Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dobson a Defender of Life?

[NOTE: This post is meant to be about the power of para-church organizations as much as about abortifacients.]

Driving into Washington, D.C. last week at 5:00am, I had my dial tuned to a local Christian radio station. They were replaying an event from the "Family Values Voters Conference" honoring Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Nurturing and Defending Families Worldwide." The event was the "Family, Faith and Freedom Gala Dinner" and included praises from the likes of Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Ed Meese (Heritage Foundation), as well as "doctor's" son, daughter and wife.



Flattery and praises aside, what raised my ire was a claim one of these distinguished panegyricists made of Dr. Dobson's pro-life track record. I can't find a transcript of the event, so this para-quote is to the best of my memory: 'Dr. Dobson is an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life.'

My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel more from this fallacious statement than from the insane drivers on the Anacostia Freeway (295 South in D.C.). You see, Dr. Dobson (a doctor of philosophy, not medicine or theology) has come to the conclusion that the birth control pill does not have an abortifacient effect (see my contradictory evidence here). His position paper on this matter used to be available online (I read it years ago, and you can find the broken link here, at footnote 60), but now you have to mail in to request it.

But we are given this snippet from the Focus on the Family website: "The majority of the experts to which Dr. Dobson has spoken feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the experts feel that when conception occurs on the pill, that there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect...to warrant informing women about it."

Enter the power of the para-church, and the colossal strength of the Evangelical superstar. In the court room, a judge decides which testifying witnesses qualify as experts. A jury sits through the tedium of their expert testimony and is expected to painstakingly weigh the evidence. But in Evangelical Christendom we have delegated that chore to a Ph.D. granting his imprimatur to his own committee's report. He has spoken with the experts, he has tabulated who thinks the pill kills and who does not, and he has reached the verdict: it probably does not, but at least you should know.

This is only possible because of the categorical tool employed by Focus on the Family: contraception is a matter of conscience. The Bible is not clear on this point, so you can decide for yourself. And if you need help, Dr. Dobson has already decided for you. Never mind that under one scheme a loss of sexual liberty is on the line, and under the other a loss of your child's life. Don't let the Pope, your mother, your elder or your husband tell you the pill causes abortion. Don't listen to the "minority" of medical and scientific experts either -- especially not them, since they fail to adhere to the mainstream scientific consensus. Take solace from the para-church organization; it's a matter of conscience.

As for me, I have reached the conclusion that Dr. Dobson is not an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life. I pray that he uses his position to become one. But we must beware the solace of the para-church, for its contrived authority will be no comfort on the day of judgment.

7 comments:

Principium unitatis said...

With that PhD he can say (as he did in his 1978 book Preparing for Adolesence) that he believes that there is nothing wrong with masturbation, since neither science nor psychology show that it has any harmful effects. In making such a claim he completely ignores moral philosophy and moral theology. So with an inadequate philosophical and theological understanding of sexuality, he presumes to trump the traditional Christian notion (and Catholic teaching) that masturbation is a mortal sin. In doing so, he has advanced a dualistic(gnostic) notion of sexuality, i.e. one that detaches the sexual act from its natural procreative function. And that dualistic notion of sexuality is in large part what is behind the idea that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with homosexual practice, since there is no principled moral difference between masturbation, anal sex between husband and wife, and homosexual acts. See, for example, John Paul II's Love and Responsibility, the encyclical Humanae Vitae, works by Janet Smith, John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

Bryan,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I did not know that Dobson taught in approval of masturbation. At the risk of TMI, I wrestled with this sin as a teen in large part because it wasn't "clear" in the Bible that it was a sin. Whenever tempted, I had a voice bellowing in my ear: "It's not REALLY wrong - God would have made it clear in the Bible if it was!" I now know who the source of that voice was.

I say this as an example, along with the content of my post, to show that "matter of conscience" can be a condemnable categorization. When one is facing hard temptation, say one struggling with homosexual desires, to tell them that it is up to their conscience to inform them whether or not homosexual acts are objectively wrong is almost certainly to invite them to give in to their desires. Same with divorce. Same with masturbation. Same with using the Pill. A subject of the faith cannot reasonably be expected to have an objective view of a moral matter when faced with temptation about that matter.

"Matter of conscience" unravels all the rules, no?

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Anonymous said...

Thos,

This is going to sound crazy. But, when I was an impressionable pre-teen and all my friends started joking about masturbation, I was curious to know what it was. However, even as a Protestant, I believed in the center of my being that the act was sinful. Nevertheless, I was curious and sought a Christian perspective that would help me attend to that curiosity. What I found was the book that Bryan described "Preparing for Adolescence".

I was pleased that Dr. Dobson, a Christian man whose opinion was held in such high regard by my family, suggested that masturbation was a normal and even beneficial thing to do. Immediately, I went against my conscience and began masturbating. This went on for years. Eventually, I sought images to help with it. I began to look at pornography. Women started to become objects. The desire for fornication was just as natural as masturbation. Every time my conscience knocked, I simply said to myself, "Dr. Dobson said that there is nothing wrong with it". Pornography was just something that facilitated what was morally acceptable. Excuse after excuse.

This continued into adulthood, I'm ashamed to say. When I first began seriously investigating Catholicism and Orthodoxy, this was one of the first teachings that struck me. By God's grace, I immediately "kicked the habit", so to speak. Not because I had suddenly become a believer in Catholicism, but because I realized that my conscience had been right all along. I felt horrible.

I could not have been the only one who fell prey to Dr. Dobson's false teaching. That was when I realized that, no matter what good this man has done, I don't think it is comparable to the harm. I look at it this way. If there is even one lie mingled in with several truths, even the truths must be scrutinized and the credibility of the teacher who stands by their lie is completely lost. I don't listen to anything this man has to say anymore. I don't know how one can be pro-life and at the same time teach that it is morally acceptable to use your sexual organs with the intention of not creating life to begin with.

Anonymous (for obvious reasons)

Principium unitatis said...

Thos,

See CCC 1776-1794, especially that section on "formation of conscience". We must follow our conscience, but we must also strive to inform our conscience according to the truth. Conscience can err, and that is especially so where the conscience is unformed.

I commend the anonymous poster just above. I have to say that Dobson's book influenced me negatively as a teen as well. Imagine if, instead of getting Dobson's psychological speculations as a teen, I had been given Sacra Virginitas to read. I take comfort in knowing that God is able to bring good out of evil. At least my children will benefit from what I have learned.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

Anonymous (for a reason),

Thank you for sharing - besides the part where you were particularly (falsely) encouraged by Dobson, the rest of your story could probably be told by Protestant male after male. I know more than one devout fellow believers who claim that masturbation is a gift from God because it allows them to get out their pent-up sexual desires so they can avoid real sin. The Apostle Paul made one concession to avoid that sin, and that was marriage...

Bryan,

Re: the Catechism, "Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them."

I think Focus on the Family (a para-church) telling people what is and is not moral, and their use of the categorical "matter of conscience", differs from the Cathechism's use of the term conscience. We use conscience in a much less philosophical/theological way, and (this is all just my own opinion, of course) mean it to mean something more like "own choice" or "individual taste". And even if it means something more to the average adherent of the Focus para-church, as you've noted, conscience can be misinformed and turned to a wrong conclusion.

And ESPECIALLY in the context of this post (the Pill), the conscience against abortifacient practices can be fully silenced by coming to the believe that that particular chemical (scientific) effect is not happening to begin with. Science as a conscience-less approach.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Chad Toney said...

I think he also talks about it in the more recent Bringing Up Boys.

JP said...

Mr. Dobson, focus on YOUR own family.

Sorry, can not stand the guy.