Tuesday, August 28, 2012

George Neumeyer says it so I don't have to

I've had many, many thoughts about the Todd Akin situation and have thought about posting them here but have been a bit busy with normal life recently so haven't gotten around to it. The short version is that I'm on Todd Akin's side; I'm sorry he slipped up by saying something distracting and possibly false which has provoked a feminist feeding frenzy. I think the Republicans leaping forward to burn him at the stake are bad news and bode ill for the future of both the Republican party and our country. He sounds like a good candidate, the kind of principled pro-lifer we need more of, I applaud his intestinal fortitude in staying in the race, and I hope he wins. Bill Luse has a great post about what has come out of the Akin situation. I recommend it. It was from Bill's post that I learned about this great article by George Neumeyer. A few choice quotations:
We heard this week a lot about "insensitivity" to violence from establishment elites who blithely accept violence in the womb. We heard gasps about dangerously narrow definitions of "rape" from defenders of Bill Clinton (who surely appreciated Akin's "legitimate" distinction if no one else did) and from apologists for Roman Polanski, who, as Whoopi Goldberg once asserted, never engaged in "rape-rape."
In a culture that panders to pro-abortion feminists like Sandra Fluke, thought crimes always rank higher than real ones. Words, not deeds, drive pols from public life. So Akin has to go. He simply harbors the wrong thoughts and no apology will be sufficient from him until he changes his position on abortion. Beneath all the hysterical extrapolations from his remark, which grew wilder and wilder as the days passed, lay that essential demand: approve of killing unborn children conceived under circumstances of rape or be deemed "anti-woman." (emphasis added)
This culture of hectoring explains why Mitt Romney rushed to the cameras upon hearing Akin's remark to pronounce abortion in those cases "appropriate." In a rotten culture, proof of one's "civilized" bona fides comes from such shameless pandering. 
An authentically conservative party would find Romney's unprincipled position far more chilling than Akin's gaffe. If unborn children gain or lose their right to life depending upon the circumstances of their conception, then the party has already conceded that that right doesn't exist. Ronald Reagan understood the implications of that concession and never wavered in his defense of the right to life of all unborn children, not just some of them.Instead of rejecting this media-determined culture of empty and opportunistic outrage, which rests on nothing more than poisonous Planned Parenthood-style propaganda, panicky GOP officials reinforced it this week by treating Akin as a monstrous leper. His stupid remark was thereby turned into a supposedly wicked one and treated as a great crisis for the party.
Even from a narrowly strategic standpoint, the frothing made little sense. Without even bothering to consult grassroots Missouri conservatives who elected him or even find out if they had a viable plan B, RNC officials called for Akin to be obliterated and ruled out any future money to him. Didn't it occur to anybody that he might stay in the race, in which case these fulminations would simply serve to hand victory to the Dems before the race even began? For all the talk about "pragmatism" and "diplomacy" this week from country club Republicans, they didn't display any towards a candidate who won a primary fair and square.  
If social conservatives had any doubt as to their disposable status in the party -- which they shouldn't , since they have been treated like fodder for years -- they can add the hair-trigger purging of Akin to their list of complaints. 
Preach it, George. Somber thoughts, but thoughts that social conservatives need to be thinking. And I, for one, refuse to be fodder.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Why a Protestant believes in the Real Presence

A big topic, to which I doubt that I will do justice. If you faint by the wayside before reading the entire post, no one will blame you, I least of all.

Over at W4 the question has arisen as to whether there is good Scriptural reason to believe in something more than memorialism as a view of the Lord's Supper. In the context the specific alternative being considered is transubstantiation, but in general the question appears to be why memorialism is not a good interpretation of the verses usually used by sacramentalists concerning Holy Communion. In this post I already said that I believe in the Real Presence, but here I would like to go into a little more detail about what I believe and why. These thoughts are presented for those who might be interested and are not intended to be antagonizing to my fellow Protestant readers. Nor, for that matter, to my Catholic readers either, as the position I shall sketch is not exactly the Roman Catholic position. For the record, I'd been thinking of writing this post for some time, so the fact that the question came up at W4 was only a catalyst for doing it now rather than later.

