Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Luther vs. Atheism on Women Wearing Themselves Out in Childbirth

This past week I've received traffic from the Patheos blog Daylight Atheism, from their entry, How Catholic Hospitals Flout the Law.  Here's how they cited Beggars All (including comments):
Women who want to get their tubes tied can’t have that done at a Catholic hospital, even though doing it as part of giving birth or having a C-section is often the best and easiest way, meaning that they have to go through the time, expense and danger of scheduling a second, separate procedure at another hospital. Even when a woman’s doctor believes that another pregnancy would jeopardize her life, the ban has no exceptions. The bishops ironically are in agreement with Martin Luther, who said it doesn’t matter if women die in childbearing: “This is the purpose for which they exist.” 

The source cited on the Luther quote argues it was different in the original and means something besides this.


  • I picked that article to link to because it had the best sourcing. Their apologetic interpretation of why the quote doesn't mean what it says, however, I considered too weak to be deserving of refutation.y
This atheist blogger links to my article, Luther: If women wear themselves out in childbearing, let them go on bearing children till they die. I do appreciate the blogger credited my entry for "best sourcing." Many of these Luther entries take time and $$ to put together. Other than this, I do not have any positive comments to offer in reply.

First, the blogger appears to think Luther's comment is in agreement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The blogger does not cite from the Bishops to contrast with what Luther wrote centuries before; they simply offer the comparison, "Even when a woman’s doctor believes that another pregnancy would jeopardize her life, the ban has no exceptions." I don't claim any sort of expertise in exegeting and applying the actual Bishops document Daylight Atheism linked to, but the document does appear to state exceptions and to be saying something different than what Luther said. For instance,
"Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child."
"Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available."

Second, Daylight Atheism says my evaluation of Luther's quote is "too weak to be deserving of refutation."Daylight Atheism appears to have overlooked that my entry was a response directed primarily to Roman Catholic historians Hartmann Grisar and Jacques Maritain, not modern-day atheists. Grisar said Luther's comment was "very angry" and directed to those  who "complain" about women suffering. Maritain intimates that Luther had "a base contempt for womanhood" in his "war against Christian virginity." These characterizations are not supported by Luther's context. That was the point of my original entry. 

Third, in my blog entry I did criticize Luther for his holding of an archaic medieval medical view. Luther's comment that it doesn't matter if women "grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing," and that "they should "go on bearing children till they die," is the direct result of this view and served as a polemical argument against the Roman church of his day. In his view, he believed that women who do not bear children become "unhealthy and sickly." Those who do bear children are "healthier, cleanlier, and happier." Luther states, "It is better to have a brief life with good health than a long life in ill health." This view was a direct argument against the practice of celibacy. When Daylight Atheism applies this Luther quote to a contemporary situation, the result is irresponsible anachronism.

Addendum
In an atheist worldview, why should I care what Luther's view was?  Why should I care if his view is similar or not to that put forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?  In an atheist worldview, neither of these things has any true meaning. They are just random facts in a random universe. If Luther's view resurfaces or Rome's view becomes the dominant view, well that's how evolution works: the strongest view usurps the weaker views. In an atheist world, why should I even care if women die in childbirth or feel pain?  There is no ultimate standard delegating that women dying in painful childbirth is either wrong or bad. There is simply women dying in pain as another meaningless fact in a meaningless universe. Daylight Atheism may think it's wrong now for women to die in childbirth when they need not, but in an atheist universe, there may in fact come a time when a collective atheist society believes it's right for women to die in childbirth when they need not.  

In their entry,  Daylight Atheism used such words and phrases as "very bad news for everyone who values secularism" and that bishops are "completely shameless about placing their dogma above human lives," and that there are certain things that are "horrible to say" and there are "horror stories." In an atheist world, why should I accept their standards of bad, values, shame, horrible, and horror? Atheism results in absurdity: they use language of ultimate and accepted meaning, purpose, right, and wrong, but then argue for a world in which these words have temporary meaning based on how humanity understands them at any given period of time. Suppose in Luther's time the collective accepted medical view was indeed that those who are chaste are sickly, while those who are married and producing children are healthy. In an atheist worldview, the majority could easily find it acceptable for women to "go on bearing children till they die." There would not be anything ultimately wrong with Luther's view during his period in history. In an atheist universe, there's nothing necessarily certain that Luther's view would not one day resurface as the accepted view. Yes, that sounds absurd, but it only does so because we assume that things are now as they will be in the future. The atheist worldview has no guarantees for the future, or even the next moment.   

