache because they discuss problems that really shouldn't exist, but do. In this instance, I've been delving more deeply into various official Eastern Orthodox websites trying to find "definitive" answers to common moral problems, particularly abortion, divorce, and contraception. In each case I find answers that are a mixture of indecisiveness, uncertainty, and wishy-washy reasoning that resembles the Protestant ethos where morality is subjective and "based" more on the individual level of Priest-Bishop-Patriarchate than that of a unified and definitive voice for Christendom.

Unlike the typical Protestant approach, which is to stand by what is "allowed," in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy I often see flowery language and reluctance to grant what is none-the-less "allowed" by them. This approach, to me, reveals the EO spirit knows such moral positions to be dubious and wrong, but none the less lacks a Magisterium of sorts to formally such manners and comfort and guide the flock.

The following are quotes from official Eastern Orthodox Church websites, so they are not some individual's mere opinions. This list is a 'work in progress' and will be updated as time/opportunity allows.

  • The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder; that is, as a premeditated termination of the life of a human being. The only time the Orthodox Church will reluctantly acquiesce to abortion is when the preponderance of medical opinion determines that unless the embryo or fetus is aborted, the mother will die. [1]
  • As to abortion, the Church very clearly and absolutely condemns it as an act of murder in every case. If a woman is with child, she must allow it to be born. In regard to all of the very difficult cases, such as a young girl being raped or a mother who is certain to die, the consensus of Orthodox opinion would be that a decision for abortion might possibly be made, but that it can in no way be easily justified as morally righteous, and that persons making such a decision must repent of it and count on the mercy of God. it must be very clear as well that abortion employed for human comfort or to stop what a contraceptive method failed to prevent, is strictly considered by the canon laws of the Church to be a crime equal to murder. [3]

  • The possible exception to the above affirmation of continuity of teaching is the view of the Orthodox Church on the issue of contraception. Because of the lack of a full understanding of the implications of the biology of reproduction, earlier writers tended to identify abortion with contraception. However, of late a new view has taken hold among Orthodox writers and thinkers on this topic, which permits the use of certain contraceptive practices within marriage for the purpose of spacing children, enhancing the expression of marital love, and protecting health. [1]
  • In defining their attitude to the non-abortive contraceptives, Christian spouses should remember that human reproduction is one of the principal purposes of the divinely established marital union (see, X. 4). The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin.
    At the same time, spouses are responsible before God for the comprehensive upbringing of their children. One of the ways to be responsible for their birth is to restrain themselves from sexual relations for a time. However, Christian spouses should remember the words of St. Paul addressed to them: «Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time...» (1 Cor. 7:5). Clearly, spouses should make such decisions mutually on the counsel of their spiritual father. The latter should take into account, with pastoral prudence, the concrete living conditions of the couple, their age, health, degree of spiritual maturity and many other circumstances. In doing so, he should distinguish those who can hold the high demands of continence from those to whom it is not given (Mt. 19:11), taking care above all of the preservation and consolidation of the family. [2]
  • The control of the conception of a child by any means is also condemned by the Church if it means the lack of fulfillment in the family, the hatred of children, the fear of responsibility, the desire for sexual pleasure as purely fleshly, lustful satisfaction, etc. Again, however, married people practicing birth control are not necessarily deprived of Holy Communion, if in conscience before God and with the blessing of their spiritual father, they are convinced that their motives are not entirely unworthy. Here again, however, such a couple cannot pretend to justify themselves in the light of the absolute perfection of the Kingdom of God. [3] 

