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"In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal. Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception."
February 18, 2012 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Fred Clark, previously in the blue for his excellent deconstruction of the Left Behind series and much more, has written a short history lesson on the Evangelical movement's surprisingly recent about-face on the subject of conception, abortion and the human soul. As he notes, "At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting."
posted by mhoye (100 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
Frank Schaeffer's book Sex, Mom, and God talks about the role he played in building the "Christian Right's" anti-abortion platform. The bit about how he and his father (writer Francis Schaeffer) had to convince Billy Graham to get on board was pretty eye-opening.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:36 PM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Fred Clark is a gem of exceptionally high brilliance. His existence proves both that evangelical Christians need not be a blot on the face of the Earth, but it also condemns them for showing just how terrible the evangelical movement has become.
posted by JHarris at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Psalm 139 is what I base MY opinion on.

Fwiw.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:42 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Psalm 139 is what I base MY opinion on.

Sooooo on poetry and not on Mosaic law? Exodus 21:22, maybe?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:51 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your eyes saw my unformed body;/all the days ordained for me were written in your book/before one of them came to be.

God doesn't ordain abortions? This seems like a powerfully comforting psalm for someone struggling with her decision to abort.
posted by muddgirl at 6:53 PM on February 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


If that's the line that's supposed to be relevant, it's not dispositive for the very reason to which muddgirl alludes: God may have ordained the days of those who are brought to term, and have seen their unformed bodies, but that doesn't imply that God sees all unformed bodies, or that he ordains the days of all fetuses.
posted by kenko at 6:55 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


St. Alia,
That's a very modern interpretation of a psalm that seems to me to say that god is omniscient and has a plan. The parts of the bible that explicitly discuss the death of a fetus don't call it murder.

Is god omniscient and omnipotent?

If so, god knows that a fertilized egg will be spontaneously aborted (half of all fertilized eggs) or deliberately aborted and god still chooses to ensoul the egg. This makes god the ultimate abortionist and makes god morally culpable for the death of a human in spontaneous and deliberate abortions.

Or does god not know that an egg is too old or sperm too damaged to create a viable fetus? If so, god isn't omniscient.

Or is god forced to put a soul in every egg, even if god knows that they will implant ectopically or otherwise not survive? That would make him less than omnipotent.

Or is god evil? Or does god not care about abortion?

The biblical/religious arguments against abortion look to me to be very weak.
posted by jclarkin at 6:55 PM on February 18, 2012 [54 favorites]


(Alternately, if god has ordained the days of a fetus, and the fetus is aborted, then … I guess that's what was ordained for it?)
posted by kenko at 6:56 PM on February 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


Soo, does anyone know what brought the change in thought? Seems pretty significant if it was orchestrated for political or power purposes.
posted by sammyo at 6:57 PM on February 18, 2012


One of the commenters there mentions Tertullian, who wrote:
How, then, is a living being conceived? Is the substance of both body and soul formed together at one and the same time? Or does one of them precede the other in natural formation? We indeed maintain that both are conceived, and formed, and perfectly simultaneously, as well as born together; and that not a moment's interval occurs in their conception, so that, a prior place can be assigned to either. Judge, in fact, of the incidents of man's earliest existence by those which occur to him at the very last. As death is defined to be nothing else than the separation of body and soul, life, which is the opposite of death, is susceptible of no other definition than the conjunction of body and soul. If the severance happens at one and the same time to both substances by means of death, so the law of their combination ought to assure us that it occurs simultaneously to the two substances by means of life. Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does. Thus, then, the processes which act together to produce separation by death, also combine in a simultaneous action to produce life.
Thanks for making me look that up! St. Jerome has some pretty strong thoughts on the matter, too.
posted by resurrexit at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Psalm 139 is what I base MY opinion on.

If that's what you base your opinion on, then I hope it's not a very strongly held one. First, it's a song, and so already not meant to be a literal statement of theological truth or Jewish law, especially given that it wasn't written by a rabbi. Second, the ancient Jewish view was that fetuses were not people and did not possess souls until birth, so your interpretation contradicts the view that the author of Psalm 139 likely held.

