Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Celia Wolf-Devine: Terrible Philosopher or merely a Theologian?

The following is a letter I wrote to the Providence Journal that is as of yet unpublished.
Celia Wolf-Devine testifying against marriage equality
The Providence Journal does its reputation no good  by publishing op-ed pieces as poorly reasoned and lacking in facts as "Opposing abortion is progressive" by Celia Wolf-Devine, published on Sunday May 26th. Wolf-Devine, a retired philosophy professor at Stonehill College, claims progressive positions on a multitude of issues, such as economic inequality, the environment and civil liberties (at least for some people, as we will see), but draws the line at a woman's right to chose to terminate her pregnancy through abortion.

In picking and choosing what side of what issues to be on, Wolf-Devine is doing what a number of Americans do every day: deciding to support or not support a particular ethical position based on her conscience and religious views. Others might check off different boxes on the progressive and conservative issues lists. Wolf-Devine seems unable to understand that it is not necessary to pull the "master lever" and declare yourself one hundred percent progressive or conservative.

The professor uses this shoddy rhetorical tactic as a way of introducing the usual poor arguments against abortion rights for women. She claims abortion is racist, that women are more likely to suffer depression after the procedure, and that there is no difference between a newborn baby and a developing fetus. She ends her editorial by once again pointing out that Norma McCorvey, the "Roe" in Roe v. Wade, no longer supports a woman's right to abortion, (as she has now become a Catholic, something Wolf-Devine leaves out.)

Wolf-Devine never mentions her own Catholicism in this piece, or that all her views on reproductive rights and homosexuality are informed by her Catholic religion; that is, by theological, not philosophical inquiry. (Those interested can read a first hand account of Wolf-Devine's long and unskeptical conversion to Catholicism in Dan O'Neill's The New Catholics, published in 1987.)

Note that Wolf-Devine does not mention in her ProJo piece that she is not only opposed to abortion, she is opposed to all birth-control methods not approved of by the Roman Catholic Church. She is opposed to marriage equality, and has spoken at the RI State House many times citing flawed and discredited studies about same-sex families and their children. I won't go so far as to say that she is lying, but she is certainly blinded by her faith.

In conclusion, when someone like Wolf-Devine, who opposes civil rights for LGBTQ citizens, abortion rights for women, birth control for consenting adults and consensual divorce in most cases, we should be wary of taking their positions too seriously in our secular society. The professor is certainly free to believe as she will and act in accordance with her conscience, but she should not be attempting, through poor argumentation and deception, to impose her narrow theological views on the rest of us.
After writing the letter I gave the matter more thought and crystalized my main objection to Wolf-Devine's letter.  In it, she identifies herself as a retired philosophy professor. This might lead people to believe that she came to her views through a rigorous process of logic and reason, the main tools of philosophical inquiry. But a reading of her entry in The New Catholics clearly demonstrates that her thought processes are far from rigorous when it comes to things such as religion, theology, psychic powers, the existence of God, Chinese mysticism, and even black magic.

Wolf-Devine is a believer first, and a putative philosopher second. So signing this letter as a philosopher is dishonest. She should sign her letter as a religious Catholic or as a theologian.

Here's video of her testimony against marriage equality. It is a mess of distortions, poor logic, and lack of focus:

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