A sane person, which I must not be, would ask me, “While the timing is clear, (considering the Supreme Court’s pending decisions), why in the hell would you wade into such a contentious topic now or ever?” It’s because I’m a writer and I can’t help myself. Also, I think I bring a voice to the table, something that is almost never said in the tens of thousands of articles on pro-life and pro-choice. It is a way of looking at things that I think has the greatest hope of finding resolution and peace in the culture wars over this issue, about pursuing real, classical truth in the matter, and escaping the cycle of emotional reasoning. My goal is to dampen the anger and hatred on both sides. For some people whose emotions are so severely charged over this topic, they will have their feathers ruffled after just reading the title. I ask that you read this entire 2-4 part series and consider the facts, and not just keep believing or thinking as your subculture dictates.
I’ll focus on the two farthest points. On the Pro-life position would be the white evangelical and conservative Catholics , and on the Pro-choice side would be those who only interpret the issue as women’s rights issue. The white evangelical often defaults, saying that “pro-life is Biblical!” I will cover that. The other side is saying pro-life is about dominating women once again … and nothing else. If you have evidence that contradicts anything I say, please share in the comments. As a seeker of truth, I am a profound skeptic of baseless statements because I lived in a world of baseless statements for thirty years, but I’m also a lover of change and have revised my opinions many times when someone presents facts.
In the small hours of a Heliopolis, Egypt’s hot summer’s day in 1989, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a happy one as much as an unsettling one. After a series of unfortunate events, I suddenly recognized that during my 30 years of Bible-belt rearing and evangelicalism devotion, my group, pastors, leaders and etc. had misled me on many issues. An alternate reality if you please. But not only that, in somewhat of a Holden Caulfield moment, I realized I was a self-righteous phony, but not just me. There was firm evidence that our entire missionary group was a bunch of phonies. I’ve shared this story before, so this may sound familiar.
Immediately that morning, just when the minarets were calling my good Muslim friends and neighbors to Fajr (first morning prayers), I made a pack between God and me. I was going to start from scratch in everything. Unbelieve everything and rebuild on facts, not social coercion. Not just in religious matters, but in all things of life. That was a somewhat of a Descartian moment [as in Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.]”
I said to God before the sun had risen, “I want nothing but truth no matter where it leads me. If it leads me to atheism, Buddhism, or wherever. God, if you are really there, show me the honest way of finding you.” It set me out on an incredible journey, ending up back to believing in a personal God, but very different than before. So this article is not about me finding God again after 10 years. I cover that in my book, Butterflies in the Belfry (which I could write much better today).
This article on abortion is based on approaching topics with candor and truth in the classical sense of that which is coherent with reality. So hold to your seats. I will try my best to go through this methodically, often philosophically, but illustrated with true-to-life stories that I’ve encountered with people in the middle of the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy as a medical provider, especially when I was providing “student health” at a major university.
Possible Philosophical Positions on Abortion
I could try to stumble through and describe abortion from all positions along the philosophical spectra, but I won’t. I’m only going to focus on the atheistic and ecclesiastical (which I mean as a god-believer or believer in a spiritual domain). A Buddhist and Hindu, I would think, would have the same perspective as the atheist in this matter but they could correct me if they don’t. I will focus the ecclesiastical as represented by the greatest opponents of abortion, white evangelicals and conservative Catholics.
Atheistic View on Abortion
A true atheist believes the entire cosmos came into existence for no reason. It just snapped into being … as a quirk. Call it the “Big Bang” if you like. Therefore, with no intention in creation, there is no possible philosophical position to have except that all of existence, all of life, is insignificant. I know of plenty of atheists that cheat here and try to inject meaning. The late Carl Sagan was famous for that. But if the problem with religion is, they live in a pretentious world where they think they are better (morally) than they really are, then the atheists live in an equally pretentious world where they believe life has meaning when it doesn’t. I think if I had lived all my early life as an atheist, rather than just a small part, and my atheist culture had assured me that there is meaning, I would have had the same type of epiphany as I did in Heliopolis, but about being lied to as an atheist.
