This post is the first in a series about popular Christian issues that do not seem to be supported by either scripture or reason.
The original article that introduces the series is at this link: Revival begins in the church… but so does judgment!
Intuitively, killing unborn babies seems like a very bad thing to do, if only from the human instinct to protect the lives of our offspring. However, moral opposition to abortion in the modern sense is hard to find in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. In the Psalms, as an example, David asks God that the babies of his enemies would be smashed against the ground. Armies of both Israel and its enemies were recorded to have ripped babies from the mother’s womb of their enemies during times of war.
From a purely biological standpoint, babies are unintentionally aborted all the time by early miscarriage or failure of a fertilized egg to implant in the womb. In this sense, abortion is a normal occurrence in human females, and usually without the knowledge of the mother (or father). Does this prove that God is in favor of abortion when unknown or unintentional, but yet violently opposed to it when performed as an intentional act?
From the historical perspective, miscarriage and infant deaths were not considered universally as a moral evils (though some considered these events as punishment from God, and therefore shameful). In ancient Jewish culture, for example (as recorded in the Bible), a fetus or child was not considered to have a societal or economic value comparable to adults. One Jewish belief was that a child was not considered to have an embodied soul until the age of one year old. This belief may have been an accommodation for the very high infant mortality rate and was intended to soothe the grieving parents with the thought that the baby was not a living soul until it had survived the first year of life.
Even today, the theological debate continues over the eternal fate of the unborn or infants who have died before they have reached the age of moral accountability. Some faith traditions have embraced the idea that anyone who does not have the capacity for moral reasoning (unborn, infant, child, or adult) will be admitted to paradise because they lack moral free will. In this belief, all aborted fetuses, infant deaths, as well as mentally incapacitated adults will be souls (or spirits) that will be unconditionally be received into God’s kingdom, even without a conscious decision to believe in Jesus Christ. The Bible also supports this belief in some passages.
From the point of view of some pro-choice advocates, the opposition to abortion is hypocritical or at least very misguided, considering how Christians seem to regard human beings who have already been born. “Christian” groups or causes routinely tacitly or explicitly condone labeling and dehumanizing others who are “not like us” without any apparent twinge of conscience. When examined honestly, we might conclude that dehumanization of any other living human being is often driven by a self-interested motivation. Perhaps it is only an excuse to avoid morally strenuous objections to social or economic injustice (causes often supported by non-Christians) that might require more concrete action on our part. Most of us probably recognize that criticizing failures of others is often a smokescreen to hide our own true motives…
For example, patriotic duty is held as a moral virtue to the extent that when our “enemies” (at a given moment) are massacred by our own military, we tend to avoid thinking of those killed as human beings like ourselves. Instead, they are “collateral damage” instead of women, children, and elderly persons who were unfortunately in the path of our bullets and missiles. So opposition to abortions should also consider the value of other human lives destroyed while pursuing our country’s “interests” in the same light. But as long as we have plenty of cheap gas for indulgence of our desire for over-sized vehicles, Americans seem content to overlook the moral consequences that our actions may have throughout the rest of the world.
Bringing the issue closer to home, how often are those in desperate economic distress labeled by Christians as “deadbeats, free-loaders, welfare queens” or other dehumanizing labels? Whether these people are truly intentionally irresponsible or simply born into difficult circumstances by no fault of their own seems to make no difference to the pious “good Christians”. Is a life of poverty, illness, suffering, and social stigma to be preferred over the abortion of a fetus that could become an adult human being who will never have a chance at a reasonably humane existence? Do we realize that medical termination of life for those suffering intensely, having terminal conditions, or considered untreatable has been a part of the human condition almost since the beginning of recorded history? Today, termination of life is a routine medical decision based on financial as well as humanitarian interests. How is this morally different from abortion, except for the stage of life when it occurs?
