Thursday, July 27, 2017


Something Josh Barro recently wrote in a “Business Insider” essay struck a raw nerve with me - “Except on abortion, where public opinion remains about evenly divided, conservatives have implicitly admitted that they have lost certain parts of the cultural war.” He’s probably right. Most Conservatives can see that our culture is changing at what appears to be breakneck speed. 

As I observe the changes, the question for me as a Conservative is no longer “How do I/we stop this?” We’re well past that stage. 

Once in a while in conversations with friends I allude to the old slippery slope, which instantly makes me the target for their loving scorn. “This isn’t the slippery slope, Phil. It’s progress.” The conversation usually ends there, with me stubbornly clinging to my thoughts of humanity at the highest point of the roller coaster, poised to take the plunge straight down into the abyss.

The signs of change are becoming more and more pronounced. A case like Charlie Gard, where the State apparatus has supplanted parental rights, has become legally acceptable. At what point will society decide this arrangement is also morally acceptable? Will it become normative?

It wasn’t too long ago that euthanasia was almost impossible to imagine. Now, it’s becoming increasingly tolerable, even to the point where involuntary euthanasia is being practiced (NCBI/NIH abstract “The Illusion of Safeguards” – 6/2012). Polite discussions about what to do with unwanted or unhealthy children are now taking place, thanks to the work of ethicists like Princeton’s Peter Singer and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, both of whom advance the grisly idea that killing a child is a morally sound decision. Coyne recently put it this way in a blog posting dated July 13th: “This change in views about euthanasia and assisted suicide is the result of the tide of increasing morality in the world.” 

Not to be outdone, Gary Comstock, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, wrote about the painful death of his newborn son. After reflecting on his agonizing experience, he decided “that the repugnant has become reasonable. The unthinkable has become the right, the good. Painlessly. Quickly. With the assistance of a trained physician….You should have killed your baby.”

How far into the abyss have we plunged? Just this morning I read a piece in the Palm Beach Post about some teenage boys in Florida who mocked and filmed Jamel Dunn, a 32 year old disabled man, as he drowned. The more Dunn pleaded for help, the more they mocked. “Get out the water, you gonna die” one teen can be heard shouting. Another yelled to the man “ain’t nobody fixing to help you, you dumb (expletive).”

According to Florida law, the teens hadn’t done anything wrong. There may be a statute they violated by not reporting a death, but mocking a dying man and making a video of his ordeal isn’t illegal. Is it immoral? It probably is now, but will we get to the point where even things like this will become morally acceptable?

I just finished reading Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” The book is in part a tome and in part an indictment of the modern Christian Church. Dreher bores in right away, arguing that the Church, which should be a counterforce to secularism, has become “content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be Christian.”

Dreher argues that Christians have some very important decisions to make. As a baseline, he cites the work of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who saw that “the time was coming when men and women of virtue would understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who wanted to live a life of traditional virtue.”
Dreher then argues, quite persuasively, that Christians need to pull away from the rest of society? He calls it the “Benedict Option.”

I think he may be right.

We Conservative Christians need to understand we have lost the culture wars. The question for us is no longer how to stop the wheels of the machine, but rather it is now a question of how those who choose to can live a meaningful, Christian life in such an environment.

The signs of the times all point to one thing. The Christian pilgrimage for many right now is difficult. Our input is neither valued nor wanted. The path is narrow; the light seems dim. Yet, in spite of the difficulties, we need to press on, in our own way. As W.H. Auden put it in his short poem “Atlantis,” we must:

“Stagger onward rejoicing
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse”

Thursday, July 13, 2017


“Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many.”
-           Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers

I can only imagine the agony Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of 11 month old Charlie Gard, must be going through right now. Their child is suffering from a rare genetic disorder that slowly saps the life out of him. His brain cells are dying and he is unable to breathe without the aid of a mechanical ventilator. The British doctors have told the parents they have done all they can and it’s now time to allow Charlie to die with dignity.

Chris and Connie believe there is still hope for Charlie. They have offers of financial support from more than 80,000 donors who have pledged $1.7 million for experimental treatment that is available here in the U.S. They’ve gotten messages of support from the Pope, Donald Trump, and even celebrities like Cher.

Unfortunately, neither the money nor the messages of support may change the outcome. While there is a slender thread of hope in the form of an appeal that is going to be heard on Monday, the 10th, it is just that, a slender thread.

Are Charlie’s parents so desperate to keep Charlie alive they are refusing to see the reality of the situation? No, not at all. They’ve told the hospital that they understand Charlie may die and if that is to be the outcome, they want to take him home to spend what little time is left surrounded by those who love him. Tragically, the hospital has told them they cannot even take Charlie home to be with the parents who love him. They’ve even refused to entertain the possibility of hospice care.

In response to the hospital’s denial of what seems to me to be a reasonable request, Chris poured out his anguish to the Daily Mail – “We want to give him a bath at home, put him in a cot which he has never slept in but we are now being denied that. We know what day our son is going to die but don't get a say in how that will happen.”

Any parent worthy of the title would, or should, feel the same way.

Chris and Connie’s grief has been compounded by the law. When the hospital decided to act without their consent, they filed a legal appeal that made its way to the European Court of Human Rights.

In a ruling that must have pierced like a sword to the heart, the Court ruled in favor of the hospital. Mr. Justice Francis, the presiding judge, put it this way: “Some people may ask why the court has any function in this process; why can the parents not make this decision on their own? The answer is that, although the parents have parental responsibility, overriding control is vested in the court exercising its independent and objective judgment in the child's best interests.”

What did the ruling mean to Chris and Connie? It meant they were powerless. In an interview with N.P.R., Dr. Claire Fenton-Glynn, a legal scholar that the University of Cambridge, explained how it works – “Under English law, we don't talk about parental rights. We talk about parental responsibility. We don't say that a parent has a right to make a decision for their child, particularly in the cases of medical treatment.” In cases where the matter is adjudicated, making the decision “doesn’t start with the presumption that the parents are right.”

This is the long and short of it. European law ignores the parents and gives the decision making power to bureaucratic actors who may have other things besides the child’s welfare in mind.

This shift in power from the individual to the state or those acting with state approval are becoming quite common in Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, euthanasia is legal, with supposed legal restrictions in place to protect the public. Yet, even with the so-called protections, over 400 Dutch citizens were euthanized without their consent or the consent of their loved ones in 2015 (Wesley Smith – the National Review, July 2017).

The legal door has been opened and it’s going to be almost impossible to close. As British journalist Anne Perkins recently wrote, “The Charlie Gard case is a sad reminder that the law is the preserve of the powerful.”

Thankfully, parents and individuals still have rights here in America. But, will it always be that way or will the powerful find a way to strip us of those rights? I suspect it’s a question we’ll have to one day answer and that day may be coming sooner than we care to believe.