So within this atheistic, meaningless world, abortion and choice would also be meaningless. No good. No evil.
I’ve heard atheists say that the survival of humanity is the meaning of life. While that is a leap from that perspective, perhaps outlawing abortion would promote the propagation of the species. But that’s an irrational position.
Before I write about a perspective from inside the viewpoint of having a personal creator, I must ask that you suspend everything you think you know. I would guess that 100% of evangelicals, when asked, would immediately say, “God hates abortion (and the abortionists) because the Bible says so.” We will get to what the Bible really says later. But now, think in philosophical terms. The idea of a personal God solves the meaning problem aforementioned with atheists. However, theism has its own challenges of understanding, which goes far beyond this article. That is why I respect and love atheists, especially honest ones. Most of them have not reached their positions because they are stupid or immoral (one of the lies taught to me as an evangelical) … but I digress.
If there is a creator God, and everything was a function of his/her creative act, then its rational to assign meaning and value to that creation. In that situation, you can make the argument that causing the death of a living fetus is destroying a creative act of that God. But then, for the sake of consistency, you would have to apply the same standards to all of creation, all other life and all other physical representations of creation such as the earth.
The evangelical and catholic would protest saying that humans are in a unique position of creation and deserve much greater value. I will look at that as I look at what the Bible really says later.
Beyond just the intrinsic value of a fetus, the personal God view could also have a direct word from God (scripture) that says the act of abortion is evil. However, to most people’s surprise, it does not. Again, I will look at what the Bible really does say later.
In my last third and last installment (I hope) I will look at the Pro-choice position and their assumption that the issue is simply a woman’s rights issue and not dealing with the three dimensions that include the value of the fetus as an independent being, or at least in the process of becoming a being. Or as one Ob/Gyn physician I knew years ago would call a pregnancy, “tissue of conception.” She had to remove the personal language from her vocabulary, even “fetus” because she was quite active in doing abortions and wanted to distance herself from the thought of the fetus being in the process of becoming human.
But it is also quite naïve for the evangelicals to think of the fetus as fully human from conception. This does not make sense biologically. It was never considered that way throughout human history until the 1970s (for most part) and if you really want to be Biblical, you would not think that way. Within a great paradox, evangelicals pride themselves in being “Biblical,” yet in reality, their greatest quest is being evangelical or consistent with the mores of that subculture, not the Bible.
In a later section, I want to look at the painful decision that abortion is for most women. Twenty five percent of women have had abortions. That includes the twenty five percent sitting in evangelical churches. There are very few women who see abortion as simply another form of birth control with no qualms about it. Lastly, I want to write about what we could do to reduce the perceived need for abortion, discuss the options, considering that making it criminal maybe short-sighted, winning the battle for pro-lifers, but loosing the war. A better approach, dealing honestly and lovingly with the core issues.
Mike, The Hermit of Loch Eyre
16 responses to “Ramblings: The Idolatry of “Pro-life ® ,” The Shallowness of “Pro-choice®.” PART I”
As usual, such a thought provoking article! I look forward to the rest of your thoughts on this subject!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ve deconstructed from religion myself, and consider myself agnostic at this point. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your series.
I do want to say that as an atheist, I certainly don’t think my views, or the views of mainstream atheist thought, were accurately described.
In my experience, the vast majority of atheists are existentialist – including myself. We give our lives our own meaning, but that is a far cry from possessing meaning inherently. We don’t believe it does.
And yes, looked at from one lens, the purpose of life is literally to reproduce – but only from an evolutionary standpoint. That is not a standpoint that we must adhere to, but one that has been arbitrarily given to us by evolution. Again, it is not the same as the claim that life has inherent meaning.
I understand you were trying to present it as though you had qualms with both sides to appear unbiased, but it felt like a strawman to this atheist.
As well, pro-choice is mostly about women’s rights, yes, but another large part is the question of when life actually begins. Atheists see theists definition as arbitrary. The woman should have control over her body – even if it is a life – but we’ve no good reason to believe it is before viability.
