"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Intolerance II–Abortion

Abortion is perhaps the most contentious issue in the United States.  The battle lines seem irremediably drawn between Pro-life and Pro-choice advocates, and it is doubtful that the twain shall ever meet.  Pro-life supporters believe that conception begins at birth, and that abortion is tantamount to murder. This conviction is based on Biblical injunction and a firm belief that only God can give and take away life.   Pro-choice supporters take an equally principled stance, saying that within a secular context the rights of women are paramount; and by logical extension those of society at large.  These advocates reject the premise that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is simply a surgical intervention to promote the health and well-being of the woman.

There can be no wider difference of opinion, for the issue is not simply abortion, but secularism vs. religious faith, compounded and made more acute because of a profound political chasm – that between the most active pro-choice advocates, in the main Northern, liberal, and intellectual, and pro-life supporters who are politically conservative, rural, and often Southern.

While most believers in pro-choice may be tolerant of the right-to-life position, they fundamentally cannot accept it, for it represents an anti-progressive attitude, one which diminishes the value of women, shifts the emphasis from society to the individual, and encourages anti-intellectual fundamentalism.  Religious fundamentalism is at the core of the problem, progressive thinkers say, for it is a retrograde movement, darkening rational inquiry, the basis of human progress.

Conservative thinkers feel just the opposite.  Secularism is the problem with American society, for it ignores the essential feature of humanity – the soul.  While society needs its formulas, machines, engines of finance and energy, it cannot do without spiritual being, enlightenment, and renewal.

The debate over abortion is not just about an issue.  It is cultural war.

Tolerance by the pro-choice movement is limited to allowing pro-life advocates to have their say - freedom of speech and expression at its most elegant, say progressives, because of the profound differences in outlook and perspective.

This, however, is not true tolerance.  Real, deeply-felt tolerance means accepting an opposing belief as just as valid as one’s own.  In other words, that the conservative, religious pro-life advocates might just be right.  Life is unique, inviolable, and created at conception; and only God can bless or end it. It means accepting that a religious view of the world, a fundamental belief in the absolute, divine word of God as inscribed in the Bible, is valid; and that they – progressives – may be promoting an erosion of faith through their insistent secularism.

An ardent pro-choice supporter recently suggested to me that she was indeed tolerant of the pro-life position, but said she would accept the views only of those who were consistent in their pro-life beliefs, who were opposed to war and capital punishment, and who were fully supportive of programs to protect the lives of people after they were born – universal health care, affordable housing, and income equality.  In other words, she was adding conditions to tolerance.  She  would tolerate pro-lifers if they subscribed to a secular, progressive agenda.

Is true tolerance at all possible? Do we not have to make a principled choice which necessarily rejects or condemns all others? Is philosophical integrity – unwavering adherence to a unique set of principles – essential to self-worth and self esteem?

I believe that it is, but to do so requires belief in yet another philosophical principle – a rejection of the entire concept moral certainty and the existence of absolute moral principles.  If one believes that morality is a a product of secular society – a construct established to preserve order and provide a disciplined frame of reference for human activity – then it is easy to accept two opposing viewpoints as equally valid.  One moral principle will have its ascendency and descent only to be followed by the other in and endless cycle of change.  In the end there are no eternal ‘self-evident’ principles.

Another way to look at the question is from the perspective of Machiavelli who discarded any sense of good and evil, and who saw the world as a valueless struggle between competing forces.  Or from the perspective of Friedrich Nietzsche who saw the amoral, willful individual as the only human being of value.  Only the unique, willful, indomitable individual pursuing his own ends and satisfying his own desires would rise above the herd and maximize his human potential.

Neither pro-choice nor pro-life supporters are likely to accept these views, for they disrupt the traditional and conventional view of life.  Life may be good – as progressives say – and only needs man’s intervention to make it better.  Or it may be bad; and all of us, condemned by Adam and Eve through their original sin, must struggle for redemption and salvation.   Real, true, fundamental tolerance, however lies in the path paved by Machiavelli and Nietzsche.

Disagreeing with someone but championing their right to say it is not real tolerance.  It is part of the social democratic construct we have devised to keep the peace.

There is little hope for a tolerant compromise between the warring abortion factions, and all that is certain is that whichever side now prevails, the other is sure to as well if only marginally and for a short period – a kind of barbed wire, blood-and-mud trench warfare with the front changing a few feet at a time.

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