The first question to be addressed here is this: What exactly is the view that I shall be attempting to defend from Scripture? What do I mean by "believing in the Real Presence"? The positions with which most people are most familiar are, on the one hand, memorialism and, on the other hand, transubstantiation. I hope that I shall do justice to both of these by a brief summary without ruffling any feathers, but here goes: Briefly, memorialism is the view that Communion is only a symbolic act which Christians are commanded by Jesus to undertake in memory of Jesus' death. The bread and wine do not change in any respect, nor do they become the objective vehicles of grace (more about which below). They stand as symbols for Jesus' body and blood. I have argued elsewhere that actually there are no mere symbols for important things, in the sense of symbols about which we can be flippant or unconcerned, so the memorialist himself has good reason to be respectful and serious about Communion. The memorialists I know are. But leaving that argument aside, the point is that on the memorialist view the bread and wine are only symbols, not anything with more objective importance. On the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, what is partaken of in Communion has what are called the "accidents," which include all of the qualities that could be examined by the senses or physically discovered, of bread or of wine. However, the essence or "substance" of bread or wine has been removed and replaced with the essence or substance of Jesus' physical body and blood. Using this set of metaphysical categories, the Roman Catholic view then is that Jesus' body and blood are literally present and partaken of in Communion but that this is not in any way empirically perceptible, because it is only the underlying essence of the elements that has changed.

I do not hold either of these views. In the case of transubstantiation, I simply do not hold a metaphysical view about such physical entities as bread, wine, and human flesh and blood according to which they have an entirely imperceptible essence which can literally be switched with the imperceptible essence of a different physical type of stuff while leaving all possibly perceptible physical properties the same. This doesn't mean that I'm a nominalist or that I deny that anything has an essence nor that I am unable to imagine situations in which something might appear to be other than what it is. I think that human beings have an essence, for example, and that no matter how disabled or even wicked and degraded a man is, as long as he lives he retains that essence of being truly human. But for bread, wine, and flesh and blood, no, I just really can't accept the view that that is what they are like, which would make transubstantiation possible.

Actually, the main burden of this post will be about why I don't accept memorialism, so more on that later.

What I do believe is that Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements of Communion in the sense that they are spiritual food. God has so ordained that those of us who, as the Prayer Book says, have "duly received" Communion are objectively spiritually nourished thereby. In this sense Jesus objectively comes down to us in the bread and wine and gives himself, his life and spiritual strength, aka grace, to us when we rightly receive. (And if we don't rightly receive, we could be in big trouble for profaning this Sacrament which has been rendered holy by God's intention that it should be a means of grace to us.) When the consecrated Host is reserved on the altar, because the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves, the place where it is reserved becomes a literally holy space, a place where we come before Christ, who is present there in a special way in which he is not present everywhere else.

Now, since I of course believe in the omnipresence of God, and since all Christians believe in the omnipresence of God, and since the Bible expressly says that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48), it might be asked whether such a view is not either a) theological nonsense, meaningless,  b) biblically utterly unprecedented prior to the controverted passages about the Lord's Supper, or even c) positively anti-biblical.

But actually, I think there are foreshadowings and, to some extent, precedents in the Old Testament. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was definitely a place where God was present in a special way. That was why it had to be handled only by certain people and why even a well-intentioned handling by the wrong person could result in death (2 Samuel 6). That was why it was carried before the people when they marched (Joshua 3, Joshua 6). And that is why the Psalmist and other Scriptures repeatedly say that God "dwells between the cherubim" (I Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, Psalm 99:1, etc.). Hence, too, the Psalmist's repeated expressions of joy at the opportunity to go into "the house of the Lord" and be in God's presence (Psalm 27:4, Psalm 122). That, too, was why when the Ark was taken in battle a child born at that time was given a name that meant "the glory is departed from Israel" (I Samuel 4:22).

It was often a saying among the Baptists when I was a child: "The church is not the building; the church is the people." There was such a horror of idolatry that some even chided old-fashioned pastors who referred to the church building as "God's house." (God forgive me, I once baited a missionary on this very point.) Yet that very notion of a special place that was holy, that was God's house, where one would be in God's presence in a special way, is found repeatedly in the Psalms in clear reference to the Tabernacle where the people of Israel at that time went to offer sacrifices. So it cannot be entirely foreign to the way God works in the world.

Then, too, the Mercy Seat (between the cherubim) was a place where blood was spilled on the Day of Atonement, which somehow was especially able to bring forgiveness for the people's sins (Leviticus 16:14). So the Mercy Seat was, as I have said of the Sacrament, a place where God, by His own special choice and commandment, interacted in a special way with His people.

