Abortion as a Form of Discrimination: Why It Ought to be Unthinkable

This is a paper I wrote in seminary showing why abortion is wrong on the basis of reason, philosophy, science, the founding documents of our nation, and Scripture. I’ve been intending to post it for quite a while, along with most of my other papers, and with the Planned Parenthood revelations going on, right now seems as good a time as any to post this.

I. INTRODUCTION
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PERSONHOOD

A. The Dignity of Human Beings
B. Human, or a Human Person?
C. Personhood and the Constitution
D. Personhood and Arguments for Abortion Rights

1. The Right to Privacy
2. A Woman’s Right to Do What She Wants With Her Body
3. The Back Alley Argument
4. “If you don’t agree with it, just don’t do it”

III. THE UNBORN AS HUMAN PERSONS

A. The Unborn Are Living
B. The Unborn Are Living Humans
C. The Unborn Are Living Human Persons

1. Unique Individuality
2. Personhood is Ontological, not Functional
3. Gradualism Fails
4. Scriptural Testimony
5. The Existence of the Soul
6. The Inconsistency of Denying Personhood to the Unborn

IV. CONCLUSION

 

The purpose of this paper is to argue that the unborn, from the moment of conception, have a right to life that is on the same level as infants, children, and adults. An induced abortion[1] at any stage, therefore, is a form of discrimination that ought to be just as unthinkable to our society as slavery and genocide. Indeed, our society’s permissiveness toward abortion is nothing short of hypocritical when placed next to its passion for political correctness. In a society where so many run eagerly to show sensitivity towards the “rights” of nearly every special interest group, no matter how extreme, it is unconscionable that the rights of the weakest and most defenseless among us are revoked in the name of “choice” more than one million times a year.[2]

The discrimination inherent in abortion may be termed natalism. As philosopher and ethicist Francis Beckwith explains, natalism is “the denial of the fundamental human right to life to a segment of human beings simply because they are not post-uterine.”[3] Natalism is a form of prejudice that is even worse than its counterparts of racism, ethnocentrism, and sexism because the end result is almost always the death of its victims:

Just as skin color (racism), ethnic origin (ethnocentrism), gender (sexism), national power (imperialism), and birth date (ageism) are irrelevant to one’s possession of fundamental human rights, so is one’s degree of development and location inside or outside the womb (natalism).  Unfortunately, this politically correct prejudice, manifested in the practice of abortion, nearly always results in the death of its victim.[4]

Our argument that natalism ought to be unthinkable in our society will proceed in two steps. First, we will argue that whether the unborn have a right to life on the same level with all who are post-uterine is completely settled on the basis of one question: Are the unborn human persons? Second, we will argue that, from the moment of conception, the unborn are indeed human persons—and therefore in possession of a right to life equal to that of all other people.

The Significance of Human Personhood

Scott Klusendorf, Director of Bioethics at the Christian apologetics ministry Stand to Reason, recounts how whenever his young children ask him, “Daddy, can I kill this,” there is one question that needs to be asked in return: “What is it?” There are some things that it is appropriate to kill—black widows, flies, worms, and so forth. And there are some things that it is not appropriate to kill. It all depends upon the nature of the organism.

The Dignity of Human Beings

Nearly everyone acknowledges that there is special dignity and worth intrinsic to human beings. This dignity and worth includes the right to life. All human beings have this right, simply by virtue of their being human. Formally, this is reflected in one of the great documents of the American political tradition, the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[5] Biblically, this is most clearly seen in the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Do the unborn possess this right to life? The answer, as we can now see, depends upon whether or not they are human beings. If all human beings are indeed equal and equally in possession of the right to life, as our nation has historically affirmed, then if the unborn are human beings, then they also fully and equally have the right to life. There can be no question of “the rights of the mother” outweighing “the rights of the unborn,” for all human beings are equal. Such a scenario would be akin to “the rights of whites” outweighing “the rights of black people.” We would have a situation where everyone is equal, “but some are more equal than others.”[6]

Human, or a Human Person?

