I stopped at the grocery store last night to score some milk, and as I waited at the checkout I noticed that the cashier in the next aisle was sporting cutoff shorts, a tool belt, and a Tool Time name badge. I looked behind me and noticed a young man at the service desk dressed as a big bag of M&Ms. My cashier was dressed normally, and as I paid I quipped to her, “They couldn’t talk you into a costume, eh?”

She caught me a little off guard when she looked sheepishly at me and said, “My parents won’t allow it.” Then added, “It’s against my religion.” I told her that was a pretty good reason, and wished her a good evening as I left. But on the way home, the conversation troubled me more as I thought about it.

I understand that there are people who concerned about some of the darker occult origins to Halloween. I certainly respect that people have the right to raise their children in their own way and that includes opting in and out of whatever holiday situations they might choose. I’m also inclined to note that Halloween is really just a socially accepted excuse to dress up in costume and share a sugar high. Dressing up for school spirit week or the high school play would not be troubling to most of the people who are worried that the experience of emulating a movie character for one evening a year will turn their child to the dark side. Nonetheless, there is merit and moral consistency in refusing to participate in something because of what it stands for. If that’s the motivation, if non-participation is a social and moral statement, then I applaud and respect the decision.

However, this young girl was not making a statement. She was old enough to hold a job, therefore she was old enough to understand her motivations for not participating. And what she didn’t say to me was that she didn’t like what Halloween stood for. She didn’t say that the concept of Halloween was in conflict with her personal ethics, morality, or beliefs. She basically told me that she wasn’t allowed to participate, and her expression said that she couldn’t justify the reason.

This is a failing. It is a failing of her parents, and it is a failing of her religion. They have imposed rules without the moral context. She doesn’t know the reasons for her behavior, only that she has to behave. She doesn’t believe her behavior is right, just that it’s proper. Someday she will have children of her own. What will she teach them? Will she impose the rules simply because these are the rules which were handed down? Rationalizing that this is the way it has always been done? Will she rebel and discard what appear to be arbitrary rules? Sooner or later, the latter path will be taken. If not by her, then by her kids, or theirs.

Arbitrary authority always fails in the end. You can’t dictate morality and conscience. When your kids are three, telling them “because I said so” is sufficient. But long before they can drive, it’s time to educate them on why you say so. Why do you believe what you do? Why are the house rules what they are? What motivates you in making moral judgments and decisions? And before you can teach them, you have to know yourself. If you don’t, shame on you.


Thanks to Kim, who has some insights and observations on the abortion issue. Kim’s comments are below in Purple Text – As always, Italicized Text of any color is quoted material from previous posts.

Regarding your entry about abortion… I honestly find almost everything you said to be dead on with my own thoughts. The large question has always been in how we define life. I am not an avid supporter of abortion. I do believe that it can be (and most likely is) used as a means of contraception for some folks. That’s just plain wrong in my book. I am, however, a firm believer that there are times when aborting a child is absolutely the right thing to do. I’ve known cases where it absolutely was. But in those cases, there were most certainly countless sleepless nights in making such a choice. The quality of life must be considered as much in abortion as it is in pulling life support from a loved one… a decision, unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with. For me, having to make the decision to end the life of an unborn child that had no chance of living a quality style life (or even living any life for very long) would be as tough as it was to end my own father’s life. Yet with my Dad, he had a choice. He made his plans very well known under his circumstances. That fact made it no easier for me to sign the papers to not resuscitate him, or to tell the doctors it was time to let him go, but I did it… because it was what he wished for. An unborn baby doesn’t get to make that choice. The government, allows us to end a persons life if it is based on their wishes (as in my father’s case), why shouldn’t they allow parents to make it for their unborn child based on the same type of criteria. Granted, not all would act as responsibly with that decision as we’d all like, but I’m sure most would not take it lightly.

As for the specific law being passed… I’m as horrified as most others with the idea of the late term abortion procedure that is now in practice. And there probably should be some guidelines around it. However, I’m appalled at the idea that we as women may have such an important choice regarding our own bodies taken away from us. That’s one of the problems with the new law. But beyond that, the notion that there are no exceptions made for the fact that the mother’s and/or babies life would be in jeopardy without the procedure, is just unconscionable. I can’t believe that the law makers can’t fathom a scenario that late in term that would put the mother’s own life in jeopardy and therefore, won’t account for that in the law they want to pass.