Another example would be the Shekinah, which was a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. God led His people in this way. It was evidently a physical entity in which God was in some special sense present so as to help His people. In one of the most harrowing passages of the Bible, Ezekiel actually sees a vision of the Shekinah glory departing gradually from the Temple, illustrating God's judgement on His people (Ezekiel 10:18-19).

These constitute Old Testament precedents for God's being willing in some sense to "dwell" in a particular location, in the sense of interacting with man specially in those places. This despite the fact that God is above and beyond all creation and is, in another sense, present everywhere.

This should establish that the very notion of the Real Presence in the Sacrament, and even of its reservation in a church building, is not intrinsically anti-biblical nor idolatrous.

However, it will be justly answered that that doesn't necessarily mean that the doctrine as I've sketched it is true. There is a burden of proof, and a Protestant will understandably seek evidence for such a doctrine (all the more so for such a vastly important doctrine) in Scripture.

The actual passages I am going to use to argue against memorialism (and hence to support something-more-than-memorialism, which I think can be satisfied by the Real Presence view) will come as no surprise to readers. One of the most important of these is Jesus' discourse in John 6, in which He says,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:47ff)
I want to dispose at once of the argument that Jesus could not have been speaking here of Holy Communion on the grounds that he hadn't yet ordained it. In fact, to speak of something important ahead of time, sometimes cryptically, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus did not infrequently. To give just a few examples, he prophesied his own resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19), which the disciples understood only after the fact. He told Nicodemus (John 3) that he had to be "born of water and of the Spirit" and went on a bit about being "born of the Spirit," which wouldn't make a whole lot of sense until after the day of Pentecost. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) looks an awful lot like a prophecy of  the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church and the negative reaction of the Jews, all of which occurred only after Peter received a special vision, which was itself after Jesus' Ascension. So for Jesus to deliver a disturbing discourse on the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which would be understood better only by those who stuck it out, though puzzled, and continued to follow him faithfully until the punchline was delivered "in the night in which he was betrayed," would be very much Jesus' modus operandi.

The similarity between what Jesus says in John 6 and the words of institution (quoted below) is far too striking for coincidence. I would go so far as to say that, with the words of institution in hand, we can see that Jesus must have been foretelling Holy Communion in John 6. The two fit together exactly as prophecy and fulfillment do. Jesus first tells them, bafflingly, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and then later he hands them bread and wine and says, "This is my body; eat this" and "All of you drink this; this is my blood." What more do you want? The two things obviously refer to one another, which is to say that they refer to one and the same thing. It's just that, as with most prophecies, we only understand this fully after we see what the fulfillment looks like. Jesus must have known that his disciples would remember his earlier discourse when he spoke the words at the Last Supper. (Brief digression: John does not record the words of institution but does record the discourse on Jesus as the bread from heaven. The Synoptics record the words of institution but not the discourse. I believe that this is an instance of those undesigned coincidences that are the mark of eyewitness history, about which much has been said elsewhere. Were John writing an ahistorical literary work, he would very likely have included the words of institution.)

Once we realize that in John 6 Jesus is talking about Holy Communion, we are (it seems to me) forced to take quite seriously a non-memorialist view. That is, perhaps, precisely why as a Baptist in Bible college I was expressly taught that John 6 is not, not, not about Communion at all but rather is simply about believing in Jesus by faith.

We should take a non-memorialist view seriously based on John 6 because Jesus expressly says that this act of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is necessary for us to have life in us. He says that we obtain eternal life by doing it. It's that important. Words like "have life" come up over and over again in John. They refer to being saved. Being on one's way to heaven. Being made one with Jesus. All those extremely important things. Jesus goes on and on in this passage, hammering home: His flesh is meat indeed. If we eat of this bread, which he says is his flesh, we will never die. He will raise us up at the last day.

Let's admit it, telling us that we have to take Communion in order to have spiritual life in us just doesn't sit too well with the overall theology of memorialism. It seems at least somewhat implausible that Jesus would have spoken in this urgent, insistent, and rather mysterious, not to say shocking, manner about drinking a bit of wine and eating a bit of bread as a purely symbolic act. (As a matter of fact, that's one reason among many why most Baptists strongly object to sacramentalism: They consider that precisely this urgency about engaging in a physical act like taking the Sacrament is a form of "works salvationism.")

