Monthly Archives: March 2012

Coerced into charity

This weekend just gone saw the broadcast of the BBC’s Sport Relief programmes, where various activities are done by celebrities (usually with a sporty theme) in order to raise money for charity. It got me thinking a little bit, and this blog post is the product of that thinking. I’m not sure you’ll agree with me and if so, let me know why not. On the surface, what I have to say may sound quite nasty, so let yourself be warned here before reading on.

Why do people have to put themselves through personal torment, physical extremes or do something in someway spectacular in order for someone else to donate to charity? The BBC now broadcast 3 major evenings per year (yes, that’s less than 1% of all programming time) to these kinds of shows: Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children In Need.

At the time of writing (started Saturday afternoon, finished Monday evening) I just watched most of “John Bishop’s week of hell” and really couldn’t fathom why it was that he felt he had to do that challenge. What was the motivation behind people donating? I don’t know the answer to that.

If it had something to with the very vague notion of “doing it for a good cause” then how closely are these good causes investigated before donation? A few weeks ago, the world of social media erupted with the story of Joseph Kony (who I had not heard before I saw it at the top of the most popular topics on Twitter) only for there then to be backlash against the charity that promoted the expose video as they were not considered to be the most financially transparent charity around. Yet in the backlash, the anger that was stirred up against Kony was dissipated and redirected.

I’m not suggesting that there is anything untoward in the accounting for Comic Relief, Sport Relief or Children in Need. I simply wonder how many people who donate to them investigate where the donations go to. Of course, there are these very powerful and emotionally charged mini-documentaries that dot the programme.

I think there is a strong thought process that goes something like this: “Let’s provide people with an evening of entertainment. Interspersed with this, we’ll show these videos to guilt-trip them into giving. We won’t publish a strict schedule so that people can only tune in for the parts they want. We’ll issue constant reminders of what is “coming up” to keep them enticed, instead.”

As cynical as that sounds, it seems likely to me that there is at least an element of truth in that. But why can’t these mini-documentaries stand on their own feet? If someone passionately believes that that a cause is worth giving to, then I would rather they try and persuade me with me evidence and reasoned argument than with an evening of light entertainment with lots of famous faces.

What would it say about me if I don’t donate to Comic Relief on the basis of the needs of others presented to me, but instead because the BBC newsreaders did a silly dance?

I’m not condemning these programmes or calling for them to be stopped. I’m questioning the mindset of the British public and whether our priorities are in the right place.

With that said, and at the risk of undoing my whole argument, 2 of my friends are doing a sponsored event soon. Most important is the reason why they are doing it, which you can read about here. You can also find out what it is they’re doing, but it would seem odd in the light of what I’ve written to draw attention to it. Their donation page (which isn’t as straightforward to find as it might be) can be found here.

The guilt of jobhunting

This may seem like an unusual title, but it’s something I felt as I have been pursuing my next job. The fact is, as an accountant, those that are interviewing me are those that have “succeeded” as they might be seen by their peers. These are mostly finance directors of the various companies for which I have interviews.

So far, I have had 4. One has been very good and I liked the chap I spoke with a lot. I was also given reason to suppose that they were considering putting me forward for 2nd (and final) interview. The other 3 didn’t go anywhere near so well and I am not optimistic of going forward with those.

The thing is, though, that in my position, I’ve had recruitment consultants fall over themselves trying to throw job specs at me. One role has been put forward to me by at least 4 recruitment consultants, but to be honest I’ve lost count. My phone number has been given out by current colleagues and one night last week my phone barely stopped ringing from 5:30-9:00pm. But this is where the guilt comes in; I am not having to do much work to get these opportunities sent my way.

I put my CV on Monster and responded to a few emails and phonecalls, trying to keep track of who I have spoken to and what jobs I’ve said I’m happy to apply for. I’ve made a few meetings with people early in the morning, which has required getting the 5:30am train (not so easy now that the clocks have gone forward!).

The only thing vaguely sacrificial I have to do is wear my posh shoes all day. Normally I wear trainers with my suit and only change into my formal shoes once I’m at work. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to carry my trainers into an interview. Now my formal shoes aren’t the most comfortable for walking long distances in, so wearing them all day results in blistering and bleeding.

