Sketches on Atheism

Listen up, Christians; I gonna learn ya’ somethin ’bout Personhood-hood

A woman’s unencumbered, secular right to make decisions concerning her own body. That’s where the subject of contraception/abortion begins and ends with rational human beings. It proceeds no further. There is no debate, and there certainly is no controversy. womenandgraceThe Christian right are not, however, rational human beings. Like their fundamentalist Muslim brothers they forfeited the right to be considered mentally balanced the moment they based their entire opposition to women’s rights on the alleged desires of an invisible Middle Eastern sky being.  “HUMAN LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION!” is however their cry, and this alone forms the foundation of religiously-inspired anti-abortion (anti-contraception) legislation, otherwise disguised as Personhood bills… efforts which in fact contradict the very Judeo-Christian tradition which they’re so fond of bellowing about in other matters of Law. You won’t hear a Christian admit this, it’s a tad awkward, but the Jewish Talmud resolutely asserts that life begins at birth: “[When the] greater part is already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.” In Jewish lore the act of birth, therefore, changes the status of the foetus from a nonperson to a person (nefesh). This, of course, is simply ignored by Christian crusaders and is just another reason why their arguments should be dismissed without a second thought. If one moves the goal posts at whim, picking and choosing what arguments are valid when and where just to suit their religious ends then those people cannot be taken seriously in any rational debate.

flatlinerFrom a humanist position the question though is at least valid. When does life begin? Thankfully, it’s a question that is extraordinarily easy to answer, and the Christian right should now pay very careful attention to the next eleven short sentences. Life begins at the moment its twin, death, also springs into existence. One cannot have a defined ‘life’ without that life being able to ‘die.’ Without death there is no life. The former begets the latter. The latter assigns meaning to the former. One delineates the other, and fortunately the definition of death is not in dispute. Death is when electroencephalography (EEG) activity ceases. That’s it. That’s death. It follows quite naturally therefore that the onset of life is when foetal brain activity begins to exhibit regular and sustained wave patterns, and that occurs consistently around week 25 of pregnancy. Only after something can die can it be considered alive, and to argue anything to the contrary is patently absurd.

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135 thoughts on “Listen up, Christians; I gonna learn ya’ somethin ’bout Personhood-hood

  1. I have heard many an argument to this forever ongoing debate and this may be my favorite, thus far. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Well put. Well placed. Well, common sense, right? Thank you for articulating the obvious to the the brothers and sisters, friends and comrades on the dark side. Maybe, just maybe they will consider this…

    Nah. I hear goal posts being moved as I write this. Bastards.

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    • Oh, you can bet on it! Thing is, though, they can’t argue against this logic. To do so would be to inject their religious belief, which is something they’re typically at pains NOT to do. For good reason, i might add. The moment they do they loose the argument.

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    • I don’t see why religion and anti-abortion are the end-all link, unless it’s because the Christians see life as something to be cherish, after all a little human growing inside a woman is life, isn’t it? It is alive and has to be killed to be extracted, doesn’t it?

      Your logic, John, as you state, “Life begins at the moment its twin, death, also springs into existence. One cannot have a defined ‘life’ without that life being able to ‘die.’ Without death there is no life. ”

      We can, and do, kill human fetal life everyday, so it’s twin – death – exists. Hence, from your statement, life begins at conception, since it can die.

      An analogy of that growing life is my backyard garden. I planted tomatoes, green beans, jalapeno, squash and many other veggies. They are really small and nothing right now, but they will grow and several weeks from now, will be worth sustaining.

      Ah, the wonder of medical science…

      Suction Abortion. Also called vacuum aspiration, this is the most common abortion technique in use today. In this procedure a suction tube is inserted through the dilated cervix into the womb. A powerful vacuum tears the placenta from the uterus and dismembers the body of the developing child, sucking the pieces into an attached jar. There is a risk that the uterus can be punctured during the procedure. Also, the abortionist must take care that all the body parts are removed from the womb, as infection and hemorrhage can occur if fetal or placental tissue is left in the uterus.

      Dilation and Curettage. A D&C abortion, usually performed between seven and twelve weeks of pregnancy, the doctor inserts a curette, a loop-shaped steel knife, into the womb through the dilated cervix. As the curette scrapes the wall of the uterus, the baby is cut into pieces. Bleeding can be considerable. As with a suction abortion, there is a risk of infection or hemorrhage, so the abortionist must reassemble the body parts to make sure the uterus is empty.

