Note: This written article is also available via audio podcast here.
I often find myself wading into the middle of controversial topics and this is certainly one of those. I hope that my intentions are clear. It is peace that I seek and reconciliation of opposing viewpoints. Sometimes, to reach that place of peace you must afflict the comfortable … while comforting the afflicted. I want to do both in these articles.
Regarding the issue of abortion, I think it is within our grasp to all but eliminate the need for the procedure, without criminalizing or shaming people and while upholding women’s rights and concerns for the value of the fetus. However, In our “culture wars” approach, as it now stand, we are on a course of mutual destruction.
The impetus of writing these articles stems from the unease I felt as Texas passed its (in a cowardly way) their anti-abortion laws. As a lover of life, and creation, I felt great unease with this latest volley in the culture wars, while my evangelical friends and family rejoiced. Something was amiss. I’ve spent hours thinking, meditating, and studying on the topic since. But I suspect that some enjoy the war as it gives their life purpose. But to quote Wilfred Owen (English poet),”My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.Wilfred Owen
While looking at the “Pro-Choice” side in my previous post, I pointed out that the extreme view of that position is that abortion is only a women’s right issue, the intrinsic value of the destroyed fetus, extraneous. For that thin sliver of people, abortion is simply another form of birth control and has no other meaning.
Yes, it is a women’s right issue, but much more than that. Most women who I know who have had abortions, feel the procedure as serious and painful, grappling with the notion that they are ending a potential fully human life, but only reach that difficult decision point within a storm of life complications. It is always most convenient to adopt a philosophy that demonizes those whom we can never be. Clumsily said, but in other words, it is easy for me to demonize a woman who has an abortion because I can never be a woman who has an abortion.
It is always most convenient to adopt a philosophy that demonizes those whom we can never be.j. Michael Jones
Now, I want to turn and look at the so-called “Pro-Life” section and where I think they have made mistakes and I speak as one, having been a white American evangelical and “pro-life” protestor and activists in a previous life. This side is far more complex to identify and explain and therefore will take several installments to do it justice. Much of this discussion will be about the specific perspective of the evangelical and conservative Catholic as that is the dominate view in the “Pro-Life” camp. There may be non-religious people who are “Pro-Life,” but they must make up the minority.
I must make it clear that I’m not now “in favor of abortion” as some may conclude with a quick reading of my viewpoint and I ask that you not characterize me or my argument in that way, but to listen weight the evidence of my argument, suspending your cultural bias. If you walk away yet unpersuaded, let’s still be friends.
Starting with a Clear Mind
When I was an evangelical, like most evangelicals, I thought that every idea we had was from the Bible. But virtually all religious groups claim they follow their religious texts the closest. I witnessed that within Islam and I suspect it is the same in Hinduism and Buddhism. When evangelicals tell me that they are set apart from the rest because, “we are Biblical,” or they are devoted to Donald Trump because “he’s so Biblical” I don’t bat an eye anymore. It’s a meaningless term from its misuse and abuse.
After I was done unpeeling my evangelical culture from my skin in the 1990s, a few years later I went back and read the Bible for myself … honestly and with its historical context and without my American-evangelical context. What I thought was my opinions as shaped by the Bible, I quickly realized were formed by the evangelical subculture I had been part of and had nothing to do with the Bible but with the political evolution of the evangelical movement in America.
At this juncture, I wish that I had one of those the neuralyzers that the Men in Black used to erase memories. It is very difficult to look at your own culture objectively. It only happened to me while I was living deep within a radically different culture, a slum outside of Cairo, Egypt. There I could see the fissures, the cleavage edges of my own American/evangelical upbringing and culture as it frayed. Then I began to honestly look at myself, my most honest thoughts and self-deceptions, and lies. I wish I could do that instantly here so that “Pro-lifers,” those who simply think they are reflecting the views of the Bible, could honestly consider what I’m about to say. I wish the same for Pro-choicers, separating them from their cultures.