  • The church will permit up to, but not more than, three marriages for any Orthodox Christian. If both partners are entering a second or third marriage, another form of the marriage ceremony is conducted, much more subdued and penitential in character. Marriages end either through the death of one of the partners or through ecclesiastical recognition of divorce. The Church grants "ecclesiastical divorces" on the basis of the exception given by Christ to his general prohibition of the practice. The Church has frequently deplored the rise of divorce and generally sees divorce as a tragic failure. Yet, the Orthodox Church also recognizes that sometimes the spiritual well-being of Christians caught in a broken and essentially nonexistent marriage justifies a divorce, with the right of one or both of the partners to remarry. [1]
  • The Lord pointed to adultery as the only permissible ground for divorce ...
    ... In 1918, in its Decision on the Grounds for the Dissolution of the Marriage Sanctified by the Church, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, recognised as valid, besides adultery and a new marriage of one of the party, such grounds as a spouse’s falling away from Orthodoxy, perversion, impotence which had set in before marriage or was self-inflicted, contraction of leper or syphilis, prolonged disappearance, conviction with disfranchisement, encroachment on the life or health of the spouse, love affair with a daughter in law, profiting from marriage, profiting by the spouse’s indecencies, incurable mental disease and malevolent abandonment of the spouse. At present, added to this list of the grounds for divorce are chronic alcoholism or drug-addiction and abortion without the husband’s consent.
    ... if a divorce is an accomplished fact, especially when spouses live separately, the restoration of the family is considered impossible and a church divorce may be given if the pastor deigns to concede the request. The Church does not at all approve of a second marriage. Nevertheless, according to the canon law, after a legitimate church divorce, a second marriage is allowed to the innocent spouse. Those whose first marriage was dissolved through their own fault a second marriage is allowed only after repentance and penance imposed in accordance with the canons. According to the rules of St. Basil the Great, in exceptional cases where a third marriage is allowed, the duration of the penance shall be prolonged.
    In its Decision of December 28, 1998, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church denounced the actions of those spiritual fathers who «prohibit their spiritual children from contracting a second marriage on the grounds that second marriage is allegedly denounced by the Church and who prohibit married couples from divorce if their family life becomes impossible for this or that reason». [2]
  • Regarding divorce, the Orthodox follow Christ in recognizing it as a tragedy and a lack of fulfillment of marriage as the reflection of divine love in the world. The Church teaches the uniqueness of marriage, if it will be perfect, and is opposed to divorce absolutely. If, however, a marriage breaks down and collapses, the Orthodox Church does in fact allow a second marriage, without excommunication, that is, exclusion from Holy Communion, if there is repentance and a good chance that the new alliance can be Christian. More than one marriage in any case, however, is frowned upon. It is not allowed to the clergy, and the service of second marriage for laymen is a special rite different from the sacrament as originally celebrated.  [3]

As you can see, despite the flowery language at times, the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches end up giving the green light to what has been traditionally held as gravely immoral in Christian history. This is a prime and very sad example of what happens when a Christian body leaves communion with Rome.


[1] Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America ("The Stand of the Orthodox Church on Controversial Issues")

[2] Russian Orthodox Church Official Website ("The Basis of the Social Concept," Ch10 and Ch12)

[3] Orthodox Church in America (Questions and Answers: Divorce, Birth Control, Abortion [This popular link was REMOVED after 2008-2009, but it's unclear if this is because they changed their website design (which scrapped many other pages) or because it was too controversial])


Anil Wang said...

I have great sympathy for the Orthodox. I am now Catholic because I almost became Orthodox.

But one thing I noticed with the Orthodox is that legalism is looked down and economia (the pastoral view that bends the rules if it leads to reconciliation with God). Unfortunately, economia is also the rule and not the exception with Catholic Priests, but at least there are grounds to correct them.

WRT contraception, it's a blatant lie to say early Christians confused contraception and abortion. No-one confused the two before 1900. Calvin, Luther, and Wesley certainly didn't and they weren't even Catholic or Orthodox.

Fortunately, "the new view" is not universally held and some jurisdictions hold that even NFP is sinful. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to mediate the differences so you can be excommunicated from one jurisdiction and walk down the road to another and be in good standing.

scotju said...

I'm sorry to hear that the Orthodox are so wishy-washy. Perhaps that's the reason why Russia has to be consecrated to Mary's immaculate heart: so the Orthodox Church can be straightened out in doctrine and practise

Nick said...

The whole thing just puzzles me, because they obviously know better. If anything, it's a testimony to the power of the devil and lack of Magisterium.

I also am saddened by the way 'legalism' is projected and attacked via an alleged compassion via economia (which has it's role), but there has to be some level of 'legalism' else it's akin to the Protestant boat of "unity only in essentials, freedom in nonessentials" - with essentials being whatever the individual decides.

