Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Complexity of Politics

I'm working on my Ph.D. in psychology and in a recent class of mine, we were discussing the trolley problem in the context of moral development. My professor ended by saying, thankfully, we don’t actually have to make these difficult choices in real life because doing so would be psychologically damaging to most people. However, we do make these choices every time we vote. Political policies affect hundreds of millions of people, many of them in life and death ways, and even more lives when considering the effects at an international level.

I don't think it's wrong to engage in politics (depending on how it's done), but it just doesn't seem like a wise use of time for most people. In this article, I listed several reasons why I think it's unwise, but I wasn't able to go into great depth regarding how complex politics are and that most people don't have the time, knowledge, or ability to gather the necessary information to make an informed vote. I only alluded to the complexity of the issues in that article so here I am going to go into much greater depth to show why the issues are so complex (and it's still abbreviated for length).

I am going to use abortion to illustrate my point because I think it's one of the simplest issues and it's often the most important for people on both sides. Still, it's a complex issue that goes far deeper beyond the rhetoric heard in typical political discourse. Personally, I'm pretty strongly convinced that abortion is wrong, but at the same time, I have a lot of uncertainties about the degree to which it is wrong and how important it is in relation to other issues.  I am not going to argue for any position on abortion, but instead, I am just going to present the factors that should be considered to make an informed decision on this one issue.

0. Bias Check

I listed bias as reason zero because we can know our potential biases, but we can't know for sure if we're acting in a biased manner and we can't counteract our biases simply by knowing them. For instance, liberals are more likely to score high on the personality factor of openness, which means they are more likely to accept new or different ideas. This may sound great, but not all old ideas are bad and not all new ones are good. Conservatives are likely to err in the other direction. We want to hold all ideas to the same level of scrutiny, but our biases often prevent that from happening.

There are a lot of things that bias us. Perhaps the strongest is what we already believe. If you already identify with a particular party or have a strong view on a particular topic, you are biased toward what you already believe and are likely to be less critical of your own views and more critical of other views. We are similarly biased by any sort of group membership we might have or other personal factors. This can be race, religion, being part of the NRA, LGBTQ, political party, the state we live in, sex, education or intelligence, socioeconomic status, personality, and so much more. Essentially, any factor that correlates with political outcomes is likely due in part to some sort of bias. How can we know if it's bias or an accurate assessment of reality, and either way, how can we tell if the effects only apply to our group or to us individually? We usually can't, but hopefully, recognizing the potential for bias opens us up to a more thorough examination of the issues and more objective calculations for decision making.

1. Theology of Government

What is the role of government in promoting virtue and restraining evil? This is the underlying issue. Governments (including the U.S.) allow all kinds of immoral actions (according to both sides) for a variety of reasons, but mostly in the name of liberty. Jesus didn't live in a democracy so it's hard to draw conclusions about how we should be involved in politics based on how Jesus was involved in politics, so we should be fairly open and accepting toward others who disagree with us on this topic.

Here are the questions we must ask. Should the government be a theocracy? If yes, then who's religion or theology and how do we handle non-believers? To what degree are eternal consequences important for the government to regulate? Is it just me, or does it seem odd that Christians will fight for the right of unbelievers to blaspheme and turn people away from eternal salvation, but they fight tooth and nail against abortion...all because some arbitrary, man-made document created over two hundred years ago said this is how it should be? From an eternal perspective, unbelief, biblical illiteracy, nominal belief, blasphemy, are probably a lot worse than most, if not all things we currently consider major crimes, yet they are completely unregulated and many Christians argue that's the way it should be.

If we should not be a theocracy, then to what degree should Christians be comfortable with allowing actions that are immoral by Christian standards but not according to other standards (e.g. drunkenness, prostitution, same-sex marriage, etc.)? How should we argue for our views on some topics but not others while remaining logically consistent (e.g. drunkenness and abortion both cause a lot of deaths and per year and other negative consequences so how do we decide to be against one and not care about the other?)? Should we risk our witness as Christians or spend our social capital on these issues rather than the gospel?

On top of that, the Christian should also consider the degree to which individuals should participate in politics. Paul tells us (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26) we are individual parts of one body. We each with unique gifts and talents that we should focus on and be cautious about doing things we aren't called to do. Does this apply to politics? If you weren't called to politics, maybe you shouldn't be participating at all. I'm not saying that's the case, but it should at least be considered.

The other thing we need to consider theologically, assuming we think we should participate in politics, is the degree to which we should be informed voters and how we need to handle trade-offs in decisions. Is it good enough to vote based on party lines or a superficial knowledge of subjects, or does service to a God of Truth require us to be more informed than the average person if we're going to vote in ways that will affect others?