It's telling that one has to use an oblique reference from a song like that in order to take the view that the Bible condemns abortion. Abortion (and contraception, for that matter) was practiced by the Greeks and Romans of Jesus' day, and yet he and the New Testament authors said nothing against it. This is especially odd if you believe that Jesus was omniscient and thus knew that a) abortion would later be a widespread practice and that b) it would be highly controversial, yet he still couldn't be bothered to say a word about it.
posted by jedicus at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2012 [32 favorites]


Exodus 21:22, maybe?

I think that's what St. Jerome is talking about.
posted by resurrexit at 6:59 PM on February 18, 2012


(Alternately, if god has ordained the days of a fetus, and the fetus is aborted, then … I guess that's what was ordained for it?)

I'm eternally amazed at the number of people who believe in God and yet believe that God's will can be thwarted or acted against. "God is omnipotent! ...except for when human beings want things." It's pure narcissism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:59 PM on February 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


In both Numbers and Leviticus, the bible gives instructions on performing abortion. That is pretty unambiguous.
posted by notashroom at 6:59 PM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Quick?
posted by Edward L at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nevermind; that was Tertullian again with the Exodus reference, not Jerome: The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of a human being, which has imputed to it even now the condition of life and death, since it is already liable to the issues of both, although, by living still in the mother, it for the most part shares its own state with the mother.
posted by resurrexit at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Psalm 139 is what I base MY opinion on.
I like the part where it wishes for God to slay people. And then in the next breath calls those people bloodthirsty.
posted by Flunkie at 7:07 PM on February 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


Fred is a sentient being.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2012


One of the points of Clark's article is that the evangelical shift towards 'the soul enters at conception' is also a shift back towards Catholic theology that they had specifically abandoned.

One of the foundational principles of evangelical Christianity is an inerrant/literal reading of the Bible, not what they saw as the corrupted reading of the Catholic church. Tertullian's reading of Psalms or Exodus shouldn't matter.

(This is a pretty broad paraphrase of better historians than me)
posted by muddgirl at 7:09 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, if Jesus was a rabbi (which seems to be the prevailing evangelical opinion), then Jesus's view would have tallied with Orthodox Judaism's view today - Not a life before heartbeat (around 40 days), after that only considered as having the potential for life but still coming secondary to the health of the mother (many if not most interpretations include mental health in this equation), and if the mother's life is in danger then it is not only allowed but becomes mandatory to abort.

The "Life begins at conception" opinion didn't even exist until 1859

I think this springs from the general right wing need to see things as absolute black vs. white, and by declaring conception to be the beginning you conveniently eliminate all those grey areas. Well, except ectopic pregnancies. But you know, those don't count because hey, look over there!
posted by Mchelly at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


Just stopping in to thank mhoye on an awesome post title.
posted by jscott at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Abortion (and contraception, for that matter) was practiced by the Greeks and Romans of Jesus' day, and yet he and the New Testament authors said nothing against it.

Good point, and the American founders too.
posted by Brian B. at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2012


So did they ever decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:25 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Or is god evil? Or does god not care about abortion?

I look at it this way, is gravity evil for making the twin towers fall on september 11th? Is the earth evil for earthquakes? Any god worth the name is more like a force of nature, not really able to be comprehended by our tiny minds. In fact that's closer to what the gods used to be, less grandfather who is nice to us but hates those not like us, and more powerful monster that at best ignores us and at worst wants to torture us for fun. For what it's worth, i think of the whole of the universe as god, if we could see it all, in all it's detail (each planet, each grain of dust, etc), we'd go insane. So best to treat all of it as sacred and with as much respect as possible. So in that, is abortion evil? No, it's not always the best route but sometimes it is what has to be done. And if you subscribe to alternate realities, there are ones that either choice has happened. So yeah.
posted by usagizero at 7:31 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, i think of the whole of the universe as god,

Also known as pantheism.
posted by Brian B. at 7:40 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Soo, does anyone know what brought the change in thought? Seems pretty significant if it was orchestrated for political or power purposes.

I have a sinking suspicion it has everything to do with the ERA. Maybe it was the sudden horrifying realization among Evangelicals that Catholics -- Catholics! -- were out-Bibling them on the issue of reproductive rights.

