Five Thoughts On Abortion: 1. The Religious Nature Of Pro-Life Positions

Against my better judgment I have decided to lose friends and alienate people with some posts on abortion. Ireland is legislating for abortion this year. I can’t influence that and I also can’t imagine that I can influence anyone who disagrees with me.

And for the record, most people disagree with me. Pro-life people think I am too weak on this position and don’t understand the severity of the issue. Pro-choice people easily disregard me as yet another religiously motivated pro-life zealot.

Chatting with people about this, I am surprised that Irish society doesn’t seem to see their conversation slipping into the kind of pitched culture-war animosity so common in America. Just as in America, movement on this legal position is driven by a contentious Supreme Court decision, not the ordinary organs of democracy. Just as in America, both sides seem to feel as if the majority is behind them. And just as in America, advocates for both sides, largely existing inside an echo-chamber of complementing viewpoints, struggle to even imagine why someone would take the opposition view.

If you struggle to understand why someone would not share your opinion, that usually isn’t a sign of the strength of your opinion.

Everything that I write this week will be addressed to the pro-choice side simply because I think I might be able to write in such a way as to be a faithful representative of the pro-life position that can be understood. I’m a cocky bastard sometimes. I am uncomfortable with much that goes on on “my side” of this debate. I think I can empathise with those on the other side of the debate. Hopefully I am not too far wrong.

Here is a tweet, remarkable only in that it is not at all remarkable. I don’t know Jamie, I am sure he is lovely, but this is not the best thing ever written by anyone:

I am the worst, man. There is nothing pro-life about my cause, by the way.

Why am I pro-life? Because of my religious convictions.

Judging from my fairly close listening to pro-choice conversation online (admittedly based only on Twitter because I am not a member of Facebook or Google+), a probable response to that confession is that religion shouldn’t inform politics.

But if you don’t think my political positions should be informed by my religion, then you will find it hard to understand why I vote for the Green party. My voting is determined by the fact that I believe God created and sustains the world, loves the world and wants us to cherish the world.

Why should that religious conviction be excluded from my political rationale?

Well, you might respond, that religiously motivated political position is grand. But your abortion view is irrational.

But my pro-life conviction is based on my belief that life, in all of its forms, is a tremendous and wonderful thing. I think that human life is especially precious because of a religious commitment I hold at the very core of my life – that human beings in some special way reflect the glory of God. Now you might find my language archaic, but surely you will consider the outworking of this belief as anything but irrational. It elevates creativity in all of its forms as being superlative. It raises relationality to the very core of existence. It obliterates any basis for racism, sexism, or prejudice of any kind because the worth I aim to honour in human beings isn’t based on any qualities they may have but their intrinsic ability to reflect the divine beauty.

You might not be convinced by my perspective but it satisfies any rational definition of a reasonable position. It is consistent, coherent and complex. It does not demand adherence but it does deserve respect.

And here is the thing I am struggling with: my pro-life position has much more taxing angles to it than my opposition to abortion. I am against the death penalty. I am against euthanasia. But I actually try to follow through on that pro-life position all the way. I am against war in all places at all times. I am against hunger and drought. I am in favour of life and against death because I think human life mirrors the life of God out into the Cosmos. I have written in a more formal way here about what that means theologically.

Obviously, this is not meant for a moment to convince you either to embrace the news Jesus of Nazareth thought good or to forsake the pro-choice position. But I do want you to consider the fact that the guys opposite you are sitting on top of a rich and reasoned moral position. You might disagree, but there is no justification to disregard.

My peers with thin religious convictions think I’m courageous (naive, but courageous) when I advocate for comprehensive non-violence. Often, the very same people, when they hear that I am pro-life, think me crazy.

When that happens, it isn’t me who is irrational.

Your Correspondent, His one little extravagance is a live-in butler.

17 Replies to “Five Thoughts On Abortion: 1. The Religious Nature Of Pro-Life Positions”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    I was prompted by your posting to and the otherworldliness of it to read Hauerwas’ article.

    It drives home the imperative for the Church to put itself on the line regarding how to be pro-life: the examples he gives of the two churches are a stunning example of this.

    Without a Church that is willing to stake literal blood, sweat and tears on actually helping people, day to day, with their needs, we’re just line noise: we’re just playing at it.

  2. “… my belief that life, in all of its forms …”

    The author would do well to define what life – as he understands it – is. Anything with DNA? Is a virus (which doesn’t have DNA) life?

    I would agree (who wouldn’t) that life “in all of its forms” is awe-inspiring and fantastic (if that is what the author means by “tremendous” and “wonderful” even when contemplating the Ebola, Polio or AIDS viruses or bacteria that cause cancer, but that is never enough in forming any argument to frame ethics surrounding abortion. We would happily eradicate these forms of life, so seemingly, just because something is alive, does not provide us conclusions.