Additionally, politics requires very hard decisions that will affect a lot of people in different ways. Is it better to vote for a person who will try to outlaw abortion (but likely fail) or better to vote for a person who will enact policies that will drastically reduce the number of abortions? It might not be an either/or decision like this or may not apply to this issue, but the ultimate point is that with politics, we often have to choose between principles and real-life improvements in the direction of our principles. Many people are uncomfortable making these decisions or even thinking about them, but these are the realities we have to face.

2. Morality of Abortion

This seems like a simple question but I don't think many people have a well thought out view on this. There are a good number of Bible verses indicating that life begins before birth, and perhaps even at the moment of or before conception. I also think it seems most logical scientifically and philosophically to assume that life begins at conception. Those who focus only on the mother's rights often ignore this side of the equation, even without the biblical considerations, and treat the issue inconsistent with how they treat other issues (just to be clear, inconsistencies show that one, if not both views are wrong).

Even if you think life begins before birth, it's not entirely clear from the Bible when God grants a person a soul and if the life of an embryo has the same value as someone who's been born. Most people won't admit this, but their actions suggest they feel the same way. I say this because most people who are staunchly against abortion are not fighting against it in the same way they would if their local Planned Parenthood was legally euthanizing Christians, anyone with a particular skin tone, left-handed people, people with psychological disorders, or any other random group of people.

Additionally, from the perspective of people who don't believe in the Bible (see the previous point about theology and government), it's a pretty tough case to make. Not only do you have to convince them that life begins at conception, but that the baby's life has more value than the mother's liberty, all before the baby can survive outside the womb, feel pain, or have any sort of conscious awareness.

While it's a minor point, we should also consider the historical perspective and whether your opinion has been unduly influenced by cultural forces. It wasn't until several years after Roe v. Wade that Evangelicals took up the mantle against abortion and viewed it as unequivocally wrong. This doesn't mean they were wrong, but it is important to consider how our own views might be biased by our current cultural situation rather than by pure reason. This should at least allow us to step back a little and look at the issue from a broader perspective.

Finally, there's the issue of how wrong is abortion compared to other issues. Just to keep it simple, what is more important, to save one million aborted babies in a year or to improve the quality of life for one million people? This only gets more complicated when you factor in the potential to affect the quality of life for 10 million or 100 million people. What if, instead of saving one million babies each year (about 80 million total years of life based on current life expectancy), you could extend the life of 20 million people for an average of 4 years each (80 million total years of life)? Or instead of saving one million babies in the U.S. per year, you could save 10 million lives globally per year?

Again, I'm not saying this is necessarily the case, only pointing out that these are the factors people need to think through in order to have an informed decision on the morality and importance of abortion. Then there's the issue of what constitutes abortion or is an acceptable abortion. Does the morning-after pill count as an abortion? I know people often say it does, but this is based on pop-media rhetoric. My understanding is that it doesn't actually cause an abortion, it prevents the sperm from getting to the egg. It theoretically could cause an abortion, but it's actually more likely to prevent one if the sperm has already reached the egg (and I admit I could be misinformed or out of date on this). What about cases of rape, when would it be acceptable for the life of the mother, and so on.

3. Hidden Factors

There are almost always hidden or unintended consequences to everything, which are sometimes worse than what they tried to fix. Iatrogenesis is a term that describes when a treatment or other action inadvertently causes more harm than whatever was trying to be fixed. Social media was created to connect people, and it does, but the research seems to suggest it might actually be better at making people feel disconnected and lonely. Every law or policy has the potential for unintended consequences, which could be good or bad, predictable or unpredictable, and these consequences could be from the law itself or the way the law is enacted (e.g. prohibition). The point is that we need to try to discover and think about the unintended or secondary consequences of any law or policy that we make a decision on.

For instance with abortion, it's been argued that legalizing abortion has had positive effects on crime rates (discussed in Freakonomics but the actual peer-reviewed studies are cited below). I think they make a pretty good case that abortion has at least some effect on crime rates, but maybe you disagree (but you have to read and understand the original articles to know), but either way, you have to be looking for and studying these things to even know. These things aren't discussed in the pop-media and sticking your head in the sand and pretending these trade-offs don't exist doesn't make you morally superior. Maybe you don't think it matters, and it doesn't in terms of whether abortion is right or wrong, but it's irresponsible to say it doesn't matter in terms of what the government should allow. Again, going back to point one, the government allows things that are wrong and we need to come to decisions on how we think these should be balanced.