The most predominant strain of pro-choice argumentation holds that the unborn are human, but not human persons. They are potential persons. As I will argue in part two, this dualism is wholly incorrect.[7] To be a human being is to be a human person, and it is false to create a category of human beings that are not also human persons.

However, the distinction between what is human and what is a human person is neither wholly arbitrary nor irrelevant to the abortion debate. For there are indeed things that are “human” but not “human persons” (and hence not in possession of rights). Human hair, for example, is human, but it does not have any rights. I can cut my hair at any time and have done no wrong. Likewise, human blood is both living and “human,” but not in possession of any rights. I might have my blood drawn for lab work, and then disposed of, and no wrong has been committed.

The right to life, then, is possessed not simply by virtue of being a piece of “human material,” but by virtue of being a human individual. Perhaps it should be obvious to all that the unborn are human individuals, not simply matter that belongs to a human. But it is not. Thus, I fully acknowledge the need to demonstrate the human individuality, the human “being-ness” (or, in other words, the personhood), of the unborn. If the unborn are simply human matter, then their right to life is not nearly as clear. But if the unborn are not analogous to hair and blood, but are in fact full human persons—by which I simply mean human individuals, that is, human beings who are just as fully human as you or I, as fully human and fully equal as black people and white people, as gays and lesbians, as men and women—then their right to life is obvious and its destruction ought to be unthinkable to all. Abortion then becomes a civil rights issue. The trampling upon the rights of the unborn becomes just as abhorrent as was the trampling upon the rights of people in the institution of slavery, [8] or in the Holocaust.[9] Like slavery and genocide, abortion would be unthinkable.

Personhood and the Constitution

Further, the question of personhood would also settle the debate about whether abortion should continue being legal, for we read in the fifth amendment that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and in the fourteenth amendment that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Indeed, the centrality of personhood to the debate is acknowledged in the decision of Roe v. Wade itself: “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.”[10]

Personhood and Arguments for Abortion Rights

The fact that the issue of personhood settles so clearly and definitively the question of whether a civilized society should be willing to tolerate the thought of permitting abortion can be demonstrated by examining some key pro-choice arguments.

The right to privacy. This was the main factor in the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade. What right does the government have to tell a woman what she may and may not do concerning an issue as personal and private as her reproductive decisions?

The concern of this argument to keep government from overextending its authority ought to appreciated. However, the fundamental purpose of government is not only to protect our freedom, but to protect life (see Romans 13:1-7).[11] We are not and should not be permitted to make “private” decisions that harm others and violate their rights. For example, all would acknowledge that it is wrong torture innocent children, propagate incest, or commit murder “in private.” The reason is that these things, regardless of the “privacy” issues involved, injure and harm other human persons. The “right to privacy,” therefore, does not justify the permitting of abortions—unless we are already assuming that the unborn is not a person.

A woman’s right to do what she wants with her body. This argument is similar to the right to privacy, with the difference that in this case the fetus is viewed not simply as something in the woman’s body, but as a part of the woman’s body. Again, we should be against the unjust intrusion of the government into decisions about our own bodies. But there are certain instances when we acknowledge limitations even of this right. Any who agree with the government’s decision to make certain drugs illegal, such as cocaine and heroine, are implicitly acknowledging this.

The most significant problem with this argument, however, is that it wrongly assumes that the fetus is a part of the woman’s body. In actuality, it is not. For it has its own genetic code and distinct principle of existence. If it were a part of the woman’s body, then it would mean  that once the heart had formed (a primitive heart begins beating by the third week), the woman would have two hearts; once the eyes had formed (which begins in the third week), that she would have four eyes; and once the sexual organs have formed (which is by the ninth week),[12] that she has two sets of sexual organs—a disconcerting thing to consider, to say the least, if the fetus is male. The fetus is a distinct organism, not an extension of the mother. Hence, the issue is not whether a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. If the fetus is a distinct human individual, then the issue is whether she has the right to do what she wants with someone else’s body.[13]

The back-alley argument. It is sometimes argued that women will have abortions anyway, whether it is legal or not. Further, if it is illegal they will be having these abortions in far more dangerous environments, likely by unqualified individuals who will thus be putting the women’s’ lives in significant danger.