    So what’s the difference between a single cell of human DNA, just formed through an act of union (perhaps performed by consenting adults who were using contraception or not, or perhaps performed by force) and the cell of DNA of a living, healthy chimpanzee?

    Now, when someone holds a religious commitment that might inform any ethical answers to this question and others similar to it, would it not be reasonable to ask for evidence in favour of the existence of the god (along with a definition of what this supposed entity is) whom the author holds as having “glory” (whatever that may be)?

    And if that evidence had no substance, would it not be reasonable to dismiss the claims and position of the author out of hand when they are informed in such a way?

  3. The author is here!

    The author knows that no definition of life stands with any canonical authority. But since he must be more precise, he would say life is the term used to describe complex and highly organised organic entities that are the product of natural selection.

    And aren’t dead. 🙂

    We wouldn’t actually be willing to eradicate the forms of life that the author of the comment lists. Even were we able to, we would merely intend to eradicate their influence on human life. If nothing else, we would keep archived expressions of those forms of life because they are indeed tremendous and wonderful.

    And beginning with a sense of wonder at the given nature of the world that we live in is actually a viable and rich starting point from which to frame an ethical conversation.

    The author of the comment asks:

    “So what’s the difference between a single cell of human DNA, just formed through an act of union (perhaps performed by consenting adults who were using contraception or not, or perhaps performed by force) and the cell of DNA of a living, healthy chimpanzee?”

    He or she knows the answer. Human DNA is different from a chimp’s. What we do with that difference is the work of ethics.

    Then the author of the comment goes on to ask:

    “… would it not be reasonable to ask for evidence in favour of the existence of the god (along with a definition of what this supposed entity is) whom the author holds as having “glory” (whatever that may be)?”

    That might be a reasonable question to ask. The difficulty the commentator faces is that under their own terms it would be unbecoming of them to make such a claim were they not able to defend its reasonableness.

    Of course, in the hundreds of thousands of words on this blog there are many conversations about the reasonableness of Christian belief, many conversations about the complexities of talking about reasonableness in any area, especially as it pertains to theology and many conversations about the way that Christianity defines God.

    What is critical to understand from this particular post is that even if religious belief is unreasonable (demonstrated in the case of a particular instance of religious belief or by some a priori judgement of agreed cultural consensus) that would not for a moment render the political and ethical judgements made by adherents to such religious belief irrelevant in any contemporary western political realm. Even if my politics are unreasonable, you have to engage with them cos I have a vote and know how to use it. 🙂

    But if you want to sustain the unreasonable belief that only beliefs you deem reasonable are worthy of political attention, then let us join Kent Brockman in declaring that “Democracy just doesn’t work!”

    So in conclusion, the author’s name is Kevin, as can be gathered from the url. He might be deluded in his belief in a sky god but the justifications for that trust is neither the topic of this post nor relevant to the fact that religiously motivated pro-life positions are worthy of political respect.

  4. To my question:

    “So what’s the difference between a single cell of human DNA, just formed through an act of union (perhaps performed by consenting adults who were using contraception or not, or perhaps performed by force) and the cell of DNA of a living, healthy chimpanzee?”, Kevin writes: “He or she knows the answer. Human DNA is different from a chimp’s. What we do with that difference is the work of ethics.”

    The answer is, I think, that the cells of the living chimpanzee can be, under certain circumstances, ethically viewed as vastly superior to the 100 cells of a seven day old human blastocyst not yet attached to the uterine wall of the female carrying it. It is not difficult to conceive of circumstances where this must be the case.

    In other words, the nature of the DNA and its current stage in development alone, is not sufficient to form judgement, but unfortunately, it is the religious mind, as far as I can tell, that will put the DNA of a specific species (the human species) above all other DNA, no matter what stage of development and write things like “I think that human life is especially precious”. Note that the similarity between chimpanzee DNA (or better, bonobo DNA), is extremely small but for Kevin “especially precious”. The order of those CTAG bases just makes all the difference in Kevin’s mind because he believes one specific order was special (and bizarrely that the differences between members of this species that made them individual still meant that they were equal).

    But it has to. They have to see human DNA as a higher form of life because it is implied from their holy texts.

    Kevin writes “What is critical to understand from this particular post is that even if religious belief is unreasonable (demonstrated in the case of a particular instance of religious belief or by some a priori judgement of agreed cultural consensus) that would not for a moment render the political and ethical judgements made by adherents to such religious belief irrelevant in any contemporary western political realm. Even if my politics are unreasonable, you have to engage with them cos I have a vote and know how to use it. :)”

    I see. If I were to believe that the moon was made of cheese, and that it was protected by Munifar the Munificent who visited the earth at night to make socks smell of cheese, and that it was a sin to consume cheese, Kevin holds the view that my political and ethical views about banning cheese from human consumption should not be considered irrelevant because I have a political voice.

