Monday, November 09, 2009

Why Abortion Trumps the Gospel for Rightwingers

David Brin (best known as one of the great SF writers of our current era, but also a keen social commentator) recently analyzed to why abortion is a perfect issue for rightwingers who are afraid of Jesus' essentially socialist message of social justice. Brin's deconstruction is completely consistent with my experience as a young seminary student, circa 1970, agitating on command against the pro-choice Referendum 20 in Washington State.
"... Which brings us back to abortion. My own theory is that this issue became so bilious and rage-drenched because of "The Jesus Factor."

Look at Jesus. Read his words. Tell me, whose side would he be on, in the argument over health care reform? Or taxation? Or welfare, or helping the poor? C'mon, it's embarrassing. He looked like a hippie, talked like a socialist and said that camels could pass through needles before rich dudes could enter heaven. The nagging question of "whose side would He be on?" was a truly vexing one, if your side always seemed to favor the wealthy and powerful. Even if some particular issue actually favors your conservative position, with logic and reason and Adam Smith on your side -- (hey, it could happen!) -- Jesus is still a pretty potent figure, standing over there with the socialists!

What was needed was a deal-breaker. A way to re-take the moral high ground. Ideally, a simple on-off switch that could be flicked once, and then left running, requiring no further anxiety over ethics and such. ANd requiring no further effort or money out of your pocket. The need? Find one issue so important that Jesus would HAVE to side with you, even if he disagrees with you over everything else.

Killing babies.

Yep. That'll do. Take a blatantly analog situation and mark it out digitally, as a perfect, binary on-off state. Define any fetus, embryo, even four-cell blastocyst, as a precious and totally reified baby. Pose your opponents as baby-killers and Jesus will have to side with you, even if he holds his nose over all the other, less-important policies you're pushing! Saving babies trumps everything else.

And there are other advantages. First, a ban simply ain't gonna happen. So you are safe from having to live in the resulting world, chasing women down dark alleys and going back to the days of teeming orphanages. Second, win or lose, it is an issue that will ask no sacrifice from the rich.

Yes, my diagnosis seems contemptuous. (Mea culpa.) And, as I said, there is a level where the argument over abortion truly is legitimate and philosophically interesting. Certainly it is an unpleasant thing, ethically tainted, best minimized and made as rare as possible. (Something that happens under broad-spectrum sex education and NOT via abstinence-only programs.) Furthermore, when an anti-abortion activist says she has actually adopted a child, I turn humble and willing to listen politely. Any decent person should.

But here is where you see the basic purpose of dogmatism. For the aim of anti-abortion activists is not to reduce the number of abortions. (If it were, they would vote for democrats.) They will tell you that even one aborted fetus is a travesty, to be fought without any thought of compromise... even if the fight actually results in more such terminations actually happening. At one level, of course, it is a philosophical position worthy of respect. And lefties who refuse to even briefly see that are fools.

On the other hand, I have a right to look at a rancid explosion of simpleminded hatred and peer beneath for some of the causes and drivers of a Culture War that seems directly aimed at undermining our republic. No, in most cases and at most levels it is NOT sincere. It is about trying to corner Jesus, and I doubt he's buying."
The binary choicepoint - that human life exists when a unique combination of DNA is created - was a great source of comfort to me when I was anti-choice. It simplified all the decisions for me; I was against killing babies, so my opponents were for killing babies! It gave me a firm feeling of being absolutely, gloriously RIGHT and GOOD!

I miss that wonderful feeling. The funny thing is, I can still call it back, like the memory of an old girlfriend, and feel the righteous rage against the unrighteous, not to mention contempt for their foolishness.

I'm not sure that these comforting beliefs were ever dispelled by logic. I vaguely remember some women trying to talk to me about the realities THEY faced, but it's all a blur. They were talking about their bodies, their needs, birth control failure, and so on ... but *I* was thinking about *saving babies*! so whatever they said to me was just "a gong booming and a cymbal clashing." I suspect memories did not form because I literally could not understand what they were saying.

I don't know why my thoughts and feelings on this topic changed, except that in a general way I grew up and learned that our complex universe has little respect for our artificial dichotomies. I would like the comfort of being able to point to a single experience as being decisive - one logical argument, or one Startling Revelation by a Lover that She Too had had an Abortion ... but then that's the problem, isn't it?

Wanting a simple solution to a complex problem?

For those who seek New Testament support for Jesus as a Jewish Commie, see Matthew 19:21, Luke 6:24 and 12:33.

And as to his followers OMG!: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15;
Acts 2:45 and 4:34-35 "to each according to need"

No comments: