Michael J. Fox created some commercials for some political candidates that illustrate some of the points that I made in yesterday's post - that it is not an act of bigotry to criticize religious beliefs and practices that motivate people to do harm to others.
In this case, the commercial concerned stem cell research. Fox created a commercial that endorsed candidates who supported embryonic stem cell research, and urged voters to reject those who opposed (or, worse, attempted to criminalize) this type of research.
Though Fox’s advertisement was in support of a Democratic candidate, it would not be accurate to say that this is a partisan commercial. Fox also has campaigned for Arlen Specter (R- Penn), who has also advocated stem cell research.
Yesterday, I wrote that it is not an act of bigotry to reject a politician whose religion blinds him to real-world solutions to real-world problems. I also write that, when a religion commands its followers to engage in actions that are harmful to others, it is perfectly legitimate to condemn that religion. We can do so when a religion commands its followers to fly airplanes into sky scrapers or to seek weapons of mass destruction to detonate in an 'infidel' country. We can do so when the religion commands that heretics be burned at the stake or allows a whole race to be treated as chattel slavery. We may do so when a religion causes people to act in ways that force people like Michael J. Fox getting to the ravages of a disease such as Parkinson's.
Michael J. Fox and others like him are being offered up as a human sacrifice to somebody else's God. In fact, no good comes from these policies, and much harm comes from them. These people, because of their superstition and ignorance, are making the world worse than it would otherwise been - far worse for people such as Michael J. Fox. At least the virgin thrown into the volcano suffers only a short while.
Having said this, there is a flaw in Fox's message. Fox basically says, "Because this policy benefits people like me, it is right." Those who oppose embryonic stem-cell research are not objecting to the fact that it would benefit people like Fox. They are saying that certain actions are wrong even though they would produce benefit for others.
For example, let us assume that 10-year-old children produce an enzyme that, when injected into an adult, would cure cancer. However, the enzyme cannot be harvested except by killing the child. In this case, if Fox produced a commercial saying, "Candidate X supports killing 10-year-old children to get us the enzyme that would cure us; Candidate Y opposes these killings; therefore, vote for Candidate X," we would immediately reject that argument. We would (correctly) say, "You are missing the point, and you are making a fallacious appeal to pity."
The real issue is not whether embryonic stem-cell research will benefit people such as Michael J. Fox. The real issue is whether the cure involves the moral equivalent of killing young children for the purpose of treating or curing an adult. Fox's commercial is, in fact, a question-begging appeal to pity.
Sorry, but it's true, and I am a major fan of promoting honest argument.
The commercial is not worthless. Insofar as I promote a form of utilitarianism, and hold that all value depends on desire, the aversion that people have to the symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson's are 'reasons for action' for policies that will help them avoid those symptoms. However, the real moral question is either, (1) is it the case that embryonic stem-cell research the moral equivalent of killing a 10-year-old child, or (2) should we weaken the aversion to killing children so that we can harvest cures for these diseases?
There are religious arguments for considering an embryo the moral equivalent of a 10-year-old child. However, not all religious reasons are equal. There were religious reasons for the suicide attacks on 9/11. Some people have religious reasons for detonating weapons of mass destruction in an American or European city. There were religious reasons for slavery, for the holocaust, for the burning of infidels, and for crusades and jihads throughout the ages.
There were religious reasons for throwing virgins into volcanoes.
The mere fact that somebody has a religious reason for acting in ways that are harmful to others such as Michael J. Fox is not sufficient justification for inflicting harm on people like Michael J. Fox.
In this case, I can think of no non-religious reason for this moral equivalence.
Desire utilitarianism clearly does not draw any type of moral equivalence. Desire utilitarianism holds that all value depends on desires. Harm consists in thwarting strong desires (while thwarting weak desires count as 'hurt' but not 'harm'). An embryo has no desires. Therefore, it cannot be harmed in a morally relevant sense. There should be no aversion to using embryos to provide assistance to people such as Michael J. Fox.
This is just another case - in a much-too-long list of cases - in which religion has caused or is causing people who would otherwise be good and virtuous people to do real-world harm and to destroy real-world-lives for no good reason.
To say that, in the name of religious tolerance, we must allow people like Michael J. Fox to endure potentially avoidable suffering and early death is as absurd as saying that, in the name of religious tolerance, we must allow people to hijack airplanes and fly them into sky scrapers or to set off weapons of mass destruction in American cities.
The fact is, when a religion commands its follows to do harm to innocent people, we need not tolerate it. It is quite permissible to take a stand against it - to condemn it - and to deny to those religious followers the power (be it political or military) to do the harms that they seek to do.