Caroline Farrow has provided a characteristically clearly written and well-balanced account of the circumstances leading to Mrs Halappanavar’s death. It appears that her awful ordeal can’t be simplistically claimed by anyone who wants to claim a necessary connection between any set of abortion politics and maternal health. The diagnosis of death following sepsis was neither caused by pregnancy nor does it seem likely that it could have been averted by a termination, and the comment that “this is a catholic country”, whilst insensitive to Savita and her family, who understandably noted that she was neither Irish nor Catholic, was made by a midwife who had no direct clinical responsibility for the case. 

From a quick glance at the table of comparative statistics on maternal health  it’s interesting to see that there seems to be no clear correlation between culturally catholic countries and high maternal mortality rates. The coexistence of pro-life legislation and low maternal mortality rates in Chile is good news of course, but I’d be interested in knowing whether their holding the best rate in the region is due to punitive pro-life legislation in other Latin American countries. In a recent post Calah Alexander brought up an excellent account of a discussion she’s been having with a pro-choice colleague on the horrific consequences of ‘Heartbeat’ legislation for women carrying ectopic pregnancies in El Salvador, which includes a really well-thought out and sensitive discussion on how catholic moral theology ought to respond to legislation which seems designed to leave women suffering greviously even when there is no hope of the the child surviving. 

The general air of medical negligence that surrounded Savita’s treatment in Galway University College Hospital should be followed up within that particular hospital, and general lessons about the importance of dedicated midwives to listen to pregnant women’s concerns and detect the signs of sepsis at an early stage can certainly be drawn in the UK, which is suffering both from a much higher maternal mortality rate than in Ireland, and a dearth of provision for midwives at a point when the birth rate is the highest in 42 years.  

Still, it would be disingenuous to attempt to move responsibility entirely away from the catholic origins of Ireland’s anti-abortion position. The Irish Conference of Catholic Bishops do not personally draft legislation, and the abortion laws are, in any case, not in accordance with catholic moral teaching as they permit direct termination when the mother’s life is imperiled. Pro-abortion advocates have generally been unwilling to concede this point, just as catholic pro-life adovates have been unwilling to concede that Ireland does not need to be a theocracy for legislation and a cultural climate strongly influenced by catholicism to create nervousness about directly intervening when pregnant women face medical emergencies.  

Leave a comment

April 13, 2013 · 10:11 pm

Quote of the Week

“A woman has never been sexually frustrated because what she really needs is to be part of a culture in which women and men are objectified the same amount.”

From a very sensitive and well written response to the 50 shades conundrum, this quote from Arleen Spenceley’s editorial at christian hipster Relevant Magazine has stuck in my head while reading the flurry of articles surrounding Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic essay.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Triumph of the Lads

I was just about to post the Dworkin worthy complaint I wrote to the ASA for the horrible Durex condom add before finding out it was a spoof made from a photoshopped Burger King advert. SO glad to find out that what I thought was a horrible misogynistic visual assault was actually just another hillarious piece of facebook banter! It got 167,301 likes, guys! Heads up to Rosie Fenton for the update as well as the original post at the vagenda, the site that, in spite of its hideous name, is rapidly becoming the British jezebel.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What If the Reformation never happened?

… this was the Cathedral Basilica of St George at Coverley, the mother church of all England, and of the English Empire overseas. That bright May afternoon it was as full as I had ever been in the three centuries since its consecration… Apart from Wren’s magnificent dome, the most renowned of the sights was the vast Turner ceiling in commemoration of the Holy Victory, the fruit of four and a half year’s virtually uninterrupted work; there was nothing like it anywhere. The western window by Gainsborough, beginning to blaze now as the sun first caught it showed the birth of St Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, at Colchester. Along the south wall ran Blake’s still brilliant frescoes depicting St Augustine’s progress through England. Holman Hunt’s oil painting of the martyrdom of St George was less celebrated for its merits than for tale of the artist’s journey to Palestine in the hope of securing authenticity for his setting; one of the latest additions, the Ecce Homo mosaic by David Hockney, had attracted downright adverse criticism for it’s excessively traditionalist, archaizing style. But only admiration had ever attended… the William Morris spandrels on the transept arches  … and Epstone’s massive marble Pietà.

 Kingsley Amis’ 2004 novel, The Alteration,  is set in 1976 in an alternate world where Arthur Tudor never died, and so Henry VIII never became King, married his brother’s widowed bride or broke with Rome in order to secure their divorce. Martin Luther took his 99 theses toRome, became Pope Germanian I, and was succeeded by Hadrian VII, formerly Thomas More. The Dutch speaking United States, never extending beyond New England, gains independence in 1850, and counts Edgar Allan Poe and Whistler as its greatest military heroes.

The picture painted, of an anti-Semitic, technophobic, sex starved autocracy is similar to Pullman’s His Dark Materials Triology , drawing a “child on the run from papal castration” theme to propel the plot and  predictable (inaccurate[1]) stereotypes for the thematic framework. The delightful off-hand references to AJ Ayer as a Professor of “Dogmatic Theology” and “the De Existentiae Natura of Monsignor Jean-Paul Sartre, the French Jesuit”  manage to be both sardonic and reflective, a tone that is sadly not sustained throughout the novel. This opening passage, though, is a stonker.