Let me address here the argument that when Jesus says, "I am that bread of life" this is just like other "I am" statements where Jesus compares himself to physical objects. These are obviously simple metaphors--for example, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1) and "I am the door" (John 10:9) The comparison is quite instructive, actually. Notice: In no other case where Jesus uses that sort of locution does he subsequently set up a rite that parallels the claim. There is no vine-engraftment ceremony nor any door-walking-through pantomime set up by Jesus and commanded to be continued in the church until he comes again. So actually, the comparison with other "I am" metaphorical statements shows this one to be, in the end, not quite like the others.

Which brings me more directly to the words of institution. Here they are as given in Luke 22:19-20:
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.
And in Matthew 26:26-28:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 
Why do Jesus' words of institution provide evidence for the non-memorialist position? Why is it not plausible to take them, again, as a sheer metaphor, meaning merely "This bread is like my body" or "This bread symbolizes my body"? Well, if I was going to refer to the words of institution to explain John 6, I am also going to refer to John 6 to explain the words of institution! The two fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The words of institution show us that John 6 wasn't just an isolated extended metaphor, somewhat over-literally expressed. Rather, they referred to an actual, physical, historical rite that Jesus was going to set up later on. In the other direction, the explanation in John 6 tells us (as just discussed) that this rite that Jesus is setting up and commanding has an immense spiritual weight to it. In fact, taken straightforwardly, John 6 teaches (at least) the Real Presence view I have laid out earlier: That the elements are objective means of grace, means of receiving spiritual life.

But there is more: The words of institution are not worded like other metaphors Jesus uses of himself. Jesus says, "I am the door of the sheepfold." But he never points to a door and says, "This door is I, myself." Jesus says, "I am the true vine" but never tells us, "This vine is my body." Here, again, we have the dual motion back and forth between the Last Supper and John 6. "I am the true bread" is worded like other metaphors but is the only one that has a later ceremony associated with it. "This is my body" and "This is my blood" are not worded like other metaphors, and that gives us reason to wonder whether they are intended to convey something more, something, in fact, sacramental.

One more point about the words of institution. When Jesus says that this is the new covenant (testament) in his blood, he is alluding to a crucial ceremony in Israel's history. Moses (Exodus 24:8) took the blood of oxen and sprinkled it over the people after they had agreed to do all the words that the Lord had commanded in the Law. Moses said while sprinkling the blood, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." In instituting the Lord's Supper, Jesus institutes a new covenant between God and his people, and as blood was used for sealing the Old Covenant, so here, Jesus says that the cup is his blood which seals the new covenant. That seems to me, again, very strong language, and a rather surprising historical connection, for a bare memorial or symbol.

Last but not least, we have Paul's teaching in I Corinthians. Paul says,
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:23-32)
The first point in this passage that sits oddly with a memorialist position is the  command that one examine oneself before taking Communion. Christians, at least those who have been carefully instructed at all about Communion, are so used to this requirement that we may take it for granted and not recognize the argument it presents against memorialism. Prior to this Paul has been talking about what we might call liturgical abuses connected with the meal that was apparently eaten prior to the Communion rite itself. (He brings this up after the quoted passage as well.) It would be somewhat easy to take phrases like "eating and drinking unworthily" to mean simply "eating and drinking disrespectfully." But Paul is going farther than just telling people to knock it off with the gluttony and behave respectfully during Communion. He's telling the believers to engage in introspection and not to receive Holy Communion until they have examined themselves and, I think we can take it, confessed their sins to God and resolved not to do them again. Why, if Communion is only a memorial? Do we have to undertake a special self-examination before participating in a Holy Week play? Yet that, too, commemorates Jesus' death. We sing songs in which we proclaim, show forth, remember the cross and Jesus' death, yet we aren't expected to undertake searching self-examination before each of those. It would seem overblown in the highest to speak of doing these things "unworthily" because we had not undergone a special examination of conscience before them.

In fact, if the value to ourselves of Communion is primarily memorial, which is to say, the value of meditation, should we not invite as many Christians as possible to partake, just as we would to a revival meeting or to an inspirational concert? Might not the act of proclaiming Jesus' death and remembering the price he paid on the cross bring back the backslider, convict the erring, soften the heart of the prodigal, and reveal our sin to us? But Paul places the order the other way around. We are to get things right with God, to examine ourselves and confess our sins, before coming to take Communion, and it is a fearsome thing to do otherwise.