Also, Reagan.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:45 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I believe that if God is the one who does the knitting then it is not up to me to rip out the stitches.

Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible. Poetry rocks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:57 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Psalm 139 is what I base MY opinion on.

The one not written by God? The one supposedly written by King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba, and sent her husband Uriah the Hittite off to die to cover for his sin, and who God punished by killing his son?

Interesting.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:59 PM on February 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible.

Only to Muslims. In Jewish and Christian tradition, they're from the hand of David.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:02 PM on February 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible.

Cite? Because that claim flies in the face of two thousand-plus years of tradition.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:04 PM on February 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible. Poetry rocks.

Even the really dirty ones? Or the ones like this?

38:6 I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.
38:7 For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh.


Apparently, god got himself a case of the clap. Or a major boner, like one of those you can't sleep with.

Which I guess explains the whole Mary thing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:07 PM on February 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


The Bible is full of prophets coming along and telling God's people that something they're doing is wrong and they need to change. In theory, this kind of shift is in keeping with the self-identity of Evangelicals. Some Evangelicals used to support slavery, while other Evangelicals campaigned against it, and eventually virtually all Evangelicals agreed that slavery was wrong.

Francis Schaeffer became convinced that abortion was wrong, he made a very successful series of films making his case, and most Evangelicals ended up believing him.
posted by straight at 8:07 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible.

Only to Muslims. In Jewish and Christian tradition, they're from the hand of David.


Actually, in Christian tradition, those two are not mutually exclusive. Christians traditionally believe that David and all the other people who physically wrote the various books of the Bible were "inspired" in some way that makes it true to say that the Bible is "the word of God."

Christians are divided on what exactly that means.
posted by straight at 8:10 PM on February 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I believe that if God is the one who does the knitting then it is not up to me to rip out the stitches.

Ah, so I suppose you also don't believe in surgically repairing congenital birth defects such as cleft palates?

If God is omniscient and omnipotent, why wouldn't he simply decline to ensoul any fetus destined for miscarriage or abortion? Doing otherwise is either pointless, cruel, or both.
posted by jedicus at 8:13 PM on February 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


If it's good enough to be condemned in the Didache, then it's good enough for me.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can God make a fetus so big that He can't lift it?
posted by delfin at 8:17 PM on February 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yes, it's interesting to read evangelical Christian material on abortion from the 1960s and 1970s. It was assumed that abortion was the right choice or at least understandable in certain situations for health or poverty reasons. It wasn't until after Roe vs. Wade and the horrific effects of legal abortion became obvious that most evangelical Christians switched to opposing it universally. The change was sudden.

The "Life begins at conception" opinion didn't even exist until 1859

Surely modern understanding of human development contributed to the change.
posted by michaelh at 8:20 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have yet to see any woman who has aborted a fetus be struck by lightning or gone on to do anything besides live a happier, more productive life. If God didn't want people doing it, he wouldn't have made the outcome so positive and empowering. Meanwhile, forcing women to have children against their better judgment is abusive and traumatizing. Wonder which one creates a better society?
posted by june made him a gemini at 8:21 PM on February 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


Soo, does anyone know what brought the change in thought? Seems pretty significant if it was orchestrated for political or power purposes.

It was a desperate ruling in the matter of feminism. Men have always been insecure about who the father was, and building on this natural suspicion against women, it was no stretch to make them insecure about who the mother was supposed to be. Abortion politics begins at conception.
posted by Brian B. at 8:22 PM on February 18, 2012


Is god omniscient and omnipotent?

Omniscience means knowing all that can be known, not knowing what doesn't exist to be known. It could be the case that free will and/or other factors exist such that the future non-existent until it happens, and therefore unknowable, period.
posted by shivohum at 8:33 PM on February 18, 2012


future is non-existent
posted by shivohum at 8:34 PM on February 18, 2012


the horrific effects of legal abortion

You mean, as opposed to the horrific effects of back alley abortions, coathanger attempts, and other ways women had to sneak around to get the abortions they wanted before it was legal?
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2012 [38 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.