[1] See for example, the number of catholics, especially priests and religious involved in scientific discovery, at all points in history, Pope John Paul II’s speech at the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, and this little footnotes to moral teaching called “The Theology of the Body”.


Filed under Uncategorized

Theology of the Body meets Formal Logic

“The genius of a man’s logical method should be loved and reverenced as his bride, whom he has chosen from all the world. He need not contemn the others; on the contrary, he may honor them deeply, and in doing so he only honors her the more. But she is the one that he has chosen, and he knows that he was right in making that choice. And having made it, he will work and fight for her, and will not complain that there are blows to take, hoping that there may be as many and as hard to give, and will strive to be the the worthy knight and champion of her from the blaze of whose splendors he draws his inspiration and his courage.”

Charles Sanders Price, The Fixation of Belief

I can’t even get into the undergraduate common room, there are so many analytic philosophers consumating their mystical union with the logical method.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

For the benefi…

For the benefit of whoever came here looking for “the cartoon picture of jusses and profit mohamed drinking beer togethor”. Update on the situation should be posted by this evening.

Leave a comment

January 14, 2012 · 4:09 pm

AHSS, Free Speech and the Right to Offence.


With the pro-choice motion still dangling tantalisingly in wait of a referendum, UCLU has become embroiled in a further clash of worldviews, following a Muslim student’s demand, later backed by AMSA (a society representing Ahmadiyya Muslim students), and issued by the union, that a cartoon depicting Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed drinking beer be removed from the facebook page advertising a Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Students Society social.

Following this post on Alex Gabriel’s blog, a petition, was created, which came to the attention of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Student Societies, Freethinker Magazine, the British Humanist Foundation, New Humanist, and the high priests of militant atheism, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

The affaire is rather predictable, and I doubt I’ve got much original to add. The atheists are unfailingly charming in their correspondence with their fellow students, brash and self righteous when commenting on their home ground websites. The Muslim students, on the defensive against the seemingly intractable wave of secular culture, look a little pompous in the published statement, and by stating that alcohol and images of the Prophet Mohammed are forbidden in Islam, with no exhortation to the broader principles of faith these sanctions emerge from, or explanation for why this is the case, leave themselves looking irascible and arbitrary in their complaint, and entirely open to fatuous comments like “they could be drinking coke!” and  “Since Mohammed and Jesus lived 600 years apart from each other, the picture cannot ipso facto depict the two together”.
AHSS, which if my experience of student atheism has anything to go on, tends to attract an over representation of obstinately literalistic, romantically incompetent, left brainers in its ranks, have done the overwhelmingly better PR job.

The Muslim students at UCL have invoked “offence” as one of the bones secular culture periodically throws to people of faith. I doubt very much if it’s why they are truly objecting.

Offence is a response to wrongness. It’s not what wrongness consists in, and it can’t be an infallible signal. The relationship is asymmetrical, if something is wrong, then people will take offence to it, but, under the influence of prejudice and manipulation, people have taken visceral offence to things, like interracial couples, that are not remotely wrong.  It cannot be society’s litmus test for morality, still less law, still less campus censorship policy, precisely because it is such an emotionally malleable response, and because on issues ranging from homosexuality to veganism, people living in the same society take offence, take positions resulting from that offence, and then take offence to those assuming alternate positions, at both irreconcilable extremes of the spectrum.

The paragraph from AMSA’s statement which has been most pilloried is this:

Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act. In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offence. When certain Muslims voiced their offence over the issue, for any civil, well-mannered individual or group of individuals, it should then be a question as to the feelings of others and the cartoons should then have been removed. 

It brings up another conflation, which has, I think gone unnoticed, between morality and manners. The relation, again, exists, but is asymmetric. Eating strongly flavoured food in a crowded train carriage, or wearing garish colours to a funeral is bad manners in most circumstances, not intrinsically immoral, but a manifestation of a selfishness and inconsideration which is. Sometimes manners become so systematised that they lose all relation to ethical behaviour, this is called etiquette. Spearing your peas with a fork or addressing a commonwealth Bishop as “His Grace” rather than “The Right Reverend” may be construed as bad manners, it’s not remotely immoral. It is generally good to avoid actively offending others, but as discussed above, taking offence is not a sure test for having a well grounded grievance, and so those grounds will have to be explained and justified, which AMSA has not done.

Of course, on the final analysis, it may turn out that it is wrong to behave with gratuitous inconsideration towards members of your community in the belief that this belies your superior reception of it’s founders’ humanitarian values, and when this is discussed, the testimony of the world’s religions, and the inviolable dignity and worth of the human person, will be a part of the argument.

As I write, representatives from both sides are meeting with UCLU, with the expectation that both sides will come to an agreement with will allow the image [advertising, to remind you, a social which took place two days ago without anything newsworthy occurring] to remain.

For my part, I would like the union to enshrine is the right to take offence, not the right to be protected from it. The right to take offence means the acknowledgement that both freedom of expression and religion are important to us, that well meaning people can have disagreements, that we have a starting point from which our failing, easily swayed consciences can look towards the truth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized