Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Four...

Ah, the post I wasn't really looking forward to, but here it is...

I recall a little over a year ago, I got involved in an online discussion group with a "pro-choice" focus. In particular, I had followed a link claiming that it would take me to a sound argument that "the Bible is pro-choice." I didn't doubt that picking and choosing the right texts could probably be used to show such an argument, and so out of curiosity, I went and read the argument.

Well, I ended up being disappointed with the argument as it was presented, but I thought there was some good material there, so I gave some constructive criticism. It's an odd quirk of mine that I'm dedicated to the concept of free speech in such a way as to want to help everyone do their best in making their point, even if it's one I don't really agree with. So I pointed out which parts of the argument seemed very strong to me, which parts might sound nice but would likely not convince a Bible-believer due to the context and/or the way they were worded, and even suggested a few verses that they might wish to cite to further bolster their case.

Now, surely nobody likes to be told some personal project of theirs is less than the perfection they had hoped for, but I had assumed that in offering advice and a fresh perspective--while at the same time not daring to forward my own perspective on the subject--I would be perceived as at least trying to be helpful. After all, I was trying to be helpful.

Well, I was blasted as a "fundie" and a misogynist. At first, it didn't surprise me, as I assumed that the person blasting me had read my personal profile, which no doubt evinced my Christianity if not outright stated it. These days it's a pretty fair bet that someone professing to be a "born-again" Christian is against abortion. Okay, so I clarified that my aim in giving input to the discussion was not to attack their position, but to help them better clarify it, and also not to push my own position, which they had no way of knowing concretely from anything I had said yet in the discussion anyway. (In fact, I am not a hard-line "pro-lifer", as I may get to in this post, but positions are irrelevant to the point of all of this.)

I was responded to with yet still more personal assaults. Furthermore, any attempts to reason around any secondary points being made (such as the idea that the only possible reason one could have for being against abortion is hatred of women) were also met with stonewalled denials. Around that point it occurred to me, the link I had followed into that particular discussion seemed to me to be an invitation towards those who claimed to follow the Bible--and/or those who knew one of the same--to see a new perspective. Rather than responding to myself as a Bible believer by opening further discussion, they blasted me before even ascertaining if I might be the sort of target they were looking to aim their argument towards. Any chance of converting me to their viewpoint was lost under a tidal wave of hatred.

And for the only time I can recall, I completely lost my temper in the midst of an online discussion.

See, the thing is, while the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" movements have very little in common, there is one thing they share at the core of their being. Extreme disgust and hatred for the vile beings that are not on their side. The discussion I came into was on a "pro-choice" discussion board, but the exact same thing could have happened if I'd wandered into a discussion on a "pro-life" board and someone had noticed that I was a registered Democrat. Some recent stats I read in Newsweek were very interesting, and I wish I had them in front of me. Apparently, more people are against legal abortion than for it. At the same time, there are more people strongly for abortion than strongly against it. Overall, there are more people who don't feel strongly about abortion than people who feel very strongly about it, regardless of how they lean. But those who do feel strongly, whichever side they happen to be on, are quite vehement about the issue, and can't stand people who less than 100% agree with them.

Many had been the time that I, as a Christian, had tried to reason with my fellow Christians (that felt strongly about the matter) that perhaps people who support legal abortions aren't ruthless, bloodthirsty baby killers. The sort of response I get from closer friends is a bit of shock and statements doubting the veracity of my Christianity; if someone doesn't know me well, they're likely to dismiss me outright as a heretic. Once again, that's just for questioning, not even for making a claim about abortion rights directly.

The real problem with the abortion issue, in my opinion, is not even that one side is right or the other is wrong, but that there are four positions on the issue--strongly pro-choice, moderately pro-choice, moderately pro-life, and strongly pro-life--and the only people who ever seem to have anything to say about the issue seem to assume that there are only two positions: their position, and the wrong position.

I remember a pile of frustration stored up somewhere in my mind suddenly letting loose and being unleashed on the denizens of that pro-choice discussion group. I don't remember the exact words, but I probably called them idiots, and told them that they and their extremist counterparts on the other side of the issue were both so blessedly self-assured that they occupied the high ground that they were missing the reality that abortion even is an issue. There's no issue, says one side, those people are just baby killers. There's no issue, says the other, those people just want to take away every right a woman has one by one until they're back to property like they were in medieval times. Meanwhile, while those in the two other moderate camps waver, they see no sign of sanity from either camp, and are given no sound reason to make a specified decision on matters, only reasons to hate their fellow human beings. No dialogue, no discussion, only self-righteousness, hate, and a complete lack of understanding of the true motives of those on the other side of the fence. And thus the abortion debate remains a vicious battle that never settles, with both sides blindly pushing their agenda and promoting fear of opposition.

Let me tell you something. Very few (if any) "pro-life" advocates hate women; they are only concerned with preserving life as they see it, and that's not wrong. Very few (if any) "pro-choice" advocates have absolute zero disregard for the life of the pre-born; they only value the life of the mother above it, and that's not wrong either.

I used to know a woman who had had an abortion. She had been about five months pregnant, and her health began to seriously deteriorate to the point where she was admitted to the ICU. Her doctor told her that she had a rare condition in which the baby she was carrying was threatening her life. Chances were very slim that the baby would survive, but just about zero that the mother would survive if the baby were not removed. She and her husband decided, wisely I think, to have the baby/fetus/whatever you want to call it removed. I'm sure some people would think she was wrong for undergoing the procedure. I'm sure there are some people who also would think she was wrong for feeling bad about it afterwards. In the end, it's between her, her husband, and God. And so it is with all abortions, which makes them neither right nor wrong.

