Edward Feser, Dr. Tiller's Murder, and Free Speech Rights.

[Written by John W. Loftus] Earlier I called for Edward Feser to be fired from his teaching post for writing inflammatory and incendiary rhetoric whereby he argues that the recently murdered abortion doctor, Dr. George Tiller, forfeited his right to life by being an abortionist. Feser argues Tiller was “worse” than Jeffery Dahmer, who killed and/or ate 17 human beings. You can see the progression of events here, and some final unanswered points about it right here.

I stepped into this debate by arguing Feser Should Be Fired From His Teaching Post!. Lucky for Feser he’s tenured so this will not happen. Still a few people think I had gone too far, citing free speech, first Amendment rights, and such things. Or, that I haven’t taken into consideration his whole argument where he also condemns vigilantism against abortionists, which he does.

I was claiming Feser ought not to say what he did in the most vocal way I can, precisely because I find it reprehensible in the worst way. How would he feel, as unlikely as it would be, that someone kills an abortionist and upon being arrested quotes him? I think he would feel terrible. That's the point. We must tone down such inflammatory incendiary rhetoric on occasions like these, because of what it could lead to. One is indeed responsible for the repercussions of the rhetoric they use. One must be careful not to use such inflammatory rhetoric when it comes to human beings who simply disagree on the issue of abortion. It’s like pouring gas on the fire.

As an aside, one cannot fail to notice Feser’s blog is subtitled Dispatches from the 10th Crusade, which is another use of inflammatory rhetoric since there were only nine Medieval crusades. Feser is a crusader. A crusader is a killer. Who in his right mind would want to identify with the word “crusade” if he knew the history of them, which I'm sure as a Catholic he does?

Since Feser is immune from firing I’m not pressing that issue any longer. But I do want to address some of the questions that have surfaced in response to my post.

As far as free speech goes, there have been many people fired for expressing chauvinism, racism and homophobia in academia, as sportscasters, and as pundits. Hate speech is not something the law tolerates, nor do employers. Whether you like it or not this is "politically incorrect" speech, which I applaud. One cannot call an African American the "N" word nor a woman the "B" word, for those words have a history of oppression to them in the English language.

In an article for TIME magazine in 1989 called In Praise of Censure by conservative columnist Garry Wills, a good case was made for the same things I agree with today. Follow the link to page three where the money quote is:
"It is a distortion to turn "You can express any views" into the proposition "I don't care what views you express."
This article for TIME was provoked by some “pornographic” art that was partially funded by our government. When the government is involved and when we are the government, we have a say in what we want to allow and support.

And just in case you are not aware, there is no such thing as free speech. It’s a political prize won by the diligent, so argues Stanley Fish, in his brilliant and thought provoking book. That's why there is something called "politically correct speech" in the first place!

Can Feser really be more certain that abortion is unjustifiable murder when we reasonably consider the arguments to the contrary?...Enough to say Tiller was worse than Dahmer? I think not, not by a long shot. Not even close. What motivates him, is the need to feel divinely certain about this. Nothing less than divine certainty will do for you. There can be no room for doubt with religious fanatics like Feser, even though he'll deny being one. Doubt will cause Feser to tone down his rhetoric. And doubt will lead to fewer people being killed.

Nothing inspires the faithful but being divinely assured of what God thinks or wants them to do, and I find this completely abhorrent to thinking people who can only at best come to probable, not divinely certain conclusions about such things. A divinely certain conclusion does not need thought. It only needs action.

Feser’s kind of rhetoric can potentially lead to more murders, for there is nothing stopping someone who embraces the first part of Feser’s argument, that Tiller is more evil than Dahmer, to also reject the second part where murdering Tiller is wrong.

I just wonder what abortionist providers (and their families) might feel like after Feser’s post in a Christian dominant society, when he said they have lost the moral right to life. I think they would fear for their lives, and their fear would be justified, just as Feser would be afraid for his life if he lived in that atheist dominated society and the analogous words were spoken about his profession. Feser is therefore fear mongering. He’s trying to scare abortionists into stopping the helpful service they provide for many people who need and request it. And I find that reprehensible in the worst possible way. He should be ashamed of himself.


Izzy said...

I'll suggest that my central argument--that the State has a non-trivial obligation not shared by private employers to avoid using its power to hire and fire as de facto censorship, particularly in the case of academics--is unaffected by the odious nature of Feser's speech.

Anonymous said...

Evil Bender, who is the government, what are our real free speech rights, and can we say or do anything we wish? Have you heard the term "clear and present danger? Do you know you cannot yell fire in a crowded theatre? Child pornography is illegal.