About one million abortions are performed each year in the U.S. What if (and this is purely hypothetical), it was shown beyond a reasonable doubt that this led to two million lives being saved per year by limiting murder, decreasing suicide rates, improving healthcare, and increasing foreign aid (for people starving or without medical care in other parts of the world)? Would it be better in such a case for the government to keep abortion legal, at least until those other issues could be better under control? What would be worse, one million aborted babies or one million dead infants? Again, these are completely fictional hypotheticals (except that there is a good case that abortion leads to less crime), but it's still necessary and important to weigh these factors.

This is just one factor for abortion, but we also need to consider how abortion laws affect the quality and quantity of life through the economy (domestic and foreign), healthcare, future policy decisions (re-legalizing it in a way that is even harder to over), foreign aid and international relations, elderly care, the foster care system, potential riots or other backfire effects, and other factors that might be impacted.

Before it seems like I am only critiquing conservative views (that's not my intent, but I more closely align with those views so I don't want to strawman other views and know most people reading this will resonate more closely with my views), we also need to consider who gets abortions as an unintended consequence. In our country, minorities disproportionately get abortions more often than white women. Worldwide, girls are aborted more frequently than boys. In essence, advocating for abortion ends up promoting racism and sexism. If we want more diversity in our country, greater representation of minorities, the best way to do this is to have more of them living in our country, yet abortion helps maintain or even increase the racial disparity in our country. How much more power would minorities have in our country if there were 30 million more of them (the approximate number that have been aborted since Roe v. Wade) compared to only 15 million more white people (not to mention additional children form the children who weren't aborted)?

4. Consistency

If a pregnant woman decides she doesn't want her child, she can just go get an abortion without consulting the father or anyone else. The doctor and nurses who perform the abortion are merely doing a medical procedure, not killing a human being. However, if a father decides he doesn't want the child, too bad; at a minimum, he's stuck paying child support for 18 years. Moreover, if he decides to take it upon himself to cause an abortion, he'll be convicted of murder and possibly face life in prison (see fetal homicide laws). The point isn't about whether these laws are correct or good, but that there is a clear inconsistency between them. On the one hand, the child is treated as though she's not a person and on the other hand, she's treated as though she is a person...all because of whether the mother decides the child is a person or not.

Similarly, consider whether you are treating abortion equally as other issues. Let's say you lived in our country two hundred years ago. If you think abortion should be legal because babies don't have rights, then how can you condemn slave owners for making the same arguments (without relying on arbitrary distinctions about what constitutes a person)? Likewise, if you think abortion is just as bad as murdering any other person, are you responding to the issue in the same way you think people should have responded to fight slavery or in the same way you would act if it was legal to kill minorities?

However, there's more to it than that because we also need to consider how our views and reasoning about abortion relate to completely separate issues. For example, if you are pro-life, how does that align with your views on the death penalty, war, collateral damage in war or military operations, healthcare, international aid, immigration, gun control, how to handle climate change, and other issues pertaining to life? If you are pro-choice, how does that align with your views on child-support, racism, discrimination, healthcare, entitlements, and other issues relating to equality and rights?

When we take a stance on an issue, by definition, we are saying that we have the truth and know what is morally right. That's unavoidable and that's fine, but if we want to claim to have the truth, then we need to ensure we are being consistent in the way we reason about these issues. I've seen people say individual rights don't matter when it comes to gun control, but when applied to abortion, the mother's individual rights suddenly matter more than life. I've also seen people say the exact opposite.

Whatever your view is on abortion, it should be consistent with related issues, unrelated issues, and your actions. If examples like this and thought experiments reveal an inconsistency, you should re-evaluate your views until you can resolve the inconsistencies (back up to point #2).

5. Likelihood of Change/Enactment

It’s one thing to have a certain position and a whole other issue to actually get that position put in place. Imagine you were 18 years old when Roe v. Wade happened (1973) and you've voted against abortion in every way possible since then. There’s a decent chance you'd be dead by now and abortion is still legal. During that time about 50 million babies have been killed via abortion (I've seen numbers range from 44 to 65 million).

However, let’s say that in that time, the policies and people you voted against could have limited the number of abortions to a quarter of the current number (by improving the lives of people most likely to have abortions). Which is the better outcome? It's a question we need to wrestle with. Fewer abortions is good, but then again, maybe a few more years of voting against abortion will lead to it becoming illegal. This actually looks like it might happen. I'm skeptical, but if it does, and abortion becomes legal, what is likely to happen in the future? Will it be overturned in five years because there is such a strong backlash against it because of how it was enacted. Maybe 5 million lives are saved in the next five years, but maybe we could have saved 25 million through better policies in other domains.