St. Alia, are you also against organ donation? Blood donation? Surgery or medication to correct congenital defects? Glasses to correct vision? Antibiotics?
posted by zarq at 8:43 PM on February 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


It wasn't until after Roe vs. Wade and the horrific effects of legal abortion became obvious that most evangelical Christians switched to opposing it universally.

Why should this matter, theologically?

---Myca
posted by Myca at 8:59 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


" does anyone know what brought the change in thought?"

There's some interesting work tying it to advances in medicine that allow medical treatment of the fetus, and most particularly ultrasound. Prior to ultrasound and modern obstetrics, the doctor treated "the gravid woman dyad" (as many texts have it); now, doctor can "make the womb transparent." Being able to literally see the fetus makea it much easier to conceptualize it as "a person" whereas before the womb became transparent, it was easier to conceptualize as a part of mom that would in the future be a person but was not now. (You can also see this conceptualizing at work in Virginia's ultrasound/abortion law.)

In the past the idea that a fetus might have "rights" against its mother was laughable, because you could only act on and treat mom ... But now we can do prenatal surgery on the spinal cord, etc, and because medicine has advanced so much, mom's and fetus's medical interests might not align. That contributes too.

Unfortunately I'm typing on my phone so no references to hand.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:59 PM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Omniscience is somewhat paradoxical, but anyone quoting Psalm 139 as being somehow anti-abortion must believe that god sees the future despite humans presumed free will.

After all if "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" is inerrant truth then the omniscience of god is unconditional with respect to time and free will.
posted by jclarkin at 9:05 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


My aunt had a horse riding accident when she was unaware that she was pregnant and miscarried.

How long should she go to jail for?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:07 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


or gone on to do anything besides live a happier, more productive life. If God didn't want people doing it, he wouldn't have made the outcome so positive and empowering.

Me pointing this out is neither here nor there, but methinks that the results of abortion isn't necessarily always as clearcut as you suppose.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:14 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find this to be very interesting. It occurred to me only a few years ago that, given all the fundamentalists who believed firmly in the idea that the soul was implanted at the moment of conception, that I had never heard where the Bible actually says such a thing. At the time, I was deeply involved in debating conservatives on their own websites, so I asked them about this. I was presented with both Psalm 139 and Exodus 21:22, and frankly I was kind of shocked with how tenuous this was, consider the insistence of fundamentalists on the original text. Psalm 139 does not lead to any firm conclusions, and if anything, Exodus 21:22 seems self-defeating! In the latter case, it seems to treat an miscarriage caused during a brawl a lot more like a property crime than a violent crime. I can understand why Christians might be against against abortion, but I don't see anything at all in the scriptures that makes this seem like a religious obligation.

Of course, this just goes to show that I've always played the devil's advocate on these kinds of issues. I will go to conservative websites to point out that their scriptures don't actually say anything conclusive about abortion or the moment of conception, and then I'll tell liberals how I believe that there's nothing in the constitution that would insure a right to abortion. Maybe there should be, but I find myself agreeing with constructionists on this matter: the constitution does nothing to establish a right to privacy, nor does it clearly define when a person is supposed to start being considered such. I do believe that these are problems that should be remedied, but, there I go again...
posted by Edgewise at 9:25 PM on February 18, 2012


To bring up the Didache again, I'm wondering why the early 1st century Christians were seemingly against abortion. Both theologically, and socially.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:30 PM on February 18, 2012


Alia of the Bunnies: "Also psalms are just as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible. Poetry rocks."

But God knits together trees and rocks and birds and cows, too; and there is no injunction that we must never kill a cow.

Also, please answer. Why are you tossing out Exodus 21:22? Don't you respect the word of God? Or are you just another evangelical - quoting Psalms because you can twist it around to mean what you want it to mean and ignoring the rest of the Bible?