      Salt Poisoning (SALINE INJECTION). “Salting out” is the second most common method of inducing abortion and is usually used after sixteen weeks. The doctor inserts a long needle through the mother’s abdomen and injects a saline solution into the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus. The fetus is poisoned by swallowing the salt and his skin is completely burned away. It takes about an hour to kill the baby. After the child dies, the mother goes into labor and expels the dead baby. Saline injections have been outlawed in some countries because of the risks to the mother, which can include lung and kidney damage if the salt finds its way into her bloodstream. In spite of the horrible burning effect, some babies have survived “salting out” and been born alive.

      There are two or three more ways to kill that thing living inside women but they are more gruesome than the others I listed.

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      • You seemed to have missed the entire definition, and that definition relies entirely on what “death” is. We know what death is, read the post again if it helps.

        If you want to argue something to the contrary then you’ll have to prove the existence of a soul.

        Can you?

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      • I read it again.

        I’m pretty sure when the Jewish Talmud was written they were not able to suck fetuses out of women, nor could they ever imagine any sane person on day doing so.

        You state, “Life begins at the moment its twin, death, also springs into existence.”

        Well, it sprung into existence when medical advances allowed doctors to kill and remove living beings from their mothers.

        The definition of death is; The act of dying; termination of life or the state of being dead.

        At about six weeks into a pregnancy (four weeks from conception), you should be able to see your baby’s heartbeat on an ultrasound.

        Would a beating heart indicate life to you John? And would ending a beating heart indicate death?

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      • Well, you’re relying on the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Talmud is quite specific… after birth.

        Got a problem with that then i guess you have a problem with the whole Judeo-Christian tradition. Kinda awkward, huh?

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      • I wasn’t sure what Talmud is and looked it up. After doing so I can’t see how one can use it to argue a fetus, growing inside a women, isn’t alive until after birth, it just doesn’t make any sense because we know for a fact the fetus is alive.

        Don’t get me wrong here. If society, as a majority whole, thinks it’s OK for women to choose to expel the little human living inside them, then so be it. If most also say its OK for men to marry men, or women and woman, or man and sheep, or man and five woman, then so be it. But the flip side is also true. If most think it is wrong then their wishes should be upheld. Being religious, or not, should have no bearing on whether ones vote is worthy or not. Maybe one day soon it will be legal everywhere to smoke pot and we can just get stoned and say, “fuck it” and do what ever we want.

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      • Don’t confuse life with consciousness, pulling up a plant isn’t murder even if it is killing a living thing, extinguishing a conscious, aware and responsive mind is murder.

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      • A beating heart does not signify a consciousness. I feel harsh saying it but if you understand read up before commenting or forming an opinion.

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  3. It’s really a gray area when life starts, but it certainly is not at conception. Two cells clumped together do not make a person – although that clump probably still has more mental ability than the guy in the picture above.

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    • Hehehe! True.

      You can’t however actually argue against this definition. An argument, albeit not a strong one, can be made for life beginning at the Quickening at which point the foetus is able to react to external stimuli: 14-16 weeks. At 14-16 week, though, the foetus can’t die, therefore cannot be considered alive.

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      • There isn’t a single definition of life. To me, a living matter is something that can reproduce itself, whether it’s by cell division or by that nasty stuff that happens under the covers. (there have to be plenty of research on what exactly differentiates life from non-life.) Obviously, a bacteria is alive, though I don’t think EEG would detect any activity in it.
        So I think that fetus can die once it’s formed. I just don’t think it constitutes a person.

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      • That’s a valid point to make, but i believe the religiously inspired would not like to be compared to bacteria. I’d certainly call that primitive life, but we must remember the claim here is for “Human life.”

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      • “I’d certainly call that primitive life.” Are you referring to bacteria or to the religiously inspired? 🙂
        Ok. As I said, I agree it has to be a human, all I was arguing is that fetus can die before it can be considered a person.

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  4. If you’re going to FIGHT for life at conception, then you shouldn’t even allow yourself to use lysol or hand sanitizer!!! You definitely shouldn’t be using bug spray & you damn sure better not be eating meat!!!

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    • Pro-lifers don’t know if they’re coming or going. They are the batshit crazy of batshit crazy, but it still helps to have a clear definition ready to combat their batshittery 😉

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  5. Pro-lifers always confused me, cuz I was under the impression that my life started when I was born. If life began at conception I could’ve started drinking 9 months before I turned 21 right?

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    • Well, now that you bring that up….. YES!

      On that matter, I really don’t understand Americans. You can drive a car at 16, but you can’t drink until 21? Is it just me, or are you all aware at just how stupid this appears?

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      • preachin to the choir man, although i think you could’ve used a better example than driving, seems like you’re encouraging drunk driving…. maybe the fact that you can be drafted to die for your country before you can drink…

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      • I have also wondered about this. Here in Finland one gets to drink hard liquors at 20, voting, driving, beer and wine at 18, but for the country you can volunteer to die and kill for at 16. Such barbarians we are!