We should remind ourselves that supporting a functioning “safety net”, for those unable to help themselves, was once considered the obligation of any humane society. This is an issue which was often championed by religious groups. (The Old Testament instructs us to care for the unfortunate as a mandate from God.) Why does the modern church now condone and even encourage selfishness and blame-shifting as the answers to these social ills? Let us be completely honest with ourselves – the positions held by many conservative Christians toward these issues are demonstrably financial, not moral in origin! It should then be fair to ask – what god do we really serve? – is it Mammon or the one true God?
I cannot say that I would morally condone abortion, but the moral right to condemn others for this action cannot be separated from our corporate moral obligations as Christians. My concern is that this has become one of the issues about which it is easy to assert the moral high ground, as long as we think we will never have to face similar tough moral decisions.
But consider this example. How many Christians would agree to “pull the plug” on a terminally ill relative who is in extreme agony or comatose, if there is practically no medical hope for further treatment or recovery? Would the humane and moral course of action be to allow them to move on from this life, rather than tie them to a human body that is no longer viable for life on this earth? Or would we keep their physical body alive only for our own sentimental attachment to their physical form? This is the same agonizing decision that some mothers must face when they have no means of support for their unborn child, and must decide whether to bring another human life into a miserable life condition when there is little hope for improvement.
If we truly believe in God’s righteous judgment, then repentance for devaluing human life must begin within the church before Christians have any moral right to judge the rest of society!
[Update 02/24/2017 – following sections have been added.]
Challenge to Pro-life Supporters
As I’ve been posting information on social media since my change in perspective about the abortion debate, there has been some negative push-back, which is to be expected. I decided to respond to some of the reactions with a suggestion to complete an exercise that is based on research into how people can learn to change (or at least broaden) their views and reconsider strongly held opinions. This was how I responded in one case:
Thank you for taking the time to share your views on this very important and complex issue. I understand how a specific set of theological, doctrinal and moral assumptions will lead to the perspective you have voiced. I was exposed to similar assumptions and held similar views for much of my life. Due to a long process of thoughtful consideration and research, I can no longer accept these former views. I have begun to appreciate the immense complexity of the underlying social challenges and difficulties in creating a concise moral statement that would encapsulate all these factors.
If you would be willing to examine the moral position implied in your comments, let me ask you to do the following.
1. Try to set aside the emotional reaction that naturally arises (on both sides) when debating this subject, and be willing to think deeply about the implications of each aspect of the debate.
2. Search the Old and New Testament for all the verses that are used to support both perspectives, considering the context of each passage.
3. Step back from your current view and try to build a case for each side of the issue considering the strong and weak points of each perspective.
4. Subject each position or argument to an objective assessment based on a cohesive moral framework that includes an accepted hierarchy of moral principles. If you are more ambitious, research the biological and medical facts that are currently known about female physiology and the reproduction process.
5. Extrapolate the expected long-term outcome of each competing position to estimate overall impact on society. Try to develop a brief statement of social policy that can be implemented in a practical manner by religious, charitable and government institutions.
6. Weigh each estimated outcome with the heartfelt question “Is this what a loving, compassionate and merciful God would want to happen as a result of His instructions to mankind?”
7. Revisit the comments made to see if you would support your opinion with the same statement.
If you genuinely want to engage in this process, I would be happy to work though the exercise with you, since I would probably gain additional perspective from your views as well. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks!
This process of forcing ourselves to defend a position that is opposite our initial position is like asking ourselves to walk a mile in another’s shoes. In classroom settings assigning students to defend an alternate position is used to encourage critical thinking by carefully considering all sides of an issue before reaching a conclusion.
Probably most people will never do this type of exercise, unless they happen to be like me. Regardless, the point is that my conclusions have not been the result of believing only because someone told me what I should believe. Arriving at my revised perspective demanded that I wrestle with ideas that were uncomfortable before they began to coalesce into a more comprehensive view. If anyone knows a better way, I’m open to suggestions.
- How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/10/how-i-lost-faith-in-the-pro-life-movement.html> (This author was raised in a fundamentalist home as a pro-life protester. This describes how her views changed as she learned more about the abortion facts and considered the true motives of pro-life groups.)
[02/24/2017 – Added section for “Revision History”. Added new sections “Challenge to Pro-life Supporters” and “References”. ]