Pro-life?

Some weeks ago, as we were in the throws of preparing for our move, I ran across this meme in my Facebook feed:

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[Black square with the words “NOT A PERSON” across the top and a series of three pictures with a date underneath. First an image of a slave, 1815. Second an image of emaciated Jews, 1945. Third a baby in the womb, 2015.]

This meme found its way onto my newsfeed from a source that didn’t surprise me. I now have Facebook friends from almost every political and Christian stripe from extreme conservative to extreme liberal. I usually shrug off whatever posts I don’t agree with and carry on with my life, but this one gave me pause. So I decided to explore it here.

Before I begin, I would like to say that I would never consider myself “pro-abortion.” I have always found the very thought of taking an innocent life in this way tragic in the extreme, and I was raised in an environment that clearly considered every abortion ‘murder’ without qualification. So I continued as the years rolled by, but time and experience have modified and nuanced my thoughts on this subject.

Firstly, there is a tendency in our society to talk about “having children” as if it is something we can control. We attempt to plan our families and control our fertility. It is true that some understanding of how these things work can help people avoid unwanted pregnancies, but more than four years of suffering through infertility has taught me that we don’t have nearly the control over this aspect of our lives that we would like to think. Perhaps we want to plan our families, control our reproductive systems, and sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. The reality is, however much we may be able to influence our fertility, we cannot control how and when we have children. Conception (and successful implantation) happens, or doesn’t, for inscrutable, or, at least, uncontrollable reasons. Equally, an enormous number of pregnancies spontaneously “abort” in the early stages or miscarry, often causing significant emotional and physical trauma to those involved.

Secondly, it is easy to make ill-informed judgements about the process and experience of pregnancy, especially when one has not experienced becoming a parent. When I first discovered I was pregnant with the child I had longed for and despaired of having, I felt fully as much shock and fear as I did joy. Here was I, a woman in my 30’s, in a stable relationship finally pregnant after years of trying, and the knowledge was terrifying, overwhelming, violently unsettling. In the midst of my own bewilderment I thought of discovering this news as a teenager, an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. Suddenly I understood what would drive a woman to abortion, that wave of emotion and fear coupled with uncertain life experiences and a lack of support could easily wash away other considerations.

But pregnancy also brings with it other life changing experiences. When we went in for our first scan at about 11 weeks, my husband and I stared at the screen, seeing that tiny life we had made. I cried, and he saw the abortion debate in a whole new light: there really is a life in there. I love my baby. I loved carrying him, but I wasn’t prepared for how he would change my life.

Thirdly, all too often those who label themselves as pro-life demonstrably aren’t.

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[“Only in American can you be pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-unmanned drone bombs, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-guns, pro-torture, pro-land mines and still call yourself pro-life.” – John Fuglesang]

Or, to put it more constructively:

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[“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” – Joan D. Chittister]

As Sister Joan points out, to be “pro-life” requires a much more comprehensive approach to humanity and compassion than simply wishing to force every pregnant woman to carry her baby to term.

Fourthly, when a baby is born, it may be the end of a pregnancy but is the beginning of something else far more challenging. Newborn infants are delicate, helpless and extremely demanding. Since I have had my own baby to nurture, I have heard numerous stories about sleep deprived parents fantasising about throwing the baby across the room or other comparably violent things. Although such things sound horrendous, when the baby is still crying for no discernible reason at 3 am and you’ve had six hours sleep in the last 48 hours such thoughts come to mind all too easily, and this in parents who love their children and wanted them. While it may be horrible to think of the hundreds of thousands of terminated pregnancies, would it be less horrible to see hundreds of thousands of neglected, abused or otherwise traumatised children perpetuating destructive cycles in society because there were no responsible adults to take caring for them seriously?

Caring for a newborn baby demands a level of selflessness and sacrifice that tests a new parent to the core. This may be somewhat mitigated by sharing the burden of care, but the reality of this responsibility is real and important.

