Earlier today I received an email from a good friend, asking for my feedback on Greg Rubottom’s recent guest post on Frank Schaeffer’s Patheos blog. The original article (“Death throes of a great deception – the fall from grace of the pro-life movement”) can be found here.
About three sentences into my response email, I decided to make this into a blog post. The article is fairly long, so I’ll try to limit myself to the major points.
Rubottom begins by describing “the Republican Party’s nefarious campaign to teach Americans that God opposes abortion”. He includes this paragraph:
“Modern medical abortion is a relatively new phenomenon in the world. When this procedure was unexpectedly legalized in 1972 many struggled to understand it. There were no centuries old church degrees (sic) concerning abortion in existence. The responsibility therefore fell on all believers to decide for themselves what the “will of God” might be concerning abortion.”
I don’t want to spend too much time nitpicking history…but medical abortions have been around for thousands of years (qualifying them as “modern” in order to call it a “new phenomenon” is just being redundant). Christians have been responding to the practice (and generally condemning it) since Roman times. It isn’t as if the moral ramifications of abortion suddenly fell from the sky in 1972, blindsiding Christians everywhere.
“The pro-life believer feels confident that rape can not be the will of God – because rape is a bad thing. But despite the other obvious “bad things” staring them in the face, a woman required to bear a rapist’s child against her will and a child growing up with a rapist father, they still steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility that God might actually prefer to terminate a conception.”
Are we to play God, then, and decide that a fetus conceived through rape is undeserving of life? Do the circumstances of a person’s conception really determine their worth? Doesn’t this just open the door to prejudices from the not-so-distant past, when “bastards” were socially stigmatized as adults for the circumstances of their conception?
Or consider the following scenario from Dr. Neil Shenvi:
“Imagine a woman living in some remote area. A man breaks into her home and rapes her. But before leaving, he leaves his newborn son in her kitchen. The sight of the baby obviously brings back horrible memories for the woman. But is she morally justified in killing him to avoid the pain? No. Even if it takes the government weeks or even months to come take the baby, he should not be killed for the actions of the rapist. She is certainly a hero for caring for the needs of the innocent child. But her only other option – to kill the child – is morally wrong.”
“The pro-life worldview is promoted in our Evangelical churches [and by the Roman Catholic bishops] almost entirely by means of a very powerful appeal to ones’ empathetic emotions, along with a preference for some scripture over others and a complete denial or perversion of yet others. All to try to make a case for “human soul life” beginning at conception.”
Rubottom makes no attempt to engage with the Scriptural evidence for the pro-life position, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to do so. If you’re at all uncertain about the Biblical basis for the pro-life position, I implore you to read this excellent summary from JW Wartick.
“The teaching of the pro-life heresy in America’s churches (along with other blatant heresies all stemming from the belief in an inerrant Bible) imperils the very survival of Christianity in America.”
I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I think Mr. Rubottom tips his hand here. After spending several paragraphs explaining why the Christian stance against abortion is in conflict with the Bible, he now claims that it’s a heresy stemming from a belief in an inerrant Bible.
Just think about that.
It’s an implicit concession that there is a Biblical basis for the pro-life position. Furthermore, by claiming that the Bible contains errors, he seriously undermines his previous attempts to refute the pro-life position on Biblical grounds.
“Just like nature, people should choose to allow a conception to proceed if a healthy body is understood as likely and the external environment is favorable for nurturing an emerging soul. Choice is simply another of God’s tools promoting our evolution toward perfection.”
Your eugenics alarm should be going off about now.
“God trusts nature to use her wisdom at times to destroy a fetus to ensure the best “body environment” for the potential soul.”
The author makes the mistake here of assuming that spontaneous abortions are acceptable to God (rather than a form of natural evil). In the absence of clear evidence that a fetus isn’t a “human person”, this is akin to saying, “God trusts nature to use her wisdom at times to destroy (via lightning strikes, flash floods, and eathquakes) newborn infants that lack an ideal ‘body environment’.”
And again, what kind of message is this sending to the physically and mentally disabled living among us, who WERE born with less-than-ideal “body environments”? Are their lives somehow less valuable? Isn’t this essentially telling people from impoverished families and broken homes that their lives aren’t worth living?
Is this the message of Jesus?
“Humanity must follow nature’s and God’s example by judging the “exterior environment” into which the potential soul will be born. The mental and physical fitness of the mother and father. The physical resources. Is there severe damage to the fetal body nature is blind to? Would pregnancy endanger the life of the mother? Is the conception against the will of the mother? All of these external environmental factors must be considered and found acceptable in order for one to truly say that “God approves” that another soul come into the world.”
As Mary Ann points out in the comments section, shouldn’t Jesus himself have been aborted according to this criteria? Wasn’t He born into abject poverty, in a barn, to an unwed mother?
Rubottom argues that babies shouldn’t be carried to term if the external environmental factors are unfavorable. Yet even a child born into a stable, upper-class family is certain to experience some degree of pain and hardship during her life. This “exterior environment” argument just seems so…arbitrary. Is there even such as thing as an ideal environment for bringing a new soul into the world?
Throughout the article, Rubottom spends a good deal of time arguing that the human body is merely a “container”, and that the soul is created as a “process” during human development. Yet, astonishingly, he shows no interest in even attempting to define when a human life becomes valuable and worth protecting.
When should we start protecting human life, and why? This ought to be the first question that’s asked.
My Previous Posts on Abortion
The Roots of the Abortion Debate
Abortion Methods: An Overview
A Pre-Election Post: Abortion and Right of Conscience
Possibly the Worst New York Times Op-Ed in the History of New York Times Op-Eds