As for Consecrating Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart - yes there was the fall of the Goliath of Communism, but there are still numerous errors running rampant in and promoted by Russia and the RO (e.g. the moral teaching errors). I've been told by Russian Priests that in Russia there is a horrendous problem with abortions (multiple per woman) and fatherless homes.

People can say the Catholic Church is very close to the Eastern Orthodox on many fronts - and we are - but in the heat of the Filioque and Papal Infallibility disputes are these blatant and inexcusable positions on Christian morality the EO have unfortunately accepted.

scotju said...

United , your post has nothing to do what we are talking about. My race isn't my religion. If it was, I'd be a practising Jew like my ancestors were. However , as the Scriptures says, we have put on Christ through baptism, so there is neither Jew nor Greek, we're all one in Jesus Christ. Gal 3:27-28.

Nick said...

I deleted United's nonsense spam.

Anil Wang said...

I think the key issue at work is that Orthodox patriarchates are tied to countries. If the country goes liberal, the pressure to become liberal is very strong since unfortunately, people associate legal with moral. When contraception was illegal, most people were against it and it was unthinkable. When it became legal in a state or country, it became "a necessary evil" in the minds of many citizens within a decade. Ditto for abortion, divorce, same sex "marriage", etc. It's disheartening how intellectually and morally lazy the general population is.

When a nation's population caves, it becomes hard for the church of that nation not to gave. Witness the Dutch Catechism and Winnipeg Statement on the Catholic side. If there is not someone on the outside to call the nation's Church to account, it will drift. Thank goodness for the New Catechism of the Catholic Church which now serves as an anchor to the faith. Were it not for the Catechism, the burden of calling all nations to account would fall on the already overburdened Pope. Now the faithful can speak authoritatively in the name of the magisterium since the magisterium has spoken. Had the Catechism not been created, fighting the relentless drive towards secularism would have been much more difficult.

But I still hold out hope for the Orthodox. Traditionally, the monasteries have been able to call the Church back to the faith. I'm certain that the good monks of Mount Athos still hold the correct view on contraception. Unfortunately, these monks are so focused on prayer that they will not engage the world. Time will tell whether this will change, but while the Orthodox still have monasteries, there is hope.

Jim Paton said...

Great post Nick.

Maybe you should do one on the 'Filioque' and show how the disagreement comes down to semantics. I believe the EO Bishop Ware stated as such. If ever there was a straw man it is the Orthodox argument that we don't believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. (Sounds confusing because we say 'who proceeds from the Father and the Son') But as I said, it's semantics not theology. In fact its heresy to believe that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (Wrap your head round that one :))

You could write something on the hypocrisy of the Orthodox who claim that the Latins added to Nicea. But completely ignore the fact that Constantinople added to Nicea first because Nicea NEVER mentions procession of the Spirit. What's good for the goose and all that. . . But as I said, its all semantics.

CD-Host said...

A church has to make a judgement about what to do with doctrines the membership widely rejects. Contraception is unequivocally condemned by the Western Church and essentially universally practiced by the membership. Moreover they opinion of the membership is that the church's position is wrong in this issue, which undermines their position on a host of other issues.

The Western Rite church is going through a sort of 2nd generation fundamentalist take over where the church is able to take strong stands because the vast majority of the membership don't take the stands seriously. A good example of this is what you see in Israel where Israelis are opposed to liberal forms of Judaism, "the synagogue they don't go to is orthodox".

Another example is what you see in the American rural bible belt where people who live very immoral lifestyles still attend and defend fundamentalist churches. A family with unmarried parents consisting of a bunch of half-siblings from various pairings, that wear just about anything the other 6 days of the week, focusing on what sort of music is moral which they fully intend to ignore as soon as they get home.

Churches have to decide whether they want to meet their membership where they are or where they would like them to.

Nick said...

Hello Jim and CD,

Sorry for the delay, I've been very busy and am still trying to catch up.


The Filioque is not exactly an easy issue to deal with, but I would not say it comes down only to semantics. I think it's a mixture of multiple issues, but I feel it ultimately rests on Authority because we cannot expect the average Christian to do Theology at too advanced of a level to come to their own conclusions.