But other than that, very well written. Cheers. 🙂
I certainly believe you are correct about the self-imposed meaning of existentialism, that’s where most atheists end up. However, just as the theist cheats in places, and does use God as a crutch in places, I think in classical logic, that it makes no sense that a universe that has no intrinsic meaning (possibly a fluke of physics) that it is impossible to impose your own meaning. However, it is very hard to live within a model that says you life is totally meaningless and that’s the function of an imaginary meaning, to make it possible to get through life. I think, if people really struggle to the very end of all possibilities of the big answers (god, meaning, morals) that you end in a dead end (it did for me) and then I had to decide of all the poor choices, which ones seems most consistent with life. What I mean is, life seems to work better when there is intrinsic meaning and absolute morals. For example, “The woman should have control over her body” pulls on a moral principle, but without meaning or absolute morals in a pure atheistic framework, then it is just as reasonable to say a man should abuse women and control them at every chance. I can’t remember, but it seems like that was what Sade was saying. I’m not arguing with you as I am not a zealot, I left evangelicalism because it was a farce. I spent a decade in agnosticism, attempting to be an atheist but came to some dead ends, and eventually came back to a different form of Christianity, simply based on the teachings of Jesus. But my journey gives me great respect for atheists and agonists because, having been there myself.
I think maybe the confusion, then, is due to semantics?
Existentialism is not incompatible with the universe having no creator or no ultimate *purpose* existing for us. Existentialism is the default mode. If no diety exists (and that is certainly the most plausible, at this time), then our lives cannot have ultimate meaning. Existentialism simply embraces this truth and says that this isn’t something to be afraid of. Find your own meaning. Create your own story.
That’s not a dead end. The universe doesn’t care what we do. It’s incapable of caring.
A self-imposed meaning is not anything like a divine purpose, yet you seem to view them as synonymous amd use them interchangeably. Perhaps I’m not understanding you fully.
“Life seems to work better” I agree. For many people. This is because they are 1) terrified and 2) hapless, if meaning and order is not provided to them. It also causes immeasurable problems, but if bad Christians need a book to tell them murder is immoral, sure. I guess that’s a positive. There’s always the distinct probability that some bad actions are *not* taken out of fear of divine punishment.
But that has no bearing on the truth.
I do believe women should control their bodies. But not because an absolute morality informed me. The closest we can ever come to an absolute morality is a hypothetical imperative. I want the most good for the highest number of people, thus, women should control their own bodies.
That hypothetical imperative doesn’t leave open the option to believe “men should abuse women and control them”. That, indeed, would not be rational.
I am sure that I don’t fully understand the concept of existentialism as experienced by the atheist. It would take much more than what we could share in this medium to even clarify this for each other. With that said, when I ventured into atheism I arrived at several dead ends, just as my venture into forms of religion, the Christianity I left, easter religions etc. So, my argument here isn’t that atheism has dead ends and the others don’t. I call the entire process the Great Enigma, that none of the answers work without challenges. But with atheism, imagine (just one of many scenarios) there is absolutely nothing (capital N). Then for reasons even our brightest minds can understand, the nothing suddenly splits (without any kind of “prime mover” or provocation be it a deity or law of physics) into matter and anti-matter. The matter coalesces under the influence of the new laws (those laws weren’t there with pure nothing) of physics, eg. gravity, into the universe that we now know. From that beginning there can be no rationality, no morals, no meaning. We humans have imagination (you can draw the line from the first existence of matter via evolution as to why we have imagination, which may help us to survive to reproduce) and can use that imagination to believe that we have meaning (call it self imposed existentialism), rationality, or morals. I still say that within that context, except for the imaginary (and that’s the same imagination that the religious people have created deities to explain their meaning, rationality, morals), there can be no morals, rationality, or meaning. Therefore, a pure atheist that lives consistency cannot say that “the greater good” has moral value or anything has moral value or meaning. They cannot draw on the rational approach because if everything came from nothing, then there was no intrinsic rationality to framework morals or meaning. Now I eventually left atheism not because I wanted a world with some explanation of meaning and morals, although that world is more appealing, but because I sensed that the real world demanded a sense of morals and meaning and that “demand” tells me that there is something there (and someone can argue that I was self-delusional at this point, but I don’t think so). Therefore, in the previous mentioned model, there wasn’t a state of pure nothing before the cosmos we know. I hope you don’t assume that I don’t find just as serious problems within theism, especially organized religions. I just assume that you are already familiar with those problems otherwise you would not be an atheist and didn’t want to waste time here on those. So I approach this humbly, having been an atheist at times as well as a deeply religious Christian. I will say, my atheist friends are much kinder to me than my Christian friends when we find disagreement, but that’s another story.
