Thursday, August 02, 2007

Abortion, Aric, and Me

Aric and I have "crossed swords" a time or two. Most of the time, when we can get past our irascible instincts, it turns out to be iron sharpening iron. He's a smart guy and - more importantly - a brother in Christ. Despite being a bit pomo and more liberal than me, he's ardently Trinitarian and believes that Jesus made a difference. We share a commitment to examining our Confessional material, we're both fathers, and we both have what can only be described as "presbytery issues." That gives plenty of common ground for us to work from. Below is his response to my last entry.

Chris,

I am with you. Abortion is always a tragedy and when it is elective it is also a sin. I would have more respect for "Pro-Lifers" if they were consistently pro-life. ie: opposed death-penalty, war, supported adoption, child-care, welfare etc... However, I don't have a basic disagreement with them on this one issue. Abortion is wrong.

Now, (you knew some kind of disagreement was coming) I think that the way we frame the Abortion discussion is unhelpful. It tends to focus exclusively on the choice of the mother whether or not to keep her child. By that point we have already failed as a society. That one choice is not really an isolated incident that it is fair to put the entire moral weight of the situation upon. The morality of Abortion begins back in the mother's childhood with adequate support and instruction for the proper use of contraception, encouragement of abstinence, insistence upon responsibility etc... It is immoral that men bear so little of the responsibility or public shame of unwanted pregnancies. It is immoral that we as a society don't provide better, healthier, safer options than abortion for women with unwanted pregnancies. It is immoral that so many children in this country don't have health care etc.. etc...

Essentially I don't think it is an issue that can be addressed on its own, but has to be addressed as part of a network of issues. This does not mean I'm okay with the status quo of 3,700 abortions a day. I just don't think the best route to fixing that is legislation around abortion itself. I'd rather see fewer unwanted pregnancies, or better support for mothers.

As to the question that was actually asked, about the value of a fetus' life - I think it is worthwhile to approach it from a historical perspective. Every society I know of, including our own, has placed less value on the life of the fetus than on the life of born humans. As tragic as it is, abortion and infanticide have been a universal feature of human society. I personally think this is an instance of progress, that we are now arguing so fiercely over the life of a child which previously would have been regarded as unimportant. I believe that we are correct to begin placing more and more value on the life of the fetus.

The question I have philosophically, and I realize it is difficult to talk about moral issues that affect us personally in a philosophical manner, is whether we have the right approach to determining value. Most people take a medical or forensic approach to determining the value of the fetus' life - is it fully developed? Would it survive without the mother? etc... In my mind this is an unsatisfactory approach because it leads to a whole system of gradiated (sic.; graduated?) value. Am I more valuable than a mentally disabled person because I am less dependent? Clearly God does not value us in this way depending on our capacities.

Other people take the approach of debating when the "soul" enters the person. This approach is even less satisfactory because it relies on unprovable metaphysics, and quite frankly I don't buy the dualistic anthropology. Humans aren't "souls encased in flesh" we're corporeal beings through and through. But that is a digression.

In my opinion the most theologically appropriate (and scripturally accurate) approach to determining the value of a life is by its relationships to other lives. Alexander Schmemann and other theologians go so far as to say that a single Human Being isn't really a human being. We become who we are by being in relationship. The complete realization of who we are is consummated in perfect communion with God. With this approach I can say a couple things about a fetus. Most women I know feel like they have a relationship with the fetus inside them when they are pregnant. My wife certainly did. She had a sense of his personality, and she would have been devastated to lose him. There is no question in my mind that a relationship existed there. There is also no question in my mind that the relationship developed and became more complex later in pregnancy, whereas early on it is difficult (maybe impossible) to really relate to something smaller than your fingernail which you can't feel or sense in anyway. Late in pregnancy I was even able to have a relationship with our children. However, that only became really possible for me once the baby was moving sufficiently for me to feel and respond to. Essentially, it seems that relationship is possible, but only in a limited way. Had some kind of tragedy struck during my wife's pregnancies and a horrible choice was forced, I wouldn't have hesitated to choose to save my wife rather than the baby. I can't lift my feelings up into any kind of moral law, but I have a sense that most people feel this way.

Anyway, that was a long ramble and it probably didn't answer anything, but hey!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Christians pray-test, Hindus firebomb!

Recently there was a kerfluffle over some obnoxious Christians shouting their national repentance over the attempted prayer of a Hindu chaplain. A certain *ahem* enlightened fellow expressed his desire that this peaceful (if rude) act of protest would be met with violence.

What he fails to realize is that macing the Christians is even more merciful than what happens to Christians when they simply try to meet for private prayer in India, or have a press conference addressing Hindu violence against Christians, or just try to live their lives in peace. If only we could be happy pluralists like the Hindus.

I just wish we could live like the peace-seeking Indians in the largest democracy on the planet rather than in this Christofascist Republican Theothugocracy.

[NB: I've had lots of Hindu friends and none of them acted this way. But I can't stand it when people point to Christians protesting - a constitutionally-protected right - and overlook the violent abuses heaped on followers of Christ by all the other religions. A test of sincere moral indignation is if it's applied evenly, and in this case, TN420 is sounding a *ahem* token alarm.]