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My Time With Peter Singer

by Daniel Becker, President, Georgia Right to Life


“An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.”    Proverbs 29:27 ESV

Webster defines the word “abominable” to mean “causing moral revulsion.” Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit down during a lunch break, one-on-one, with Peter Singer the DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and one of President Obama’s elite advisors for Obama Care.

He is someone who openly declares the Christian worldview to be “abominable”. In fact I have spent my weekend with an entire body of scholars and left leaning world leaders in public policy . . . who openly declare Christianity to be the single most pervasive problem they face. I was not prepared for the number of presenters at an animal rights symposium who spoke to the theological underpinnings of my own "abominable" worldview.

I am here at Yale University for the last day of the “Beyond Human Personhood” Symposium. As National Field Director for Personhood USA, I was asked by my superiors to attend to see if I could garner any insight in how a leftist worldview approaches the effort of convincing our culture to accept personhood for non-human actors such as: elephants, dolphins, great apes, artificial intelligences and extra-terrestrials.

I was a little surprised to find a modicum of common ground as I observed their intense passion to promote their worldview. I can admire their sacrifice and commitment to what they hold as the true nature of things. I was wholly unprepared for the moral revulsion I felt as they described their overall agenda. They openly admitted that their goal is to “animalize” mankind as just another animal in the zoo we call earth. Their godless evolutionary pre-suppositions demand this. “Speciesism” was mentioned quite often—rightly accusing the Christian worldview of elevating all mankind as being “created in the image of God” and setting man apart from the other creatures of earth by placing all of God’s creation under mankind to act as steward “over the garden”. Countless speakers decried human exceptionalism” and Christianity’s role in promoting a worldview that demoted animals to a status under man’s “dominion.” As I mentioned earlier, I was struck by the sheer number of references to the early church fathers and various quotes from Christian theologians. This was a crowd who knew their church history and had made a conscious decision to reject the good news of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection for our soul’s sakes. And yes . . . there was a discussion on ensoulment and the fact that Christians denied ensoulment to non-humans. Again, I want to emphasized how unprepared I was to encounter such a high level of theological content, not to mention that it was all directed at me.

At first I thought that surely there were those in the audience that might question some of the presuppositions that were being openly proclaimed, perhaps a philosophy student with an inquiring mind who could connect the dots—particularly in the area of relegating man to the same level as other animals, thereby denigrating human life and dignity. Sadly, I didn’t find a single individual in a crowd of a 100, who spoke out against the obvious policy implications that these ideas proposed.

Singer delivered the keynote in the opening session of the symposium. In it he stated that there were a number of innate characteristics that were inherent in any being who was a candidate for attaining personhood.

They include:

  • Cognitive or phenomenal capacity (ie. Can it experience pain?)
  • Intentionality of action (free will)
  • The capacity to plan for the future
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-recognition
  • Self-interest

It should be obvious from this list that many classes of human life do not meet all of these criteria. For instance, those who are temporarily comatose or misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, those who have temporary or progressive stages of dementia, Alzheimer patients, some with mental or developmental disabilities, the pre-born, post birth children suffering a congenital anomaly, and yes . . . even perfectly normal children thru 18 months post-birth. These classes were not inferred, they were openly acknowledged! They allege that personhood can NOT be assigned to these classes of human life.

This will have a profound impact on public policy, particularly in the area of denial of healthcare under Obama Care. The presenters in the symposium were not just “post-Christian” they were “anti-Christian” in their formulation of a future utilitarian philosophy that would deliver “the greatest good to the greatest number” by eliminating what Germany in the 1920’s labeled “useless eaters”.