Every belief system has dead ends – in that there is always something that we cannot rationally explain *at this time*. In my view, theism attempts to create a mirage of a path by simply stating “Everything that we cannot explain is due to God”, but “God”, itself, is a dead end. It’s a magical deus ex machina that no matter how one looks at it, is not justified to believe (again: “at this time”). Maybe future studies and knowledge and philosophy will change one day and will make it more justified to believe. Maybe that mirage will dissipate into a real image. Until then, I’m content.
As for the Big Bang: You, as a former atheist, should know better than to claim there was “nothing”. That is not the claim of scientists and our “brightest minds”. “Before” the Big Bang, there may have been something. It’s just that it is, to the best of our knowledge, actually impossible to know. The “nothing” claim is one of the most common straw-mans against atheism (even though the Big Bang theory was thought up by a Catholic, if I’m remembering correctly). I would have guessed you’d have run into it during your time as an atheist – and your other assessment (matter-antimatter, laws of nature being created during Big Bang) seem to suggest you know at least a reasonable amount on this issue. This is kind of beside the point in this debate, but I can’t help but correct this straw-man when I hear it.
“I still say that within that context, except for the imaginary (and that’s the same imagination that the religious people have created deities to explain their meaning, rationality, morals), there can be no morals, rationality, or meaning.”
You’re absolutely correct, here. And that’s probably a good way for you to think about existentialism. It IS imaginary meaning. We’re fully aware it’s imaginary. But it’s not like there’s an option to have non-imaginary meaning or morals when they are fully imagined human concepts to begin with. We’ve never had justified reason to ascribe them objectivity in the first place.
“Therefore, a pure atheist that lives consistency cannot say that “the greater good” has moral value or anything has moral value or meaning. They cannot draw on the rational approach because if everything came from nothing, then there was no intrinsic rationality to framework morals or meaning.”
This is more-or-less correct. As I said before, the closest thing to an absolute morality we can reach is a hypothetical imperative. Morality can be absolute, but only IF you ascribe a goal to it. That goal, itself, ISN’T absolute. But if you possess it (through existentialism – imagined meaning we give ourselves), then the morality is absolute *in regards only to that goal*.
I care about other people. As I said, I want the greatest good for the highest number of people. It is not objective fact that I *should* care about other people, and yet I do, because that is a value I have given myself via existentialism. Therefore, it is objective fact that I ought to do certain things that would increase well-being in the world and avoid behaviors that would decrease it, IF I’m pursuing that goal.
You live your life no differently than I, in this regard. You, ostensibly, are saying that you DO believe in an absolute morality. And yet your interpretation of what “the greater good” is is no less an opinion than my existentialism. It is no less imaginary. And it is based upon the oft-translated words of a person who died long ago. Those translations, themselves, were made by fallible creatures. Maybe they got it wrong? Maybe the ideas didn’t translate perfectly? You are choosing, based upon opinion, to believe such words and ideas. Furthermore, the actions you choose to take in pursuit of that arbitrary morality are likewise opinions. ie: If you give to one charity, why didn’t you give to another?
You and I both experience morality based solely upon our own opinions – what makes sense and what doesn’t, in our minds. The only difference is I freely admit as much.
“but because I sensed that the real world demanded a sense of morals and meaning”
I can assure you: Your sense of morality is no stronger than mine. You’ve no more conviction of what is right and wrong than I do. A religion or purported “absolute” morality is not necessary to have such convictions.
FYI: I was raised Christian, myself. And you seem to be about where my wife is at. Organized religion is largely a farce but she is still Christian. Just – full disclosure.
