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Arthur W. Johnson, Published June 22 2013

Letter: Human life or living is relational

Grael Gannon presented an opinion piece in the May 26 edition of The Forum titled “Argue issue on merits, not religion.” He introduced the following syllogism:

“1. Someone’s religion teaches that it is wrong to commit murder. 2. People cannot be bound by other people’s religious convictions. 3. Therefore, members of society cannot be prohibited from committing murders.”

These three statements are not a syllogism if the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy is correct in diagraming a syllogism as an “inference of one proposition from two premises.” They do not even fit a “particular affirmation.”

Gannon continues with the illustrations of Adolf Hitler’s murdering of the Jews in the 1930s and the potential bumping off of one’s neighbor today. Also, African-Americans seeking better schooling for their children at the cost of white children restricted because of quota.

If he sees incongruity in those who hold that there may be times and circumstances when abortion may be a difficult decision, may I suggest the ancient description of “The tyranny of the absolute” and some more recent issues, closer to home. Living is messy. Living or human life is relational.

Recent research suggests that the fetus at 25 weeks may be responsive. What is the choice when the pending birth threatens the life of the mother? What of the headless anomaly or the pregnant 10-year-old (I have witnessed both) or the extra fertilized eggs that need not and should not be implanted, or the annual reporting of 25,000 cases of rape or the worldwide report of more than 25,000 children dying daily from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Let’s see if I can make a valid syllogism:

1. When making an ethical choice in life, some people think in black and white, in absolutes. 2. Life is filled with many messy choices. 3. Some people do not deal with life as it really is.

Maybe he can use my syllogism in his class at North Dakota State University.


Johnson, Richville, Minn., and formerly of Fargo, is a retired Lutheran minister and former instructor in Western ethics and comparative religion.