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[The Creation of the Chicken]

An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

The "safe, legal, and rare" mantra

As I've not offered terribly controversial posts in quite sometime, I reckon I ought to give it a go. I, like many, watched portions of the Saddleback Civil Forum with Barak Obama and John McCain. It was probably one of the more interesting political debates/discussions/interviews that I have ever heard, precisely because it addressed issues on a pretty lofty scale (e.g. the existence of evil). I think both candidates said some fairly important and impressive things...but in the interest of full disclosure I will nail my political colors to the mast and say that as someone who has libertarian leanings I will be voting for the candidate MOST likely to keep the government out of my everyday life...well...at least moreso than the other candidate. of course, living where I live, my vote won't count anyway...so fret not Obama fans.

Because this forum had such theological-philosophical overtones, I am going to come forth and speak out on the issue of abortion.

The "safe, legal, and rare" mantra has been offered to us for quite sometime now and really I see it as a means to teeter safely upon the fence...another versions begins by saying: "While I am personally opposed to abortion..." well you know the rest.

We are told that by focusing on the "rare" part of the mantra we can all rest easier...I suppose because human lives are quantifiable? How different is this argument in terms of its appeal than trying to convince a pacifist of the good in reducing "collateral damage" during a war?

That aside...what is the solution to reduce the number of abortions? Well, as I gathered it: it is via the government's provision of healthcare, "livable" wage jobs (or welfare?), prophylactic education and provision, and other forms of care so that we have fewer pregnancies and for those that do have pregnancies they will better be able to afford bringing it to term and beyond.

BUT, does anyone have ANY idea what percentage of abortions are done for TRULY fiscal reasons? I have known three women who have had abortions in my life and not ONE of them could truly say they were unable to afford having a baby. Though two of them cited such a claim, it was simply not true and I'm sorry to judge, but they killed their babies to keep from having to downgrade their Cable TV package. That's harsh, I know, but...well...'nuff said. The third person I know outright admitted that she didn't want to have stretch marks and be "punished with a baby." (Obama's exact words with regard to his daughter having to suffer an unwanted pregnancy).

So, as I see it, you can give people all the money in the world and the very best healthcare in the world and people will STILL kill their unborn children for the sake of convenience. This is NOT a material problem...it is a spiritual problem rooted deeply in our personal and societal conscience...it is NOT going to be solved through any amount of hope and change as provided by the government. Sure, you might reduce the numbers some, but as usual the liberal position assumes that the world's woes are directly linked to fiscal want. Classic Marxist materialism, frankly.

I think this rather illustrates my take on the problem with government aid. For you see, my wealthy (by world standards: fabulously wealthy) friends who procured abortions might have convinced a government statistician they they got it because of fiscal burden, but REAL people - indeed ANYONE with a shred of common sense could see it simply was not the case. In my own life I have been able to convince people that factors outside of my control led me to an ill situation, but those closest to me no doubt knew better. So, anyway, even if we really DID have stats, I'm not sure I believe them.

No doubt some of you will accuse me of being insensitive to the plight of the poor who truly feel they have no place to turn during a crisis pregnancy. And I will say right now that pro-lifers who vote for pro-life candidates and yet do nothing to help those around them are being hypocritical. That being said there are many Christian run crisis pregnancy centers and in fact there is an Orthodox organization as well. Perhaps if more Christians would downgrade their cable these groups would be far better funded than Planned Parenthood. Again, this hearkens back to my developing political philosophy that the very best assistance we can offer people is private, local, and personal. That said: if we truly believe that human life begins at conception, then plans to simply reduce the number of abortions OUGHT to horrify us. It is akin to saying we want to work on ways to reduce the number of Jews that Nazi's put in ovens while respecting their right to do so safely and legally.

Yes, I'll be told that by making such an analogy that I am not nuanced enough on this topic, but I'm okay with that. As many of you know I have held aborted "fetuses" in my hand and those experiences rather changed my mind on the matter, for at the time I was a Christian who sat on the proverbial fence of the issue and worked very hard to rationalize not making abortion an important political issue. But, if those ripped apart and shredded bodies in my hand were human (and they clearly were), then the analogy to Nazis and Jews is warranted...even if the participants are doing so in ignorance. I'm sure the Nazis who were directly involved in killing the Jews had become convinced (through propaganda and indoctrination) that they were killing "vermin"; mere animate burdens on society and not humans. Do not underestimate the extent to which groups like Planned Parenthood (an absolutely horrific organization) are influencing your child's reproductive curriculum at school.