I’m going to end this discussion, not that it isn’t interesting, it is. I meant to approach it as two friends sitting in a bar, looking into to space and discussing all the possibilities with full mutual respect. I can only discuss why I’m at where I’m at. I never meant to imply that I’m better than you because I have absolute morals rather than existential etc. or have figure things out better than you and I’m sorry if that is how you read my conversation. Philosophically, it does not matter if you start with nothing or “non-personal” something before the big bang or even if the big bang is the correct concept for how the cosmos came into to being. My point is that there are problems with all approaches,, but we have to have some view or just stay oblivious to the big questions (like most people do). I take no offense at comments you make about religion because they are all true. I have cancer and my days are number on this earth. I am completely curious about the universe, and can listen to atheist lecture all day long, if its interesting. But I have no place or interest arguing with atheists or especially religious people, (whose minds are the most narrow). Life is too short for arguments. Thanks for the dialog. I hope the best for you and your wife.
I, too, apologize if I came across likewise. You certainly seemed more down to earth than most theists (as is my wife), so I didn’t think you’d take offense to my more blunt statements. But no, I didn’t read your words as conceited. I was trying to have a respectful debate – I’m sorry if it sounded like an argument.
I will respect your decision, though. Cheers, and best of luck to you, as well.
I’m sorry if I over-reacted. I have discussions, mostly with religious folks, and they invariably turn it into a personal argument/attack, attacking me on moral or intellectual grounds. Usually, moral. I don’t hold their position because “You’ve turned your back on God,” or “You are too stupid to see this.” Typical subculture conformity manipulation. I don’t have those arguments anymore. Now, I didn’t see you doing that to me, but I, maybe mistakenly, thought you were saying that I was trying to do that to you, me implying that I was at a higher moral ground. But I think you know I was talking about the issue or morals in general not my or your morality. So, to be clear about this, I think the honest person who has spent hours meditating on the options of the big questions realizes that there are problems with all answers. None a slam dunk. Or at least that was my conclusion. I don’t defend the religious or theistic answers here because you sound like a smart guy who knows the problems with a theistic answer. I will speak personally and not imply this for you or others, but after leaving evangelicalism 30+ years ago, I seriously considered most of the possible answers, including atheism. My problem with atheism (note MY problem, not saying yours) was this loss of absolute morals and meaning, and the lost of “being.” What I mean by being is what you might call self-consciousness or awareness of being the self. In other words, without a personal God, I become a machine. Much like the boy in the movie AI, just wanted to be real, but wasn’t. I would be a neuro-chemical machine like a hybrid of a dog turd and a calculator. Nothing more. I use extreme examples to illustrate this, but that was the kind of thoughts I would have in the middle of the night after hours of meditation.
So, in my search, this is just a glimpse of the issues I wrestled with. Again, I won’t even mention the problems with theism as that list is long and I’m sure you know all of them.
So, I got swept up in another digression, but my point is I may have over-reacted and for that I apologize and I certainly don’t think you have your positions because you, personally, are somehow morally inferior or haven’t thought enough. I have respect for you because you think. Most don’t even consider the questions seriously.
Did my last response not go through? I don’t see it here. Hmm..
I’ve been away from the computer for a few days.
“My problem with atheism (note MY problem, not saying yours) was this loss of absolute morals and meaning, and the lost of “being.””
I think that’s totally reasonable, and I don’t take offense. It just makes me a little sad, I suppose, which is probably why I went after the point as I did. I didn’t think you were attacking my morality; Rather, I was hoping to convince you that it is possible *for you* to have a feeling of contentment with your morality without sacrificing your moral standards if you are an atheist. And I hope that doesn’t come across as conceited. You sound as though you’ve wrestled with these questions for as long as I have or longer. Our life experiences just led us towards different perspectives on this.
“In other words, without a personal God, I become a machine. Much like the boy in the movie AI, just wanted to be real, but wasn’t.”
Yes, I, too, ran into that feeling. Ironically, the cause of that feeling in me was the same cause that drove me to atheism, which was determinism. It’s known for inspiring that “machine” feeling.
