June 3, 2009

Abortion wars

The murder of George Tiller has sparked a new debate about the abortion issue. Perhaps timely, I don't know. Fred at slacktivist has a great post on this which I recommend as a must read. It includes the video of Frank Schaeffer on the Rachel Maddow show talking about the fact that words have consequences, and the words he and others used in the 70s and 80s are partly responsible for this kind of violence.

As we discussed in the comments, this is not a first amendment issue. Randall Terry has the right to gloat over the death of this doctor, just as we have the right to be appalled and to find him contemptible. But Shaeffer and slacktivist make the same point--that once you have elevated the rhetoric on abortion to compare it to the Nazi Holocaust, and those who support it as the equivalent to Hitler, you know full well that some nutjob is going to take that to an extreme. You have taken the subtlety out of it. There is no more nuance or gray area--abortion becomes pure evil and you stand for pure good.

I didn't realize that our slacktivist writer came from that background (though his running series on the Left Behind books should have tipped me). I knew that Frank Schaeffer's late father was the Dr. Francis Shaeffer who helped radicalize the right, and even justified violence in response to Roe. Perhaps this post caught me at a tired moment this week, but I was reminded of my own small role in the religious right. Not really on the abortion debate--for whatever reason, that issue was not front and center in the churches of my youth--but in the presentation of absolute certainty. I just remember asserting absolute certainty on issues like homosexuality or abortion. It is interesting to read these other authors who came out of that kind of experience. At some point, that certainty became less understandable to me. For Fred, it was the realization that those mouthing the language of the holocaust either didn't mean any of it, or all of it. For me, it was driving through the poorest parts of Houston, and reading about failed attempts to provide decent pre and post natal care to the poor. No protestors. No religious right up in arms about the infant mortality rate of a developing nation. That was it for me.

I hope we can find someway to talk to each other. We are ill served by the public face of religion these days, and even less well served by the way the religious right has radicalized one of our two parties. We all want fewer unwanted children. We would hope for none. We all want that. Comparing abortion to the Holocaust isn't helping anyone except Randall Terry and the crazies.


Moses said...

The subtlety of abortion? Well! That must be the reason some have had so much difficulty understanding the evil of it. It is just so very subtle?

Streak said...

One of these days I am going to get our carbon monoxide leak fixed here at the blog. Might help some.

Francis said...

To qoute Ann Coulter, "If you don't believe in shooting abortionists, don't shoot one."

Monk-in-Training said...

It is a continual amazement to me how many Conservatives, esp. Christians (who have nearly become synomous with the Republican Party in the public's mind) seem to have a complete inability, to see viewpoints other than their own.

This is one reason why young people are not attracted to the old arguments, and I would say they have some reason to do so.

Streak said...

Monk, I am also amazed. I am especially amazed at the violence and militancy of people who claim to follow Christ.

I am not that amazed, but a little surprised at how any posts on abortion brings out the nutjobs.

leighton said...

Another reason for the disconnect with young people, at least in my experience, is that a great many kind and sensible conservative Christians spend more time and energy trying to build bridges with militant and abrasive people who attach the word "Christian" to themselves than they do reaching out to those whose lives are damaged by legalism and bigotry who either aren't Christian, or don't go out of their way to advertise one way or the other. After all, Matt. 7:16 reads in part, "Ye shall know them by their species name; ye should ignore their fruits."

Not that these efforts are mutually exclusive; especially if you're dealing with different spheres of your own life, they never have to be. But when you've got church bills to pay, you can't always afford to challenge the vocal minority who go out of their way to mock immigrants and the poor and single mothers, and make their lives harder. Hazards of institutional commitments. I've got my own, which sometimes involve standing by and watching while the federal government puts thousands of miles between parents and their children. I'm not sure that isn't worse than anything churchgoers do in their capacity as churchgoers. But there's no question that I sleep easier at night knowing that I don't have to answer for someone close to me speaking thoughtlessly as a matter of principle.