The government is susceptible to public pressures. It cannot be otherwise because we're dealing with people. You can cite a principle but it's never enforced fairly, just as laws are not enforced fairly. The real world is where we live and where we must speak, not an idealized one. There is no idealized world. Free speech is a political prize. Racist speech in a state university will get someone fired. So will other forms of speech. That's life, my friend.

And to call for the firing of someone is my free speech right too. Even if it may not happen it can put needed pressure on someone to rethink his position.

Anonymous said...

"Everything is black and white here you are the white hat guys."

I wear no White Hat in this debate, or any other. One of my favorite sayings comes from Solzhenitsyn: the line between good and evil doesn't run between 'us' and 'them; it runs through every human heart. As I said in an earlier post, my own position on abortion is as confused as the complexities of the debate would lead one to expect. I was only defending Professor Feser from the charge of endorsing, condoning, advocating, implying, suggesting, etc. that late-term abortionists should be murdered.

"Secretly, I suspect you’re glad Tiller was murdered. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, although I fully expect you to disingenuously deny this in the most vehement way you can. But I will not buy it."

I won't deny it vehemently, John; I'll deny it sadly. Not because I'm sad to deny it, but because I'm sad to have to deny it to someone I respect, and to someone as fair-minded and clear thinking as you. I have no problem with open and vigorous debate -- you know that -- but this simply disappoints me coming from you.

Izzy said...

And to call for the firing of someone is my free speech right too

Naturally, and I support your right to free speech wholeheartedly, just as I do even people like Feser's.

I feel like we're talking past each other at this point, which suggests to me that I should just move along.

stevec said...

I can't agree with this post. For me, free speech trumps any "hate speech" bullshit.

It is far too easy for me to imagine someone leveling the charge of spreading "hate speech" at me, simply because I deliberately and forthrightly say that the exercise of faith -- of deliberately attempting to be more certain than the evidence warrants -- is idiotic, and that the promotion of faith is the promotion of institutionalized idiocy.

People have opinions. Labeling those opinions "hate speech" and criminalizing them will not change those opinions.

How's this: I consider the labeling of thoughts and speech as hate speech to BE hate speech, and what's more, to be the ONLY kind of thing which it is permissible to label as hate speech.

Fuck the system recursively from the inside.

edson said...

oIf I were to give out my personal feelings about the death of Dr. Tiller is that I regard his death just like any other sinner's death. Dr. Tiller is now a killed murderer just as debaucherers, porn stars, petty dictators or any other major sinner die.

So do I, as a christian, rejoice in the death of any sinner? The answer is a resounding NO, for the biblical and christian position is clear that even christians should love and pray for those who are our enemies.

But what is it then that some christians are calling for the death of sinners? The answer is complex as the subject itself, but if I'm required to attempt, I regard these christians to be a product of poor tendering. It's likely that they spring from ultra conservative, christian white supremacist ideologies, which to me, a church like this is nothing but a cult.

I also think that John grossly misunderstood Eric's position in this. What Eric is trying to insinuate is that how is John considering the Feser's remark that seriously, when his remark cannot gain or win ground in any of any normal christian Church, even to those most fundamentalist christians churches, in a literal sense of the word? In other words Eric is defending Feser that his remark is his own (and he is defended by the law to do this), so why should John go beserk, of what is obviously a vain remark, to the majority of the normal citizens of the United States?

Chuck said...

I think free speech is important but, believe it extends to the press and not to one's occupation. If I were a resident of California I would be calling Feaser's boss and putting as much pressure as possible on him to fire Feaser. My charge would not be for his argument that Dahmer and Tiller are moral equivalents. It would be for his passive-aggressive communication style and unwillingness to follow his premise to its conclusion. I think he fails as a teacher of philosophy when he states the kind of hypothesis he states and then back peddles from its implication. He seems to operate as a lobbyist arguing for a policy polemic and not a rigorous thinker. Universities demand greater integrity. If he had a shred of authenticity then he should risk popular outrage and see his premise through. A serial killer who is being protected by the law creates a circumstance where vigilantism is moral.

Eric, a question for you. You seem to be open to the possibility of a limited pro-choice position and admit confusion on the issue of abortion yet, you defend Feaser against claims he argues for murder. Do you share his opinion that Tiller is a serial killer on the order of Dahmer who was being protected by the law? And if so, why wouldn't you support Tiller's murder and Roeder's vigilantism as moral necessities?

Evan said...

John I'm pretty sure that Garry Wills is not a conservative. You may be confusing him with George Will.

Chuck said...

Since Garry Wills was one of William F. Buckley's closest friends and a man who tutored Buckley on Canon law, one can easily make the case he was (and is) a conservative.