6. Making a Decision

For the last two homes my wife and I have purchased, I made and used elaborate spreadsheets to help me figure out what the best choice was. I included all the factors I thought were important (cost, size, age, school district, resale value, etc.) and ones that were pretty minor (drive-way slope), and then weighted them accordingly in my decision algorithm. As it turns out, the objective value I gave to certain factors was different than the subjective value I placed on items when I saw the home (which is why I made the spreadsheets in the first place). My subjective ranking of the houses was similar to my objective ratings, but there were differences, most of which were small, but some were quite large and unexpected. 

Once you break apart the abortion issue into component parts, you have to put some value to each part in order to weigh them against each other, otherwise, your view is subject to the whims of rhetoric and confirmation bias. Just about everyone thinks they are above such biases, but the reality is that we are not. Incredibly meaningless factors have an unexpectedly powerful effect on our decision making. This effect is shown over and over again in psychological science. We continually and drastically underestimate the power these factors have over us.

The movie Moneyball (based on a true story) is an excellent example of this and can be applied to most areas of life. My current favorite study on this topic had people write the last few digits of their social security number and then bid on items in an auction. They found that the higher the digits in the SSN, the more people were willing to pay more for an item while at the same time, they all denied that writing that last few digits of their SSN had any effect on their bidding.

We cannot completely eliminate our subjective biases, but we can reduce it by a lot. In order to do this though, we have to consider multiple factors and weigh them all as objectively as we can, without adjusting the methods to fit our preconceived ideas...and remember, this is all just for deciding our views on one issue (abortion). If you think the number of years of life is the main metric, then you need to consider all the factors mentioned above and how they affect the total number of years of life in order to make a decision on abortion laws. Once you do that, then you need to do the same thing for all the other issues and then add up all the issues together to see how it affects the total number of years of life. 


I don’t know the answers to all the questions I posed, and to be honest, answering them coherently and consistently, based on accurate data with sound statistical analysis could lead to several peer-reviewed publications across several disciplines. It would be a couple years of work for a single person, assuming they already had the training to find or collect the data, analyze it, and then make sense of it all. This is why I think politics are just simply too complex for most people to spend time and energy on it.

If a person is going to vote or engage in politics, they need to have good answers to all these questions in order to be morally responsible. If they don't, their vote is no more likely to lead to the best outcomes than a role of the dice. Imagine you could save a person's life by correctly answering a complicated true/false question. Would you just randomly guess or would you study and think about as much as humanely possible to ensure you got the correct answer? The irony of this situation is that people say that their vote matters (I argue in my previous article that it's so small that it's essentially inconsequential), but when it comes to the moral responsibility to cast a well-informed vote, they hide behind the limited impact of their vote.

I want to convince people that voting, researching politics, and debating politics is probably not a wise use of time, but more importantly, I hope that even if I have failed, I have encouraged people to think a little differently about politics, to move beyond the rhetoric to think deeper about the issues, to accept the reality that they may have to vote against their gut in order to bring about a greater good, to have more humility about their own views, and to be more gracious toward the people we disagree with.


Ariely, D., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2003). “Coherent arbitrariness”: Stable demand curves without stable preferences. The Quarterly journal of economics, 118(1), 73-106.

Ariely, D., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2004). Arbitrarily coherent preferences. The psychology of economic decisions, 2, 131-161.

Ariely, D., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2006). Tom Sawyer and the construction of value. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 60(1), 1-10.

Donohue III, J. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2001). The impact of legalized abortion on crime. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116(2), 379-420.

Donohue, J. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2004). Further evidence that legalized abortion lowered crime a reply to Joyce. Journal of Human Resources, 39(1), 29-49.

Donohue III, J. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2008). Measurement error, legalized abortion, and the decline in crime: A response to Foote and Goetz. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(1), 425-440.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Politics for Christians

Well, it's the time of year where the political posts are starting to ramp up and people on all sides are starting to remember how stupid, biased, and downright evil some of their family and friends are. 😅

Because I recently moved, I have a mostly new social group, so I figured I need to get in on the fun and show my new friends how much they should hate me. Ok, not really...and that's the point.