I don’t know that I could produce an answer to it, either. It no longer bothers me as it did, and it’s not through apathy or growing boredom with the problem. I can’t say exactly what changed or exactly what thoughts led to that – lots of little things, I think – but.. Perhaps I feel *more* “in control” of my destiny than the vast majority of humanity, merely because the fact that I’m aware of how little control we all have? This, despite the fact that I know I’m just a biological chemistry machine produced via physics and evolution.
It’s like we’re all on one giant train, unable to get out of our seats – let alone walk our own path on the ground. But while everyone else is so busy trying to unlock their seatbelts or screaming at every bump and twist and the darkness in a tunnel, I’ve realized that it’s much more enjoyable to just enjoy the ride and watch the scenery. Maybe that’s what finally let me relax into that realization.
It’s strange. I’ve never tried to put that one into words.
You’re very kind. Out of the couple dozen similar theist/atheist conversations I’ve tried to have over the years on the internet, you’re one of the most gracious. And no worries at all – I never blame someone if their hackles are a bit raised on the internet. The internet isn’t a nice place. :p
Ah, here it is. I dont think I “replied” to the correct message. Sorry about that.
For me, it is sincere … but it wasn’t always. I was a closet atheist growing up in the Bible belt. I was a lover of science and science, for the most part, seemed really interested in finding truth. Religion seemed only to want to spread baseless dogmas. Then I became an evangelical. Within that world, the group conformity stated that the belief in God is obvious and the default position and the atheist chooses their position on either moral or intellectual (ignorance) grounds. As one pastor told me when I was still a teenager, “Everyone believes in God, but the atheist claims not to just so they can have sex with their girlfriends and feel no moral responsibility.” Another friend, turned pastor, told me in college that “atheism was an intellectual problem, that God is so clear that you have to be stupid to not see it.” I knew in my heart of hearts that neither of those were true. Then, in 1990 I had an epiphany, the culmination of a process where I knew in my heart that much of what we evangelicals were saying and doing was bullshit. Extreme emotional dishonesty. Lying about miracles and etc. The whole religious exercise was trying to prove to others we were better than them. So, I had a very deep and sincere rejection of that and for ten years thought and studied. I travelled through agnosticism atheism and then back to theism. But it was a hard process and I know how, as you and I are discussing, the answers are not easy. Therefore I don’t have the arrogant type of certainty that evangelicalism requires. I have more respect for the atheists than most of the religious folks. I’ve said many times, only to be met by horrified looks by my evangelical friends, that, “You cannot be a real theist unless you have a sincere option on the table of being an atheist.” I say that because most of the religious folks will not even entertain atheism as a legitimate option, so therefore, their “theism” isn’t a conviction they’ve arrived at after much thought, but social coercion by the religious group that they are in that demands that they don’t even look at the options or … even think. I committed myself in 1990 to seek truth at all cost and candor. The candor has caused me a lot of pain over the years. I lost count of how many religious folks feel that they must tell me I’m on my way to hell or I’m a really bad person because I even raise these questions. Its painful. I thought having cancer would change that, how people respond to my questions. You know … showing some mercy. But I’ve had just as many painful letters and personal confrontations as “Someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God” or “Is bound for hell” just because I want to be honest and don’t care for the religious bullshit. But I digress. Have a good day.
I really like that. The entire “You cannot be a real theist unless” thought is brilliant – Something I feel has been on the edge of my cognition for a while now but never had the wit to explain so concisely.
It’s a good way of putting it, and I would say the same to atheists. Unless you’ve genuinely entertained both possibilities, you are not really one or the other. You’ve just put their badge on your jacket and learned to walk and talk the ways they do.
I may disagree with theists, but it’s always a pleasure to find anyone – atheist or not – who is genuine in their convictions. Even outside of yourself, finding a genuine theist is nearly always some of the best conversation, and they’re so rare – at least in the places I know to look.
I can sympathize growing up atheist in the Bible belt. From the middle of Kansas, myself, though I was Christian until I was around 16.