As a side note – I realise that for some, simple morality will fix this problem. If people never had sex outside of a relationship that would welcome a child, there would be no ‘unplanned’ pregnancies. However attractive this idea may be, and it may work well for some, it is simply not the reality in our world. Quite apart from what some might condemn as wantonness or promiscuity, sex happens. Whether healthy or not, whether consensual or not, whether in marriage or not, sex happens. Pregnancies will, therefore, also happen. We must find a way to deal with this reality without condemnation, demonisation, shaming or rejection.

Finally, I return to the meme which started me off on these reflections. Is a baby in the womb “not a person” in the same way as African tribespeople who were trafficked as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries or European Jews who were systematically starved, tortured and killed under the Nazi regime. No, I don’t think so. I realise this meme comes from a place that would want to affirm that “life begins at conception” an idea that can be problematic (this article has some helpful thoughts on this point). Even if that is true, “life” is not the same as “a person” – algae and plankton are alive.

But I think the real difficulty is more profound than that. The trans-atlantic slave trade victimised any and all individuals of a dark skin colour that it could. There were traders of both black and white ethnicities, and together they decimated tribes and cultures to feed the industrial and colonial machines of Europe and the Americas. This was the wanton and indiscriminate victimisation of a people group for the sake of greed.

Similarly, any Jew caught under the Nazi regime was subject to discrimination, concentration camps and/or death. No exceptions. The Holocaust also swept up others who protected/helped the Jews, homosexuals, and anyone else considered sub-human for whatever reason. Such people were systematically rounded up, segregated, institutionalised, experimented on, starved and killed. No compassion, no exceptions.

No one is systematically killing all unborn infants. The comparison might work if applied to male infants born to the salves in Egypt at the time of Moses birth. However morally questionable, however disturbing, however much one would wish to stand against abortion. It is not genocide, the wholesale slaughter of an entire group of people for no other reason than they are who they are. Children are born safely every day – the comparison is incorrect.

I didn’t like it when medical professionals referred to my son before his birth as ‘a foetus.’ To me he was always my baby – even when the thing we saw on the monitor looked nothing like an infant. When we went for those scans we could see his heart beating; already at 11 weeks this tiny thing had a heartbeat. I hate abortion. I hate that it happens. I hate that we live in a world where some women find themselves in a situation where they feel they have no other choice than to end a pregnancy in this way.

But there are many other things in the world I hate as well – war, starvation, lack of clean water and sanitation, children growing up with inadequate health care and no education. It’s time we stopped isolating the question of whether or not to end a pregnancy from the complicated emotional, physical, phycological, economic and cultural factors which affect it, and started taking the whole of life seriously, including the lives of the women who will be profoundly affected from the moment they discover they are pregnant, no matter what they decide to do next.

Politics and Jesus

The campaign for the next President of the United States of America is in full swing. Anyone on either side of the pond with the least awareness of politics cannot help but be aware of the leading candidates, Trump and Clinton, and perhaps even their nearest rivals, Cruz and Sanders. Politics in the USA is deeply polarised and also, in many ways, deeply personal. Individuals espouse a particular party or candidate with religious fervour and often passionately promote the ideals and values of their chosen one with antagonistic partisanship. Even those who are less vocal about their convictions usually have strong opinions in favour of or against a particular party and/or their candidate.

In this day and age, such opinions frequently find their way onto Facebook. Individuals who are quite happily ‘friends’ for most of the time can find election season quite difficult to navigate when the partisan opinion pieces and, more particularly, the opinionated meme’s start appearing on their Facebook news feed. Perhaps you may have seen some floating around. Perhaps, like me, there are certain people whose feeds you simply don’t read because you don’t want to start a fight, but what they post makes you hopping mad. Perhaps, like my husband, you read it because it makes you mad and are possessed by a burning desire to contradict them because “someone’s wrong on the internet.”

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[Image of stick man at a desk with the text “Are you coming to bed?” “I can’t. This is important.” What? “Someone is WRONG on the internet.”]

Recently, I noticed a post like this on my Facebook wall:

[Image of Jesus teaching with the words “B-b-but if you feed everyone, Jesus, that would be <gasp!> Socialism” With the comment underneath that reads “No . . . if Jesus robs one group of people at gunpoint in order to feed another group of people who will vote for Him, that would be socialism. If Jesus creates food and gives it to others voluntarily, using His own free will, this is voluntaryism <sic>.”]