I mention these things not for the purpose of defending the Roman Catholic Church,  the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Martin Luther, women, or even children (born or unborn), but rather, to simply point out that if there is any worldview "too weak to be deserving of refutation," it is the worldview of atheism.

Update:
There were more comments from Daylight Atheism about their assertion that my article was "too weak to be deserving of refutation":



Really? The "apologetic interpretation" that you considered "too weak" was simply supplying the surrounding context for the quote. Actually reading the entire passage makes it clear that Luther had some archaic ideas about women's health, but shows no particular animus or contempt for women as such. 

  • Believing that women are only there to be baby incubators and that their death is inconsequential is not showing animus or contempt? That's a strange concept.

3 comments:

Scott Windsor, Sr. said...

I would like to clarify... the "exceptions" listed do NOT include an "add-on" procedure for sterility during a c-section. Yes, there may be some situations where some bishops may permit for a sterilizing procedure IF said procedure did not have the primary intent of sterility. If the purpose is to cure another ailment and the result had the side-effect of sterility, that might be an exception to the rule. In the context of the discussion quoted by Swan, (to "add-on" tubal ligation during a c-section) there are no exceptions.

James Swan said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the comment. From the snippet I cited from the Atheist blog, I read the paragraph as follows:

Point 1. Women who want to get their tubes tied can’t have that done at a Catholic hospital, even though doing it as part of giving birth or having a C-section is often the best and easiest way, meaning that they have to go through the time, expense and danger of scheduling a second, separate procedure at another hospital.

Point 2. Even when a woman’s doctor believes that another pregnancy would jeopardize her life, the ban has no exceptions.

Point 3. The bishops ironically are in agreement with Martin Luther, who said it doesn’t matter if women die in childbearing: “This is the purpose for which they exist.”

As I read this atheist, point 2 and 3 are different than point 1. Point 2 appeared to me to be a general statement made in regard to the entire document that was cited in order to make a pretended agreement with a general statement from Luther.

Are you saying, I mis-read the atheist's argumentation? I don't believe I have, but i'm certainly willing to be corrected, because, as I stated in this entry, "I don't claim any sort of expertise in exegeting and applying the actual Bishops document Daylight Atheism linked to."

Regards,

JS

Scott Windsor, Sr. said...

Hi James,
Thank you for responding. I hope I am not coming across as polemic, I'm just trying to add clarity. Was your reading of the atheist argumentation wrong? Well, I'm just representing my understanding of the Catholic teaching and stance on the matter.

Point 1: True. If going in for a C-section at a Catholic facility you cannot request an "add-on" procedure of having the tubes tied while they are "in there."

Point 2: True. There is no guarantee that future pregnancies would jeopardize the mother - so this cannot be used as a reason to "get around" point 1.

Point 3: Clearly the atheist is attempting to be polemical there and anachronistically putting an out of context statement from Luther and applying it to the modern day bishop's stance. He was able to draw you in because of the quote of Luther.

Back to point 1, clearly a person who would request such an "add-on" procedure is either ignorant of the Catholic teaching on the matter - or doesn't care. If ignorant, she/they should be made aware - and if obstinate against the Catholic Church, then why seek a Catholic facility to give birth in? IMHO, to go to a Catholic facility and then request they alter their principles seems to be done with ill motives to begin with.

The bottom line here is this atheist argument was just trying to point out where Luther agrees with modern Catholic thinking. The fact of the matter is Luther agreed with a LOT of things the Catholic Church teaches - many of which other Protestant sects reject (baptismal regeneration, to name one; the Real Presence to name another - Luther's view, while not identical, is quite similar to Catholicism while most Protestant sects reduce Holy Communion to symbolism). My point would be that there really is no irony in finding things where Luther might be found to be in agreement with or very close to Catholic teaching.

Humbly yours,

Scott<<<