    Of course, what actually happens is that people point out that we have no evidence for the moon being made of cheese, good evidence that it is made of something else and that we have never witnessed Munifar come to earth and moreover we have better explanations for smelly socks. We then dismiss arguments derived from the existence of a moon made of cheese and Munifar (and his cheesy glory) demanding the banning of cheese.

    And yes, Cheesians still have their political voice and they are welcome to them.

    Kevin writes ” if you want to sustain the unreasonable belief that only beliefs you deem reasonable are worthy of political attention … “.

    People can believe what they like. But beliefs (and I mean the type of beliefs that refer to claims about how the universe works, not “opinion”-type beliefs) aren’t reasonable and cannot be used as reason until they are backed up by evidence. Not one single assertion about the way the universe works is worthy of consideration until it is backed up by evidence and neither by extension are the claims based upon that which people just make up. I would welcome a good argument in favour of us uncritically accepting the claims of others without them providing evidence before they start forcing the implications of their claims on others. In most human endeavours, we demand this evidence and certainly in politics and economics. But for some reason, the religious belief gets a free ride.

    Cheesians have a right to a political voice. And if there is enough people who believe that cheese consumption is sinful, then yes, they have political clout and need to be engaged. But until they start providing evidence that the moon is made of cheese, demanding banning cheese consumption is going to be dismissed.

  5. Watch Kevin provide arguments that *his* beliefs about *his* god are a lot more serious and worthy of consideration than Munifar and a moon made of cheese.

    Note the lack of evidence however.

  6. “The answer is, I think, that the cells of the living chimpanzee can be, under certain circumstances, ethically viewed as vastly superior to the 100 cells of a seven day old human blastocyst not yet attached to the uterine wall of the female carrying it. It is not difficult to conceive of circumstances where this must be the case.”

    Technically, a woman is not considered pregnant until the fertilised egg has attached to the uterine wall. But that is secondary to the point you were making, I think, which is that there are hypothetical circumstances in which a chimp could be considered by some unnamed authority to be more important than a developing human embryo or fetus. Your claim is empty of moral content, other than that some people hold some values. Not exactly big news, in fairness. That is why we are arguing.

    You state that the religious mind (and by this I feel you betray a lack of understanding of the secular) is inclined to favour human life over other forms of life, which is a moral problem for you. Do you consider all forms of life equal? Unlikely. To consider all forms of life equal, as you know, leaves the average person in quite the moral quandary. I can safely assume you’re not a Jain? I think you’ll find that the majority of humans value human life over other forms of life, religious or not. To what degree we value it varies. You seem to miss the crucial fact that your beliefs inform your politics. Because that is what it is to be human.

    Moon / cheese conversation just the classical idiotic tool of a lazy keyboard warrior. BUT, if you genuinely believed that eating cheese had cosmic consequences, it would be remiss of you not to warn the others.

    “People can believe what they like. But beliefs (and I mean the type of beliefs that refer to claims about how the universe works, not “opinion”-type beliefs) aren’t reasonable and cannot be used as reason until they are backed up by evidence.”

    Ok, this betrays two things. Firstly you do not understand the nature of belief and how it undergirds every action you carry out. The nature of belief is such that without it, our internal reality would become a frightening maelstrom of chaos. Every action we carry out we do so in the confidence that as things have been so they will be. We have no other reason to believe in such a fundamental fashion except for our experience. It is reasonable to trust our experience, is it not? Except of course in the realm of religious experience, where it must be delusion. Perhaps brought on by too much camembert?

    Secondly beliefs about “how the universe works” are pretty varied. Want to nail down the ones that are unreasonable? The writer would do well to be less imprecise in his angry ramblings against the nutcases who won’t kill babies, the fuckers!

  7. “Moon / cheese conversation just the classical idiotic tool of a lazy keyboard warrior. BUT, if you genuinely believed that eating cheese had cosmic consequences, it would be remiss of you not to warn the others.”

    I see that the Chip Monk is happy to infer that I am a lazy idiot without one single argument to dismantle the analogy I gave.

    Of course, it’s not lazy to dismiss other peoples arguments and reasoning by merely saying they’re idiotic, lazy arguments …

  8. Graeme, you are not actually addressing the blog post that you are commenting on. You are bringing forward arguments that are both irrelevant and insubstantial. It is not lazy to point this out, but a wise use of time.

    The cheese argument is one that should embarrass you. To whatever extent your analogy can be said to saying anything, Chip Monk pointed out that those who did believe in a grand lunar dairy danger would be *definitively* lunatics ONLY if they didn’t follow through on their beliefs.