The initial appeal of this argument, again, is understandable. Who wants to see women bleeding to death in back alleys? But, on the other hand, who wants to see the defenseless, voiceless, most helpless members of our society dying either? The issue still comes down to whether the unborn are human persons. If they are persons, the danger of making it illegal to kill them is not a reason to permit their murder. As Christian Apologist Greg Koukl has argued, “Why should the law be faulted for making it more risky for anyone to kill another innocent person? The fact that bank robbery is dangerous to the felon doesn’t seem to be a good reason to make grand larceny legal.”[14]

It should also be noted that the numbers of women who died through illegal abortions has been grossly distorted. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original leaders of the pro-choice movement, writes:

How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L. we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false.[15]

In actuality, “according to the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics, 39 women died from illegal abortions the year before Roe v. Wade, 1972.”[16]

“If you don’t agree with it, just don’t do it. The problem with this argument is that it is like saying, “If you don’t agree with slavery, don’t own slaves” or, “If you don’t agree with murder, don’t murder.” If abortion causes the death of unborn human beings, then it ought to be prohibited by society just as the killing of all other human beings is prohibited. 

The Unborn As Human Persons

            We have seen that if the unborn are human persons, then it follows that abortion ought to be offensive to our human decency and illegal in our nation. But are the unborn human persons? Our argument that they are will proceed in three stages: First, the unborn are living. Second, the unborn are living humans. Third, the unborn are living human persons.

The Unborn Are Living

            It is a universally accepted scientific fact that the unborn—regardless of where we come down on their personhood—are living things. Beckwith notes: “There is no doubt the zygote is biologically alive. The zygote fulfills the four criteria needed to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.”[17]

The Unborn Are Living Humans

The Law of Biogenesis states that what is conceived by two members of a species is also a member of that species. The offspring of a dog is another dog, of a whale is another whale, of a human is another human. It cannot be another species from what produced it. Hence, the unborn offspring of human parents is itself human. I am not yet arguing that it is a person, but it is at least human. This is not my opinion, but is scientifically required by the Law of Biogenesis.

The French geneticist Jerome L. LeJeune confirms this: “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.”[18]

Third, the genetic code of the unborn identifies them as human.

The Unborn Are Living Human Persons

If the unborn are living and they are human, is there good reason to conclude that they are fully human persons—that is, just as actually human as the rest of us? We will give six reasons that strongly argue for an affirmative answer.

Unique individuality. First, the unborn have a unique individuality. They are not simply genetically human, like an arm, but possess distinct human individuality. Their genetic code is unique. Their principle of existence is distinct. Their continuity through birth and into adulthood and death remains the same. “There is no decisive break in the continuous development of the human entity from conception until death that would make this entity a different individual before birth.”[19]

Personhood is ontological, not functional. Second, many argue that the unborn are “potential persons.” These individuals believe that interaction is essential to a full definition of personhood, and since the unborn are incapable of meaningful interaction, they are only potentially human. The problem is that this reasoning will justify infanticide just as much as abortion. Humans possess personhood because of what they are, not because of what they can do:

To accept a functional definition of personhood excludes not only the unborn, but also the unconscious, the temporarily comatose, the sleeping, newborns, and young infants. Therefore, it seems more consistent with our moral intuitions to say that a person functions as a person because he or she is a person, not that she is a person because she functions as a person.[20]

Gradualism fails. Third, one cannot gradually become human. Robert Joyce notes

that the gradualist position “fails to distinguish between natural processes and artificial processes. Only artifacts, such as clocks and spaceships, come into existence part by part. Living beings come into existence all at once and then gradually unfold to themselves and to the world what they already, but only incipiently, are.”[21]

