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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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"Lan astaslem."
I will not submit. I will not surrender.
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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just Following Orders

First, there was Terri Schindler and sadly, she may not be the last. But she is the first to have her ordeal so widely publicized. To some this is the crime rather than the courts ordering her “to be made dead” as Ralph Nader so plainly stated. Many feel that the courts have decided the outcome and therefore we should just but out. Or it’s a personal family matter and none of the government’s business. Unfortunately they ignore that the government and thereby society were already involved in decreeing that she was to be killed. Such views besides being uninformed or intentionally apathetic ignore the central moral issues at stake. Should we kill an innocent person based on hearsay and/or because they are so disabled, they cannot fight back? Will we go the direction of the Netherlands where doctors kill newborns they assume will not have a particular level of “quality” in their lives? Or the most recent report of the possibility of non-voluntary mass euthanasia in England?

For some, it seems that the opinions of judges and doctors are the only thing that matters; that these elite professions can be trusted to decide weighty moral issues. So, we have doctors who excuse themselves by appealing to the law as defined or ignored by some justices. Remove a feeding tube morally wrong, killing newborns wrong? Not important with this attitude. The only thing that matters is if an attorney, who advocates killing “undesirables” or “non-producers” and a judge that can be snowballed by fancy lawyering or who may even be biased towards such a view anyway has given one the appearance of legal cover. Even better, if you can get the local police to support you while they are protecting their sandbox of perceived authority. Morality is at best a very distant concern, if one at all or it is confused with and dragged down to the level of merely being legal.

But should we equate being legal to also being morally right? By what authority do judges decide this moral code and should they be placed in such a position with no checks on their power? Consider that some of our justices are tempted to proclaim absolute superiority over legislatures or the plain reading of the U.S. Constitution, which defines and yes limits their powers. They may even refer to the laws of other countries. If one has no disagreement with that, I am willing to bet they would if abortion were severely restricted by the courts or they decided to cut hands off for stealing or hanged homosexuals based on the laws in other countries. What would such people think if they also knew that the Supreme court at one time declared that outlawing slavery was unconstitutional (Dred Scott v. Sandford 1857) or that separate but equal was actually somehow equal (Plessy v. Ferguson 1886)? Would that finally be enough to awaken them to the fact that the courts are not god-like in their power over us, nor should be?

...per-suading one’s fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one’s views in absence of democratic majority will is some-thing else...its [Texas] hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new “constitutional right” by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that “later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best. (Justice Scalia dissent Lawerence v. Texas)

But many simply ignore these issues and assume what these elite institutions say must also be morally right. Doctors remove a feeding tube without question because the courts said so. What will they excuse in the future? People ignore important moral issues because the courts or some in the medical profession take a particular position that is then trumpeted by the mainstream media. This deference to “experts” on moral issues that will affect all of us forgets the lessons of the past. When some at Nuremberg responded with “just following orders”, their excuse was rightly rejected. But the holocaust they participated in and tried to excuse did not spring forth from Hilters’ mind alone, or only from those in military power. The culture of Germany as embodied by its elite professions had provided a fertile ground for such acts to flower into all the grotesque images that finally shamed all who had turned a blind eye.

"Near at hand, we have been accorded, for those that have eyes to see, an object lesson in what the quest for 'quality of life' without reference to 'sanctity of life' can involve… the great Nazi holocaust, whose TV presentation has lately been harrowing viewers throughout the Western world. In this televised version, an essential consideration has been left out - namely, that the origins of the holocaust lay, not in Nazi terrorism and anti-Semitism, but in pre-Nazi Weimar Germany's acceptance of euthanasia and mercy-killing as humane and estimable.... It took no more than three decades to transform a war crime into an act of compassion, thereby enabling the victors in the war against Nazi-ism to adopt the very practices for which the Nazis had been solemnly condemned at Nuremberg.”(“The Humane Holocaust,” by Malcolm Muggeridge, The Human Life Review, Winter, 1980)

We rightly dismiss that excuse - just following orders. The evil allowed was to great a sin to be covered by such an attempt to pass off the guilt. To allow one's morality to be so completely determined by another requires a level of subservience that many criticize people of religious faith for having. Yet, we take a step closer to allowing such to occur when we again defer all moral determinations to the "experts", as if such people are incapable of mistakes or the malice and weaknesses that plague the rest of humanity.

Some might say this is too harsh, that we are not killing millions against their will and no civilized person wants to repeat the horrors that Hitler unleashed. Yet, even now, our society, because of judges, allows more than 1,000,000 of the preborn to be killed legally each year by abortion. The justifications for that are now being used to justify killing throughout the continuum of human life. Should we wait until we are even closer to emulating the sins of the past before we criticize the attitudes that exist today and that were necessary then for such to occur? How many 100s more should be added to the killing fields before it is permissible to warn of what lies ahead?

We should speak now before it is to late for those who will be the victims otherwise. History has already shown us that such complete trust in those who have power can bring forth horrible atrocities. It matters not that what the polls say or that the media is not in an uproar over something. What matters is what is really being done, what is being proposed and what are the ramifications to such things. We have a responsibility to ensure that the society we leave for future generations does not make this brutality of history more likely to occur again.

But if we continue with the attitude that what is legal is therefore moral or continue to defer to “experts” no matter where they want to lead us, we have no reason to expect that society can avoid reliving its monstrous past. The elites, once again, will try to have their excuse; hopefully the moral strength will still exist to reject it evermore. But what will the rest of society have to say? What rationalizations can possibly assuage the guilt once such horrors have been repeated? The guilt and responsibility for that cannot be passed off to other institutions. We are no longer morally innocent of where such deference can lead. No, we will not be able to excuse our lack of interest, or our preference to look away or be able to rationalize the temptation to hand all moral judgments to others without question. The shame society will feel when looking back once again on similar horrors will not be relieved, nor the victims spared, simply because the uniforms have changed.
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