The hardest task of those willing to look into the issue in depth is that there doesn't appear to be 'official' and 'detailed' stances on either side of the fence. For example, I've come across EO who deny the Filioque simply because they claim it was added without consulting the EO first, while others would focus almost exclusively on theology.

Most EO are aware that Contantionple 'elaborated on' Nicea's very brief mention of the Holy Spirit, so they shift the matter to the Latins unilaterally adding on even more without true Ecumenical dialogue first.


I agree the Church has to make a judgement when there is widespread disobedience, but that's a call that isn't always easy to make and is almost always case-by-case. From the Catholic point of view though, Truth is Truth, so the Church never will cave into "popular opinion" that opposes the Truth. There are waves of problems and error that hit the Church throughout history.

Anonymous said...

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On the Indissolubility of Marriage:
The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and 'Same Sex Marriage':

Seraphim said...

It seems that rather than being wishy-washy about moral issues, the Orthodox are simply more nuanced than the Catholics are. Contraception and divorce are unequivocally regarded as evils; even remarriage after the death of a spouse is frowned upon. Yet all things are placed under the guidance of a spiritual father, and unlike the West, the Orthodox Church recognizes that you can't sum up the moral life in a written code. You just can't take a legalistic approach to it like that. Morality involves not rules and laws, but right and wrong, death and life, and our relationship with Christ.

The Belt of the Theotokos was taken to St. Petersburg recently to bless the country specifically with the intention of freeing her from the scourge of abortion. The prevalence of abortion in the Soviet Union has nothing to do with the Orthodox roots of the country's past.

The Filioque dispute is irrelevant here, and I don't know why it was brought up. The only thing I should like to point out was that the Creed used by the Orthodox Church is strictly the version of the Council of Constantinople, without the Latin interpolations in several places ("God from God" and "and from the Son"). The same Creed is used by those Orthodox Churches in communion with Rome that go by the name "Byzantine Catholic". The Council of Constantinople forbad alterations to the Creed, and for the Franks to do so outside of the context of an Ecumenical Council was a severe violation of the canons of the ecumenical council and of ecclesial communion, and we were right to complain.

And regarding "Perhaps that's the reason why Russia has to be consecrated to Mary's immaculate heart: so the Orthodox Church can be straightened out in doctrine and practise" -

Our Liturgy is the Liturgy promulgated by Rome, and our Faith is the Orthodox Faith taught by Rome, as Rome affirmed when she accepted the Zoghby Initiative whereby the Antiochian Orthodox and the Melkites are in the process of merging jursidictions and ending the centuries-old schism between them. There is no reason for Russia to be consecrated to the Theotokos using a Latin formula ("Immaculate Heart") alien to and forbidden within the spirituality of the Eastern Church.

Nick said...

Hi Seraphim,

The fundamental problem with the approach you describe is that it boils down to something like this: sin X is obviously bad, but it is acceptable under Y circumstances.

While such reasoning might be wide spread today in Eastern Orthodoxy, this doesn't sound like the type of reasoning that held off the Christological heresies in the early centuries. It ultimately ends up providing a 'loop hole' in God's laws that winds up justifying any sin, all under the guise of "compassion and mercy".

It is not a "legalistic approach" to say something is a sin and thus should not be condoned. What "legalism" is is when someone takes the law so stringently that they fail to see the purpose of the law and thus make the law an enemy unto itself. The classic example is when the Pharisees thought no work on the Sabbath meant not even helping a man in need on the Sabbath. In such a situation of helping a man on the Sabbath, no violation of the Sabbath actually was taking place.

In the case of Contraception, Divorce, and Remarriage, what is being said by the EO is that these sins are acceptable under certain circumstances, particularly when it becomes too difficult to not give into these sins.

And it is precisely because morality involves right and wrong, death and life, that the EO approach is unacceptable and manifest and serious error.

This is not to be taken as a personal insult, but that is exactly the kind of flowery language that serves to cloak and excuse otherwise (and admitted) grave sin.

CD-Host said...