Scriptural testimony. Fourth, the Scriptures have a bearing on this question. They give no indication that the unborn are “humans but not persons.” In fact, the Scriptures indicate that the unborn should be regarded as fully human, for they apply personal language to the unborn (Genesis 4:1; Job 3:3), refer to the unborn with the same terminology used for those who are post-uterine (Luke 1:41, 44), and indicate continuity of identity and existence between individuals in both the pre- and post-uterine states (e.g., Psalm 139). In addition, David seems to affirm that he was sinful not simply from birth, but from conception (Psalm 51:5), which would seem to necessitate his humanity at that point (a “non-person” could not have a sinful nature).

The existence of the soul. Fifth, the unborn have souls. If humans are simply material entities, on what basis are we justified in ascribing intrinsic dignity, worth, and the right to life to them? What rights do mere protons, electrons, and neutrons have? Even our intellect is simply the random result of molecular interactions, in reality having no more worth than swamp gas, if we are purely physical. If humans have value and a right to life, it is because they are more than just physical. It is because they have a soul. It is wrong to kill a human being not because they are a sophisticated collection of atoms, but because they posses non-material souls of immeasurable worth.

How do we know that the unborn have souls? The same way we know that post-natal individuals have souls: there are things true of them that cannot be true of purely physical entities. The unborn, for example, can feel pain. The experience of pain is weightless, colorless, odorless, and dimensionless. But it is nonetheless real. It therefore presupposes the existence of a non-material aspect to our being. And the unborn are capable of experiencing it.

But on what basis can we conclude that the unborn have souls from conception? On the basis of their continuity of identity. There is a continuity from conception to birth to death such that we are willing to say that it is the same individual, and not a different one, that was conceived, born, and died. But on what basis can we say this, if the individual was purely physical at conception? For the actual matter making up the cells and body of the individual is in continual flux. If I replace my neighbor’s deck board by board, such that eventually none of the original boards remain, it is no longer the same deck. It would be a new, different deck. In light of the same flux that happens in the matter constituting the human body from conception to death, on what basis can we therefore found our belief that it is the same individual going through all those phases? Only by positing the presence of something beyond the physical, a non-material aspect of the being, that did remain the same throughout it. The continuity of identity from conception to death, therefore, argues for the presence of a soul from the moment of conception.

The inconsistency of denying personhood to the unborn. Sixth, we know that the unborn are fully human persons because there is no consistent basis upon which to deny their personhood. There are four main differences between pre- and post-uterine humans: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency.[22]

Concerning size, is a bigger person more of a person than a smaller one? Concerning development, wouldn’t this criteria also imply that an adult is a more of a person than a teenager, being more developed? Concerning environment, does moving seven inches down the birth canal have any bearing at all on whether you are a human individual? Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Concerning dependency, wouldn’t this imply that those who are dependent upon dialysis machines or medication in order to stay alive are not persons either?

In essence, the only factors that could possibly warrant the placing of the unborn in a category different from the post-uterine in terms of the rights of personhood would in fact eliminate the rights of many sectors of the post-uterine population. There is no consistent basis upon which the unborn may be classified as “non-human.”[23] The refusal to acknowledge that the unborn are human persons has shocking parallels to the Nazi refusal to acknowledge certain ethnic groups as fully human.[24]

Conclusion

Abortion, causing the death of something that is alive, is not simply a matter of the right to choose. The question that must be asked is: The right to choose what? We have argued that the unborn are living, human persons. As such, they possess the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as every other member of the human race. The right to choose an abortion, therefore, is simply the “right” to end the life of another human being with equal rights and deserving of equal protection.