The injunction to self-examination before partaking make more sense on at least a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view. We can, again, think of an Old Testament parallel. The priests had to wash themselves ritually before doing their priestly duties (Exodus 30:18-21; Leviticus 16:4). Holy places were not to be approached unless you were clean.

Next, we have Paul's rather eyebrow-raising language regarding those who eat and drink unworthily. He might have said that those who eat and drink unworthily will have to face God's wrath for dishonoring God or for being disrespectful in worship. But he doesn't say that. He uses instead the far more charged language--they are "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," they are "not discerning the Lord's body." I submit that these noticeably literal ways of describing the sin of approaching Holy Communion without due respect and proper self-examination are more to be expected on a sacramental view than on a memorialist view.

Moreover, we have the actual penalties Paul holds over the believers for eating and drinking unworthily. He specifically threatens damnation, bodily sickness, and physical death as possible consequences. If the injunction to examine oneself and repent before taking Communion is more likely on a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view, this is even more the case for the rather shocking penalties for not doing so. Why would God punish his followers in such ways for engaging in what is only a memorial, symbolic act without first cleansing themselves of sin? But if Jesus is truly present in the Sacrament, things are quite different. In fact, this is reminiscent of what happened in the Old Testament. If a priest offered wrongly before the Lord, or if he came disobediently at the wrong time, he might die in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-4, Leviticus 16:2). If the wrong person touched the Ark, he could be struck dead instantly (2 Samuel 6). If there is a Real Presence in the Sacrament, then it stands to reason that approaching it in the wrong way or without first examining and cleansing oneself could have serious ramifications indeed. It would be an example of a spiritual law of cause and effect, to wit:

You do not mess with the Holy.

None of these arguments is absolutely conclusive by itself. Of them all, I believe that the connection between Jesus' teaching in John 6 and the institution of Communion is the strongest, for it is the most explicit teaching we have from Our Lord himself on the subject. But they all contribute to a cumulative case, and from them together, from a Scriptural argument, I conclude that memorialism cannot be maintained and that a sacramental view is the biblical view.

We receive spiritual food in the Holy Sacrament. We should approach it with awe. In it, Jesus comes to us and gives himself to us. It is the place where heaven meets earth, where God meets man and bestows grace through the medium of a physical entity. It is a great gift indeed, for which we should be endlessly, joyously grateful.

In the words of Cranmer, in the thanksgiving after receiving Communion,

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Human exceptionalism matters, even for the bad guys

I had hoped and planned to be blogging next here at Extra Thoughts about something much happier than what will be contained in this post. However, since a final and, I think, important comment of mine is not to be published (I am told) in another venue, I've decided to post about the matter here after all.

For the past several days I have been intensely involved in trying to convince Lawrence Auster that he should not be hosting a respectful conversation at his site, View from the Right, over whether some human beings are actually subhuman! To save time, I shall link all the threads in a row. They are here, here, here, and here. The consideration of this odious proposition began in explicitly racial territory, and though Auster said that he wasn't prepared to "stand by" the outrageous comment he made that kicked off the discussion, and although he decided to shift the discussion away from the racial angle lest it be "seen in racial terms," there was no explicit retraction. It seems only fair to add that some of his readers did not actually fully make the shift, though largely the conversation moved to a discussion of individuals rather than groups.

However, we should also not be respectfully considering the proposition that criminals, even truly horrible criminals, might be literally less than human.

In the course of the several threads, many incredibly odious comments were posted without any demurral from Mr. Auster. One reader, Ben M., even purported again and again to provide Biblical evidence for considering some people to lose the imago dei altogether and hence to be less than human. The threads make hair-raising reading. Commentator "Vintueil" in this thread, who chided me as allegedly not having the true philosophical spirit for not keeping all questions open (or something like that), literally raised as a merely interesting question whether there are subhuman beings (clearly, in the context, including biological humans) whom it might be more legitimate to torture than it is to torture full-fledged human beings.

