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Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category

After being troubled—and admittedly intrigued—first by the Catholic hysteria over Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame on May 17th , and then by the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller at his church in Wichita a couple Sundays ago, I began thinking once again about the ever-volatile issue of abortion.

For several years the issue for me came down to the simple fact that ultimately abortion is the murder of a human and, therefore, against God’s will for us.  This appears to be the perspective of anti-abortionists also—minus the “God” part for those who aren’t spiritual and/or religious.  For those who believe abortion is indeed murder the whole issue is very black and white: you’re either OK with murder or you aren’t.  So, given the Catholic church’s dogmatic anti-abortion stance, I can understand the outrage by its leaders and their calling for rebuke and discipline of Notre Dame for inviting our non-anti-abortion president to speak at a Catholic university.  For anti-abortionists it seems that if you’re not 100% against abortion then you logically must be pro-abortion and, put simply, pro-murder.

The interesting twist to this is that Obama, from what I understand, isn’t pro-abortion at all, he is pro-choice.  I know this because it was two of his speeches during his campaign that I can trace back as being the first time I ever heard a reasonably convincing and intelligently articulated reason for advocating pro-choice policies in government.  I didn’t give the issue much thought at the time but I now see that it was those speeches that planted some of the seeds of my pending re-analysis of the abortion-is-murder view that took place after these two recent events.  Yes, Barack Obama changed my life…haha, not really.  Well, maybe just a little bit.

The grayness in the middle

From listening to him talk about his feelings on the issue I saw that he has not taken one of the usual black or white stances, but instead has settled in the grayness of the middle: uncertain, yet open.  Call it political shrewdness if you want, but as I’ve listened to his words I’ve realized that he isn’t just not dogmatic, he is actually agnostic about the whole thing.  An agnostic position would acknowledge that central to the black and white stance of being pro-life is the definition of “human” that includes a fetus.  Then, rather than challenging this definition, it would conclude that any definition of “human” is impossibly subjective because it hinges on philosophical perspectives that not everyone shares.  This would result in a position that is devoutly pro-choice while affirming many of the pro-life and pro-abortion arguments.  In other words, an agnostic perspective would strip the issue of its contentious morality and philosophy and approach it as an issue of ensuring social equality among those with different beliefs.  If I’m right and Obama’s current stance truly reflects his heart’s conviction then it is a very humble thing for him to openly be saying, “Hey, I don’t know what the right perspective is, so who am I to tell others what they can and cannot do?”

I’m not saying I agree with Obama’s conviction but, practically speaking, I think its right for him to take this position because until there is some sort of Executive Order or constitutional amendment articulating once and for all the definition of human life, when it begins, and under what circumstances its destruction is “murder”, a President can’t enforce anti-abortion laws without imposing religious and philosophical dogma at the same time—which is what the Constitution is supposed to protect us from.  In not choosing sides in the debate it may seem that Obama, by default, is imposing pro-abortion dogma—i.e. that abortion is OK—on those who are convinced abortion is murder.  But, again, if the issue is seen as morally subjective then it becomes chiefly a political issue about two groups being able to hold to and practice their beliefs equally, which would not be possible if the anti-abortion stance was enforced.  And since the President is clearly not convinced by the abortion-is-murder premise of the pro-life movement I think it’s safe to say that he will continue to maintain this position and favor policy that reflects it while in power.

I know that might be a lot to wrap one’s head around but understanding where Barack Obama is coming from has helped me by shedding light on a lot of the drama that seems to follow the issue of abortion.  Again, I’m not suggesting that I completely agree with his position, but in the last couple weeks I have come to agree with at least one aspect of it: abortion is not a simple black and white issue.

Thou shall not murder fetuses?

Thinking about his position in the contexts of the two recent events led me, for whatever reason, to that seemingly simple assumption I had made for many years about abortion being murder.  Now, anyone reading my past few blog entries knows that I am burdened by the evils of violence and murder especially when it is touted as justified, so rethinking my stance on abortion might come as a surprise.  Yet in doing so I came to a not-so-simple fork in the philosophical road of my mind, the same fork that Obama seems to remain stuck at: Is a fetus really a human being or it is it a human-to-be?  Anti-abortionists would say “fetus = human”, pro-abortionists might disagree.  But when my anti-murder mind pondered this question a simple, naturalistic answer was the first thing that came to me: a fetus is a human-to-be.  A human, I thought, is defined by being self-aware and biologically self-sufficient, independent from its mother.  In that sense, a fetus is not fully human because it is still in its development stage and, as crass as it may sound, it is almost like a parasite until it’s born.  Taking this naturalistic angle further, I reasoned that the mother’s body is therefore the only authoritative judge in deciding at what point her fetus must exit the womb and thus become a living human.  So, as far as biology is concerned perhaps the definition of “human” is not a spiritual/religious/philosophical question at all, it is a physical reality determined by the umbilical’s detachment.