Anyway, I'm not interested in doing much politicking anymore here - I generally save it for the LOG list so I'm not posting this to tell you how I think you should vote...if you'd like that opinion I'll gladly offer it privately.

It mean seem as though I am politicking here now, but I'm actually trying to address this specific issue of abortion: in my mind, one of the few things that government should do is protect rights and defend innocent life. And from a philosophical-theological point of view, if you believe you are unqualified to decide when human life begins, hadn't you better err on the side of caution?

Now, some of you are going to comment here and try to cloud this issue with others...I ask that you don't. As I am not attempting to endorse a particular candidate, this is not a post to compare and contrast Obama and McCain overall. I note Obama's position on abortion simply because it used to be mine as well and I believe it now to be morally and logically bankrupt - utterly incompatible with Christian ethics and the teachings of the Church throughout history. I do, however, welcome comments on the issue of abortion.

More importantly, if you are able - please support Zoe for Life. No matter who wins the election, I think this is the best way to express Christian compassion and ethics. Private, Local, and Personal.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:53 AM [+]


Another way to help...
Orthodox Maternity Home for women in crisis who choose life for their unborn child!

By Blogger Susan Sophia, at 9:57 AM  


Dear James,

Good post.

You are correct I believe that abortion is primarily a moral issue, not a financial one. It is a spiritual issue, and I think that all people feel deeply on this issue.

You may find this interesting, but Italy has experienced a spiritual decimation due to abortion that I think the society as a whole feels. This, I think, is why in the last presidential election a man named Giuliano Ferrara ran for president on an anti-abortion ticket. He called his party simply "Aborto No Grazie". Giuliano Ferrara is a popular journalist with a long history in Italy beginning with his involvement in the Communist party (which is still alive and well). I had the privilege of hearing him speak in Rome and it was amazing. People were cramming into this place and craning their necks and listening with such longing and passion, you could have heard a pin drop! I think people are hungry for his message, primarily for two reasons. First, he is an atheist, so religious reasons can not get in the way, people can listen to him without getting defensive. Secondly, people feel in their hearts that something is wrong, people feel broken, indeed the whole society feels sick. People want to have light shed into their darkness, but they have too many walls up to religion to receive anything from the Church. Check out some of his stuff on the web, including his book "Make Love, Not Abortion."


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:41 PM  


Curious Imran...on what grounds does an atheist claim abortion is wrong?

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:53 AM  


My guess is that the Italian people have been brutalized by the Roman Catholic "gospel" for so long that they now (tragically) discount the only version of Christianity that they know. However, since they are still creatures in God's image, they know that abortion is evil, even if its major critique comes from an atheist. Anyone still want to argue that dogma/ecclesiology doesn't matter?

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 AM  


But clearly an atheist must make some appeal to reason in the context of their worldview. This is an issue near and dear to my heart as I was raised an atheist and a rather vehement one at that.

But I could never fully reconcile what I felt in my heart to be morally good/true and what I believed about the nature of the world. They simply didn't fit.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 3:24 PM  


Dear James,

First, let me make a comment about Gary Patrick's comment. I have no idea what he is trying to imply here. The "Roman Catholic Gospel" is none other than THE gospel. If there is some other "gospel" that Mr. Patrick has some inside track on then I would love to hear what it is. As a practicing Catholic who has studied theology and lives in a Roman Catholic religious community I will give you my understanding of the gospel, and then please Gary tell me how it is that this gospel has "brutalized" the Italian people. My understand of the gospel is this . . .
1) There is one God who exists eternally in three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2) Out of love, God created the universe and all within it, however due to human choice humankind fell into sin and brought evil into the world.
3) Out of love, God the Son (Jesus) became truly man to show us the way back to God, to die for our sins, and to redeem all creation.
4) God now invites us into a relationship with Him through his Son Jesus Christ.
5) God delights in His Church which is the living Body of Christ on earth. Through His Church we express Christian unity and receive the precious sacraments.

Now of course, Catholics believe much more than this, but this (I believe) is the heart of the gospel. Is there something in this which is brutalizing Italians or is it one of the other Catholic beliefs that you feel is brutalizing Italians?