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      • Actually it used to be that almost everywhere most any “adult” rights were granted at age 18. Driving has always been younger because of the agricultural past, where kids were expected to be able to help around the farm (and that meant driving – beasts of burden first and then vehicles). I was able to start drinking (legally at least) at 18, and I’m only 51. It’s a state thing, but now I think all states have made it 21, and that’s because of problems with drinking and driving among the young and reckless. It all makes sense to me given the context of history, though I’ve never agreed with raising the drinking age from 18 to 21.

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      • Ah, well that does make some sense regarding the driving age. Bit outdated now, though. My father grew up in the bush outside Brisbane. His driving test was to pick up the local policeman (the town had 2) and drop him off at the pub. That was it.

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      • Haha that’s what I call a driving test! Actually there’s been pressure in a lot of states to raise the driving age. Don’t know if any have done so, and don’t know where the pressure comes to keep it at 16. Do high-schoolers have a lobby?

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  6. The one topic i will abstain from debating if possible. I shall watch from the sidelines. Maybe I will enter the fray if that other god, Physics and Whiskey makes an appearance.

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  7. well I read that in some state in the US of A a bill has been passed waiting for the governor’s accent that says life begins at fertilization. Soon it will begin at the thought of sex

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  8. I love it when they define life at conception because that means that I get to eat me some babies for breakfast almost anytime that I want. Just pull up to the drive though of many fast food restaurants and they’ll serve you up a dead baby on a bun with cheese and BACON mmmmmmmm. How fucking fantastic is that!!!? I know, right.

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  9. Wow! This is great John. Thanks. Now there is valid scriptural references to dispute the only claim made by christians to justify their views on abortion. That being the poetic quote of the psalmist that spoke allegorically about God knowing him while in his other’s womb. A weak claim by any standard but now one that can be easily refuted.

    Tucking this one away for the next debate I get in with the fundamentalist who tries to use that reference from Psalms .

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      • Yeah I was just thinking that too. Chris has suggested it’s just a big self-marketing site and I guess they won’t pick up many potential customers on your page. But you never know, I’ll direct them over anyway.

        Different types of non-edible flowering sage. We have meadow sage (my gravatar picture) and Mexican woolly. If you want more hummingbirds in your garden, plant some, they adore it, and it flowers for months.

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  10. Defining life based on death….nice. It’s a good approach, one I haven’t seen before. Kudos.

    AFAIK, brain death is typically defined (from a medical standpoint) not merely as the cessation of EEG activity (which can happen temporarily), but the irreversible necrosis of cerebral neurons due to brain deoxygenation. Not sure how this would translate into an analogy for the genesis of a human person. Would it be the beginning of the development of these neural pathways? The completion of these pathways? After all, there are neural pathways that aren’t fully developed until you’re in your 20s.

    There’s an ethical dilemma posed by your initial argument (absent any religious considerations), and I don’t think it has a clear-cut answer. If we define the beginning of a human person’s life as the onset of cerebral wave patterns, we lose the ability to precisely define when a person actually begins living. In practice, it may not make much of a difference, but it’s intuitively troubling; we see life and death as binary states, and asserting that there is a gradual period between 12-25 weeks gestation where a nonliving entity slowly becomes a living person challenges this binary view.

    I’m not asserting that there’s a clear-cut answer at all, and religion certainly doesn’t hold the answer. It may be the sort of problem we simply don’t have a solution for. All the better reason to push for broader, easier access to birth control so this ethical dilemma is less of an issue.

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    • From my understanding the process of aborization doesn’t conclude until around month 36 AFTER birth. Only after that’s complete can thoughts be stored and retrieved, meaning the onset of conscious life.

      There are short bursts of brain activity building up to week 25, but only after does it become sustained… the motor running, so to speak.

      Yes, it is a difficult subject. Point being that before week 25 this is entirely a women’s business and people (especially the religious) should stay the hell out of her affairs. As it stands, abortions after week 25 are illegal in all civilized countries… and that makes sense to me.

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      • Like I wrote in my post about prosecution of rape, there are definitely certain problems that simply don’t have clear-cut answers. This is probably one of them. Obviously, most people would argue against infanticide-up-to-three-years…but it’s a medical fact that children under 36 months of age don’t have complete cognitive ability.

        Cessation or degradation of brain activity in adults can be temporary; we don’t declare someone categorically dead until we are certain the cessation is complete and irreparable. It’s impossible to perfectly reverse this analogy, but the closest thing I could think of would be that we declare a fetus to be a living human person once we know that there is SOME brain activity (because that’s the warrant to keep an adult alive on the other side of things). But that would push it back to 12 weeks or even earlier, which is quite early.

