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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, January 21, 2008

Amazing Grace and the Sanctity of Life

If you've seen the film Amazing Grace then you know that a significant portion of the film deals with William Wilberforce's internal struggle of deciding between becoming a full time minister or remaining a member of parliament. In essence, the film intends to demonstrate that the dichotomy between the work of God and the work of politics is unnecessary and that sometimes (perhaps often?) they coincide. And so Wilberforce, who is convinced via his Christian faith of the evils of the African Slave Trade, sets out to end the practice by remaining a member of parliament. We are also told that he goes on to tackle numerous other social justice issues as well.

Social Justice, Christian Charity, and Politics are all the rage these days. The right side of the American political fence has long played the Christian morality card on numerous issues (e.g. "family values") and the left is now learning that if they are to gain control that they are going to have to Christianize their hand as well and they do so under the banner of "feeding the poor" and such. Now, I should pause and say that I am not completely cynical over such matters, I truly believe that SOME politicians on both sides of the political fence truly believe in the respective changes they hope to implement.

Now, two days ago happened to be "Sanctity of Life" Sunday and it got me thinking about the abolitionist movement as portrayed in the film. One definitely gets a sense from the film that Wilberforce and his "team" are the 19th century equivalent of modern liberal activists and politicians. If you've seen the film then you know exactly what I mean.

What it had me wondering was: Is there a moral and political parallel between slavery and abortion? Naturally the question comes down to when a fetus is to be considered a human being and indeed this was at least in part also the case for African slaves, whose status as human was no doubt in question at the time - amazingly enough. Much more difficult it is to ascribe humanity to one who has no voice: like a fetus or the disabled or the elderly.

Wilberforce's opponents decried the economic and personal ruin that the banning of the slave trade would have on many people and communities, yet vaguely seeing the rightness of the moral issue (or at least the growing political will) instead suggested a cautious and lengthy process of ending the practice as opposed to an outright and sudden ban. Naturally the abolitionist were abhorred by the idea: how can we consider not immediately ending the suffering and murder of thousands?!

Today we have politicians who will decry the practice of abortion "personally" and will even speak to notions of how horrible it is, but will yet still uphold the right to practice it. It is, we are told, a complex matter that should be left up to the individual. Now, is this argument any different than the argument Wilberforce's opponents put forth with regard to the individuals and communities whose lives would suffer if the trade had been banned?

If we TRULY believe that abortion ends an innocent human life, then should such arguments really carry any weight? Given that pregnancy is as much an option as a career choice, do the arguments lose even more weight? Serious questions here.

If John Newton's advice to Wilberforce was right and that we ought to seek to change the world - to conform it to the way of the Kingdom - through politics, then I think we ought also to wonder if taking an "oh well, it's a bad thing...but not the most important thing" approach to abortion is not a huge mistake. Who in our society is so voiceless, so powerless, so utterly defenseless as a womb-born infant? Surely, no one is.

I know I've mentioned it before, but my opinion on abortion changed radically during the time that I worked in a pathology lab and was able to actually see the remains of aborted fetuses. Initially it was fascinating to see the little severed arms and legs and various other body parts, but in time the full weight of what I was seeing (tiny human bodies ripped to shreds) befell me and I knew I could no longer compromise on the issue. Yes, the gruesome pics that the really "crazy" protesters hold up are very likely real.

And so, if you believe that the government ought to be in charge of executing some of our Christians duties (whether that be teaching our kids morality or feeding the poor), then I URGE you to remember that it ought also to protect the weakest among us. Had they a voice, I believe they too would say, "Am I not a man and a brother?"

I would add this one thing: Wilberforce and abolition could not have succeeded until such a time that there was enough political and social will to do so. It was no easy task for such a thing to happen and it took a great deal of time...but make no mistake about it: there was a concerted effort to change the hearts and minds of people in the 18th-19th centuries. We live in a culture of death and blatant selfishness today and I really do not know what it will take to turn things around...or even if they can be turned around. We cannot manifest life or the love of it via the ballot box, but this rule applies to all matters we might deem to be important to Christians whether it be abortion or caring for the orphans or the widows. People must learn to embrace life - as I am trying to do as a child of this perverse generation.

Here is Metropolitan HERMAN's "Sanctity of Life" mesasage.

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 9:46 AM [+]


I hear your point, but I think there is a difference between the issues that make it very hard to understand how the abortion debate would ever change. Common to both issues is the notion of personal freedom. A historian would say that the blacks won their freedom in the kinds of circumstances described in the movie Amazing Grace, and that this was not the result of a single person's actions, but really a growing awareness and appreciation, in the west, of the value of the individual. The same growing appreciation was in part responsible for allowing women also a greater role in civic life. Unfortunately, the right to an abortion, from the feminists', or perhaps the secular, point of view, is strongly predicated on the idea of personal freedom. Whereas the abolitionist had to appeal to the essential wrongness of slavery, something many people conceded as "wrong", but difficult to eradicate practically, the problem of abortion confronts most moderns as a collision of two moral interests: the right to make one's own moral decisions about one's body, versus the duty to protect, and not to kill a baby. Much like you would argue that it's wrong to kill, but if you have an armed intruder in the house, you have to make a moral judgment, and you do not appreciate the State telling you that you cannot make such judgments.

We Christians don't see it that way, of course, but every time I hear a woman talk about her abortion rights, it is obvious that the "bad old days" she dreads are the days when women were, alas, often treated like property, like slaves. Until we/they can overcome this absurd association, I don't see any hearts and minds being won. In fact the debate just seems to harden the opposition.


- Steve Knowlton

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:44 PM  


I think you make a very good point in distinguishing where the analogy tends to fail.

Recognizing the humanity of the fetus seems to me to be the key to unlocking where personal freedom must end: when it tramples the freedom of another. Indeed, the slave trader has a right to make a living and a personal freedom to choose his or her trade, but once we discern that he/she is trafficking human beings the issue changes radically.

I think you are on to something about fertility "rights", which if you think about it is a rather odd thing. Really, the only fertility rights we REALLY have is to say yes or no to begin with. If you say yes - as we know - all bets, rights, and guarantees are off...or at least they used to be.

Cultural patriarchy cannot be blamed for biology choosing that this battle for freedom should take place within the womb, if you get my meaning.

By Blogger fdj, at 8:30 PM  


Right, but I think not so many years ago, women in marriages did not have the right to say "no." Family size was more or less up to the husband. Practically speaking, the pro-life side of the debate has to reassure the other side that we're not going back to that world. Until we deal with secular women's underlying fears of what we represent, I don't see progress being made.

- Steve

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:45 AM  


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