Nick --

Actually most legal system recognize that actions are situational and what is negative in one situation is positive in another. Under most circumstances cutting the boat string on a dock is vandalism and it would be wrong. It is right for me to cut the boat string to save someone drowning even though the damage to the dock is the same regardless.

Many of the Catholic church's early pronouncements on sex, marriage and children were attempts to find reasonable balances between competing rights. Had Humane Vitae not just been an apology for an absolutist position but rather a more nuanced position it might not have suffered the fate of total rejection by the membership.

Nick said...


I think you're confusing two things here. There is no sense in which an intrinsic evil becomes a 'positive'. There are situations where guilt or culpability can be reduced or eliminated, but that's not the same.

CD-Host said...

Nick --

OK lets stay with the dock example. Is cutting the rope and damaging the dock a sin? Should I be repentant for that action?

Nick said...

It would say - based on a parallel example below - that it would not be a sin to cut the rope to use the boat because at that point the emergency need for the boat would trump any claims to private property of the boat, and thus not have the character of stealing (any vandalism would be totally accidental). This is based on the fact private property is not an absolute right.

A more classic example of that is if someone is starving to death and steals an apple, at which point it loses the character of theft and thus isn't a sin.

Also CCC2408 2408 "The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is **no theft** if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others."

Nick said...

For some reason it appears your last comment was lost. I removed it from the spam filter but it's not appearing.

CD-Host said...

I think CC 2408 gets to the heart of the issue.

Theft in any reasonable sense is use of goods without consent.

2408 creates exceptions for theft arguing that certain situations create an automatic consent. Which is similar enough to my vandalism example, where I vandalize a boat rope to save a life.

And that is the point. There are frequently situations in life where

good X can be accomplished or evil Y avoided but only at the cost of doing Z, and X + Z is still a great good and/or Z is much less evil than Y. Its bad to obstruct traffic, not so bad to obstruct traffic to prevent drivers from going into a blind turn too fast and creating more accidents. Its bad to yell at children, not too bad if the effect of the yelling is to prevent them one from dropping out of school....

So now lets hit the first case abortion for life of mother. Lets make it simple, ectopic pregnancy.

In this case the baby is dead either way, whether there is an abortion or if the pregnancy terminates some natural way. The only thing in question is how much damage that child is going to do to its mother before it dies. The least amount of harm is accomplished via. immediate abortion.

There are three options:
a) Chemical abortion which instantly kills the child and often has no long term ill effect on the mother.

b) Removal of the tube, which can destroy the woman's reproductive capacity and also causes the death of the baby but is not considered a murder since there is no intent.

c) Late nature takes its course which will at the very least cause as much damage as (b), usually more and in fact quite often kills the mother.

The RCC position went from (c) to (b). I can see the orthodox choosing (a). I think this is a good example to work, because it is simple.

Nick said...

You are misunderstanding the Catechism - there are no "exceptions" for sin. There is no "exception for theft" as you put it. In situations of urgency, since there is no *absolute* claim to any property, the owner no longer has any claim to the resource, thus no theft is taking place.

Your X,Y,Z example isn't accurate either, for in that case you seem to be describing taking the lesser to two evils, which is a different thing.

It is interesting that you chose ectopic pregnancy as your "simple" example, because that's a situation that's nuanced and not technically abortion (as you should know). In that event, the intention is not to kill the child, and no *direct* harm is done to the child, only because of the unfortunate scenario of having to remove the tube does the child die. It's roughly like being in a situation with one piece of bread left but two starving people; you don't want either to starve, but by giving it to one of them the other must starve, in that case, you're not *directly* causing starvation.

The idea that Option-A is valid is absurd, and any EO who says that is saying Murder is OK as long as you have a good enough reason.

CD-Host said...

It's roughly like being in a situation with one piece of bread left but two starving people; you don't want either to starve, but by giving it to one of them the other must starve, in that case, you're not *directly* causing starvation.

Here is where we disagree. Of course you are directly causing starvation. You have one bread two people A and B. Options:

i) Give the bread to A. A lives B dies.
ii) Give the bread to B. B lives A dies.
iii) Give some bread to both, both die.
iv) Don't give either break, both die.

in cases ii-iv you are killing A. In cases i, iii, iv you are killing B.