Yet if I weren’t as educated and qualified as I am, I really don’t know where I would go. It’s this that makes me feel like a useless numpty who gets stuff thrown at me that I really don’t deserve. Then we have to have to come on to the notion of salary.

For those who of you who don’t know, recruitment consultants make their fee as a proportion of the starting salary of the individual placed. Then each consultant gets an individual commission based on the fee. So it is in their interest to try and push for as high a salary as possible. Because I am a christian, I am a socialist. I will not let myself be motivated by materialism or greed. So I am perfectly happy to take a pay cut if it gets me a job that keeps a roof over my head. In this I agree with Paul when he wrote to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim 6:6-9)

Yet this is a complete anathema when talking to consultants and other capitalists.

One chap I spoke to today (I wrote most of this on Monday night) went on a very long spiel about how he wasn’t interested in his commission, only to then go on immediately to start suggesting I aim for a salary that was £10k higher than what I am on now.

I am already paid more than the national average salary (which is around £26k, to the best of my knowledge) and so to ask for further increases would represent a seriously warped sense of priorities. Yet to play down one’s aims risks looking like you have no drive. Recall, though that I am meeting with finance directors; they only got to their position by having a significant amount of ambition and consider that anyone who is worthwhile will be just like them. So unless I portray myself as far more right-wing than I am, I run the risk of not getting a job in the first place.

This morning (Tuesday) I posted a short note on Twitter & Facebook that ambition is another word for discontent. Not one person agreed with me. One post suggested that the opposite of ambition was laziness. I would disagree with this; laziness is the opposite of hard work. My aim is to find a job that I am good at and can enjoy. I do not feel a need to try to climb career ladder or aim to be a finance director. Those who do are not the happiest people I know. Whatever they have, they always want more.

Living a contended lifestyle is completely alien in today’s world. But I’m content to swim against the tide of materialism.

Have you ever found jobhunting induces guilt, or felt pressured to put a different emphasis on your goals in order to get a job?

When is an evangelical not an evangelical?

Picture courtesy of frozenchipmunkPlease forgive me for another post which hinges around semantics, but this is something that has been gnawing at me for some considerable time and which was freshly piqued by a couple of comments I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.

What do I mean, and what you interpret when we hear or read the words evangelical, evangelism and evangelise?

In my view, there is difference between what I mean and what most people here is growing into an unbridgeable gulf, which then makes me wonder whether it’s worth trying to redress the issue or simply to move on and not use the terms any more.

What I think of when of when I use evangelical and its cognates

When I use the term evangelise what I mean is pedagogical exposition. There are many ways in which this may happen which is why I don’t think it’s appropriate to regard it as a denomination in and of itself. So, even though I went to a wide variety of churches as a teenager, from Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. they were all evangelical.

The biblical basis for evangelism is often pinned down to the great commission, Matt 28:18-20;

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Yet there was also the time when Jesus sent out the 12, which is told most extensively in Matthew 10, but which has shorter parallels in Mark 6 & Luke 9.

Here, they were simply told to “proclaim the good news” – interestingly they were to travel from town to town and stay in people’s houses. Here, I think some cultural context is called for, as staying in other people’s houses was, I understand, more common in the culture of that time and place than it is in 21st century England. Nonetheless, they were engaging with people on a personal level.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter addressed a crowd that had been drawn there by what was going on around them, and he freely explained to them what was going on. In Acts 4, where we have the most concise summary of what the early church did, we are told that “the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection”

In Acts 8, Philip just went to Samaria and “proclaimed the Messiah to them.” It seems that he was in a crowd when he did for we are informed that a crowd was listening to him. We aren’t told explicitly where this took place, but chapter 13 of Acts gives us a strong hint: the synagogue.

Again, in Acts 17, we have Paul who went to the synagogue to reason with them (here, the word commonly translated as ‘reasoned’ is dielexato which is derived from the verb dialegomai which has connotations of converse, preach, lecture, argue).

So what is the modern equivalent of the synagogue? Is it the church building?