“Wow,” I thought. “That’s certainly not something I’ve ever heard in churches.”  Every time I’ve heard abortion mentioned in churches it’s been for the purpose of condemning it.  So, I had to ask myself, “is this explanation even biblical?”  Knowing whether or not God had fetuses in mind when He gave us the law not to murder would tell us conclusively whether a fetus is a human being or a human-to-be and thus resolve the whole issue of abortion for us.  I have no verdict yet, but in defense of scripture and God’s sovereignty this view does nothing to diminish God’s hand in creating and nurturing the fetus.  King David wrote of God saying that “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalm 139:13-15)  Nor does it take away from God’s genius in creating humans as unique and preeminent among everything else He had made when He “created man in his own image” and ordained that we “rule over” the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15).

Whether a naturalistic perspective is right or wrong, Christians can all agree that humans truly are special.  In a unique and mysterious way we reflect the glory of God like nothing else in all the physical world.  If God views us like this it is no wonder that His desire would therefore be that humans love and not murder each other.  These simple truths probably make up a lot of the rationale that anti-abortion Christians use to defend their position.  However, in considering a naturalistic explanation, I no longer feel so comfortable in extending these truths beyond that of fully-developed humans.  The reason for this is that if our commitment to preserving the life of a fetus is based simply upon the concept that human life is sacred then why should our inclusion of the fetus as “human” be as far as we extend the definition?  Is not the egg a human organism?  Is not sperm alive?  What about organs?  Muscles, tissue, cells, bacteria, germs?  Where do we draw the line?  Where does our extension of sacredness end?  Is it not all of these unique and glorious creations of God that make us “human”?  Labeling this “sacred” and that “not” is a pretty precarious game that I’d rather let God play.

A true Pro-Life movement values more than fetuses

If we believe the sacredness of humanity extends beyond living, birthed humans then to be consistent surely we must include anything laced with human DNA—fetus to freckle—in our definition of human and conclude that destroying any of it would be manslaughter.  If, however, we are not consistent in this perspective and our extension of “sacred” ends at the fetus, then we put ourselves in the position of having to determine at what point a fetus comes into existence—i.e. at what point God has created a human inside a woman—and be committed to preserving its life from that moment on.

I’m no doctor, but I do know that this event is not the same with every sperm and every egg inside of every woman, so unless you are monitoring the whole scene with fiber optic cameras this really is “the secret place” that David wrote about.  Regardless, at some point a child is conceived and the formation process begins—a process that is performed by God himself.  My point here is not that it is impossible to know whether or not a fetus is a human due to the fact that the start of fetal development is mysterious.  My feeling is that if the entire development process is unseen and inaccessible without advanced technology then perhaps we should be more cautious in painting such a black and white picture about what’s going on in the womb.  Besides, it is largely in God’s hands whether or not a fetus even survives to see the light of day, so if we believe humans are sacred shouldn’t we be more preoccupied with preserving the lives of the humans around us who already see it?  Isn’t that what “religion” is supposed to be about anyway (e.g. James 1:27)?

As a Christian, I don’t really know what I believe at this point but I do know that I see some unfortunate and un-Christian inconsistencies and contradictions among those who define a fetus as unequivocally human and advocate pro-life policy, making me even more skeptical about their efforts.  For example, if preserving human life is so important to anti-abortionists why is the same raucous not being raised over the various factors contributing to miscarriages (i.e. genetics, poverty, substance abuse, etc.)?  And if it is murderous and unnatural for a fetus to die of manmade causes, why isn’t women’s health a focus of the movement?  And if you believe all life is “sacred” shouldn’t universal health care, or at least drastic reform, be a key component of being “pro-life”?  Or what about the consistently high rate of homicide among African-American males?  Surely those lives are precious too, right?  Or what about the daily death of 35,000 of the world’s malnourished children?  Are young children that die ‘in Africa or somewhere’ less important than aborted fetuses in the America?  Or what about the ghastly infant mortality rates that exist among the world’s poor?  Or what about the “sacred” humans that are being killed for the sake of America’s ‘national security’?  Someone who is “pro-life” certainly can’t condemn abortion and condone America’s deadly military incursions at the same time.

If an individual or a movement would dare to attach to itself such a righteous and noble title as “pro-life” but not be prepared to live up to its high calling of spreading compassion evenly then it risks earning another, less-desirable title: “hypocrite.”  While no one can be perfect or address everything, this movement is clearly more concerned with its single, pet social issue than about preserving human life in general.  This is important because it illustrates once again how vital it is for us Christians not to get sucked into “pop-justice” movements without first thoughtfully considering the big picture of God’s will lest we misrepresent Him and His truth in our zeal, waste our time, and lose our credibility in the process.  This whole foray into the abortion issue has also been another lesson for me to be careful not to label something black and white and close the book on the issue because you never know when you might be persuaded to open it again or by who.  (Thanks, Barack)

Peace,
The Lord is God

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