By now you’ve probably had your fill of Hobby Lobby on your Facebook feed. Last week I tried to deal with some of the more substantive objections to the Hobby Lobby decision. This week I want to take a look at some of the more irresponsible and irrational objections. Hold your snark however, because this is apologetics not whatever show Bill Maher is hosting on HBO. Each of these knee-jerk objections actually has a substantive disagreement underneath. If we can get below the irrational angst, we can actually have a substantive and hopefully Gospel oriented discussion. And lest we forget, that’s the point. Every single apologetic conversation either is designed to lead to or exemplify the Gospel. Otherwise we are just these guys.
I have to remind myself often:
Jesus will not cheer if all I do is win this debate. He only cares about the Gospel itself and the barriers to it. If our apologetic does not remove barriers to the Gospel its a waste of air or ink. And honestly, dear reader, when was the last time anyone acknowledged that you were right and actually changed their view? That kind of change comes from many conversations and in the matters of faith, it is a work of the Spirit.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some less than rational objections and the real issues underneath. It all begins with some variation of the following.
“Keep your religion out of my bedroom.”
The implication is that Hobby Lobby decision forces the Greens’ religion on others because they want to opt out of funding certain contraceptives (sure it was only four contraceptives but the Supremes have already signaled that they see it including lots of other contraceptives). “Hey, you private religion is in my private sex-life.”If only it were this easy.
Here we gotta return to some simple logic supplied by philosopher Matt Jordan.
If X has religious beliefs on the basis of which X refuses to buy A for Y, X is not–contrary to the very words used by the host of the NPR show I was listening to–“forcing employees to live in accordance with their employers’ religious beliefs.”
You should pause for a second and read that again. Think about it. Let it soak in. We live in a society where the host of a national radio show, on a network that is widely respected as a source for thoughtful, intelligent commentary, can speak of the refusal to pay for some kinds of birth control (4 out of 20!) as equivalent to forcing another person to live in accordance with one’s religious beliefs. Friends, this is lunacy.
Refusing to provide something is not the same as coercing someone. So what’s really going on here? Two things come to mind. One might think that discriminating in what you provide based on your religious beliefs is a kind of coercion. If I am mandated by law to provide you with a bundle of things called “healthcare” and I decide to pick and choose based on my concept of well-being what I will and will not give you in that bundle, you might think I am unjustified in using my religious reasons as grounds for the picking. One might think, I need better reasons than my own religious practice.
If this is right, opponents of Hobby Lobby view HL as being unethical for placing so much value on their purity and so little value on the choices of women to live without the burdens of unwanted pregnancy. HL, however (and many Christians) see the demand to provide contraceptives as placing too little value on their right to live without being an unwilling participant in a sinful act. This debate is really about the value of religious practice (including abstinence) vs. the value of women to have easy and affordable access to contraception. If you think that the ability to end or prevent pregnancies facilitates the “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of a Nation” as Justice Ginsburg puts it (quoting Planned Parenthood v. Casey) and that religious organizations exist solely “to foster the interests of persons who subscribe to the same religious faith,” then equality will likely trump private religious observance every. single. time. Its that last bit about what religious organizations exist for that is really really important. The Greens and most Christians would vehemently deny this sweeping claim. To borrow from Justice Ginsburg, In a decision of startling breadth, she claims to know why every single religious organization exists. It exists to advance the interests of its members.
Really? That’s the purpose of a religious organization? See I don’t see it that way. I don’t see evangelism, feeding the poor, or running a Christian business by the principles of the Gospel as advancing my own individual interests. I don’t see love and justice, and sacrifice as promoting my interests either.
Alternatively this objection might also be a deeper dispute about rights. What kind of rights do people have? Are rights, by in large, negative so that all that is required is to not interfere with them? Are there some positive rights such as a right to have access to those things that make our lives less worse than others? One way to get at our opponents intuitions here is to ask “Is it morally wrong for some people to be worse off than others even though its no one’s fault?” If your answer is yes, then positive rights to access are far more important. Denying contraception starts to look like denying someone water if you have the only well in the desert. If no, then negative rights to freedom to abstain seem less burdensome and more important. Here’s Megan McCardle:
. . . it’s possible to believe that Hobby Lobby’s founders are imposing their beliefs on others, because they’re bringing private beliefs into the government sphere — and religion is not supposed to be in the government sphere. It belongs over there with whatever it was you and your significant other chose to do on date night last Wednesday. In that sphere, my positive right to birth control obviously trumps your negative right to free exercise of religion, because religion isn’t supposed to be out here at all. It’s certainly not supposed to be poking around in what’s happening between me and my doctor, which is private, and therefore ought to operate with negative-right reciprocity: I can’t tell you what birth control to take, and you can’t tell me.
Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t flat out tell us about these rights disputes. Why? because Scripture is concerned with the kingdom of God exclusively and most of our negative rights are things we need to get along. They provide a measure of peace and rules for moral strangers. So whether rights are positive or negative will not be something we can solve in this little blog. I merely make this point so that we can skip all the baloney and get to the Crux [no pun intended] of what might be behind these disputes. May God guide us with wisdom.