In abortion, a human person in possession of the right to life is discriminated against and denied his or her rights simply because they are either smaller, less developed, inside the womb rather than outside the womb, or dependent upon their mother. This is natalism, just as discrimination based upon race is racism and discrimination based upon gender is sexism, and is plain and simple a form of politically correct prejudice against the weakest and most defenseless among us. Such a thing should be unthinkable in a civilized society—especially one that is so pre-occupied with upholding the rights of even the  most fringe special interest groups. In a society that claims to care so much about “the little guy” and marginalized, why are the littlest of guys and most marginalized not defended?[25]

 

Notes

[1] The meaning of the term “induced abortion” as used in this debate is now clear: the willful termination of a pregnancy. For a very thorough overview of the different types of abortion, see John Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993), 50-51.

[2] U. S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States [online], accessed 17 November 2002, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/vitstat.pdf; Internet.

[3] Francis Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 12.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence,” in Clinton Rossiter, ed., The Federalist Papers (New York: Mentor, 1999), 496. “All men” is likely a gender inclusive term, as indicated by similar alternative phrases later in the context (“consent of the governed,” “right of the people”).

[6] George Orwell, Animal Farm (Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1946). What about when the life of the mother is at stake? In those cases, it is better that one should live than that two should die.

[7] On the dangers of framing the issue in terms that imply a distinction between human beings and human persons, see Greg Koukl, “Are Humans Persons,” Stand to Reason Website [online], accessed 17 November 2002, http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/abortion/arehuman.htm; Internet.

[8] On the similarity between slavery and abortion, see Greg Koukl, “Abortion and Human Rights,” Stand to Reason Website [online], accessed 17 November 2002, http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/abortion/abhmnrts.htm; Internet.

[9] On the similarity between genocide and abortion, see Greg Koukl, “Murder is OK for the Unborn?,” Stand to Reason [online], accessed 17 November 2002, http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/abortion/murderok.htm; Internet.

[10] Norman Geisler takes the same position I have here argued in Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 136.

[11] And by this I mean human life or, more specifically, the life of human beings. I would take issue, then, with Justice Douglas, who although affirming in Roe v. Wade that the unborn have no right of life, shockingly affirmed in the case of Sierra Club Against Morton (405 US 727 – 1972) that the inanimate objects of the Mineral King area in California  (i.e., the “valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland” and so forth) have a right to sue over the building of a recreational development, a right to be asserted on its behalf by the Sierra Club. Hence, “swamps and tress have rights, but the human child in the womb has no rights” (Dr. Charles Rice, quoted in Beckwith, 29).

[12] For a helpful overview of embryonic development by weeks, see Kent M. VanDe Graaff and Stuart Ira Fox, Concepts of Human Anatomy and Physiology (Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1992), 863-869.

[13] Some think it is inconsistent to be anti-abortion and yet affirm the death penalty. But there is a tremendous difference between the two cases: guilt and innocence. The sanctity of life is upheld by the right of the state to execute those who have taken another human life (see John Murray, Principles of Conduct [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], 107-122).

[14] Greg Koukl, Solid Ground, (November/December 1997), 3.

[15] Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (New York: Doubleday, 1979), 193.

[16] Beckwith, 56.

[17] Ibid, 42. See also the testimony that human life begins at conception in Randy Alcorn, Pro-life Answers to Pro-choice Arguments (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2000), 51-56.

[18] The Human Life Bill: Hearings on S. 158 Before the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 97th Congress, 1st Session (1981), quoted in Ibid, 42.

[19] Beckwith, 116.

[20] Ibid, 108.

[21] Robert Joyce, “Personhood and the Conception Event,” New Scholasticism 52 (Winter 1978): 113.

[22] I am indebted to Scott Klusendorf, Director of Bioethics at Stand to Reason, for this observation.

[23] Additionally, even if the unborn could be legitimately classified as “non-human,” it should still follow that abortion ought to be wrong. John Piper makes this case effectively from animal rights laws in “One Issue Politics, One-Issue Marriage, and the Humane Society,” in A Godward Life Volume I (Sisters: Multnomah, 1997).

[24] George Will has a George Will discusses the shocking inconsistency of our abortion laws in their tendency to define human life according to the preferences of the parent rather than objectively in “Life and Death and Abortion,” Minneapolis Star Tribune: October 28, 2002.