Given that i and ii are less harmful than iii and iv picking either i and ii is moral. But making the choice about who to save is simultaneously making the choice about who to kill.


But lets assume I didn't disagree with you and accepted the above. That theft ceases to be theft because there is under these circumstances no longer an absolute right to property. In that case then rights can be situationally altered, as per the property right. In which case it becomes merely a matter of fact whether such an alteration is occurring in those situations the orthodox are speaking of.

Either morality is situational or it isn't.

Nick said...

Maybe that wasn't the best example, but I would not say you're choosing to kill one or the other. The *intention* isn't to harm anyone, nor is the *action* of giving bread a sin. For something to be a sin, both the intention and the action have to be considered.

But none the less, I don't see how an abortion, contracepting, or divorcing can be paralleled here since the actions are intrinsically sinful.

You would have to show that those three sins somehow are not intrinsically sinful, such that they are not tied to any absolutes. Not only do I not see any way for you to do that, you'd essentially be stuck making the argument that there is a morally good or morally neutral form of killing and divorcing. If such can be done, I think we'd be on the brink of saying good-bye to Christian morality in toto.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? How are annullments not a loophole that amounts to the same attitude towards marriage as the Orthodox have?

CD-Host said...

But none the less, I don't see how an abortion, contracepting, or divorcing can be paralleled here since the actions are intrinsically sinful.

I hadn't noticed this comment but I can think of examples of each.

Abortion -- ectopic pregnancy the example above. The fetus is going to die regardless.

Divorcing -- I can give several examples where the church does view divorce as morally preferable: bigamy, incest, false intent (give child the father's name, no intent to foresake all others...), duress, remarriage without prior annulment, etc...

Contraception -- when for example the reproductive organs pose a threat to the totality. So for example a man can have a cancerous testicle removed even if it is still sexually functional.

Nick said...

Annulments in their strict definition is a finding by a Church tribunal that conditions for a valid marriage were not met. Unfortunately, this process can be abused, and the effect can be a scandal that amounts to free divorce. Rome is cracking down on that though.

Nick said...

Hi CD,

Those situations have been discussed with a certain level of precision by the Church, explaining why they are not exceptions or winking at intrinsically evil acts.

(a) the ectopic pregnancy is an issue of an 'indirect abortion', the intent isn't to harm the child at all, but rather to remove the fallopian tube. So neither intent nor the act itself are sinful.

(b) I'm not sure what you're getting at with divorce. It is a sin and wrong to sever a union in which two people promised to be faithful to the end. In situations involving, e.g. adultery, the Church permits something called "separation" in which the couple can live apart. In some of the examples you gave, those could be grounds for an annulment, which has nothing to do with divorce. A person who marries under duress for example would not be properly consenting and the marriage would be null from the start.

(c) Having a cancerous testicle removed is not the same as making an otherwise healthy one sterile through a given procedure.

CD-Host said...

Hi Nick. Let me remind you of the context. We were discussing whether legal systems including the Western Rite Catholic system are at their heart situational. I gave an example of theft and Western Rite Catholic doctrine regarding it.

You had given 3 counter examples: abortion, divorce, contraception as things that were never allowed. I then came up with the doctrines: ectopic pregnancy, incest et al and cancerous testicle where abortion, divorce and contraception are considered ordered.

Now I agree these things are seen as "different" by the Western Rite Catholic (btw any objection to me just using RCC for this) church. But that is precisely the point. If abortion, divorce and contraception become moral based upon the situation in which they are performed rather than being absolutely evil that is evil in all circumstances then there isn't some sort of broad disagreement on deepest methodology rather everyone has to weigh various harms against various goods.

I fully acknowledge that the RCC considers abortion, contraception and divorce to be much more harmful than the broader society and thus in the overwhelming majority of cases they would in practice consider it immoral. I fully acknowledge that the Orthodox church (where this conservation started) is weighing these things as less harmful. But there is a difference between a big "harm score" that is hard to overcome and an infinitely big harm score that is impossible to overcome when evaluating a moral system.

And my point was that all moral systems in practice treat morality situationally.

Nick said...