Becoming Human as a Process
Before I write about what the Bible says or doesn’t say, I want to look at the question from a biological and philosophical perspective. The cornerstone of the “Pro-life” position is the premise the fetus is fully human from the moment the sperm cell of the father penetrates and joins the egg of the mother forming the first genetically unique cell of the new person, the zygote. Therefore, all ideas of value that we assign to a fully adult human being must apply to that zygote and forward until death as, hopefully, an old person. It also then licenses the notion that all Biblical references regarding murder apply equally to the destruction of the human zygote and forward. If the zygote is potentially human, then it is fully human, so they reason. Therefore, following Old Testament law, those involved with an abortion, the doctor, the pregnant woman, all deserve death … and our hate.
But following this train of thought, you have to then consider all human cells are the same as they all carry the unique signature of their DNA. Each cell that we discard has the potential of becoming a full human, if not by the natural development of the zygote, then by cloning. So, the millions of skill cells we shed into the couch as we are watching the Seahawks, cells we loose when we touch things, sneeze, cough, poop, and pee must be considered “potential human” and treated with the same dignity (a million burial rituals every day).
Focusing on just zygotes and not skin cells, about twenty-six million miscarriages occur in the world every year. Each month during her fertile years, and if she isn’t using birth control, a sexually active woman will have one or two eggs fully fertilized by sperm that does not implant in the uterus and therefore does not survive. Sometimes the miscarriages are months along in the process of becoming human. If God caused these miscarriages (from a biological standpoint many miscarriages occur after errors in development appear and evangelicals say that the miscarriages were God’s will) then God is the greatest arbortionist the world has ever known.
If the Pro-choice movement makes the mistake (in places) of removing the intrinsic value of the fetus from the equation, seeing abortion as just another form of birth control, or like a wart removal, then the “Pro-lifers” make the mistake of applying the intrinsic value of the fully human being to the zygote and forward.
When I was an evangelical, I know that it was very difficult for us to see things in any but the most simplest, black and white terms. For example, while the Bible dose not date the earth, it was required that you believed the earth was six thousand years old and creation could not be the product of a process. Likewise, we arbitrarily decided that the moment the zygote was formed, it was fully human. What makes far more sense from a biological, theological, and in my opinion a Biblical perspective, is that creating humans as a process. It would also mean taking God out of the small “black-n-white box” and enlarging our concept regarding the grandeur and mystery of creation.
What the Bible Does Really Say About Abortion?
I wanted to conclude this installment of the article by looking at the Biblical perspective of being human by reading what the Bible actually does say. I tried very hard to not allow my views to be shaped by any particular church, religious, or other movement. It comes from my passion for an honest evaluation of reality. Therefore if anyone has different information that is persuasive, I’m all ears.
I heard someone who was not raised as a Christian, after reading the Bible for the first time, say they were amazed that the Bible said almost nothing about the topics (tenets) that were profoundly dear to every evangelical she knew. But it did say a huge amount about things of which her evangelical friends completely ignored. For example, American evangelicalism is defined by three major issues, abortion, gay marriage, and as a capstone for the others, American nationalism . American nationalism is major tenet of American evangelism because they believe that they can reconstruct America as a Christian theocracy and then impose all their beliefs on the general society, including their ideas about abortion. It stems from a mythological rewriting of American history that we were all godly people in this country at one time until an evil group, they prefer the world “liberals,” destroyed it. In contrast, the historical Jesus was profoundly clear, his kingdom is not political, not of this world and therefore this third tenet is ludicrous.
The Bible also says nothing about the first two tenets. Stunning isn’t it? The Bible teaches harshly against the third, mixing Christianity with any human philosophy, be it republicanism, American nationalism, Buddhism or any other “ism” (if you are interested see Colossians 2:8). It is beyond the scope of this simple article to discussing the historical process by which American evangelicalism has reached it conclusions, but if you are interested, I highly recommend the book by Kristen Kobes du Mez (professor of history at Calvin University); Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
Let us look at the Bible now and discuss what it really says and what it would reallyl mean to be “Biblical” rather than “American Evangelical.”