Corky said...

It's all because some people have decided that abortion is murder. It just so happens that those who think that way are the loud-mouths, the busybodies and the holier-than-thous of our society.

However, abortion is legal, which means it is not murder and an abortion doctor is not a murderer.

If abortion was illegal, then we'd have illegal abortions with women being butchered up by some incompetents in shacks out in the woods or in some filthy back alley.

Would that be better? No, and we've already had that before Roe v. Wade. Which is - should a man be able to force a woman to have his baby even if the baby is the result of rape?

When men want women to be forced to have an unwanted child, it's only because the men want control of the woman for the next 18-21 years.

Women who realize this fact refuse to have the SOB's baby!

Would or should anyone want a child of rape or incest or the child of a wife beater? I don't think so! That's why abortion exists to start with.

What about being forced to have the child of spousal abuse (rape)- where the husband forces his wife to have unprotected sex with him for the purpose of controlling his wife for the next 20 years?

There are a lot of legitimate reasons to have an abortion and adoption is out of the question.

Who wants a child to come around in about 25 years asking why they were given away and all you can say is, "because your daddy raped me and I didn't want the SOB's git being my life for the rest of my life".

To try and figure out if a certain woman should be forced to carry her fetus to term or she should be allowed an abortion by law would require a jury trial.

Then multiply that by millions and figure up the cost to the taxpayer. The courts are overcrowded now so doing something like that would be a nightmare.

I think people should mind their own business and leave well enough alone and quit inciting people to riot like professor Feser is doing (even though he says he's not).

I don't know why the woman down the street had an abortion last year - because, it's none of my business to know.

Evan said...

Chuck, perhaps I and others are wrong.

"And so it is that I must offer my biggest criticism of the book: Wills is a political liberal and a secular leftist -- nothing wrong with that."

Chuck said...


Just goes to show you the terms "conservative" and "liberal" are subjective based on one's presupposition. I'd say Garry's credentials as a founding writer for National Review earns hims some conservative points. Although, I do think he is a pretty free-thinker and therefore would be hated by the religious right.

Evan said...

Chuck. Yeah, too bad so many people keep getting it wrong:

Wills is not the first liberal Christian to try to rehabilitate Paul. In the mid-20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr's liberal "realists" turned to Paul, too, seeing his emphasis on sin as a valuable antidote to the Utopian scheming and sentimental dreaming they perceived in secular and religious liberal idealists such as Norman Thomas, Harry Emerson Fosdick, or Norman Vincent Peale. The Niebuhrians liked to quip that they found "St. Paul appealing and St. Peale appalling." In fact, they found Paul essential. To them, he underwrote a social gospel free of wishful thinking about either individual sinlessness or automatic social progress.

Like the Niebuhrians before him, Wills will be mistaken for a conservative Christian, since he admires Paul so much and since he remains devoted to the orthodox teachings of the faith—the Messiah as sacrificial lamb and risen Lord, not just Jesus as ethical exemplar. But Wills remains a liberal because he highlights the gospel of love, asserts the equality of women, distrusts institutions and hierarchies, and endorses the findings of modern biblical scholarship."

Chuck said...

Well since the Neo-Cons like Bill Kristol claim Rheinhold I'd say that this person's analysis of Niehbuhr's philosophy as liberal is confusing.

Chuck said...

Also, I have no dog in this fight. Since, Buckley had a long and active resentment towards Wills and even published a regular column in the National Review against him one could reasonably say Wills is a liberal. I just know that Wills has been defined as a conservative. I think he is like David Brooks or even Rheinhold Niehbuhr. A thinker many sides could claim as their own. But if you want to win the argument and claim him liberal then so be it. He is a liberal.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


I don't mean to get in the way of any debate on this one. I think Tiller's murder was atrocious and what he did for a living was atrocious also, BUT we live in a land where we value law and abortion is the law of the land and hasn't been outlawed. IF he was a predatorial abortionist as he is painted he was a horrible person.

But I did 2 posts on this on my site and I found that many of his actions were in accord with the teachings of his church and their interpretation on the subject and issue.

Tell me what you think after you read this: IS THE ELCA RESPONSIBLE FOR DR. TILLER'S DEATH?


J said...

Edward Feser's writing on Tiller was odious, hypocritical, irrational, etc., yet I don't think he should be pink slipped for it, unless he made some O'Reillyish rant similar to the essay he wrote.

Though Feser now engages in the catholic gravitas schtick, he's really the same right-wing machiavellian hack he was on Right Reason. He just realized Catholics Inc, especially the Domincan sort, still pack a bit more punch than the Founding Fathers do.