I would posit the following: the synagogue was the main meeting place, the hub of the community. It’s where people met in order to listen and to discuss what they heard. It was a social place where the everyday business of living was largely carried out outside of the home or the workplace. That is not to say it wasn’t a place of religious worship, it very clearly was. But it was more than that.

So what does that look like today? Society is not particularly uniform; it’s pluralistic, multicultural and many places, disconnected in isolated pockets that may be physically next door to one another. So the modern day equivalent of the synagogue takes many different forms as a consequence; it might be the pub, the coffee shop, the youth club, the gym. It might also be the digital spaces such as the blogosphere, the discussion board, Facebook, Twitter. All of these are places where people come together to discuss ideas (amognst other things), and as such I don’t think it too far-fetched to suppose that had the apostles been living in today’s world, these would be the spaces that they choose in which to proclaim their message.

What I do not mean (but which is often the common perception)

To me, evangelism doesn’t mean putting pressure on people or trying to get them to change their whole life in an ‘altar call’ or similar act of coercion.  It should in no way resemble browbeating. I can find no biblical precedent for forcing anyone to listen or, worse, forcing them to accept the message. I accept that not everyone will accept the message that evangelists bring, and they are free to reject it. My wish, though, is that they can at least have a fair understanding of what it is that they are rejecting and hence their reasons for doing so may not be based on a lack of understanding or poor reasoning.

For example, in some modern parlance, there is talk of christians believing in a bearded sky fairy, which represents a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the christian faith. Whether that misunderstanding is deliberate, due to a misunderstanding of what they had been told, or whether they have been poorly informed is not always clear.

I do not consider evangelical to be a denomination in and of itself. It is a characteristic that runs through many widely varying denominations including those (like myself) who do not define themselves by denomination.

The view that it is a denomination comes, I think, primarily from the mega-churches of America, fronted by their celebrity preachers. The sort of ideas that come out from within these churches into the public view is one of a very American, Republican conservatism. John Piper, when describing his father, says, “He was an evangelist – the old southern, independent, fundamentalist sort, without the attitude.”

It is this identification of evangelicals as fundamentalists that disturbs me. To many, I think, the two are synonymous with one another. The term evangelical conjures up images of a biblical literalist, creationist, afraid of good science, homophobic and often with a strong sense of Zionism (none of which are ideas/attitudes I share).

Interestingly, when I once told someone I went to a Pentecostal church, their first reaction was to suppose that my church was “Pro-Israel” when in fact my local church is really quite apolitical, has no official stance and I don’t ever recall contemporary Middle Eastern politics discussed in any church meeting. We’re just busy getting on with the business of being a church.

Am I saying these people aren’t evangelical? No. What I am saying is that they have views that are “stuck on” top. It’s a little like taking a picture and gluing on sequins, glitter, string and bits of felt. The add-ons should not be mistaken for the underlying picture. Admittedly, the more add-ons that we have, the harder it may be to see the picture, so it understandable that some misconceptions exist.

So who isn’t an evangelical

As I visited quite a variety of churches in my teenage years, learning how others viewed the world, the gospel and the role of the church, I never encountered anyone who was openly opposed to the notion of evangelism. That is, no one in churches.

It was only when I went to university that I first encountered a group of conservative, traditionalist Anglicans (who included the college chaplain, who was, and still is, one of the cathedral canons) who thought evangelism had no part to play with christianity. They were very much religionists, whose idea of church was something that happened once a week in an ornate building, where you chant the liturgies, sing some hymns, endure a sermon and go home without thinking about it and without allowing yourself to be challenged.

When I asked about the great commission and the history of the early church, their response was that they thought it was meant only for the apostles and had no application for today. So the obvious follow-up is to ask “How do you expect anyone to know the gospel?” The answer, in summary, was that if anyone wanted to know then they should go to the church and ask, or just pick up a bible and read it.

While these may be ways by which people find themselves in churches, it absolves the churches of any responsibility to be proactive in educating people. Yet, when I went along to their churches the one thing that was noticeable by its absence was the gospel. The sermons consisted of reading the news headlines and saying “as christians, this is what we should think about these things.” It was always assumed that people knew the basic teachings of christianity, and it’s this assumption (or rather, presumption) that I found rather arrogant and out of touch with the modern world.