Your point about how easy we make it in this world to purchase guns that kill innocent people every day is one that people should think more clearly about. Otherwise healthy children can be gunned down walking to school, but a fetus with potentially severe birth defects that will never live longer than a day or a week, or that will never have any chance of survival in this world, still must be born into it so that the government can control our very bodies, is a scenario I can’t live with. Not to mention that our very own G.W. can’t wait to pass this law to protect unborn children, yet didn’t bat an eye at killing as many as he has in the last 6 months to further his own agenda. Incredible.

Based on the kind of person I am, I can’t imagine having an abortion. My own children mean every thing to me. I can’t imagine even more, that the choice will be completely stripped from me because my government believes I should not be given an option of what to do with my own body… or worse yet, that I’m somehow incapable of making an informed decision about the future of my unborn children or my very own life.


Having weighed in (waded in?) on most other topics you are always told to avoid, I feel it’s time to tackle abortion. As we are about to have the first anti-abortion law passed since Roe vs. Wade, the conservatives are already preparing to take their agenda further. While the current law would only outlaw so-called partial birth abortions, it starts us down the slippery slope. Partial birth abortions sound horrific by description, and would be damn hard for anyone to justify as the right thing to do. (Honestly, you have to wonder how doctors justify the procedure now.) But that’s not really the issue.

The problem comes down to “human life” vs “human choice”. This is inherent in the very names of the opposing organizations. One is pro-life, the other is pro-choice. I think we can agree, that if it weren’t for the issue of human life, that most everyone would support the pro-choice position. That is, if we were talking about a woman’s right to have her appendix removed, there would be no debate at all.

So in reality, it all comes down to what defines human life. Willfully ending a human life is murder. Destroying any other form of life is okay. It is. I can shoot squirrels for sport. I can choose to have my dog euthanized. I can have my appendix out. I can take anti-bacterial drugs. All these things are willful choices on my part to destroy another life. But what does it mean to be human?

This is a simple and yet near impossible question to answer definitively. You know it when you see it (maybe), but it’s hard to nail the definition. And for a law to be useful, it needs to define the criteria under which it applies. I don’t mean to be flippant here. This is deadly serious. And no, I don’t have an answer. But I do think there is value in at least exploring the question.

So what is a human? On the one hand, it might be easiest to cite our species. An individual with homo sapian DNA is human. Anything else is not. Case closed? Not quite. There are two criteria in that definition. First is the DNA issue. Right now, humans are relatively unique on the planet. But suppose a space ship lands tomorrow with friendly aliens offering to be our friends. They have no human DNA, so would it be okay for the conservation department to issue hunting permits? Of course not. So DNA isn’t really a criteria. The second is more subtle. The definition requires that the life be an “individual”. Otherwise, my appendix would be human life. Minimally, an individual must have a developed sense of “I”. It must recognize that the creature in the mirror is itself. It must have a level of senteince, it must be self-aware. Fair enough, but many species on Earth, including many apes and dolphins have demonstrated self-awareness. Meanwhile, human babies don’t develop self-awareness until they are many months old. Is killing a chimp murder? Is killing a 3 month old baby? So this definition doesn’t wash.

What about sentience then? What if we defined human in a more generic sense as sentient life or (to account for the 3 month old baby) the potential to become sentient? This works to a degree. It protects the newborn baby. It also protects the aliens in the spaceship and probably several other species of life on Earth which are currently unprotected. (And that might not be a bad thing.) But the “potential” problem still plagues us. A zygote is a “potential sentient being”. For that matter, an unfertilized egg, sperm, or (when cloning becomes viable) any other cells, are all potential sentient lives. This makes my appendix problematic again. Not to mention that it should be illegal for a woman to not at least attempt pregnancy each menstrual cycle and masturbation would have to be outlawed for men. It gets silly quickly.

There is always the qualifier that the life must be viable outside the mother. This would seem to take care of the zygote, appendix, and “spilled seed” problems above. But for how long? It is technologically inevitable that a completely artificial womb will be created. We can already do rudimentary cloning and in-vitro fertilization. In theory, any of the above “silly scenarios” could be crafted into sentient life. So “potential” becomes problematic.

As I said above, I have no good answer here. This is (and probably will continue to be) a highly qualitative issue. It can’t be about “life” because we can’t say what that is with any certainty. That makes it about choice. The choice of the woman, the choice of her doctors, and in all probability, the choice of the courts to resolve the inevitable grey area.

There are laws against murder, and yet we sell handguns openly. We trust that most people will make good decisions with them. Should we not trust that most women will make good reproductive choices despite the availability of abortion? It is inherently un-American to inhibit choice in an effort to assure lawful or moral compliance. At least it used to be.