Bible based defense of Abortion?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:35 PM [+]
Yes, I know it seems a little absurd, but someone has made a go of it.
Now before I get into this, I want to be sure I restate my own distaste for the great American "culture war" of which I am a conscientious objector. As I've said many times before, I believe the whole affair stems from BOTH sides putting FAR too much faith and hope in the "princes and sons of men." However, I affirm very strongly the notion that human life is sacred and deserves protection from the moment of conception and having been directed to the aforementioned article and asked to offer a few thoughts, I'll happily do so...from an ORTHODOX Christian perspective.
I emphasize that this will be an Orthodox Christian perspective because it is quite clear that both the article and the website in general is intended to engage and argue with right-leaning evangelical Christians. Clearly, the article is principally armed for battle in a "proof-text" war. And while I have no doubt that an evangelical could engage this particular battle (and probably win - at least to the degree that any "proof-text" battle can be won), the Orthodox Church doesn't fight such battles because the overall field or context makes no sense to us, for it is situated and completely dependent upon a foundation that we don't affirm to begin with: Sola Scriptura. In fact, the existence of the article itself speaks to the basic problem of Sola Scriptura. But, That's another topic.
It has always been my impression that self-proclaimed Christian Liberals are usually NOT fans of literalist interpretations of the Bible, and yet this author is determined to prove (right off the bat) that the Scripture's various renderings of man taking in breath demonstrates that we do not "receive" a soul until our lungs are flooded with a gas, composed of 78% Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen (plus a number of other less fun and exciting gasses), called air. And, we are lead to believe that this is what is intended when, for example, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" and made Adam a living being with a soul. The author overtly states that this act of God is exactly synonymous with Adam taking his first literal breath and thus the same for all of Adam's progeny. Of course, this is not at all what the text is intended to convey and the author carries the mistake even furthering completely forgetting that the word for breath and Spirit is the same in Hebrew. God does not need an infant to receive a bit of Nitrogen and Oxygen into his or her lungs in order for His Spirit to breath Life into them and create in them a soul. And even if He did, we should not have to remind anyone that an unborn child is flooded with these gasses via their mother who is regularly respiring the gasses on their child's behalf. If a baby's soul is somehow carried to them through the aforementioned gasses, then surely God could deliver it through his or hers mothers lungs, no? And if those calling themselves "the Christian left" wish to be literalists then we should note uniqueness of Adam in that he had
no means of receiving breath from the womb of an already living mother
and thus the analogy is rather lacking, isn't it? Additionally, if we MUST be literalists, there is no mention of God needing to pump air into Adam's rib to make Eve a living being! Are we seriously going to argue that God's Spirit of Life requires that the biological function of gas exchange in a baby's lungs must take place before a child can be considered to have a soul? Really?
The author goes on further to put forth other verses in which "breath" is required for "life." And again I would suggest we are talking about more than simple biological respiration and that God is not limited to this biological function in order to somehow create a soul in a human being. I'd suggest that this act of creation is a profound mystery that we know little about and likely we should take great caution when approaching God's mysteries. Hopefully, this only amuses the bodiless hosts immensely by our speculating and suggesting this mystery only happens when we engage in respiration. So, really, the whole point of the article ("When a fetus becomes a living being") seems an exercise in futility when taken to its logical conclusion.
The article then dabbles in Old Testament Laws a bit, but I'd advise ALL Christians and especially liberal ones to tread carefully when trying to build a case on the authority of Old Testament Law and certainly when trying to prove on ontological reality based on extrapolating the meaning or purpose of said laws. I'd suggest we end up painting ourselves into a very uncomfortable corner.
The author ends by simply saying that Jesus never specifically mentioned abortion and therefore, the author concludes that it must not have been considered a sin. Saying that if abortion were such a terrible sin, then surely Jesus would have said something, instead: "He [Jesus] said nothing." Wow, that's a huge leap of faith, isn't it? Are we sure of this inclusion that apparant silence in Gospel records implies absolute consent? Let's quote St. John from his Gospel: "And there are also many
other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I
suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that
would be written. Amen." Again, Sola Scriptura is befuddling us here.
For the most part, as I said before, the author is seeking to argue with evangelicals. For the Orthodox Church, the stance against abortion is not derived from proof-texts, but rather from a much broader and all encompassing understanding of the Christian Faith. Beginning first with Holy Tradition and then extending into the inner depths of our understanding of God's nature, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Life of the Holy Spirit in us, and all aspects of what it means to live a life in dedication to God. We rely not on an individual interpretation of Holy Scripture, but rather on the whole body of Holy Tradition - a living and breathing Tradition handed down to us from the very beginning.
There is virtually no end to the quotes from Church Mothers and Fathers, or Canons of the Church throughout her 2,000 year history which speak out against abortion as a grievous sin. Even as far back as the Didache (aka "The Teaching of the Twelve" often dated as early as some parts of the New Testament itself) which speaks without confusion: "thou shalt not murder a child by
abortion nor kill them when born." And so while the Christian right and left can continue the proof-text battle, I would simply suggest the weight of history, tradition, and common sense outweighs the notion that God requires our lungs to respire in order for us to obtain our souls.
Abortion is a political hot button issue. I do not know how or if we can ever get to the point where abortion is illegal again. It's a complex topic, but this complexity does not change the reality. War is also a complex issue, but it does not change it's ugliness. Having worked in a pathology lab for a couple of years I've personally seen the torn apart bodies of aborted "fetuses" which horrifically and very clearly looked to me like tiny murdered babies. It changed my opinion on the matter, for at the time I was in the camp of those calling themselves the "Christian Left." However, I do not now consider myself in the camp of the "Christian Right," but I do believe very firmly that abortion is an act that ends the life of a human being. I do not, however, believe that we are in place where laws can instantly fix this ugly situation where our culture has perverted the notion of sex to an act of personal gratification and that the natural "consequence" (aka: blessing) of this act (a new human person) is an unbearable burden that can be dealt with through a simple medical act no different (so we are told) than removing a cyst. To be unable to see that selfishness is the root of all that leads us to this place, is a spiritual blindness than no law of man can address. This is not to say that I think we should not engage in the political discussion, but I think we might consider a different strategy than holding signs and "screaming" at one another on the internet. Abortion is something that rather than being angry about and painting signs with slogans that convince no one, I think we should be weeping over and filling the skies with our prayers, and additionally reaching out with physical acts of love to those around us to show the true value of human.
I have always appreciated Frederica Mathewes-Green's perspective on this.