So what then 

Where does this leave us? One the one hand, we end up with a skewed vision of evangelism that has crept across the Atlantic and in many cases leaves christians open to (deserved) ridicule. On the other, we could become anti-evangelical and stick to religious ritualism, making it very much an ‘insiders’ club.

One compromise that has become more popular over the last 5 years or so is to refer to a church meaning “missional” which essentially keeps the heart of evangelism without the negative right-wing connotations that have accrued around it. However, its use seems just as muddled as evangelical, as it means different things to different people.

To me, the two key considerations that have to be balanced are those of “doing to others as you would have do you” and the issue of efficacy. This latter point is contained within Jesus’ instruction to be “as shrewd as snakes, and as innocent as doves.”

I view this as needing to be considerate to others whilst at the same time trying to get the message across as clearly as possible. Of course, some people won’t want to even listen. There’s fairly clear instruction on that. It’s not easy to get the balance right and it is often done wrong.

So at the one extreme end of evangelism you might have the open air preacher. I don’t care much for this method, as I think it actively detracts from the christian message rather than promotes it. It ensures that people have heard the name Jesus and that he loves you, but little more than that. At the other extreme, you have those who adhere Francis of Assisi’s notion of “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words” where pedagogical exposition is a matter of last resort, only after someone has somehow grasped the notion of sin and redemption through the historic events crucifixion & resurrection, simply through you being nice to them.

As you can tell from my tone, I don’t think either of these are effective means by which to educate people about the gospel. But there isn’t a one-size fits all approach to evangelism. But has the word itself been twisted so far out of its original meaning that it shouldn’t be used any more? I’m not convinced.

I think it could still serve a useful purpose, as I am not convinced a suitable replacement has usurped it. Missional may well do the trick, but for now it is too nebulous. After all, if someone is willing to listen to you explain what you mean by ‘evangelism’ they may be willing to listen to some more.

Book Review: Revelation for Everyone by Tom Wright

In spite of being the last book of the bible, this was the first book of the “For Everyone” series that I have read. The only reason for this was because I haven’t really looked hard at Revelation for some time and I thought it appropriate to get back into it.

Revelation is one of the hardest books of the bible to read if you are trying to make sure you get the right end of the stick. What Wright does (as in the rest of the series) is to provide his own modern translation broken up into small sections and then he provides a commentary on each section.

One of the great benefits of having this as a study book is that it effectively forces you to read the whole thing from start to finish, which is very difficult to do in a church or housegroup. Personally, I think this is a very good approach in general, but it is especially useful with Revelation, given how any sections taken out of context could be very easily misunderstood.

 The early part of the book with the letters to the seven churches is generally OK for most people, but once the book gets into the more esoteric aspects of the vision then it gets a lot harder to try and get a handle on it.

What Wright doesn’t attempt to do is to say to the reader: “Look at this particular metaphor; it means x,y,z.” While there is some context provided, particularly with regard to what John’s original readers would have understood by some of the references, Wright constantly tries to being attention to the big picture.

Since this is “for everyone” this could never be a complete exegesis of the book. As such, there are still a lot of things that I felt Wright skipped over, which may have been quite tricky to discuss, though this is openly acknowledged. For example, throughout Revelation there are references to those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, which was famously emphasised by John Calvin, but Wright steered well away from any discussion of predestination.

Some sections, such as chapter 9, had very little commentary on them, whereas towards the end, I got the impression that Wright was trying to make up the wordcount. So his commentary on chapters 19-22 were much longer and seemed less directly to the text than it was a summary of some of Wright’s other writings. It was, however, very well written and thought-provoking.

Though Revelation contains some very unsettling imagery, this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid it. This guide is one that I would recommend to anyone who’s struggled with it and wants to try and get the first glimpses of an understanding of John’s Revelation.

Proof that if a number is divisible 9, so are the sum of its digits

There is a well-known “rule” in maths that if a number is divisible by 9, then the sum of all its digits are also divisble by 9. Of course, 9 itself is the trivial example. Let’s work up in multiples: 18, 27, 36, 45. Each of these conforms to the “rule.”

