SENSE AND NONSENSE OVER “RIGHT TO LIFE”. ~ Rollan's Censored Issues Blog

Saturday, June 2, 2007



From the extent to which it’s pronounced on and ruled for by Pope and Catholic hierarchy, protested and argued for by laity anyone would imagine that opposition to abortion, a subject unmentioned the length of the Bible, was now the first rule of the gospel. Even Catholics like the returned novelist, Anne Rice, have expressed embarrassment at such over-emphasis on a theme. Instead of being a confrontation with God and a general call to repentance (metanoia – a mind change affecting potentially many issues) the modern gospel, Vatican style, is becoming a system of legal DON’Ts or a politics sparking intellectual arguments rather than spiritual reflections affecting deeper levels of mind.

Pope Benedict has recently visited Latin America where a lot of young girls in poorer districts suffer the trauma of rape, not infrequently through incest, and almost as soon as he’s arrived in Brazil abortion is the first thing the pontiff mentions. Rather predictability. Catholic prelates worry at the subject like dogs at a bone. Today, having the true faith and staying inside it is largely assessed by the yardstick of your position on preserving life – those who recently legislated for abortion in Mexico have been excommunicated and the Pope approves that.

You’re some kind of murderer if you have, want or actively support abortion. The worst historical failures of organized religion that produced inquisitions and crusades that disposed of thousands while singing Te Deums is more than forgotten in the new self-righteous crusades to preserve life via political policy. The gospel, scarcely mentioned amid the plethora of socio-political comments, far from being an offer or choice is something to be imposed by the secular state if possible.

Among Protestants portions of the evangelicals and charismatics have got in on the act, praying, decreeing, prophecying for repealed abortion laws. Currently they intend the supposedly spiritually linked 7-7-7 date of this year will correspond to a huge rally for morality and against abortion. They seem to have borrowed the idea that life is sacred from the first to the last moment more from the Catholics than the Bible or the Spirit because if anything the Bible promotes the idea that in some circumstances it is a duty to take life, and that some measure of right over life is a human dignity.

The notion of the absolute sacredness of life from first to last moment is a philosophical idea, a deduction from an unconditional love doctrine and/or the natural law theory of medieval scholastics especially Aquinas (who unscientifically assumed that the infant was a complete homunculus of the male seed from the first - which would make any abortion a murder of sorts). But obviously all this has tenuous relation to scriptures though some try to find it. The more extreme among the Protestant lifers have even decided that judgement can’t be withheld from America unless abortion is repealed there because, influenced by curse verses in Deuteronomy, the blood of the innocent is calling from the earth and Moloch, whom those attending abortion clinics have probably never heard of, has been sacrificed to(really and in effect). The idea that America might have a few sins other than or more worthy of judgement from the biblical perspective than abortion scarcely registers so much has right to life become an alternative gospel.


I’m not claiming abortion is a “good” thing. It’s really a rather ugly one, at best a necessary evil or an occasional mercy. Doubtless too the easy modern recourse to it (and often as the merest result of unplanned behaviour in an era which given birth control methods has least excuse for accidents) is controversial. America has well over a million abortions annually, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted and nearly half of those will be aborted. Economically disadvantaged, unattached women are those most likely to have recourse to abortion. In America where woman's private right to decide for any reason extends to six months within pregnancy abortion can end up used simply as an altermative birth control method and multiple abortions be had.

The sheer ease and frequency of abortions for whatever reason does dangerously encourage and generally imply a diminished sense for the essential sacredness of life and lifers would be right to regard feminists noisily calling for women’s “right to choose” as too blase altogether. Also, no society should tolerate infanticide which some late term abortions virtually amount to and which, just as a medical procedure, can be quite inhumane to the victim. No procedures that are late term should ever be legal unless perhaps in the most obvious and extreme cases that the mother’s life is endangered and then one is forced to sacrifice the lesser to the greater life. (If traditionally and still today the adult female isn’t regarded as the greater life then that was and is sheer misogyny).

All this admitted, in an imperfect world abortion will continue, illegally if not legally, only with greater likelihood that both mother and child will die as a result of the illegal operations. Trying to abolish abortion is like trying for total bans on liquor - something which incidentally the Bible could hardly be said to support though Christians have attempted it regardless - and we know what good prohibition did for America. Such campaigns are an invitation to every corruption and hypocrisy.

