Recently, noted philosopher Richard Dawkins made ripples across the pond when he tweeted regarding babies in utero diagnosed with Down Syndrome:
Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
While one doesn’t flinch at the suggestion of abortion coming from Dawkins, that’s an interesting invocation of morality coming from the celebrated atheist. Immoral based on what? Perhaps an Enlightenment rationale rooted in utilitarianism? Dawkins seems to suggest as much in another tweet when he writes of people on the autism spectrum juxtaposed with people who have Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome):
People on that spectrum have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced.
Actually, he might have that reversed in some respects. People with Down Syndrome tend to be the most happy and loving individuals on the planet. Their smiles, their affection are effusive, while whole swaths on the autism spectrum are noted for their lack of empathy and demonstrable affections. In this it is a safe bet to say that those with Down Syndrome are affectively enhanced. And what of using an Enlightenment approach to utilitarianism?
Dawkins and his ilk live outside of the Enlightenment, and even in reading the great authors of that several hundred year period, he seems to have missed the point of the movement entirely.
Thomas Jefferson lived in the Enlightenment, and apart from his own personal glaring contradictions, seems to have grasped its meaning rather well. This is not only evident in the Declaration of Independence, but also in a letter to his daughter, Patsy, where his Enlightenment utilitarianism shows all the humanity and warmth absent in Dawkins’ ice cold bastardization of that era. Jefferson writes:
Every human being must be viewed according to what it is good for; for none of us, no, not one, is perfect; and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.
And there it is, the raison d’être of us all. We are here to love, to send out our love to be attached to another. Love, not in the romantic sense, but in the daily, self-sacrificial sense.
…and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.
Dawkins’ morality is as arid as the loveless soil in which it is rooted. Judeo-Christian morality derives its life, its sustenance from the love in which it is rooted; Jefferson’s love, which has imperfect humanity as its object.
Jefferson’s utilitarianism sees the sender as imperfect, as well as the receiver. If one were to sit with Jefferson over a bottle of Madeira, he might well expound upon this advice to Patsy. He might well describe that it is the very imperfection of the recipient which requires our love, and in which our love takes root. He might well explain that our love cannot complete or complement in another those elements in the other which have already attained perfection, but rather, complement and complete the imperfections in the other.
Indeed, Jefferson might well have admonished that our perfection requires having a place to send our sacrificial love, a place where there is need of our love, a place where we find the healing of our own imperfection as humans by sacrificing for another.
One can scarce envision a population more given to unconditional love than the Down Syndrome community. Those such as Dawkins, who reject the very idea that there is a God who is love itself, who advocate the slaughter of babies for want of something that approximates normal function, are those most in need of love themselves. There is something in them that was frustrated along the way, perhaps the perception that their love was not welcome in those to whom it should have flowed, and from whom they should have received that love which could have completed what was lacking in them.
It is a frustration that has turned into a deadly philosophical rage, a world and worldview that has become a desert for Dawkins’ love.