Auster was utterly unwilling to accept the idea that this was not a conversation that should be going on. Once it had shifted largely to the question of criminals, he defended the conversation to the hilt. He was  greatly angered by my somewhat anguished attempt to appeal to him as a fellow Christian to stop this, so much angered as eventually to make me see that it would not actually make matters significantly worse for me to put up this additional explicit post about the controversy.

There were several excellent gems among the comments, including this eloquent one by Kristor. I don't have time to link to all of those who deserve praise for their attempts to stand in the gap, including commentator Matt.

One question that surfaced more than once from Auster, implicitly or explicitly, was this: If one accepts the death penalty, what difference should it make practically if wicked criminals are considered subhuman? They are simply going to be executed anyway, and that's it. He asks this explicitly here:
[S]ince we are talking about individuals, not classes, nothing worse would happen to murderers who are believed to have lost the image of God than already happens to murderers who are believed to have the image of God. So Matt’s passionate indignation is much ado about nothing.
By the end of the last thread, he and other commentators were still heaping a certain amount of scorn on those of us who were bringing up issues such as abortion and euthanasia (all of these being offshoots of the attempt to declare some people to be "subhuman"). After all, they reasoned, they were only talking about the bad guys. How could the story of Terri Schiavo possibly be relevant?

Now, I considered that this showed such a sweeping lack of imagination, information, and thoughtfulness as nearly to be beneath answering. But these kinds of things kept coming up, with even something of an air of arrogance about them, as if they were unanswerable, so I finally decided to address the issue of criminals directly. Let me say here, as anyone who reads the threads will see, that I am a strong defender of the death penalty. But the death penalty does not arise from a denial of humanity. Indeed, it arises from an assertion of humanity and hence human moral responsibility, such that the penalty is just because the criminal has committed acts that deserve it. This could not be the case if the criminal were subhuman, a point several commentators attempted to make to Auster, without noticeable effect. There are far, far worse things than the death penalty, and it is very important that even the bad guys not be dehumanized. The state may and in my opinion often should justly kill them, but we may not dehumanize them.

So I sent another comment to Auster explicitly addressing the question of what difference it would make to dehumanize criminals. However, he was evidently weary of the conversation and refused to publish it. He even alleged in a private e-mail that I had nothing new to say in it. This surprised me considering that he and his readers had repeatedly asked how any of this could be relevant to wicked criminals, how it could be a problem to consider that they might be subhuman, and this was the first time I was expressly addressing that issue.

It was because of his refusal to publish that I decided to put up this post. I do not have time to edit my comment to him to make it less targeted or less full of allusions to the dispute at VFR. I have many other, better, things that I would like to read and write about. But if anyone has been following that controversy and reads this, let it be known: Those of us who are opposed even to considering the dehumanization of any members of the human race, including criminals, are not lacking answers to the question: What difference could it possibly make?

I have removed View from the Right from my blogroll here at Extra Thoughts. Despite the fact that Larry Auster has frequently had some excellent insights on various political topics, several of which I have quoted and highlighted in different venues, it is important given the extremely odious nature of these ideas he has recently been flirting with that my blogging activity no longer be associated with the site View from the Right.

Here is the comment I sent to Auster that he decided not to publish:

I'm getting a tad weary of the constant, unimaginative challenges to explain how it could possibly matter to declare criminals to be subhuman. Does it never occur to either you or to your readers that considering some human being to be in some deeper sense less than human is a big deal morally and metaphysically, and that just because you can't right off the top of your head think of any practical consequences, it does not follow that it isn't a big deal? Maybe you just aren't thinking hard enough about what it means to consider someone to be subhuman! I'm afraid you all seem to me like a little child who says, "But they're bad guys!" as though that settled all questions and made it irrelevant what else we say or do about the individuals in question.

First of all, several of us have now pointed out that if you take away humanity, you take away personal responsibility, and therefore you can no longer say that individuals deserve their punishment. Does it not seem to you that this might make some difference to public policy? I assure that it already has! Indeed, long ago in the twentieth century the penal model of retribution became passe. The result has been lighter rather than heavier punishment, continual examinations by psychiatric boards to see if the criminal is "no longer a danger to society," at which point he is released, and the like. Because we no longer had a clear-cut notion of a concrete punishment which the criminal deserved but only of the criminal as an object for manipulation and (it was always hoped) rehabilitation, we actually did far less to protect society from criminals. That is one possible, and in fact actual, direction that policy can go when personal responsibility is denied.