Such being the score there's really no alternative whether for secular or semi Christian societies than responsibly to regulate abortion. And if we’re talking regulation there’s a case for saying that America with its over-the-top abortion rate should be limiting availability. The positive of the lifers’ campaigns is that it may achieve that while failing in the irrational goal of zero toleration, something which does little to help ethics or religion. As far as the image of religion is concerned it can only cause a widespread sense of injustice and oppression by the church towards especially the traumatized and to maintain that a morning after pill for raped, traumatized women could be serious sin is astonishing beyond belief to the average person with and without belief.

There should never be a question, and even in some traditionally Catholic countries there isn’t about permission to abort where there is obvious danger to the life of the mother, rape and incest. Zero toleration as in Nicaragua means controversially asking the victim to carry trauma and the impure within herself (a religious issue, I shall turn to that point next section). Also perhaps, (though I realize it’s a danger zone that could be exploited) there would seem to be some case where it’s known that extreme disability and deformity will be the fate of the child. In addition to the suffering of the child such situations can be soul destroying for especially poor families and here there is arguably some grounds for taking the life – I shall suggest a religious/biblical reason for doing that and I think the “euthanasia” talk in such contexts is overdone and alarmist. In fact, it’s astonishing that the Catholicism which did so little for the Jews in the holocaust or at any time presumes to raise the spectre of “holocaust”, “genocide” and “euthanasia” next over the notion that extreme disability never presents a case to be aborted.


Ironically however, especially if one wants to sound the note of caution and conservatism and educate away from the abortion option, it is precisely the spiritual education which one almost never hears today amid the appeals to rule and law - that law of secular states that the church (unbiblically) expects should protect its more specialized agendas. Although with typical literalism and extremism some early church fathers did opine the soul of the mother “dies” with the aborted foetus, experience of the more spiritual kind does seem to support the idea that the soul, or rather spirit, can be inexplicably wounded by certain events of which mere convenience abortion is one. (The point was as good as made a couple of years ago on a TV feature made by a person of no religious views whose experience of abortion had left her feeling strangely uneasy with the whole idea. Pro choice people were almost hysterically opposed to the feature being allowed to be shown, testimony perhaps to the idea they are aware there are deeper problems do exist). Charismatics have inevitably been attending to the fact of these “wounds” and it may have swayed some of them in their still rather weak and undeveloped theology towards otherwise incongruously Catholic views.

As described in my Thunder Perfect Minds, one of many discoveries I made is that there can be a portion of the mind we can identify with spirit which is agonized and needs it own kind of healing even when and where the rest of the self feels quite happy, positive and can scarcely imagine what ails the spirit and why. So I can understand how the abortion which makes good sense in practical terms, could still prove undermining to the self at deeper levels over longer periods, rather as I’ve heard the admission that for especially a woman, the free sex life of early years can become an unexpected burden on the spirit maybe twenty years later.


First, because everyone knows it is and it already exists in religious circles as such anyway. When the nuns were raped and traumatized in the Congo in the sixties, they were privately offered a way out of the consequences. Those few nuns who have supported freedom of choice have pointed out such facts. It is even said that if a nun is got into trouble in the Vatican again there is a way out. I myself have heard such things from the daughter of a Protestant doctor in Rome who was regularly called upon to fix Catholic problems. In the latin cultures love of abstractions is such it is felt that if one keeps proclaiming an ideal it’s a kind of virtue in itself regardless of how actual life is managed.

Second. There is strictly nothing in the Bible to substantiate any conception-to-death “right to life” principle despite the commandment not to kill and the general hostility of rabbis during recent centuries to both capital punishment and abortion in most instances. The fact is the Bible calls for execution for all manner of offences - so many it is distinctly problematic for the modern reader, a subject in itself and currently a strong suit for the popularized atheism of the Dawkins and Sam Harris kind. Beyond saying a lot of Torah in this respect could be considered symbolic or often almost deliberately unworkable for actually securing the death penalty (which if so means that Torah rulings could be the pre-philosophical society’s way of defining what’s evil as that which should go out of existence), I don’t want or need to consider the various implications of these laws here. For Christians it’s probably best simply to say they clearly belong to a very different culture understood to be for Jews only (though bearing comparisons with laws of nations surrounding ancient Israel) and even belonging to a different dispensation in religious terms. However we should still note this. In the case of some offences like rape and incest, even the (presumably or often) innocent victims could be cut off from society or executed along with the offenders because (to judge from the general value system of Leviticus) the whole of society, the very land itself, has been offended. (The raped woman could save herself if she was thought to have cried out but the matter was hard to prove anywhere beyond the city walls).