When I was a graduate student in philosophy the first scholarly argument against abortion I read was written by an atheist philosopher. There is much that I could say, but suffice to say that you do not need to be a Christian to love your fellow man or to have grave concern over the social impacts of any public policy. Indeed, since atheists do not have God, they often end up elevating humanity in various ways . . . even in ways I would call "spiritual". Theists do not have a corner on morality, indeed from Socrates on there is a tradition of moral philosophy which does not make direct appeal to revelation for justification. Honestly, from a philosophical perspective an appeal to religion does not make a moral argument any stronger or more persuasive than it already is (if it already has good logical and deductive footing then adding that a particular religion endorses the argument does not make it any stronger or weaker, it is irrelevant).

There is a chapter in a book I want to recommend to you. The book is called, "Hard Questions, Real Answers" by William Lane Craig (a Christian philosopher). The book is not that great, but it has an excellent chapter on abortion where he lays out a strong argument against abortion. After he lays out the argument he points out that on no point does one need to appeal to religion. In fact, he feels that Christians do a disservice to the unborn when they drag religion into it, because people who would otherwise be convinced by the pro-life side are turned off (unnecessarily) because they are turned off by the religious convictions of the pro-life crowd. The argument (simplified) goes like this. (1) Human beings are valuable and our laws should respect the rights of human beings (including the right not to be killed). (2) A human being at an early stage of development is a human being. (3) We should value and protect human beings when they are at an early stage of development. The rest of the chapter is basically an unpacking of these simple points. He addresses the pro-choice arguments for abortion as well.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:50 PM  



Here is a link to a web page showing a debate between Giuliano Ferrara and Sabina Guzzanti. I know you don't speak Italian, but you can see how passionately a person can stand in defense of the unborn, without believing in God or bringing religion into it at all.



By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:05 PM  


Imran...I'll check it out. I do disagree though that religious arguments are not stronger or weaker than a non-religious argument.

Sometimes Atheism is combined with a humanism that I would suggest IS religious.

I suppose I should be more specific. I was a strict atheistic materialist darwinist. The ONLY morality I was able to derive from it was hedonism....the very heart of darwinism. Strong live, weak die...live to reproduce.

The death of a human - from a strict materialist perspective - is of no greater moral weight than the death of a cow.

Any arguments beyond this, I would suggest are in fact religious in nature - even if not referencing a deity.

In the context of the Christian worldview as you know, the Image of God and the nature of God speaks very loudly with regard to the act of killing the most indefensible and innocent among us. This of course will not convince a soul outside of this context. But our perception of the nature and reality of this world will certainly color our perspective in ways that someone with a different perception of reality may not share.

Whatever the situation in Italy, I agree with GP in that ultimately it is the Imago Dei within us all that tells us that killing the unborn is wrong.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:52 AM  


Dear James,

Interesting posts, thank you all. Here's my two cents for adoption. It's a great alternative and I've often thought about how so many mistakes in life can have terrible, terrible consequences, and yet how can a child be called a mistake? Unwanted pregnancies certainly have consequences, and adoption is not without its own pain for the birth mother and the birthgrandparents, and yet that is eased somewhat by the joy experienced by the adoptive parents. I know that feeling x three. Laws in this state do encourage single birthmothers to keep their child. Maybe a good choice if you are sister to Britney Spears or an adult woman with a decent income but a tough, tough road for teenage mothers. I see them wandering around downtown, kids pushing strollers, eyes vacant, and wonder if that is the life they wanted?

As much as most people abhor abortion, it won't go away regardless of what laws are passed or changed. I'm struck less by the rhetoric about abortion and more by the actions. If it is truly murder, then why isn't there more active universal outrage? What is it? 45 million deaths since Roe v. Wade? That is a holocaust beyond anything from Mao, Stalin and Hitler. If a first trimester baby is essentially the same as a newborn, where are the funerals for the babies that don't make it because of miscarriage? I think the answer to these questions is that regardless of the rhetoric, people and churches do acknowledge and recognize through their practices a difference between a baby that is two months along in the womb, and a baby that is two months along outside of the womb. Call me a cynic, but the currency that matters to me now is not what someone says or believes but how that is expressed by behavior. . .

