Response to Sharyn Kopf

Sharyn Kopf is the latest pro-lifer to get a little worked up over my abortion editorial from a month ago. On its most basic level, that editorial argued the following:

1. If we don’t know if embryos are persons, then neither ‘side’ ought to be dogmatic about their position.
2. It is the case that we don’t know if embryos are persons.
3. Therefore, neither ‘side’ ought to be dogmatic about their position.

Unlike Mr Vasser — who attacked a wide range of perceived sins on my part — Miss Kopf takes a different tact by attempting (albeit circuitously) to criticize premise (1); most pro-lifers generally criticize premise (2), so we’ll see where her curious effort winds up.

To the zygote turned gamete who wrote the abortion article: Perhaps you should have subtitled it, “Aw, why can’t we all just get along?”

Her proposed subtitle misses the point, but minor quibble (maybe). More interestingly, she fails to name me. Hi, I’m Kevin. Let me do some armchair psychologizing: perhaps she prefers to see me as a “zygote turned gamete” because it de-personalizes things? In other words, if she admits that I’m a Cedarville student named Kevin then it gets more complicated. For her purposes, I’m no longer a 6th-year philosophy major with a unique past & complex psyche at the university she represents, but a liberal automaton programmed to spit out pro-choice pap without connection to desires, emotions, or personality. Makes me much easier to dismiss.

Since there seems to be an aversion to using scripture to support these dubious shades of gray—choosing, rather, to demote Psalm 139 to the status of “beautiful,” as if it’s merely poetry to be enjoyed or passed over at whim— allow me.

Aversion? Perhaps Miss Kopf ought to consider that certain Scriptural considerations were omitted simply due to space? Or, as I obliquely argued in the essay, that Scripture is largely silent on this issue? It’s confusing too how I “demoted” Psalm 139 since I feel I’m doing just the opposite. To me, calling something “poetry” or “beautiful” is not an insult. Maybe Miss Kopf feels differently. The implicit assumption here is that Scripture verses are primarily about the propositions we wrest from them, and only secondarily about genre or authorial intent. If, in other words, Psalm 139 is not a sturdy chair passage for pro-life arguments then it is of no real consequent to us. Peculiar reasoning to be sure.

Actually, the Son of God has a way with words, so I’ll let him: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Luke 6:22

Notice, first of all, that we’re going to be blessed when hated, ostracized, insulted and spurned for the sake of the Son of Man, not the sake of the recently-formed zygotes. Secondly, I wonder if Miss Kopf really wants to stand by this argument:

1. If I sincerely hold a belief to be true and are mocked for that belief, then that belief is in fact true.
2. That a zygote has personhood is a belief I hold to be true and am mocked for.
3. Therefore, it is in fact true that zygotes are persons.

Could it not just be the case that you are mocked because you’re being ridiculous, and not that you’re a martyr for some righteous cause?

What? No compromising? No—I’ll use your words—weakening our beliefs in order to “de-dogmatize the debate”? Golly, it almost sounds like he expects us to stand our ground and, as a result, be hated outcasts! Oh, wait … he does: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

This is where Miss Kopf would’ve benefited from an editor to clean up the juvenile tactics. Is this type of barbed rhetoric also used with constituents, media, donors and alumni, or does Miss Kopf only save her vitriol for students paying $100k for a Cedarville education? The sharp sarcasm seems more befitting a 10th-grader discovering an opposing viewpoint for the first time (“golly,” “oh wait,” “do me a favor”) than a college-educated PR director whose entire job depends on communication. I realize that sounds condescending, but surely I’m not alone reading the tone as shrill indignation: how… dare… he…! There’s an air of disbelief, as if she’s baffled that there exist any difference of opinion here. She might be startled to learn the number of faculty, staff, alumni, and students who’ve expressed support for my essay. In any case, her argument remains, as detailed above, rather unimpressive.

Notice the choice of words: “when men hate you,” “you will have trouble.” Do me a favor and read Hebrews 11—specifically verses 32-38—then tell me again how we should be weak-minded wimps who wander about “recognizing shades of gray,” and kowtowing to anti-God, anti-life claptrap.

I have to concede this point to Miss Kopf: I am a wimp, but not because of my opinions on abortion. Presumably she means weak-willed for she’s excoriating me for not standing up for the clear-and-distinct Truth of God, not that I’m of feeble mind (though perhaps she wants to maintain that as well). Perhaps this rebuttal is proof enough that “getting along” or “compromising” is not the real issues for here I am, standing up for myself and inviting scorn (does this mean I’m right by her criteria?). I strongly believe lots of things without being dogmatic about them in nearly the same manner that Miss Kopf (and Mr Vasser) are about abortion issues. That is what a lot of what weak thought is about: maybe I’m wrong! It’s not weak-mindedness, it’s reflexivity — including being reflexive about my weakening lest we be accused of self-contradiction (“All is interpretation and interpretation is all; and this too is an interpretation”).