Politics has huge potential to make a positive impact for millions of people while at the same time it can deeply satisfy our fundamental need to belong. I understand the strong draw to politics, but despite all that, I'm going to argue that for most people and most issues, political engagement isn't a wise use of your time, money, reputation, emotional energy, or other resources (click here for part 2 of this article showing the complexity of the issues). What I mean by political engagement is researching issues or candidates (to include watching political shows and debates), debating issues or candidates, promoting positions or candidates (to include protesting), donating money to candidates or parties, and voting.

While that is my general view and argument, there are good reasons for exceptions that the reasons below don't necessarily apply to. Some exceptions would be if you run for office or work in the field of politics, participate in local politics, discuss (but not argue) politics in person with family or friends, take a stand on a very important and obvious moral issue (but not the political aspects of it), and perhaps a few others that I haven't named.

Underlying my whole argument is the view that Christians should be good stewards of their resources. I don't know many Christians who would disagree with that in principle, but it's still good to mention for understanding why the following points are important. Whether you agree or disagree with what I say, hopefully, I can convince you to move beyond the dogmatic talking points that radiate from all sides of the political spectrum and think more broadly and realistically about politics. The following seven reasons are why I think Christians should almost completely stop using their time, money, and energy for politics. This means 

Reason #1: Statistical Irrelevance
At best, each individual vote is nearly worthless. It's one in a million, give or take a bit depending on your state, and if your candidate loses, your vote was worthless (although this article makes a pretty good case that voting for a third-party candidate isn't a wasted vote). On top of that, most states are nearly guaranteed to vote for a certain party, which means if you vote for the winning candidate, your vote probably wasn't needed and if you voted for the losing candidate, your vote certainly wasn't needed. Swing states are different, but even then, they are typically pretty decisive and your individual vote won't really matter a whole lot (especially if you voted for the loser).

I've heard people on both sides tell me that not voting is like giving a vote to the other side (they all seemed to assume I would have voted for their candidate if I did vote), but there's no reason to suspect that only people on one side will suddenly decide not to vote. This means that your non-vote will likely be canceled out by a non-vote on the other side.

Reason #2: Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect is when people with a small amount of knowledge in an area have a very high degree of confidence, but as they gain genuine expertise, their confidence drops until they reach a very high level of knowledge before their confidence starts to go back up.

Politics is perhaps the broadest and most complex topic there is. Some issues are more complex than others, but in general, to have a responsibly informed view on many issues requires a high level of critical thinking skills (which most people don't have), the ability to evaluate evidence without bias (which most people can't even come close to doing, especially in political issues), and graduate-level knowledge and understanding in several subjects (including, but not limited to theology, ethics, public policy, anthropology, sociology, various disciplines of psychology [moral, social, developmental, health, and more], political science, statistics, various types of law [torts, tax law, civil law, criminal law, international law, corporate law, constitutional law, family law, etc.], education, science, U.S. and world history, biology, medicine, epidemiology [especially in our current situation], healthcare, environmental science, micro and macroeconomics, insurance, military operations, world religions, and foreign relations).

If you disagree that there's such a high level of complexity, it's very likely you might be afflicted with a case of the Dunning-Krugers and need a steady dosage of James 4:6 (and maybe a library card, too) 😉. Seriously though, unless you read and understand peer-reviewed articles across several disciplines for each issue, then you aren't well informed, and if you're not well-informed, then your views are no more likely to benefit society than the people who completely disagree with you.

If it takes so much effort and knowledge to understand many individual issues, how much more time and effort does it take to understand the several issues that are pertinent for selecting a candidate or a party? Let’s face it, with such complexities, even the "experts" aren’t even experts (political scientists are the closest things to experts, yet they aren't the main voices we hear. Pundits, politicians, and some snarky guy you follow on social media aren't even close to being experts). Maybe this is why there are genuinely well-meaning and smart Christians on all sides of the political spectrum.

Being a single-issue voter doesn't solve the problem either, it just ignores it. Someone might say abortions are wrong, end of story, so it's that simple; however, this ignores how other issues affect the life and well-being of people and the potential long-term effects that certain policies might have on abortion and mortality rates. For much more depth of how complex politics can be, even surrounding abortion, check out my follow-up article here.

Reason #3: Christian Witness
It's no secret that talking politics in our culture, especially on social media, usually leads to strife. People take it very seriously and they are very certain of their views. Psychological science research shows that people are really poor at thinking straight when it comes to politics. If you disagree with someone politically, it usually doesn't end in hugs and increased mutual respect, although close relationships are probably exceptions to this. Instead, political discussions usually end with people thinking the other person stupid, biased, evil, or some combination of those three.