        And only 13 states in the US make abortions after 25 weeks illegal. Then again, the US isn’t entirely civilized.

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      • You’re kidding! I just sneezed, coughed, burped and farted all at once!

        You have to tell the Sensouscumergeon (or whatever they’re called)….believe me, they will want to talk to you!

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      • I had a discussion with a Canadian chum of yours whose friends told me there’s no legal limit in Canada, but it’s not needed. Then I read that Scotland doesn’t have one either, and again, it’s not needed. Even if a woman wanted an abortion after 25 weeks for some non-medical reason, you’d never find doctors willing to perform the procedure. The pro-life people just spout rare and extreme stories that make us forget that women don’t usually want late-term abortions and medical staff don’t usually want to perform them.

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  11. I wonder why we have an opinion in what is basically a personal decision. What if we just said: what the fuck, do what you want. I am sure conservatives hair would catch fire and they would run around shouting things like, “Well then people could do anything!” To which I respond … eh, yes. What interest can politicians have: fetuses don’t vote? The military isn’t concerned because they can’t bear arms, so WTF, why don’t we all just pack it in and tale a page out of the old (meaning real) libertarian’s playbook and say there is no role for government here.

    Just sayin’.

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    • I’d argue that up till week 25, but let’s be honest, no one is getting an abortion after that stage. In all reality its incredibly rare to have them after 12 weeks so the subject is pretty much a non-issue.

      The thing i find most curious about all this is the religious rights steadfast objections to sex education and contraception. For crying out loud, if you want less abortions (and no one wants more) then the means are there… why protest that, too?

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    • Sort of a strange viewpoint. Though I believe it’s a woman’s business in this case, if some state wants to make a law against late-term abortion I can understand that. Nearly all people agree it’s the government’s job to protect the life and liberty of individual citizens. And if life begins, say, at 25 weeks as John suggests, then that is a citizen with a right to life, no matter what his/her parent wants to happen. Parents only have total control over their own lives. They’ve never had total control over their children’s life and liberty, at least in this country. I think that’s probably true in most of the world.

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      • 25 is a clear definition for legal purposes; a rational response to the religious right and their outrageous personhood bills. Thankfully, I believe, it is extremely, extremely rare to have an abortion at that stage.

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  12. The problem with abortion law is one of relationship between viability and medical advances…when it becomes possible to develop fetus outside the womb (say, at 16 wks) then ethic debate (&/or religious argument) becomes even more problematic and political…within the womb an argument can be made for lack of personhood until x y z as its removed from “society”…but Hippocratic oath applies personhood, I believe, and therefore must save w/o prejudice once something can medically be saved…as it stands, medical advances are in line with fundamentalist argument that abortion is murder, it’s just religious arguers are waiting ahead cheering medical advances (which in turn affect law) on at the finishing line….our own smart ass progression will effectively keep woman as secondary to abortion arrogance in religious bigots …ironic

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      • The viability argument and medical advances means that the law has been moving the limit when a woman can have an abortion …this means that because of medical science, a fetus can survive at even earlier times than say, ten years ago. This means that the question of viability is constantly changing to fit medical capability, not what you or I believe is capable.

        Regardless of what can happen now, the fact is, it is a lot more than what happened in the past and presently, will be a lot less than what can happen in the future, with regards to fetus viability (and survival) outside the womb.

        A woman’s right to abort, therefore, will constantly be under scrutiny politically, religiously and humanely as man and its understanding of science evolves. Respectfully, a woman and her rights has always been held hostage relative to societal progression and her rights will always be enhanced or removed depending on what is of advantage to law, medical, government, religion.

        It should always be the women’s right to abort, however, at the minute women come second to scientific progression and religion are (funnily enough) happy to hold sciences hand in their pro life/hippocratic goal.

        Should viability start at 16 weeks, and I am a firm believer that science will make this happen, then will the law change? As it did in the UK (to 24 wks but there have been calls for 20 weeks) – I would propose that the womans ‘right’ will come second. to ‘progression’ and the religious fundamentalist will cry a victory in proof that the aborted fetus’s of the early 21st century had been murdered.

        Did I explain it any better?

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      • Ah, yes, thanks! It’s an oddity that our secular societies are subjected to such mindless religious interference. Here’s my message to them: Don’t like abortion? Don’t get one. Don’t like contraception? Don’t take it.

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      • Religion and its ‘love’ for life needs to be exemplified in the general world, rather than trying to focus on ‘saving’ a few cells. Seems like that is all their small hearts and minds can cope with.

