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

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Abortion And The Demonstrations Of The Righteous–Solidarity, Camaraderie, And Missing The Whole Point

There were lots of happy smiles at the most recent Pro-Choice demonstrations and a lot of happy people marching in the heady solidarity of common purpose.  There were hugs, children, supportive men, pink fur and banners, a Fourth of July parade with all the hoopla but without the fireworks.  It felt good to be among friends, arm-in-arm marching up the Mall to Congress, to toss hats in the air in celebration, to share kisses and phone numbers, and in one fell swoop be done with COVID, masks, and social inhibition and show support for perhaps the cause of the century.  Global warming may be the existential peril it is touted to be; Black Lives Matter may be the final nail in the white supremacists' coffin; and the gender spectrum may finally represent the long-waited reconfiguration of human sexuality; but abortion was about women, half the earth’s population, its mother, its birthing agent, its creator and most importantly, female supremacy.

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A woman’s dominion over her own body symbolizes reproductive control, rational motherhood, and female dignity; but more than anything it is a defiance of male patriarchy, smugness, feeble-minded, testosterone-driven fantasy, and barroom boorishness. The other issues lining the progressive agenda can wait.  This is the Year Zero, the defining moment for women, their Roncesvalles, their line in the sand, their moment of defeat or victory.

So the joyful celebrations on the Mall were well-fueled with female passion and ambition , an explosive mix of social solidarity, righteous anger, and political commitment.  Each march was an all-or-nothing moment, one to be recorded for children and grandchildren, a defining moment and one which showed goodness and righteousness to progeny and the watching world. 

Of course, this and other previous demonstrations have done nothing to persuade the courts, and in particular the Supreme Court, that Roe v Wade was correctly ruled.  Conservative jurists, most notably the late Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, a man of intellect, juridical temperance, and originalist thinking; and one ferociously independent and free from non-legal public opinion, have had their doubts about Roe.  ‘Privacy’ as interpreted by the Roe-favorable Warren Court has nothing to do with such an existential issue, ignoring as it does any more profound notion of life and existence whether immediate or future.

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Equally disturbing is the fact that moral questions concerning abortion have been largely if not totally ignored in a debate which has exclusively focused on civil rights, jurisprudence, social justice, and gender.  Yet these moral issues concerning the nature and value of life within a broader philosophical, religious, and spiritual context are equally if not more important.

Pope John Paul II was forthright, explicit, and uncompromising when he spoke of the moral morass of expediency, and was perhaps the most unforgiving critic of abortion, stating in his Evangelum Vitae:

The encyclical states that today “in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured”.This is manifested in the everyday way of thinking, in people’s habits and also in the state legislation itself. All this “is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake”. This is a serious and really grave situation when “we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception...

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Pope Francis has also spoken eloquently about expediency and how unrestricted, unlimited access to abortion makes life dispensable and subject to secular whim.  Francis has added a new, modern dimension to his criticism.  Not only does abortion-on-demand demean the life of mother, father, and child but diminishes the very sanctity of life itself.    If all life is endowed by the Creator, then an indifferent disregard for it in one area fosters disregard for it in all others.  How can one be serious about the environment, Francis said – serious about the life of all forms that exist within it – with such a dismissive disregard for human life? Francis in his recent Encyclical focusing on environmental issues said:

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Unusually ecumenical, Francis spoke in Hindu terms, citing the inherent value of all life. All life is interrelated.  No one living thing is disassociated from any other:

Hinduism teaches that the five great elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth) that constitute the environment are all derived from prakriti, the primal energy. Each of these elements has its own life and form; together the elements are interconnected and interdependent. The Upanishads explains the interdependence of these elements in relation to Brahman, the supreme reality, from which they arise: “From Brahman arises space, from space arises air, from air arises fire, from fire arises water, and from water arises earth.”

Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues founded the new republic to be consistent with both secular democracy and religious principle.  According to Jefferson, while the law is based on Locke’s rights of man and is a procedural tool for adjudicating disputes, it is also based on the “God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  The American political system was to be a moral one, based on religious principles.  Jefferson would be surprised and sorely disappointed to see how legalistic, procedural, and devoid of a sound philosophical and religious base society has become.

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Sooner or later both sides of the abortion debate will realize that morality, far from being divisive, is common ground.  Moral principles form the foundation for society; and they are indeed universal.  Whether inspired by the Bible or reflected in the texts of moral philosophers, they cannot be ignored.

Given the current, increasing, and insistent secularization of the issue of abortion; and given its central place in the progressive ethos, such a more inclusive view is unlikely.  Those in favor of abortion find philosophy irritating and irrelevant.  It is pointless to read religious philosophy, whether Christian or other, they say, for the written, historical word is only part of a narrative, giving witness to stories but without absolute meaning.  Progressives have adopted Lacan and Derrida as their philosophers, and Post-Modernism their only, exclusive philosophy.  As such, current issues and events must be seen only through a secular, social lens – one whose filters are race, gender, and ethnicity.

There can be no compromise on abortion.  Those who are against it do so on the basis of moral and religious principle – foundational ideas central to their identity and world view.  Those who are for it are equally convinced of the correctness of their post-modern, secular, contextual world, and their own progressive identity.  Disavowing support for abortion would be automatic, arbitrary dismissal from the big tent.

In any case, the marches on the Mall come and go, and the more frequent and angry they are, the fewer people tune in.  Most observers feel that the issue is far more complex than the one celebrated in happy protest, and that it will be decided in the courts and ultimately the Supreme Court.  It will take more time for secularization to be slowed and the more subtle arguments of the past to be revisited and considered, but eventually the country will return to its Jeffersonian roots.

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