By Anonymous Mike, at 12:09 PM  


but the currency that matters to me now is not what someone says or believes but how that is expressed by behavior. . .

Judge me by this standard, and precious little is true about Christ...I am sad to admit.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 1:57 PM  


Jumping in a little late here, but Mike, I've got to question your logic. Usually the argument is, "If you truly BELIEVE it is murder, why aren't you out in the streets protesting?" or something to that effect. You can look at someone's actions and use that to question their personal convictions, but it doesn't affect reality. I mean, tens of millions of people seemed to be okay with--or denied the existence of--the Holocaust. But that only speaks to their personal apathy towards murder, not whether or not the Holocaust was in fact murder. I will admit that even the most pro-life among us is affected by our culture's disregard for human life to the point that it's hard for us to think about the unborn in the same way we do infants, but again that speaks to the evil of our society, not to the personhood of the unborn.

As for miscarriage, I had this exact conversation with an Orthodox monastic not long after my miscarriage earlier this year. When we lost that baby, we were crushed. But to be honest, I know it wasn't as hard on us as it would be if our two-year-old died. That's not because the baby we lost was less of a person, but because we've become more attached to our toddler. People die every day, but I don't mourn them the way I would mourn a family member or friend. That's not to say that the strangers aren't people, just that we mourn relative to our closeness to the person, and we're not equally close to everyone.

By the way, there are prayers (at least in Orthodoxy) for miscarriages, and also burials when possible. I know Catholic hospitals set aside cemetery space for miscarriages (again when possible) as well. I'm not saying that our Church does a fantastic job of recognizing the personhood of the unborn, or that we (as a church and as individuals) couldn't do more, but I don't think you are being entirely fair in your portrayal of the Christian treatment of the unborn.

By Anonymous Paige, at 8:42 AM  


If a first trimester baby is essentially the same as a newborn, where are the funerals for the babies that don't make it because of miscarriage?

Apparently you don't know anyone first hand that has had miscarriages. I have 2 nephews who came into the world one at 5 months and the other at 6 months. They didn't make it. There are 2 beautiful grave stones in a cemetery in central Minnesota and are visited frequently by their parents and grandparents. I know that isn't first trimester, but miscarriages nonetheless.
There is also a monastery in Eastern WA that has a cemetery. I've been there frequently and know of a section there where several miscarried babies are laid to rest. I know one of the families personally and know that it was indeed a first trimester miscarriage.

Memory Eternal.

By Blogger Susan Sophia, at 12:24 PM  



Do you know who Gary Patrick is and why he took a poke at the Catholic Church? The Orthodox folks I meet in my neck of the woods are quite friendly with the Catholics. Indeed, many of the Orthodox believers here grew up Catholic. They do not seem hostile to Catholicism, but rather see Orthodoxy as completing in some way their faith. I have never heard an Orthodox person say that Catholics believe a "different" or "brutalizing" gospel. What could that mean? How is the Orthodox gospel different than the Catholic gospel? Are they not the SAME gospel, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Or perhaps I am wrong to assume that Gary Patrick is Orthodox, perhaps he is an anti-Christian. He also made a statement about someone arguing that dogma/ecclesiology does not matter. What could that mean? I know that Orthodox are just as dogmatic and ecclesial as us Catholics. Who said that such things do not matter? I honestly don't know what he was trying to imply, and he did not respond to my request for clarification. Any help?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:28 AM  


Paige, I guess the point I was trying to make (perhaps not very well) was the disconnect I often see between rhetoric and action. I certainly see it in my own life, I'm sorry to say.

My wife and I have first hand experience with miscarriage, and though we still mourn the death of this child, it doesn't change the way I see society as a whole views the unborn. Feeling badly about something happening is a good thing, particularly if that something happening is truly a bad thing, but I often find that that is where it all ends as opposed to that "feeling" being the start of some sort of change in personal behavior. My daughter felt badly when we took away the keys to the car and grounded her for just about forever after we discovered a beer bottle under the back seat. On one hand, it was good she was upset. On the other hand, I didn't really care about her emotional reaction. I was more interested in how she was going to behave moving forward, when we gave her one last chance to drive the car.

Anyway, a really old post, I know, and I should have commented again earlier, but life got in the way.


By Anonymous Mike, at 3:40 PM  


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