Hi CD,

The example of theft you gave was not one of situational ethics at all, as I showed from the catechism. The same stance has been maintained this whole time. The key is recognizing that nobody has *absolute* rights to any materials, because creation is for the benefit of everyone.

This same misunderstanding came about with the abortion/divorce/contraception examples because key distinctions were not being made. At no point does the End justify the means, that's bedrock basic Catholic moral teaching going back centuries and especially expounded upon by Augustine. A classic example is a lie, which is always *intrinsically* evil, even if it is being told to save a life.

This is totally different from a so called "harm score", which has no bearing on the intrinsic wrongness of an action. All a harm score could possibly address is picking the lesser of two evils in a situation where that's the only option.

The Catholic position has an important level of precision/distinction that cannot be confused with consequentialism or even equivocation. In the ectopic pregnancy issue, neither the *intent* of removing nor the *act* of removing the fallopian tube are intrinsically evil. If you were to go into the tube and target the baby to get rid of it, that would be murder.

CD-Host said...

Nick --

I have to tell you I think it is a total copout of the word intent. If I remove a fallopian tube because it contains a fetus in an undesirable location I have an intent to abort the fetus. The whole reason the fallopian tube is being removed is to achieve the abortion, the fact the tube itself needs to be removed is a result of the fact that we don't have technology to do the abortion without removing the entire tube.

I can create any arbitrary morality what-so-ever if I say that all that matters is intent and then create imaginary intents for actors which have nothing to do with their real intents.

Nick said...

Hi CD,

It isn't just *intent*, it is also the *act* that is considered. If intent were the sole criteria, then any genocide would be allowed.

The *intent* for removing the tube is not an abortion, for the mother/doctor must do whatever they can - if possible - to save the life. Upon finding the fetus is stuck, immediately removing the tube is not allowed. First, one must wait to see if whether nature will result in a miscarriage. If not, then only if the fallopian tube itself becomes infected or internal bleeding starts, then one is removing a cancerous tube. There are two lives in both danger, and if it is possible to save at least one, then there is no sin.

I see the reasoning as perfectly sound, but even if you do not, then in fairness you would have to concede this is a very difficult situation rather than a slam-dunk proof debunking the very foundations of Catholic moral teaching.

CD-Host said...

I see the reasoning as perfectly sound, but even if you do not, then in fairness you would have to concede this is a very difficult situation rather than a slam-dunk proof debunking the very foundations of Catholic moral teaching.

You arguing it isn't an abortion but that is precisely what it is: the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. If a woman goes to a hospital with the specific intent to terminate her pregnancy she in my opinion intends to have an abortion and the doctor intends to perform an abortion.

As for the rest, it being difficult is precisely the point that it is a very difficult situation. It would have to be, Catholics consider abortion a very grave matter. A situation calling for an abortion would have to be from their view even worse.

But the core idea once we get past the abuse of language regarding intent:
The fetus being aborted is going to die soon anyway.
The mother is likely to be injured or die.
hence abortion is justified.

is the kind of situation which is worse. I could construct situations for swearing (a venial sin) and the stakes could be much lower. The point was that there are moral actions which involve commit intrinsically sinful acts. In other words every thoughtful mature moral system ultimately has situational morality not absolute morality.

And that's the point I was making much earlier in this thread. Many of the Catholic church's early pronouncements on sex, marriage and children were attempts to find reasonable balances between competing rights. Had Humane Vitae not just been an apology for an absolutist position but rather a more nuanced position it might not have suffered the fate of total rejection by the membership.

The problem Humane Vitae is not that American Catholics think the morality in it is too difficult to meet in practice, rather they believe the behaviors it advocates are immoral. That is the Pope erred on a matter of morals. Humane Vitae, I think is a brilliant exposition of the likely cultural moral effects of widespread effective contraction becoming the norm. The pope makes really good points. But what he fails to address are the counter points.

If I tell you "I will see you what's in the box for $5000" a long exposition on the negatives of losing $5000 doesn't tell you whether you should buy the box or not. You need to counter the positives of the content. If the contents are a billion in bearer bonds agreeing to the sale and incurring the loss of the $5000m even with all those negatives, is a no brainer. If the contents are a penny, that doesn't almost nothing to ameliorate the negatives.