The only passage in the entire Bible that even tangentially addresses abortion is a passage in Exodus within the context of discussing the precise laws for the nation of Israel. I will paste the verse within the context, but if you only want to read just the verse, it is in bold font. It reads as follows:
12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.
15 “Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.
16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. [note that the world for prematurely is also “miscarriage”]
26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.
29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded. 31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels[f] of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.
33 “If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.
35 “If anyone’s bull injures someone else’s bull and it dies, the two parties are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. 36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and take the dead animal in exchange.
With a normal, unbiased reading of this passage, the human embryo is valued by God’s law in a very different way and lower than a full human. The miscarriage or death of a zygote-fetus has value but is in a totally different class than murder of a fully human being or injuring the mother. Clearly this passage says the health and life of the mother takes precedence over her fetus.
At what point does the fetus become fully human? The Bible does not say, therefore it must not be important. In history, the point of birth has been used, but at other times, children were not seen as fully human until they reached a certain age. In America, in the twentieth century, lawyers have defined it as the point that the fetus can survive outside the womb. Per the Old Testament passage mentioned above, even a woman in that old patriarchal society has full intrinsic value … but not her fetus.
I will mention another verse from the Bible because when I was involved with the Pro-life movement, it was our most quoted verse:
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
This verse, while the motto of the Pro-life movement, when read honestly and without the cultural blinders on, simply is poetry and that poetry, like my previously made point, is that the creation of a human being is a process. If you knit a sweater, is the first stitch of equal value as a sweater or shawl?
I searched Pro-life websites to see if there are other verses I’ve missed and I didn’t find any credible ones, ones that don’t require a huge leap of inference to conclude an anti-abortion statement such as the following;
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:41-44
I will not argue the point but to ask, honestly, how does this verse support the idea that the fetus (John the Baptist) was fully human, deserving all the rights of a fully human, rather than being knit into a human? Every woman who has experienced a pregnancy beyond seventeen weeks has experience their fetus jumping (quickening). It is a magical moment, of which I as a father can never know and I regret that.
The mothers I’ve spoken to, who felt this quickening, but then were being pressured by others (usually the fathers of the fetus) to get an abortion were emotionally distraught, and rightly so. They felt the life, the human in process within their bodies. They intuitively knew that there was a potential for human life there. We should never allow society to put them in that terrible position of having to ponder an abortion! But they are not evil. They are not cold blooded murderers of a child or full human if the pressure overcomes them. It is beyond the scope of this article to inventory all the abundance of crimes some hideous, the church chooses to overlook. If you are rich, male, and white, you can enjoy a multitude of sins … and the church yawns.
If you study Jesus’ three year ministry on earth and what was dear to his heart, you would see that he never spoke of abortion, despite the fact that both abortion and even infanticide were practiced in the world around him. Incidentally, he never said a word about homosexuality but said plenty about the great merits of loving people. He spoke aggressively about the love of money being bad. That lying, hypocrisy, and the lust for political power is down right evil. He poured his heart and ministry out for those who were the least of their society, women, immigrants, poor, sick, and etc. I’m afraid that Jesus would never make the cut as an American evangelical.
If you know of a clear verse in the Bible that condemns abortion, please share that under comments. Please do not share verses about murder, because you must first assume that a fetus is fully human before those verses apply. The Biblical law is clear that murder is worthy the punishments of death. Causing an unwanted abortion? Financial restitution. The Bible does not address planned abortions period. I will discuss later how it is my opinion, based on concrete examples, the “Pro-life” position has become so important to some religious groups, that has reached the level of idolatry. But the real idolatry is more likely this extra-Biblica capstone tenet of the evangelical church’s lust for political power. Stay tuned
For the sake of Peace,
Mike; The Hermit of Loch Eyre.