If someone thinks you are stupid and/or evil, it's nearly certain they will not respect what you say when it comes to religion. Would you rather win a convert to your political views or to Christ? It's not necessarily an either/or situation, but it often is. Also, consider who you might want to influence. I'm guessing a large majority of the people you know who you would want to become Christians disagree with you politically. You may gain friends and followers from other Christians through your politics, but in doing so, you're likely losing the people who need Jesus the most. 

A final point regarding your witness is that there may be times where not participating in politics might compromise your witness. The main take away with this point is to be aware of the effects that political engagement or disengage might have on your ability to influence others and who you may want to influence.

Reason #4: Regression to the Mean
Chances are that you hated one of the last two presidents, but guess what? Our country is still just fine. No, it's not perfect, and yes certain situations could have been handled better, but there doesn't seem to be good evidence that Democrat or Republican policies have been consistently better in the long-term. We've gone back and forth with our presidents, Senate, and House of Representatives. Both parties have had control of Washington and neither has delivered the utopia they've promised. We have a fairly stable and self-correcting system so that no single election cycle will likely ruin our country, and even if it did, it couldn't be predicted by armchair pundits.

Reason #5: Psychological Freedom
It's been 6-8 years since I've almost completely withdrawn from the news and politics and it's been wonderful! It's incredibly freeing and removed a lot of stress from my life...and I wasn't all that into politics in the first place. The question I get when I tell people this is, don't you miss important information? No, I don't. There are so many ways that news spreads in our culture that it's almost impossible to avoid. I hear things from my wife, friends, on social media, commercials, and other places. I ignore most of it, but if something seems interesting or important, I can and do look into it in more depth.

Reason #6: Moral Licensing
Moral licensing is an observed psychological effect in which doing or being good licenses you to do wrong...and it usually happens unconsciously so we're not aware that we do it. The simple act of voting makes us feel as though we've done a moral good, but then we often feel as though we have done all we need to and are no longer responsible for helping others. One study found that white people who endorsed Obama were subsequently more likely to favor white people (discriminate against black people). While not tested, it seems quite reasonable that for a large number of people, voting for a pro-life candidate or policy gives a license not to lift a finger for the thousands of kids in foster care waiting to be adopted. Likewise, voting for entitlements gives the license not to donate time and money. In may sound counterintuitive, but the act of voting or engaging in politics may actually make you a worse person, even if you have good intentions.

Reason #7: Opportunity Costs
We are limited beings who cannot do everything. Just like it's important to budget our money so that we don't waste it, we also need to budget our time and other resources. Every hour you spend watching the news, studying political issues, or debating politics could be used studying the Bible, reading peer-reviewed journal articles, having edifying conversations, hanging out with your kids, serving the poor, or any number things that would be more beneficial for you, your family, and your community. When deciding whether or how to engage in politics, consider what you are giving up in order to do so.

Reason #8: No vote = vote
It doesn't seem like people agree on much in politics today, but one thing that seems pretty widespread is the discontent with the current situation. A lot of people vote for a candidate begrudgingly. They strongly disagree with the candidate or disrespect them, but vote anyway because their candidate isn't quite as bad as the other candidate. Unfortunately, voting for someone under such a circumstance is positive reinforcement of their methods and/or policies that both sides learn from and take advantage of in future elections. Not voting sends the message that you are not willing to support someone who is divisive, morally bankrupt, or not qualified for the position. Sure, it's not a strong message, but it's not really any weaker than the power of your vote either.

Reason #9: Psychological Harm
After discussing the trolley problem in class, my professor said thankfully we don't have to make these difficult decisions about life and death, otherwise, it would be psychologically damaging. But we do make life and death decisions for others when we vote. You may vote to save babies' from abortion, but that likely comes at the cost of someone else in our country or in the world not getting life-saving food or healthcare. Maybe it's a hundred to one ratio, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a trade-off. Political policies affect groups of people differently, often in life and death ways, and our political actions affect that. If you want to claim a single vote isn't that big of a deal, then why vote at all (see point #1 above). If you think your vote does matter, then you should take it very seriously to come to the right conclusion (see point #2 above and my follow-up article on the complexity of politics).

Is it wrong to engage in politics? No, probably not, but it's not a good use of time either. This is perhaps a quintessential modern example of something that is permissible but not beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). Realistically, all of us have ill-informed views on politics (even the "experts") and a single vote is virtually meaningless. In what other domain would you ever consider using your time and energy so frivolously? Why not choose more fruitful options for your life.