What Miss Kopf fails to careful delineate is the difference between the issues that have shades of gray and the issues that don’t. Her scare quotes imply she doesn’t even believe fuzzy areas exist, but I doubt she literally means that. Scripture has more to say about music than abortion, and yet it’s safe to assume Miss Kopf is far less dogmatic about her musical choices than her pro-life position. Thus, instead of ranting against “weak-minded wimps who wander about ‘recognizing shades of gray’,” she ought to have spent her time arguing about why abortion is an issue without wiggle-room. What is it about this issue that excludes nuance? Furthermore, I’d press as to which parts of the abortion debate are black-and-white since within the pro-life camp there are differing opinions about various aspects of the debate.

If we’re not making “this world” angry by speaking out against sin and, in this instance, the mass extermination of human life, we’re doing something wrong.// Sharyn Kopf
Assistant Director
Public Relations
Cedarville University

I was going to comment on this last paragraph but I’ve gotten bored. I’m a weak-willed wimp anyways. At any rate, this post is dedicated to Shawn Graves.

Jacques Derrida On ‘Atheism’ and ‘Belief’

John Caputo: In Circumfession, you say that you “rightly pass for an atheist” (“je passé à just titre pour une athée”) Instead of just saying that you are an atheist, you know. Why don’t you just say, “I am an atheist” instead of “I rightly pass…” Is it because you have some doubts between the distinction between atheism and belief in God? Or some doubts about whether you are an atheist? I mean, suppose someone said, interpreted that to mean, “I am to all appearances an atheist, but appearances can be deceiving. So don’t be too sure, perhaps I am not”…?

Jacques Derrida: I, I’m not, simply the one who says “I.” On the other hand, I think that we may have some doubts about the distinction between atheism and belief in God. If the belief in God is not a cultural adaptation, if it doesn’t go through a number of atheistic steps –- that is, not only the critique of idolatry, of all sorts of images in prayers (especially in prayers) but also in the critique of onto-theology, the re-appropriation of God in metaphysics, which as Heidegger says, doesn’t know anything like prayer or sacrifice, the ontotheology –- so if one doesn’t go as far as atheism one doesn’t believe in God. So the true believers know that they run the risk, have to the run the risk, of being radical atheists – even [Emmanuel] Levinas says somewhere that in a certain way he’s an atheist because he doesn’t understand God as an existing Being. God is not an absolute Being – so if you go through what we know as negative theology, apophatic theological criticism, and so on, and deconstruction – if we don’t go as far as possible in this direction of atheism, then this belief in God is naïve and totally inauthentic.

Now, in order to be authentic – this is a word I almost never use – but in order to be authentic, belief in God must be exposed to the absolute doubt. And I know that the great mystics are experiencing this. They are experiencing the death of God, or the disappearance of God, or the non-existence of God, or God as being called as non-existent: “I pray to Someone who does not exist in the strict metaphysical meaning of ‘existence’ that is ‘to be present as an essence or substance’ or ousia.” When we think of epekeina tes ousia [Good beyond Being] according to Plato’s, even Heidegger’s, terms, “being beyond Being” the Good, in Plato’s terms being beyond Being, epekeina tes ousia. If I believe in what is beyond Being, then I believe as an atheist, in a certain way. Believing implies some atheism, however paradoxical it may say. I’m sure that the true believers know this better than others, that they experience atheism all the time – and this is part of their belief. In this epoche, this suspension of belief – suspension of the position, the existence of God – it is in this epoche that faith appears. The only possibility is faith in this epoche.

So when I say “I rightly pass as an atheist” I know that because of everything that I’ve done so far, say in terms of deconstruction and so on and so forth, I’ve given a number of signs of my being a non-believer in God in a certain way, an atheist. And nevertheless, although I confirm that it is right to say “I’m an atheist”, I can’t say myself “I am an atheist” as a position, see “I am” or “I know what I am”: “I am this, and nothing else and I’m identifying myself as an atheist.” I would never say… this would sound obscene: “I am.” I wouldn’t say “I am an atheist” or I wouldn’t say “I am a believer” either. These statements, I find them absolutely ridiculous: “I am a believer, I know that I am a believer.” Who knows that? Who can affirm and confirm, “I am a believer.” And who can say “I am an atheist?” I just write such sentences, that is the only thing I can say…