I found the sentiment disturbing. Having been raised a Republican in a generically conservative household, I would once have been inclined to be anti-socialist, as this meme is. In my history books (written by religious conservative believers in manifest destiny), socialism was equal to communism, and communism was the enemy (I grew up in the final years of the Cold War). In that worldview, yes, the hungry should be fed, but not by the government. So, when I encountered this meme, I struggled to think of a response, but then, several days later, I figured it out.

You see, many, if not all of those who would be against a ‘socialist’ reading of Jesus, would most likely be politically conservative, and in the US that means anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage, pro-death penalty, etc. Most of these conservative ethical views would be based on a certain reading and interpretation of the Bible. The most vocal of these people (I think here of the Tea Party, although not exclusively) will be eager to legislate their moral views: i.e. banning abortion, gay marriage, etc. They have been engaging in “culture wars” for decades in order to legislate their understanding of morality and impose it on the culture as a whole. This being the case, such people are happy to use the power of government to impose the ethics/morality that they distill from the Bible, but object to socialism on the grounds that, although feeding the poor was modelled by Jesus, it is government enforced/propagated rather than freely chosen.

There is a group of people who may be a possible exception to this – those who identify as Libertarians and desire a small government to deal with such national necessities as defence, law and foreign policy and let citizens sort other things.

[Picture of Jesus teaching with the text: Libertarian Jesus – I told YOU to feed the poor . . .not create laws that steal from people to do it.]

If the Libertarians do not wish to enforce the legislation of their particular morality (biblical or otherwise) then it is at least consistent that they would object to a socialist government as well.

So, perhaps there is some room for the argument that Jesus was not a “socialist.”

  

[Photo of a man in an office wearing glasses with the text: JESUS WAS A SOCIALIST – FALSE: HE NEVER ONCE ADVICATED (sic) USING FORCE TO MAKE PEOPLE BE CHARITABLE]

After all, socialism as the political philosophy we have come to know today is a relatively new concept in world history, and although Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick “without money and without price” he certainly cannot accurately be described as “a socialist.”

However, that knife cuts both ways:

[Picture of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with the caption: Oh, so you are a Christian and hate socialism? Please, do tell me how much of a Capitalist Jesus was.]

Just as those who seek to baptise the political philosophy of socialism as What Jesus Would (have) Do(ne), those “Christians” who continue to uphold the capitalist worldview in opposition to socialism are also seeking to baptise an anachronistic political philosophy with their own interpretation of the life and works of Jesus, an interpretation that all too often ignores the collateral cost of the capitalist system in favour of obsessive focus on issues of morality.

  

[Picture of Jesus with a hand over his face captioned: STOP trying to categorise me as a socialist or a capitalist to justify your own worldly nonsence (sic)]

So what’s my point? Perhaps I might like to take the angle of Separation of Church and State and suggest that we keep religion out of politics. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is possible. All human beings have some form of world view, whether religiously motivated or otherwise, which informs their identity, values and choices. Politicians are no exception to this rule. They will, necessarily, make political decisions based on their religious or non-religious worldview. It is utterly disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

In the case of US politics, most candidates will appeal to the Christian faith, although some claim no faith and one recent candidate was a Mormon. In so doing, candidates almost inevitably emphasise the moral or social aspects of the teachings of the Bible or Jesus and claim a divinely motivate mandate as a result. The inference of such behaviour is that the side of Jesus/faith that they have chosen is the “right” side and those who would choose the other are “wrong.”

Isn’t it time we were honest about our convictions, recognised that they are time bound and influenced by our situations, faith, upbringing and a host of other factors, and found a way to engage in politics and government that neither co-opts Jesus as our standard bearer or demonises our opposition as opposed to God/Jesus/divine will?

In the end, it just isn’t as easy as a simple internet meme . . .

[quote from @JohnFugelsang: Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers hookers and crooks; wasn’t american and never spoke english; was anti-wealth anti-death penalty anti-public prayer (M 6:5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay; and was long-haired brown-skinned homeless community-organizing anti-slut-shaming middle eastern jew.]