    I once heard the wonderful Francis Spufford comment that those who think religious belief is inherently childish are usually people who last seriously considered religious belief when they were children. That might be a joke worth considering.

    I’m not sanctioning any more comments that make no reference to the topic I was discussing here. There are lots of websites where you can go and talk to people who think that “evidence” and “proving God” are intellectually and morally important tasks. Around here I at least get to try and suggest that we do not have to enter into the realms of ethics, epistemology and culture constantly desiring to vanquish our imagined foes.

    One would be tempted to respond to bluster like:

    “Not one single assertion about the way the universe works is worthy of consideration until it is backed up by evidence and neither by extension are the claims based upon that which people just make up.”

    by asking what evidence you have for that assertion, but it might only fuel the internet atheist trolling.

  9. “Secondly beliefs about “how the universe works” are pretty varied. Want to nail down the ones that are unreasonable? The writer would do well to be less imprecise in his angry ramblings against the nutcases who won’t kill babies, the fuckers!”

    You’d think I hadn’t written “Not one single assertion about the way the universe works is worthy of consideration until it is backed up by evidence and neither by extension are the claims based upon that which people just make up.”

    Perhaps I should reiterate the important bit for the chip monk:

    * backed up by evidence *

  10. ” … which is that there are hypothetical circumstances in which a chimp could be considered by some unnamed authority to be more important than a developing human embryo or fetus [sic]. ”

    Without recourse to supernaturalism, the unnamed authority is, of course, us, people with emotions and feelings and wishes.

    “Your claim is empty of moral content, other than that some people hold some values. Not exactly big news, in fairness. ”

    One would think it is expected of me to solve man’s moral dilemmas in a simple blog post whereas I merely seek to point out that saying that “a human’s DNA is special even when it consists of 100 cells” cannot pass even the merest rational scrutiny.

    “That is why we are arguing. ”

    Argue away.

    But don’t be surprised when rational people point out that the basis for your beliefs have no foundation and consequently dismiss them out of hand.

  11. “Ok, this betrays two things. Firstly you do not understand the nature of belief and how it undergirds every action you carry out. The nature of belief is such that without it, our internal reality would become a frightening maelstrom of chaos. Every action we carry out we do so in the confidence that as things have been so they will be. We have no other reason to believe in such a fundamental fashion except for our experience. It is reasonable to trust our experience, is it not? Except of course in the realm of religious experience, where it must be delusion. Perhaps brought on by too much camembert?”

    I am beginning to wonder if the chip monk is using a post-modernism generator.

    “Nature of belief”? “internal reality”? “frightening maelstrom of chaos”?

    Is it reasonable to trust our experience? Probably not always.

    Is religious experience a delusion? The world is waiting for good evidence to the contrary.

  12. I am utterly compelled to add that fetus is the American spelling. Don’t malign the poor Americans! It’s never a sign of strength when your opponent corrects your spelling! Especially when their correction is wrong. 🙁

    It’s been lovely Galacto! Fare thee well in your f[o]etus hunt.

    PS All that empiricism is is experience. What does that say about rationalism? Technically they’re incompatible.

    PPS Sorry for being bold, Kevin. I couldn’t resist.

  13. The post and subsequent reactions by Kevin Hargaden and the chip monk frighten me.

    I seriously mean that.

    By the way, I did not notice Kevin Hardagan’s comment of Feb 2nd at 6:38 pm as I had posted in quick succession so his post of Feb 2nd at 6:54 pm was also overseen.

    I have tried to engage the original article by Kevin Hardagen by pointing out that when you base your opinions on un-evidenced beliefs, your opinions can be easily dismissed.

    His response was more or less “there are lots of us”.

    I have tried to point out that scientific, biological facts tear beliefs that human life in all its forms is somehow superior to anything else, to shreds. Unless of course these facts have to compete with religious beliefs.

    Why this is not on topic – religious beliefs about abortion – I cannot tell.

    I am disappointed that Kevin Hardagan is prepared to “mute” me – he could have just asked me to desist which his reactions now imply and demand I do and hence I withdraw.

  14. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am indeed terrifying.

    My delusional religious beliefs that fuel a politics expressing itself in socialistic, environmentalistic and pacifistic forms are some of the scariest combinations anyone could possibly hope to come across.

    Your last comment demonstrated further intentional misunderstandings Graeme. Not every conversation with a religious person is also a conversation with an idiot. When you operate off the assumptions that religious people are irrational, unreasonable and likely immoral, it is hard for me to think it worth my while to keyboard duel with you. Sorry I wasn’t a more satisfying debating partner.

Comments are closed.