Let’s take a bigger number. Let’s multiply 9 by 985,939 (I generated this number randomly using Excel). What we get is 8,873,451. Well 8+8+7+3+4+5+1=36 which is divisible by 9.

So what I want to do here is demonstrate a proof that this is true.

Let x be an integer, expressed in the following expansion of powers of 10:

N = a0100 + a1101 + … + an10n

where all ai are integers in the set {0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9} and where n is finite.

If 9|N then our proposition then becomes 9|∑ai.

If 9|N then it naturally follows that N = 9Y for some integer Y. Let’s express Y similarly as for N.

Y = b0100 + b1101 + … + bn10m

We can then get to our equation which falls naturally out of this that:

(*) a0100 + a1101 + … + an10n = 9b0100 + 9b1101 + … + 9bn10m

I have put a star by it because we will need to come back to it later.

At this point, it’s helpful to recall the nature of modular arithmetic. If you’ve not come across it before, don’t worry it’s quite simple, as well as being powerful and fun, which is what makes maths great!

In modular arithmetic, you limit the number of integers you can use. Once you run out, you go round and start again. Let’s say for example, that we wanted to work in modulo 10. This would mean that we could not have any numbers that are 10 or greater.

What we do is we would keep taking off 10 until we got to a positive integer that was less than 10. So for example, if we wanted to know what is 23 (mod 10)? Well, 23 is clearly greater than 10. So we take 10 off. This gives us 13, which is still greater than 10. Take off another 10 and we can see that 23≡3(mod 10). This is read as ‘twenty-three is congruent to three, modulo ten.’

Working in mod 10 is fairly trivial. However, what is 10 (mod 10)? Well, that’s zero. If you’re not sure why, then re-read the last sentence of the previous-but-one paragraph. This has a handy consequence that we are working in mod n, then anything which is 0 (mod n) means that it is divisible by n.

We can also use normal rules of arithmetic, except for division, if we are dealing only with integers. So, we could ask what is 3 x 4 (mod 8)? Well, we know that 3 x 4 = 12, so the question becomes what is 12 (mod 8)? This should be clear that this is 4.

Let’s take another example (you will see why in a bit). What is 9 x 9 (mod 8)? Well, 9 (mod 8) is 1. So the problem is identical to asking what is 1 x 1 (mod 8).

This is clearly 1. We could have calculated 9 x 9 = 81 and kept taking 8 off until we got back to 1.

Now, what happens if we take (*) and take both sides modulo 9?

Well, you can break each part down and say the following:


(1) 10k≡1 (mod 9) for all integer values of k.
(2) 9bj≡0 (mod 9) for all integer values of j.

By (1) we can see that the left hand side of (*) becomes a0 + a1 + … + an.

By (2) we can see that the right hand side of (*) becomes zero.

Hence ∑ai≡0 (mod 9) and therefore our proposition that 9|∑ai is proved.


Book Review: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

To the best of my knowledge this is considered one of Hardy’s better written books, though having not discovered Hardy until my 20s, it doesn’t appear to be one of the most well known. I must confess that I got about 50 pages in, but hadn’t really absorbed much of it given that I found it quite dull and made myself go back and start again. The reason for this is that in the opening scene (which is similar to The Return of the Native) just seems to happen and then bears little relevance to the rest of the start of the book.

The book begins with a lone traveller on the road. The traveller in question is looking for a tiny hamlet called Little Hintock which is the setting for this story. It is buried away in a woodland and out of the way for most people so that it remains unfound to all except to those who seek it out, as this traveller does. When he does reach his destination, the first major dialogue is between himself and a young girl named Marty South.

The trouble is that neither of them play a very big part for most of the rest of the novel. So when I was getting into the rest of it I found myself thinking what had happened to them and didn’t really take notice of the main characters as they are introduced.

The plot, not entirely unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, focuses on the relationship of one woman with more than man. The woman in question is Grace Melbury, a resident of Little Hintock and childhood sweetheart of Giles Winterbourne. Giles’ father was a good friend to Grace’s father and the senior Mr. Melbury had promised that he would allow Grace to marry Giles.