Symbolically at least this could be said to make the crucial point that there can be a sense of terrible, purely ritual impurity associated with acts like incest and rape. The woman carries about within her this polluting factor which needs to be banished from the land. Undeniably women raped can have an overwhelming sense of being rendered impure. They also need to be able to expel this feeling and obviously abortion is one way, perhaps the major way today, for them to do this.

In the same vein one could mention that in the aftermath of the Law the prophets are always talking about God "blotting out" repented sins. Yet nobody seems to have imagined how there could be an element of repentance ritual, an objective correlate of the repentance, to aborting the fruit of some forbidden relation. If one has genuinely repented how reasonable is it to bring into existence the fruit of an adulterous relation now regretted? How fair is it to the offspring who carries the illegitimacy stigma so to do? Shouldn't the result of the liaison be "blotted out"? In biblical times obviously because it wasn't possible or much less so especially as regards very early in pregnancy, but now? While one could object to what I am saying here the fact that the point is almost never even considered by moralists is disturbing in that it raises the question: is the deafening silence here occasioned by unexamined misogynist desires to punish, not to forgive and to punish one party to a relation, namely the woman?

Third, God and/or his followers just never biblically show or declare the extreme modern respect for offspring. The prophet Hosea has God declare:
"Even though they give birth
I will destroy the cherished offspring of their womb"
(Hos 16:9)
and with or without prophetic perspectives it's undeniable that until well into the nineteenth century the level of post-partum deaths was extraordinarily high - sometimes up to half of all births. Even granted the conditions of an imperfect, fallen world, if God was quite so careful of life as Lifers assume would this age old situation ever have been allowed? Then we have the famous and famously misguided Psalm 137(the otherwise pretty “By the waters of Babylon…”) which actually concludes advising that one take the infants of one’s captors and dash them against the rocks – infants, not mere fetuses in the womb! Granted this probably represents rage more than policy. There is no record of Jews in Babylon actually doing this kind of thing to the children of their captors – they would probably have been forfeiting their own lives had they tried! Nevertheless, such words got into the Bible and they raise questions about just how sacred the Judaeo-Christian tradition does rate life.

In earlier and tribally organized times as at the fall of Jericho there was never question that whole families and women with child would be disposed of in sacred holocaust because of the sin of one person (seen as representing the whole tribe or land). Such happenings belonged to the general custom, religion and psychology of the era and obviously we cannot begin to approve the killing of infants they entailed. Yet that these customs and Psalm 137 are part of our spiritual heritage, however remotely and in any way, should stop us being merely squeamish about life in the womb especially in difficult cases. The more so if, as at any rate traditional Jewish belief maintained, the foetus doesn’t have a soul or is not a proper person before the “quickening”, placed at somewhere around 2 to 3 months. (More scientifically we do know that the sex of the child is not determined until 11 weeks so to that extent they are not a person till then). Even today most abortion in America does take place before 3 months which is to be if not on the right side then the better side of things.


Finally there’s this. While outright murder (as opposed to killing) was from the first considered sin because humans are made in the divine image (as opposed to animals who may be killed/sacrificed), to be able to make decisions regarding life is itself part of being human and in effect its dignity. To be obsessed with just “women’s right to choose” is over-reaction to a tradition of misogyny like that of Luther who believed women should bear children till they died of it. However…there is such a thing as the dignity to decide for anyone or any sex. In line with ancient world standards, but more moralized and safeguarded against, the Torah supplied the father right of life and death over his own child – if an offspring was rebellious he could be executed (Deut 21:18-21). Again this would rarely if ever happen (especially as both parents would have to agree!) but the mere notion this could apply, and to grown persons at that, surely gives some ethical right within the Judaeo-Christian tradition to take the life of what is not yet fully human, perhaps not “quickened” or those who will be severely limited in life by extreme disability.