Alternative Activities
Rather than just encourage people to disengage from politics, here are a few alternatives that will be more fruitful:

1. Go and serve people, especially where you are passionate. Donating blood (including platelets or plasma) is a super-easy way to save lives. If you are strongly against abortion, serve at an abortion clinic or with a ministry on the frontlines so you can be a light in that environment so you can actually make a difference in someone’s life and change their mind. If you’re passionate about education, become a teacher or tutor, volunteer at a school or with the PTO, or find other ways to help people learn.

2. Foster and/or adopt children. You can make a huge impact in the life of a person who lives in your home or becomes a permanent part of your family. Doing so will also afford you the opportunity to make a big impact in other people’s lives as they become aware of what you’ve done.

3. Talk about more edifying topics. Ask people about themselves. Talk about truth. Encourage others. Share your experiences with others. Collaborate on how to better serve in your church or reach unbelievers.

4. Read, study, and learn about more important matters like the Bible, theology and apologetics books, peer-reviewed science and philosophy articles, marriage and parenting books, or other important and valuable topics that will help you be a better person and/or know God better.

5. Become a missionary. Extreme? Yes, it is, but if you really want to make a difference in people’s live, go to a place where you can help meet physical needs (food, water, shelter, clothing), educational and vocational needs, and spiritual needs.

6. Use people’s passion about political issues as a way to get to know them and share the gospel. Ask people why they hold certain positions, how their views developed, how they fit with their religion or worldview, how do they know their views are right or best, and so on. The point isn't to trap anyone or convince them to change, but to learn about the other person and build a friendship with them.

7. Run for office. If you truly want to make a difference via politics, go and do it. Don’t just elect others to do it for you and then complain about their failures. Go get the education and experience required to make you an excellent politician, and then go make a difference. Be honest, transparent, incorruptible, and stand out as being different than all the others.

8. Get involved and talk about issues that (nearly) everyone is against such as human trafficking or child abuse.

9. If you just feel as though you must vote, hold yourself to a higher standard than others in our society. Don't just view issues through a single lens. Look at issues and candidates from multiple perspectives, including the likely impact it will have on the future of politics (e.g. voting for a candidate on the far end of either party is likely to encourage more extremism in the future), and try the best you can not to let your political engagement compromise your influence for Christ.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Preventing Abortion

How many people have you convinced not to have an abortion? How many people have you convinced to become pro-life, and if you have, did it prevent them from having an abortion? With the exception of a small handful of people, my guess is that the answer to all of these questions is zero.

It's extremely hard to get people to change their minds on abortion. In a journal article that looked at the willingness for people to change their views due to evidence, abortion was the issue people were least likely to change their views on (Kaplan, et al., 2016). Another article tested how well people can think about abortion by asking people to evaluate deductive syllogisms. When the syllogisms were neutral (Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore, Socrates is mortal...), participants correctly evaluated whether it was valid 70% of the time. However, when syllogisms opposed their views on abortion (for either side), the participants were right only 40% of the time (Čavojová, et al., 2018).

In short, when it comes to abortion, above any other issue, people simply lack the ability and motivation to think rationally. And even if they do see the arguments rationally, they might not be convinced. In a Sam Harris podcast, his guests (a philosophy and psychology professor, 1:23:20), mentioned a pro-life argument and said it was compelling, but they still didn't change their minds on the issue!  This is a much harder issue to fight than many people realize.

The Power of Words
I did a poll on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, and nearly everyone agreed that preventing abortion is better than expressing moral outrage (52-3). You might be thinking, but isn't this a false dichotomy? Yes it is...and no it isn't. Expressing moral outrage with abortion (or other issues) can be neutral or even beneficial for prevention (one person in the poll said that expression is prevention). However, expressing moral outrage can also be detrimental due to psychological reactance, which leads to the backfire effect. In short, people don’t like being told what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes from the outgroup, so they react against it by strengthening their views in the opposite direction.

This means that when we speak out against abortion, the other side, and some in the middle, become invigorated to fight against the pro-life position. I am fully pro-life, but if I'm being honest, I'm sick of seeing and hearing all the pro-life arguments! If it bothers me as a pro-lifer, how much more do you think it pisses off others?

Thankfully, all is not lost. If you truly want to prevent abortion, and save lives, the best way to do it is through your actions, not your words (although there is a place for words, if done right). Here are some suggestions for very practical steps you can take to prevent abortions (all of which should go hand in hand with continual prayer).

Option 1: Adoption
I once heard someone say that there are so many kids in foster care that it doesn't make sense to prevent abortion since many of them will end up in foster care. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the nuances of our adoption and foster care system. There are long wait lists to adopt infants, while our foster care system is filled with older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities or other issues.