But it could have of course gone in quite a different direction, and this was feared by various thinkers including C.S. Lewis. What could instead have happened was that criminals were not executed but instead were indefinitely incarcerated while they were subjected to experimentation which was allegedly supposed to alter them (again, as passive objects of the manipulation of others rather than responsible human beings in their own right) and make them good citizens. What Lewis (and Dorothy Sayers, as she shows in an exchange in one of her novels) realized was that in actuality such criminals would be being used as experimental subjects "for the good of society"--as, in fact, raw materials.

Which brings us to further possibilities if the imago dei is denied in criminals and they are considered to be subhuman. Executing people is by no means the worst thing we could do to them. Advocates of the death penalty like myself have an extremely clear idea that we execute a person not because it doesn't matter whether he is a man but because he definitely is a man and deserves to be executed. Suppose that we did not believe this. The short-sightedness of saying that such a radical change would make no difference, that the death penalty would still be all that we would or could be justified in carrying out, is simply astonishing! 

Human beings are extremely useful creatures. Their bodies, for example, are intricately designed and have limitless possibilities for being useful fodder for others if they are dehumanized. The history of the ideology surrounding comatose patients is useful here (though you, as usual, cannot see how having my fought that battle and being informed about it could possibly be useful once we are talking about "the bad guys"). Bioethicists are simply slavering over those in "persistent vegetative states," arguing that we should change the definition of death so that they can be declared dead so that their organs can be harvested. Why would the same not apply to criminals if they are not humans? Here are just a few things that would be prima facie justified if criminals are not truly human:

--They could be an excellent source for organs. A kidney might be harvested while they were still alive, thus guaranteeing freshness. Or they could be killed at just the right moment under ideal conditions for harvesting heart, kidneys, and other organs and tissues. (China's organ "donation" system has for decades depended so heavily on taking organs from executed prisoners that international observers doubt the practice will ever be ended.)

--Scientific and medical experimentation of all sorts and varieties could be carried out on them. The imagination positively boggles at the thought of all the possibilities there. Scientists are constantly looking for new sources for experimental subjects. And, yes, medical experimentation on our country's currently popular "subhumans"--persons in a "persistent vegetative state"--has already been suggested. So again, a little real-world information goes a long way. These criminals would be healthy subjects, and of course their consent would not be required once they were regarded as non-human. Some experiments might kill them, but who cares? They are "the bad guys" and were going to be executed anyway, so what difference does it make? (Only the difference between what is morally heinous and what is a just activity of human government, I point out.) As long as the experiments were carried out relatively humanely, with plenty of anesthesia where needed, we could even congratulate ourselves on being "kind to the beasts." We could even put them deliberately into a "persistent vegetative state" in order to experiment with ways of awakening people!

--They could be used for surgical practice by medical students. Currently students have to practice using either real patients, animals, or computer models. Using a convenient "subhuman" criminal with a fully human body but without the rights of a bona fide patient would have many advantages over any of these options.

--I'm told that members of the military sometimes have trouble getting over their inhibition to killing people and that this can affect their battle-readiness. "Subhuman" criminals could be executed in the context of using them for killing practice by soldiers.

All of these uses could be done fairly humanely, as we would wish animals to be treated humanely. Vinteuil raised in his list of "interesting" questions, which evidently allreal philosophers treat as open questions, whether it would be legitimate to torture "subhumans"! Had I brought that question up myself I would no doubt have been accused of hysteria, but here is your warm supporter congratulating you on your "courage" who has done it for me. You didn't even seem to notice. Argue with him if you don't think torturing "subhuman" prisoners could possibly be an issue that could arise. In any event, I have given you an entire list (and with imagination and a willingness to overcome the "ick" factor, more could be supplied) of things that do not have to involve torture, some of which might involve no extra pain at all, that could be quite morally licit once you dehumanize convicts. What these actions do all involve, the observant will notice, is treating these prisoners no longer as full humans but rather as a mere means to an end, as things for use by others. That is the real ideological result of dehumanization, and it is a morally odious one. If these people are really less than human, there is no principled reason why they should not simply be used in these ways.

Ideas have consequences. Please do not tell me that you aren't advocating any of these things or even that you aren't advocating any "system." It doesn't matter. You don't get to choose the consequences of your ideas. That is an objective matter. This is something that you are constantly pointing out about liberals. It is true here as well.