And going back to the very start of this thread... is where I think the Western rite church blew it. The Orthodox church is saying losing $5000 is bad and should only be done if the contents of the box are very good.

Nick said...

You said: "You arguing it isn't an abortion but that is precisely what it is: the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy."

This is the crux of the matter. It is not an abortion in so far as it is not the direct/intended termination of a human life. The loss of the life is an unwanted side-effect of a separate and legitimate medical procedure.

You said: "If a woman goes to a hospital with the specific intent to terminate her pregnancy she in my opinion intends to have an abortion and the doctor intends to perform an abortion."

This is true, but that is not what is happening here. Her INTENT is not to terminate the pregnancy, her intent is a surgery/removal of a cancerous/bleeding uterus.

CD-Host said...

The loss of the life is an unwanted side-effect of a separate and legitimate medical procedure.

I see so if I shoot someone and argue that my intention was to hear the loud bang and the bullet flying out of the gun and killing them was an unwanted side effect I should be believed and convicted of reckless endangerment and not murder? I'm going to stick with the obvious definition that if I perform an action with known consequences those consequences are my intent.

Even for abortion the church historically disagreed with this very definition. In 18th & 19th century abortion, women argued their goal was not terminating pregnancy but rather restoring the natural flow of menses. And then as now 19th century women who were aiming to "restore their menses" really wanted to terminate the pregnancy. And we know that 21st century women who have a fallopian tube removed have every intention of terminating the pregnancy.

Moreover, we have no idea it if is unwanted or wanted. Catholic doctrine doesn't require that the mother (or the doctor) doesn't want the pregnancy for ecotopic pregnancies to be terminated. So lets change this to rather it is simply a side effect of a legitimate medical procedure. The mother intends to remove the tube and she fully intends to terminate the pregnancy.

As an aside, though I understood your point, the fallopian tubes are not in the uterus. The whole problem with an ectopic pregnancy is that it is a case where fertilization and then implantation occur some where other than the uterus. It is like someone pouring gasoline into your radiator, you may have wanted gasoline in your gas tank or you might have a full tank but either way you need to get the gas out of your radiator or your car will explode. And as I'm writing this analogy my intent if I were to start pumping the gasoline from my radiator would be to remove this gasoline in my radiator. The motivation for my intent would be so that my engine doesn't blow up, but that is a motivation not an intention. Under your theory my removal of the gas is just an inadvertent side effect of removing gas which I'm doing for some other mysterious reason.

I'm not enough of a philosopher to know how to argue this point beyond an appeal to what everyone knows is true.

Nick said...

If you shoot and IN YOUR HEART you had no intention of harming but just hearing a bang, that would not be murder, but would be gross negligence and thus a manslaughter of sorts. The ACT of shooting is morally neutral, and wanting to hear a bang is neutral, so it depends wholly upon intent. This is precisely why (genuinely) accidental shootings when hunting and such are not chargeable with murder, and why there are degrees of being charged.

I would not agree with your logic that women who have a tube removed secretly just wanted to end the pregnancy, because this surgery is far more costly and painful than abortion inducing drugs, as well as not being able to have children from then on. The proposition just doesn't make sense, and moral theology still states that if IN THEIR HEART they secretly wanted the baby dead, that would be murder in God's sight.

Your gas/radiator example is not accurate. The radiator could be targeted and removed for sufficient reason, but targeting the gas (child) is not acceptable. If the presence of the gas has already caused the radiator to be damaged with the risk of wrecking the entire engine, then the broken radiator can be removed to save the engine, with the sad and unwanted side effect of losing the gas. Removing the radiator is not done for a mysterious reason, but rather because it has become broken and have damaging effects on the rest of the engine.

Nick said...

What you seem to be thinking is that a perfectly functioning radiator is being removed in order to provide a loophole TO REALLY GET THE GAS OUT rather than just pumping the gas out directly. That's not correct. Rather, the radiator itself must have been damaged by the gas presence, and now that the radiator is damaged is threatening/damaging the rest of the engine.

So the infected/bleeding tube is what is being targeted for health reasons, not a healthy tube as an excuse to get around directly removing the child.