I have always wondered if our side wasn’t succumbing to a certain amount of hysteria when it came to denouncing our pro-death opponents by ascribing to them certain extreme positions. I had the perfect opportunity to find out for myself. I approached Peter Singer after the very large crowd of his admirers had left with signed copies of his books. I note that he is well-loved and acknowledged by all academically as the “father” of the animal rights movement. He is a noted world leader in bioethics. The sheer presence of so many academic heavyweights was very intimidating. I introduced myself as the National Field Director for the largest Christian “Speciest” pro-personhood group in the nation . . . Personhood USA. I had his immediate attention. I asked if we could sit down at some point in the conference . . . I wanted to ask him a few questions. He was very gracious and said he would like to. He understood that I did not intend to debate his position, rather I wanted to verify his policy objectives firsthand. He suggested we meet the following day during the lunch break, somewhere private, so that we could discuss our positions freely.

Given the same opportunity, what questions would you ask Peter Singer? I prayerfully asked God’s leading in this matter. I am not at all certain that I succeeded.

Due to another conversation with the head of the Trans-humanist movement in America, I came into the lunch area a little late. Singer was already seated at a table with a large number of admirers who were seeking his wisdom and encouragement. I ate my lunch alone. He saw me standing over against the wall, and good to his word, he excused himself from the group and made his way over to where I was standing. He said, “Daniel let’s go find somewhere where we can talk.” As we were seated, I thanked him for granting me this opportunity to get beyond the myth to the man himself. I began by restating his criteria for personhood from the previous evening's talk and asked him if he was intentional in excluding certain classes of human life. He said he was. He reemphasized that mankind is not exceptional. I stated that the ultimate goal of Personhood USA was the legal recognition of human personhood and asked, “Was not the legal recognition of non-human personhood ultimately the goal of his movement”? He agreed that it was. I stated that “Ideas have consequences”, and he replied, They certainly do.” I continued, “Would you agree that your definition of personhood diminishes and devalues human life and dignity and could have profound implications on healthcare policy? That it might lead to rationing and denial of service for those classes he has identified as non-persons under Obama Care?” His response was that it is already occurring  and that reform is needed all across the healthcare system. That his definition of personhood would provide a consistent universal ethic for all of earth’s animals.

My final question was that given human nature, my greatest fear was that even if I granted him his definition of personhood with its immediate healthcare policy implications, what would prevent those classes of human life being extended to other classes - the traditional slippery slope argument. He said, “Our open society would self-police the issue and I am fine with the process.” He thought that our democratic process would prevent abuse. I then invoked history. I said, “A decade before the Nazis came to power, Germany’s open society advocated for some of the same ends that you have advocated. Within a decade the litany of killing useless eaters had expanded to the mentally ill, blind deaf and dumb children, gypsies, Christian leaders and Jews.” At that point Godwin’s law kicked in. Godwin’s law states that whoever brings Nazism into a discussion is automatically conceding their point in desperation . . . no matter how appropriate the analogy is. He strenuously objected and replied that the society in Germany was not a free society and couldn’t be responsible for Nazism’s extremes. I replied that it was free enough. That the parents of blind children who were exterminated under the guise “of the best medical care Germany could offer”—these same parents who received an urn of ashes when their children were said to have suddenly succumbed to some deadly disease—rose in public outrage against Hitler and put enough public pressure on him to end the “T4 Action” program in 1941. I stated that this was my greatest fear with his position and that once the sanctity of life was demolished as a cultural anchor that the legal protections of personhood, being redefined and lowered to include animals, would deliver a new human holocaust. He didn’t disagree, he merely restated his position with all of its implications.

My goal at the symposium was to stay under the radar and observe where these non-human personhood  proponents were coming from—to discern their underlying presuppositions and to see them as persons and not the enemy. I was not there to argue because scripture indicates that you “answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.” Alas I failed. For probably the first time in my life it was not my mouth which got me in trouble . . . it was my feet! I had noticed a large number of tennis shoes among this otherwise very well dressed crowd, but had just assumed that it was the standard uniform for preppy liberals. My feet were shod in black “cow’s skin”! It was a dead give-away. I (and my footwear) was an abomination in their midst.

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