After all and again if the Torah is any guide as in the rulings of Leviticus 21 one of its more ‘cruel” provisions in modern terms is its banning from the ritual ground of the deformed, the physically imperfect. These represent something which is not of God. We thankfully don’t think that way today, and Jesus might describe some debilities as marking actual work of evil forces, nothing at all evil or impure in child or parent. Whatever, to the extent the scriptures esoterically/spiritually have the idea of persons bearing the wrong, as it were embodying the impure, might this not be an argument of sorts for human dignity to make intelligent decision regarding what is best for life and persons and to heal life itself by an excision?

The point is obviously a controversial one but at least by emphasizing it I hope to have destabilized the notion that in scriptural terms there exists some abstract, infallible, rationally defensible “right to life” rule that if need be imposes suffering on victims, and sometimes lifelong suffering on families all in the name of Jesus’ unconditional love, though in practical terms it might as well be just another new Moloch to sacrifice to. (It’s another issue, but is it not similarly prolonging trauma and suffering, perhaps lifelong for the relatives of victims, where capital punishment is refused in the case of even the worst torturing serial murders or drug lords who have destroyed countless lives because, abstractly it is good that life be preserved?) Not to speak of the possible hypocrisy involved, it’s arguable that church authorities insisting on “right to life” at all costs are just promoting the merest invention of philosophy, what the gospels would refer to as “the traditions of men”, not Truth in itself. We and even the gospel need liberation from this because at its worst clergy and their protesting followers insisting on this “right to life” at all costs are little different from the Pharisees “who bind heavy burdens….but will not move them with their finger….blind guides, blind fools…straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”. (Mt 23).

1 comment:

Michael said...

"Aquinas (who unscientifically assumed that the infant was a complete homunculus of the male seed from the first - which would make any abortion a murder of sorts)."

And yet, it was Aquinas who argued the notion of the quickening or the time when the soul is infused into the foetus. He argued that abortion prior to the quickening could be allowed as there was as yet no soul or personhood. The quickening argument essentially first trimester abortions. It was only in the 19th century that Rome moved to squash that position which was in conflict with the very long established (from antiquity) opposition contraception and non-procreative sex.

This teaching was itself based on notions of the male seed being a type of homonculus - an Aristotelian idea and one that was widespread in the ancient world and Middle east. Anthropologist Carol Delaney terms monogenesis and its influence is still pervasive throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle eastern world and much Old Testament and Quranic imagery (I've also detected traces of it and the allied sperm/seed and womb/field agricultural analogies in Indian texts). By this thinking each sperm is a type of homonculus.

Monogenesis I would argue is what's behind much of the contradictions of Catholic and Christian morality. One of the features of the early CHurch was it's very strong position on the right to life of every person and an ensuing opposition to violence and killing. It gave the early church a mrked 'pacifist' position but it also meant that it opposed abortion, infanticide and contraception. If each sperm is a homonculus then it must be accorded a right to life, to be 'spilt' on oin a way that optimised the possibility of conception and ongoing life. Hence a gender egalitarian impulse to celibacy was reinforced by a 'pacifist' right to life ethic of sexuality.

So on one level I'm quite happy to see the Catholic Church return to the ancient Christian stress on the right to life of every person. However when it comes to sexuality and reproduction it is still trapped by ancient biological thinking (Aristotle's position was an 'orthodox position' of ancient Greco-Roman science). THe thing is we now know that monogenetic explanations of reproduction are not correct and that consequently 'every sperm is' not 'sacred'. However, Rome is also caught up in a trap of its own authoritarian mindset, the same trap that resulted in Humanae Vitae i.e. to overturn something that has been so much identified with the teaching authority of the Church and the papacy, which is also rooted in ancient tradition risks putting the inerrancy of that authority into question.

As for the US fundamentalists and their spin-offs around the world I really do think they have virulently misogynist understanding of marriage, sex and reproduction. The woman's body is the property of her husband and any exercise of autonomy is seen as a threat to male authority