Adoption can help prevent abortion in three ways. First, it can change perceptions about the horrors that await unwanted babies. This may seem like no big deal, but this actually eliminates a major pillar of the pro-choice argument. Adoption also helps because it can change the life of someone at high-risk to have an abortion. The outcomes for kids in foster care, especially those who age out, are pretty bad as far as pregnancy, education, and marriage, all of which make them prime candidates for having an abortion. Adopting a child from foster care may change their life so they don't get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) in the first place, and if they do get pregnant, they will have a supportive family to help them raise their child so they don't feel like they have to have an abortion.

The third way adoption can help prevent abortion, which relates to the next point, is that is shows others you are willing to do something to make difference. When you talk to someone about abortion, you will have much more credibility and your words will carry much more weight if you are a foster parent and/or adoptive parent because it shows that you a.) know what you're talking about and b.) you care as much as you claim to.

Finally, adoption itself can help change people's mind as it did with this former abortion doctor. Essentially, people who have adopted are much more attuned to the idea that their child, whom they love dearly, could have very well been aborted as so many are. Adopting helps encourage others to adopt and ask questions about it, which will then have an affect on abortion.

Option 2: Serve
You've probably heard people complain that Christians stop caring about people after they're born. Even though this is not true, it's still what people think. If you want to change people's minds, show them how much you care. I know so many Christians who passionately care about aborted babies, but outsiders can't see that genuine love because they can't get past all the talk.

I already mentioned how adoption can do this, but you can do this more directly by going to where the people are who might have an abortion: an abortion clinic or alternative care center. Rather than protesting and yelling at them (see psychological reactance), go and care for them. Offer to help them, even in small things, and do so without judgment. Show the mothers you care about them just as much as you care about their baby. Earn their trust and respect so that they will listen to you and allow you to help, and when they need help, don't turn your back on them. Be willing to put in the time, effort, and money to change a mind and save a life. Practically speaking, you may be asked to adopt the baby so being licensed to foster will make that easier from a legal perspective.

Option 3: Make Disciples
I know someone who was staunchly pro-choice but is now strongly pro-life. What changed her mind? Jesus. She became a Christian and when she did, that is what changed her political views on abortion and other issues. Yes, there are pro-choice Christians, but as they become more mature in their faith and understand God and the Bible better, they will most likely change their views. As hard as it is to get someone to become a Christian, I think it might be harder to convince them to become pro-life, plus there are additional benefits to being a Christian that make it a more fruitful endeavor.

Option 4: Use Your Words
I once had a hockey coach tell our team to never criticize our opponents in the media because it gives them additional motivation to beat you. A couple years later I saw that play out first hand when one of my teammates was misquoted in the newspaper before playing the defending national champions. A buddy of mine on the other team told me how the newspaper article was hanging in their locker room all week and was their primary motivation for the game, which worked, because they smoked us. When we speak out about abortion by complaining and criticizing others, all we do is incite anger in the opposition. Sure, it rallies the base, but all it does is motivate them to anger the opposition too.

When you speak out against abortion, you have to do it in a personal and clever way, otherwise you will have the opposite effect of what you want. Draw attention to real people and the damage abortion causes to them to show that this isn't just about making a choice between a clump of cells and personal convenience. It's so much more than that. Take a moment to watch this video by It's the best pro-life video I've ever seen because it makes this a real issue with real people. Their website also has actual images of babies in the womb which again makes it a personal issue.

As Christians, apologists, and pro-lifers, we have the truth and stand for what is right, but we must must must realize that everyone else thinks just as strongly that they are in the right. We need more than logical arguments. I agree that we shouldn't need more than this, but if there is one clear result from psychology, it's that people are not nearly as rational as we think. We need more than reason to convince most people. It's much harder, but it's the only way we will win the battle. If you're not willing to do the work to be effective, at the very least, donate money to or volunteer with organizations that are effective and keep silent on the issue so you don't hamper their efforts.

- Kaplan, J. T., Gimbel, S. I., & Harris, S. (2016). Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Scientific reports, 6, 39589.
- Čavojová, V., Šrol, J., & Adamus, M. (2018). My point is valid, yours is not: myside bias in reasoning about abortion. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 30(7), 656-669.
- Sam Harris podcast (abortion argument starts around 123:00):
- Statistics for those aging out of foster care (70% females will be pregnant before age 21).
- Foster care outcomes:
Foster care outcomes:
- People abort instead of giving kids up for adoption.
- Abortion statistics.
- Abortion and race
- Who's having abortions