[25] Let us not think that change is impossible. The development of a consensus in the evangelical community indicates that progress in the debate is possible. See the history of the evangelical discussion in Paul Fowler, Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus (Sisters: Multnomah, 1990).

Don’t Divide Your Christian Principles from Your Practical Decision Making

This is well said by Phillip Johnson, in his foreword to Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth

Every one of us has a worldview, and our worldview governs our thinking even when — or especially when — we are unaware of it.

Thus, it is not uncommon to find well-meaning evildoers, as it were, who are quite sincerely convinced that they are Christians, and attend church faithfully, and may even hold a position of leadership, but who have absorbed a worldview that makes it easy for them to ignore their Christian principles when it comes time to do the practical business of daily living.

Their sincerely held Christian principles are in one category for them, and practical decision making is in another. Such persons can believe that Jesus is coming again to judge the world and yet live as if the standards of this world are the only thing that needs to be taken into account.

That’s a very profound statement. It is worth re-reading and reflecting on.

I remember experiencing this dichotomy in my own life. My senior year in college, I had an internship as a claims adjuster at a large insurance company. One of the things we were taught was that the popular dictum “the customer is always right” would bankrupt the company.

The reason is that customers often had an inadequate conception of their insurance policies, thinking that certain things would be covered when they are in fact not. If we granted the wishes of the customer in each of those cases, we would be paying far beyond what the policies were designed to cover, which would indeed spell disaster for the company.

In this case, of course, the reasoning is correct. The policy rates were set on the basis of the limitations on the policy spelled out in the contract, and to go against those would be to over extend the capacity of the company to pay the claims. I don’t think there is anything unbiblical about sticking to agreed upon characteristics of the insurance policy, especially since the customers are able to read and agree to the policy with full knowledge and consent when they sign on.

The problem, though, was that this could easily have an unwelcome side effect. Even though the company did not advocate doing so, nonetheless this reality could easily create an adversarial mindset toward the customers of the insurance company. You could go in expecting them to disagree, and your mission was to make sure not to give in. Your task could easily become not seeking to maximally serve the customer within the constraints imposed by the policy, but standing your ground against the customer. And justifying that by saying “this is what the policy states. You just have to deal with it.”

That would be an example of following the standards the world often follows — and thinking you are justified in doing so because, of course, you really can’t pay out for things the policy does not cover. Right?

The problem here is not with upholding the policy. The biblical answer here would not be to go against the agreed upon characteristics of the insurance policies. The problem is with what is being left out — namely, humanity. 

The biblical answer here was not to go against the policies, but to remember compassion and understanding. As claims adjusters we might not be able to give the customers what they really wanted in certain cases, but we could always accompany that with saying “I understand this is frustrating. I am sorry about this. And perhaps the conception of this policy is not as helpful as it should be, and we will need to look into that. But this is the policy that was agreed on, and this is what we have to stick to.”

That is a very different approach than just giving people the cold hard facts and saying “deal with it.” It seems so obvious. This is a way of treating the customer with dignity and respect, even when they are not “right” and cannot have their way.

Yet, that that is the type of thing you don’t always see. Perhaps some people think that showing understanding opens them to liability or risk. To acknowledge the person’s frustration, they think, is perhaps to acknowledge that the policy is indeed bad, thus opening them to a lawsuit.

But fear of risk is never a good reason to fail to take the actions that are necessary for affirming a person’s dignity. People’s concerns need to be validated. Even if the company is technically “right,” as was the case most of the time in these situations, it is never right to toss that out as a cold hard fact that a person just has to “deal with.”

This is just one small example of how Christian principles can be set aside in the name of seemingly doing “the right thing” according to a certain (even legitimate) set of standards, and how a Christian view can come in and provide what is missing so that people are always treated the way they ought to be treated.

There are lots of other examples that are more extreme and more significant. Regardless of the situation you are in, always remember to ask not only “what are the typical practices for handling this situation in my industry” but also “what does God have to say about this type of thing, and how does that apply to me as well?”