Through circumstances beyond his control Giles ends up as a man of very modest means and Grace’s father decides that his daughter’s marriage to Giles is no longer the best option. Enter onto the scene Dr. Edred Fitzpiers. He is a newcomer to Little Hintock, trying to create a medical practice for himself between two neighbouring towns. He approaches Grace’s father and asks for permission to court and marry Grace. Deciding that the wife of a doctor is a reasonable future for Grace, Mr. Melbury agrees.

However, all is not well in the marriage. Though I shan’t spoil too much, Grace is given cause to become greatly unhappy; news of which reaches her father. Through a sequence of meetings, news comes forth that there may be a legal loophole through which Grace may divorce Fitzpiers and be married to Giles. In Hardy’s time, this would have been most scandalous, and it is a major feature of his writing in general that he challenges what were the socially accepted norms.

Yet again, though, things do not work out well to the say the least. But I would recommend you read the book to find out exactly how.

For much of the first half of the book, I was wondering if it really was one his better written books, as it didn’t seem to come close to the likes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles or my own favourite, The Mayor of Casterbridge. By the end, though, I was brought around to the writing. The reason is that the first half of the book has, as I pointed out, some seemingly disjointed sections which don’t sit well within the narrative. But by about 2/3rds of the way through Hardy starts pulling these threads together and the reader finally gets to the see the whole picture. The main climax to the narrative doesn’t come at the very end, so as I was reading I was wondering how the novel would actually end, given it seemed to be petering out.

Then, at the very last, the final piece of the puzzle is put back in place, which harks back to the opening scene. So I now recognise the brilliance of the writing, though the actual plot itself I felt lacked a little of the richness that his more novels have.

Thoughts on “post-birth abortion”


 Last week’s highlighting of an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) on “post-birth abortion” [sorry, the article may have pulled from the site, which is why this link no longer works] prompted much comment, among the most cogent of which was Andrew Brown of the Guardian. Another post I highly recommend you read is at Phil’s Treehouse, where a comparison is made with Jonathan Swift’s “modest proposal”.

The overriding verdict from both conservatives and liberals has been that the paper is abhorrent. This is a view I agree with, but here I wanted to go beyond the knee-jerk reaction and to think through why it is abhorrent. This is, of course, linked in with the notion of abortion in general, so I think I am compelled to state my thinking on the matter, which I have until now been generally reluctant to do. The reason for this reluctance is that abortion is not an issue that directly affects me though it does affect those close to me.

Where I stand

In many debates there are often a wide spectrum of views, though the debate can often be cast in terms of polarity. In this case there is ‘pro choice’ on one hand and ‘pro life’ on the other. If I had to pick one, I would have to consider myself ‘pro life’ though this is more a case of ‘leaning’ towards this view than necessarily agreeing on all points shared by those who identify themselves as such.

Arguments I have often read from pro choice advocates rely heavily on the idea that it is solely the woman’s choice what she does with her own body. This is a very good argument and one that I would normally support. However, implicit within this, though, is the idea that the foetus being aborted is not an “actual person” however one might try to determine that (see further down for details). Taking the argument reductio ad absurdum it could be argued that it is entirely my choice as to whether to pull the trigger on a gun held against a bystander’s head. Yes, we have free will, but we have a moral duty to exercise it well. Exercising the free will to end another person’s life without their explicit consent is, in my view, morally wrong is the majority of circumstances.

That said, I believe abortion is justified in some cases. Such cases include, but are not limited to, instances where the health (mental or physical) of either the mother or the child is at significant risk (although this is admittedly very difficult to quantify). While there are arguments based on unplanned pregnancies (where those brought about by violent means, I would consider may likely cause significant psychological distress and thus would be justified by my previous sentence) or economic considerations do need to be considered but that in such instances adoption is preferable to termination. How to improve the adoption system is a matter that would need to be addressed, though I would make no such attempt here.

I know this brief discussion is all too brief, but I want to get on the JME paper.

The state of the debate

One weapon used by both sides in the debate is that of semantics. This is highly evident in the JME paper where the term “post-birth abortion” is preferred to “infanticide” even though in substance they are exactly the same thing. But the relative novelty of the former lacks the raw impact of the latter.