Shutting the door on legal abortion isn't going to make the issue simply go away. Neither is throwing the door wide open. Maybe we could find a real answer if only people on all sides of the debate could just sit down and talk about it. Is it ever going to happen?

4 comments:

Liadan said...

Well, it's obvious from your post that since you refuse to take a hard line on abortion, you hate women AND babies. You misogynist fetophobe you.

marauder said...

Yeah. Why don't you go crawl back under the rock you came from, so we step on it and squoosh you? It's more than you deserve and terribly demeaning to the rock, but it's the best solution I can find.

Maybe you should actually spend some time reading 2 Hezezekiel and the Lament of the Chaldeans when you find your Bible, and if your brain hasn't reached the point of density so great that intelligent thought is incapable of escaping, maybe then you'd see the truth.

Jono said...

Bravo!
I happened to find your blog from the link on goosing-the-antithesis. I wrote a response to your question about how God could prove its existence, and now I'm going through your old posts, and although I am an athiest I must say I really like the way you think. I would be much less anti-christian if more of them exhibited the same honesty and humility and willingness to question that you have shown in your posts here. (I don't know what marauder's problem is, unless he's being sarcastic...)

Anyway, this is a very insightful post. I think the abortion issue is hugely frustrating because of the extremists on both sides and their refusal to compromise. It seems to me that we ought to be able to have a law that draws an arbitrary line and says "abortions legal at earlier stages of fetal development, illegal at later stages", and although the line would not be particularly well-justified philosophically, it would be a compromise that would satisfy the great majority of the population.

But instead, we have both pro-choice and pro-life zealots refusing to give an inch; both sides will make the same stupid slippery slope argument: "If we allow any abortions soon we will have doctors killing 1-year old babies in a nightmarish eugenics program" or "If we don't allow all abortions we will be soon be sending women back to the middle ages" as you mentioned above.

As an atheist, I don't believe in souls, but I think that all life has inherent value, and the more intelligence and self-awareness something has, the more we ought to avoid killing it. From this point of view, there is no one instant where an embryo becomes a human, but rather a sliding scale. Killing a clump of eight cells is nothing to be sorry about; killing a partially-developed embryo might be equivalent to killing a dog or a cat -- to be avoided unless absolutely neccessary, but not murder. And killing a fetus a week before it's born is no different from killing a one-week-old baby. This point of view has interesting implications with regard to the rights we ought to give to animals and, if we ever invent such a thing, self-aware robots.

Anyway, I wish pro-lifers and pro-choicers (and liberals and conservatives generally) could find some more common ground. I mean, it's not like anybody wants there to be more abortions, right? We all ought to be working to reduce the number of them that happen, whether legal or not, right? It seems to me that pro-lifers ought to be promoting contraceptive use and safe-sex education as much as they possibly can, since that's the most effective way to reduce abortions... yet some of them seem to be against it. That doesn't make any sense to me.

Brucker said...

"(I don't know what marauder's problem is, unless he's being sarcastic...)"

Marauder's problem is that he's a friend of mine. This tends to be a very serious problem, requiring years of therapy.

"It seems to me that we ought to be able to have a law that draws an arbitrary line and says 'abortions legal at earlier stages of fetal development, illegal at later stages', and although the line would not be particularly well-justified philosophically, it would be a compromise that would satisfy the great majority of the population."

Possibly. I get the feeling that most people are pretty comfortable with first-trimester abortions and not so much with later terms, but as you admit, it's a largely arbitrary distinction. Less arbitrary distinctions are the moment of conception (which is where the "pro-life" faction wants the line drawn) and the moment of birth (which is where the "pro-choice" faction wants it drawn). I do think some who really would be comfortable somewhere between the two run to one extreme or the other due to worrying about slippery-slope problems, since that middle ground is so ill-defined.

The other problem is that many people like me would rather see a middle-ground line drawn not by age, but by circumstance. Cases of rape or incest seem much more reasonable bases for abortion than a simple "I just don't want a child" regardless of age of the embryo/fetus/baby.

"But instead, we have both pro-choice and pro-life zealots refusing to give an inch; both sides will make the same stupid slippery slope argument: 'If we allow any abortions soon we will have doctors killing 1-year old babies in a nightmarish eugenics program' or 'If we don't allow all abortions we will be soon be sending women back to the middle ages' as you mentioned above."

And there are inherent problems in those arguments, including the fact that making abortions illegal doesn't stop abortions from happening, not allowing abortions to women who can't afford to raise children or even have proper pre-natal care is harmful to them and their child-to-be in the long run, and (if I have been informed correctly) the early ferminist movement was at the forefront of outlawing abortions since in the days when women were treated like property, their husbands would force them to get abortions in disregard to the health risks involved.

"As an atheist, I don't believe in souls, but I think that all life has inherent value, and the more intelligence and self-awareness something has, the more we ought to avoid killing it."

I've never heald much stock in this point of view, as it seems to imply (whether you mean it to or not) that killing a mentally retarded person is less serious of a crime than killing a college professor. Even, as you say, in killing a dog or a cat, while it may not be a crime, I have a hard time delineating why that should be any less cruel. I believe that most domesticated cats and dogs *are* self-aware, but I'm not so sure all people are, nor am I sure that self-awareness truly is a criteria for determining the morality of an action.

"It seems to me that pro-lifers ought to be promoting contraceptive use and safe-sex education as much as they possibly can, since that's the most effective way to reduce abortions... yet some of them seem to be against it. That doesn't make any sense to me."

The logic is that while abortion is wrong, so is sexual promiscuity. While not all people agree with that point of view, obviously, I think there needs to be a better message from religious leaders (particularly the Catholic Church, perhaps) that while adultery is a sin (or using birth control at all in some denominations) avoiding the use of birth control doesn't make it alright.