Is Excessive CEO Pay a Problem?

I am a capitalist and I believe in the free market. Government interference almost always makes things worse, not better. Then, when the government “solution” causes those worse problems, people forget that government caused those problems in the first place. And so another government “solution” is called for, and so the cycle continues.

So one might expect me to say that high CEO pay should not be considered a problem.

But that is not what I think. My thinking is in line with Peter Drucker’s thinking, well summarized by William Cohen in The Practical Drucker: Applying the Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Management Thinker:

Drucker defended perceived high executive salaries in his earlier writings. He knew how hard executives had to work to reach the pinnacle of their careers.

However, skyrocketing executive salaries caused him to drastically alter his opinion. He said executive salaries at the top had clearly become excessive and that the ratios of compensation — top managers in relation to lowest paid workers — were the highest in the world. Moreover this income difference wasn’t slight — it differed by magnitudes.

Drucker felt that this was morally wrong, and that we as a nation would end up paying a tremendous price for this. Indeed, in 2001, the ratio of average US CEO compensation to average pay of a non management employee hit a high of 525 to 1. At that point, Drucker recommended a ratio of no more than 20 to 1.

Interestingly, Drucker drew a parallel between high executive salaries and the demands of unions for more and more benefits without increases in productivity. He predicted we would pay a terrible price for these examples of gluttony from both management and labor. “It is never pleasant to watch hogs gorge,” he said. In fact, we have been paying this price for several years.

I agree that in general, CEO pay is too high in proportion to the pay of the non managerial worker. I believe this causes all sorts of problems. While I believe that companies ought to have the freedom to pay their executives what they choose, as it is their money, that does not mean that all of their decisions are by definition morally good or beneficial.

So what is the solution? Well, we know what it is not. It is not government interference, such as in the form of wage controls. That will simply cause even more — and likely worse — problems (see first paragraph). A company owns its money, and has a right to do with it what it chooses. For the government to come in and force certain wage restrictions or other such things is simply a disguised form of stealing. It is for the government to force itself into participating in the management of the company, which it does not have a right to do.

So what, then, is the solution? The solution has to come from the market it self; from people. From persuasion, not force (read, laws).

And that is one of the beautiful things about the free market. The market does have imperfections. But, just as with the scientific method, by being left free those imperfections often become self-correcting as we begin to see the damage they are creating.

The imperfections of the market can often be overcome by ordinary people making good decisions and using influence to change cultureAnd so even when the market is imperfect, it must be left free to correct itself. (Cases of ethical violations of course excepted.)

And that, I believe, is the solution here. But at some point, this specific issue of extreme executive pay needs to become a bigger issue. It’s not a crusade I’m interested in taking up. But it is something worth thinking reflectively and intelligently about — from a free market (rather than command and control) perspective.

 

Preparing Your Teens for College

Most people are aware of Alex Chediak’s excellent book Thriving at CollegeWhat is often overlooked is his sequel to that book, Preparing Your Teens for College

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is not just for parents of teenagers. It is for all parents, because the solid principles he outlines actually make the book an excellent primer on preparing your kids for life. 

It’s also for youth pastors, ministry leaders, high school teachers, and anyone else involved in the work of “training teens to leave home with the faith, character, and maturity to be successful not just in college but in the totality of their lives.”

You learn about helping your teens learn responsibility, be future-oriented, own their faith, be characterized by conviction and tolerance, learn financial responsibility, study, and doing so in a way that also affirms the importance of your kids’ unique talents and interests. For me, that was one of the most significant aspects of the book.

As the new school year is slowly creeping up, now is a good time of year to grab this book whether you literally have teens, your kids are already in college, or you are looking ahead to the teen years.

 

 

Getting Collaboration Right

A great post at the 99U: The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results

A key excerpt:

Most of the heavy creative lifting happens when we’re by ourselves, working on our own. We’re in a better position to evaluate the merits of an idea after we’ve given a topic some thought, not when encountering it for the first time.