Pro life supporters tend to word their views in such a way as to portray an unborn child as being a human. Pro choice supporters will often distinguish between an unborn child and one that has been born.

One thing that made the JME paper stand out was that its rhetoric did not distinguish between the recently born and those that were unborn. In this respect, their view seemed to be more akin to the pro life group. However, the crucial difference here was that the newly born were only considered “potential persons” rather than actual human beings.

The growth and development of any person is a gradual thing. The law is generally not very good at recognising this. For example, it is legal for someone to purchase alcohol on their 18th birthday, but not the day before. The age of consent is 16, but not 15 months & 11 years. While recognising that there may be good reasons for setting age limits, I can see no scientific reason for such sharp boundaries. If anyone has any references for these, please pass them on to me.

I think the same is true of the abortion debate. According to Marie Stopes  the time limit for an abortion is 24 weeks, but can be extended “if there are foetal abnormalities”. The scientific basis for the 24 week limit is interesting. If you do a search for “24 weeks evidence” then you come up with references to 2 reports from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in 2010.


The issue that was considered here was whether or not the foetus was capable of feeling pain. The paper that is linked to is not a research paper, but rather a summary of other research; all of which is referenced, but much of which is hidden from public view behind paywalls. This has the effect of making the methodologies and resulting evidence extremely difficult to review and assess. What I would be particularly interested are the margins of error. For example, was it a case that there was no evidence found that any babies felt pain before this period, or was it an average with a margin of error of 10 days either side?

Giving RCOG the benefit of the doubt, and assuming there are sound medical reasons for supposing that a foetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks, it is still a huge leap from there to link that to an abortion limit. Abortion is not merely the affliction of something which is painful; it is the termination of life (or a potential life).

However, the pain argument does not figure in the line of reasoning provided by the JME paper. The word itself only crops up 3 times (in close succession) and is dismissed as being an irrelevant factor.

Instead the main consideration here is whether or not “the well-being of the family is at risk.” This would seem to coincide with my own view on when an abortion is acceptable. However, this remains incredibly hard to quantify. Having a child is always going to carry some risk and that cannot be eliminated. It is a question of how much risk one is willing to tolerate.

The justification for the paper

The abstract states that the proposition hangs on 3 points:

1) That fetuses [sic] and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,
2) the fact [sic] that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and
3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people.

To deal briefly with point 3, I would actually agree. The use of the term ‘always’ means that the opposite statement would be that “adoption is always in the best interest of actual people”. Logically, this is a universal statement, so could be falsified by a single counter-example. Though I do not have such an example to hand, I think it is more probable that such an example exists than not. As noted earlier, I think adoption is preferable but it cannot be a panacea for unwanted pregnancies.

On the other two points, the crux of the issue is the demarcation between a “potential person” and an “actual person.”  The authors boldly state “Both a fetus [sic] and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life.’” The lines that follow, which ought to attempt to justify this statement, wholly fail to do so. Instead, there is a line of thinking given about whether or not a person can make plans for themselves. However, none of that provides adequate reason for the supposition quoted.

In the JME paper no specific time limit was proposed. I interpret this as meaning the authors simply failed to put a number on it, rather than proposing that there should be no limit. But this really then asks very similar questions to those involved in the pre-birth abortion debate. Personally, I think the authors failed to propose such a limit because they lacked any evidence that would back up such a proposal.


The key issue is when one considers a human being to have become an “actual person.” The wilful causation of the death of such a person is, in my view, morally wrong, unless it can be shown that it prevents greater harm to that individual or another at a later time. Some may wish to add the word “innocent” into that, though my own view is that the statement stands well enough as it is.

The paper’s authors acknowledge that a foetus is a human being, though deny it the status of “actual person”, downgrading it to “potential person.” The justification provided for this is weak to the point of non-existence. I can see no good reason for setting demarcation on the development of a human being from the point of being a foetus through a continuum of development into a newborn baby and beyond.

Therefore, I would regard a foetus as having the same moral right to life as a child about to be born, a child just born, a toddler, an adolescent and an adult. Wilfully taking their life away is an act of murder and one I would not support.