        Akin to caring for an ameoba while decimating its eco system…counter intuitive, to me.

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  13. It has always confused me how Christians are so adamant on protecting the life of a fetus while at the same time being perfectly OK with death penalty. Shouldn’t they be rallying against that instead?

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  14. Great post John.

    It is interresting how the lines are drawn, between the secular pro-choisers and the religious pro-lifers, when there actually is nothing about this stuff in the Bible. Or is there? To me it seems more like the moral issue Christian conservatives are taking is because they do not fully grasp the fact, that there are things in this world we as humans simply have to decide upon and make our own morals according to the logic of the natural ethics, because these are not black and white issues.

    It is some “fundamentally” simplistic model of thought, wich drives the religious poeple in this issue. Is it because they find a world where all choises are not black and white frightening, or what? I am only asking, as it seems to me, that they are very insecure people in many other fields of life also. I bet they think, it is because the secular people have given up morality, and it seems the aborted fetuses are only a tool for them to tell themselves, they hold the moral high ground. It works as such, not because of anything in their holy scriptures, but because it is an emotional issue. And they think it fits their conservative world view (in wich women are safe because they are controlled by men), that most often is a total misconception of history.

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    • Larry (above) said the only reference is in Psalms where it mentions ‘God knowing him (jebus, i assume) while in his mother’s womb.’

      I agree with you…. aging white males working themselves up into a frenzy over women’ rights is just terribly peculiar. It reveals a boatload of insecurities which they try to mask behind some sort of religious fervor. Sounds like the Taliban to me 😉

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  15. The Christians who want to claim life begins at conception also have to acknowledge that their god kills far far far more “people” than any medical procedure.

    I’m still waiting for all supposed “pro-life” people to adopt as many children as possible, including those hard to place and I am waiting for them to uniformly support every bit of legislation that supports those potential children they want born with good food, good education, good housing and decent parents. But unsuprisingly, for all their claims of being “pro-life” they don’t want any of this at all. They only want to control others and have their little wet dream of a theocracy.

    Those who use their religion to attempt to remove the rights of others are indeed no better than the Taliban. They are just as much ignorant hateful cowards as their Muslim brethern are.

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  16. Fabulous post. The immediate thought that came to mind after viewing the accompanied image was, “Is this a consequence of banning smoking from donut shops?” Stereotypes do have a tendency to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Is it really that difficult to grasp live and “let” live?

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  17. I actually had a conversation with some Mormon guys I know. One of them said they would always choose the life of the foetus over the life of the mother. I was absolutely shocked.

    The Mormon church doesn’t even teach that as the way forward in these situations. It teaches that abortion is acceptable where there is risk to the life of the mother.

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      • I think the point was that in those situations the mother is usually unconscious and it is the father who has to make the decision.

        Though I imagine any woman in that situation who given that kind of choice would feel incredibly pressured if their partner had that kind of attitude.

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      • Even outside such extreme cases its a woman’s choice to use contraception or get an abortion as she decides. Its no one else’s business… and certainly no business of theists.

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  18. Pretty good. Although technically, life begins, when something is “alive” (conception). I would consider an embryo or fetus a host rather than a person but it is a living thing. I might mention that I am female and childless by choice. Used birth control for many years and ceased at the recommended age of 35-opting then for tubal occlusion. I would be inexplainable angry and perplexed if ANYONE – man, woman or government forced or prevented my choices/options. Slavery is slavery no matter how its disguised. FREEDOM for all rational, peaceful people!!!

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  19. It all comes down to words, definitions, language. We try to make them match what is real. You draw a line in the sand here, and others draw it over there. You define this, they define that. You say a woman’s rights come first, they say a child’s rights come first. It’s a terrible debate.

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    • Shouldn’t even be a debate. Religious interference in the workings of our secular societies is what makes it ugly. When someone is unreasonable (and deluded) its never going to be pretty.

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  20. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The last few days, several bloggers who I follow have blind-sided me with anti-choice posts that were so nonsensical I didn’t even know how to join the debate. I’ll add one more fact to the mix: studies have shown that about 50% of fertilized eggs spontaneously abort so soon after conception that the woman never even notices anything out of the ordinary. If God meant us to understand that life begins at conception, then what is the meaning of that little twist?

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    • Glad you liked it. I’ve engaged a few debates on the subject and this seems to shut most of them up. I Also like the fact that Jewish Talmud clearly states that personhood begins at birth. That seems to stump the rabid Christians, too.

      You’re right… pro-lifers can be like a mindless stampede screaming righteousness. Odd how they’re also mostly ageing men…

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