For collaboration to work, we need to understand the crucial role of alone time and focused, individual work. Collaboration is essential, but it only yields better results when combined with individual work rather than seen as something that renders the individual work unnecessary.

Beliefs Before Policies!

Thomas Watson, Jr., the second president of IBM and 16th US ambassador to the Soviet Union:

I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs….Beliefs must always come before policies, practices, and goals. The latter must always be altered if they are seen to violate fundmantal beliefs.

Note that: if your policies are inconsistent with your beliefs, you change your policies — not your beliefs. So many companies do the opposite, saying they value people all the while enforcing policies that communicate anything but that.

Of course, the way you know whether a company (or person) really believes something is by what they do.

So what are companies that institute person-depleting policies really saying?

Making Work Meaningful


This is a great TEDx talk by Ryan Hartwig, co-author of Teams that Thrive. It’s called “The Myth of Meaningful Work.”

Does this mean that we are wrong-headed in wanting our work to be meaningful?

Not in the slightest. What he means is this: meaning is not something first of all found in the job. Rather, meaning is something you bring to the job. We make our work meaningful. We can (and must) bring meaning to our jobs.

Meaning is in the way the work is done, and therefore any task — whether it is regarded as “meaningful” by society or not — can be done with incredible significance.

In fact, it used to be that most people did experience a deep connection between their work and meaning. So what happened?

Scientific management.

We changed the way we do work as a society in the quest to utterly maximize efficiency. The result was that we turned work, which is in itself meaningful, into alienating labor. We forced people to start doing work in ways that take the meaning out of their tasks by reducing the space for personal initiative and contribution and introducing more control-oriented management practices.

Of course, as he points out, there were many excellent benefits of scientific management. It really did increase efficiency, and that was needed. But the principles were taken too far.

What we need to do is find ways to help people overcome the gap between work and meaning that has been imposed so often not from the tasks themselves, but from the way in which we make people do them.

The talk is a great overview of these things, and closes with four suggestions for helping people bring meaning back into their work.

Why Read Books? (And How?)

A fantastic article at the 99U.

And a nice start:

Warren Buffett is undoubtedly considered one of the greatest investors of all times. His empire, Berkshire Hathaway, is worth $355 billion, an increase of 1,826,163 percent since 1964 when Buffett took over. He owns (or owns big chunks) of some of the biggest brands in the world including GEICO, Dairy Queen, NetJets, half of Heinz, and significant holdings in companies such as American Express, IBM, and Wells Fargo.

But Buffett’s very best investment—responsible for literally billions of dollars in profits over the years—was very cheap. Because it was a book. That’s right, a book.

How to Get Things Done in Seminary

 

HowtoGetThingsDoneinSeminary

My article for the latest edition of Towersa monthly publication from Southern Seminary.

Here’s an excerpt:

While I don’t begrudge the fact that time management was not taught in my seminary studies (though I think it should have been), the fact remains: every seminary student needs to learn time management. There is no other way to prepare adequately for all the demands that will come after seminary. Further, learning time management now will pay big dividends by enabling you to be more effective in your current studies, with less stress and more peace of mind.

In fact, time management is especially helpful during the days of your theological studies. Archibald Alexander, one of the founding faculty of Princeton Seminary, writes:

Diligence without method will enable us to make but little progress; adopt, therefore, and preserve a regular method in the disposal of your time and distribution of your studies. When you have your time judiciously apportioned you proceed with ease and alacrity like the traveler on a road where the distances are marked and the stages conveniently arranged for his accommodation. 

This is even more important now than in Alexander’s day or when I was in seminary, as the pace of life has only picked up due to technology. With the intelligent application of a few solid time management principles, it is possible to make the most of your time in seminary without letting your studies become a grind or unjustly interfere with your family, ministry, and other priorities.

So, how do you do that? Here are five principles that can serve as a starting point.

Read the whole thing. (You can also see the entire issue with all the other articles as well, in a way that is very nicely laid out online just like the print version.)