Poetry is indeed awesome. But Exodus is pretty cool, too. I have a hard time seeing why you don't seem to agree.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know, sometimes God sees your unformed body, and all the days he ordains it are four fortnights. Tough shit.
posted by clarknova at 10:10 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


All main translations of the verse Exodus 21:22 talk about two men fighting, and as a result a woman there miscarries, and the ramificatons that follow. It relates nothing about a woman voluntarily giving up her unborn child to be aborted. Am I missing something here, or are some of you taking the verse out of context and misinterpreting it? Look at the link.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:39 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point of Exodus 21:22, Seekerofsplendor, is that someone responsible for the termination of a pregnancy is clearly and emphatically not punished as a murderer. It is plain from the verse that the God who gave this law does not regard fetuses as human beings.
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


(Note that this point was made in the linked article in a quotation of one Jonathan Dudley.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 PM on February 18, 2012


All main translations of the verse Exodus 21:22 talk about two men fighting, and as a result a woman there miscarries, and the ramificatons that follow. It relates nothing about a woman voluntarily giving up her unborn child to be aborted. Am I missing something here, or are some of you taking the verse out of context and misinterpreting it? Look at the link.

The Biblical punishment for murder is death. The Biblical punishment for accidental manslaughter is also death, although the killer may flee to save his life. The Biblical punishment for accidentally killing a fetus is a fine, which is the same punishment as you mete out for the destruction of property. As the Bible never once mentions the intentional termination of a pregnancy, this is the only passage we have to go on, and it clearly identifies a fetus as having the same legal standing as property, and not as a human life.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:28 PM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.

OK, if the soul begins from conception, then what about identical twins?
Do they "share" one soul? Or is the soul actually divisible?

Since monozygotic (i.e. identical) twins divide after conception, either the soul must be divisible or it does not come into existance at conception but at some later stage. Indivisible soul at conception is demonstrably not possible, unless you insist that identical twins are of the devil. Which actually was an accepted theory among Catholics at some time in the middle ages...
posted by sour cream at 12:03 AM on February 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


Koeselitz: The point of Exodus 21:22, Seekerofsplendor, is that someone responsible for the termination of a pregnancy is clearly and emphatically not punished as a murderer.

Bunny Ultramod: The Biblical punishment for accidentally killing a fetus is a fine

No, this is incorrect. 21:22 does not stipulate the penalty for the *death* of the fetus. It's referring specifically to a penalty for causing a *premature birth*. The Hebrew word is yasa and is most frequently translated as in the following:

NIV
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury...

ASV
And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow...

KJV
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow...

The very next verse is where we see the punishment for the death of either the woman or the fetus and hey what do you know: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life." (NIV)
posted by Cortes at 12:41 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


*that is, yasa simply means "depart" or "come forth/out"--no reason to believe it has anything to do with death.
posted by Cortes at 12:45 AM on February 19, 2012


Psalm 139:13-16 is a pro-choice passage.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Deductive argument:
- Before one of my days came to be, I was not alive.
- While my unformed body was in my mother's womb, not one of my days had come to be. (v16)
- Therefore, when my as yet unformed body was in my mother's womb, I was not yet alive.

I suppose someone could try to deny premise one (sunlight is required?) but that seems to undermine the point the psalmist is trying to make: God knew all about my life before it started.

I'm not trying to play clever games here. My young fundamentalist self was shocked to realize that this passage, the passage most cited as being against abortion, in fact supported the opposite conclusion. On strictly fundamentalist grounds I concluded that life does not begin at conception, and I was angry that I had been taught what I took to be a careless misreading.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:50 AM on February 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


No, this is incorrect. 21:22 does not stipulate the penalty for the *death* of the fetus. It's referring specifically to a penalty for causing a *premature birth*.

Which would then cause the death of the fetus. It's not like they had a nice hospital they could take the preemie to.

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury...

In the context of the passage (they hit a woman) it's pretty clear that it means serious injury to the woman. The next verse is reiterates the principle of eye for eye for the injury to the woman. You left out the rest, because "foot for foot" doesn't make too much sense when applied to the fetus, does it?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:32 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


*that is, yasa simply means "depart" or "come forth/out"--no reason to believe it has anything to do with death.

Regardless of the original Hebrew, the passage has three thousand years of Rabbinic interpretation that the Bible sees the life of an unborn child as being less than the life of the mother, and was used to justify abortion if the life of the mother was at stake.

The point of all of this, without dipping into too much Biblical interpretation, is that there was a seismic shift in Evangelical Christianity, where something that previously had been ignored or viewed as a matter of law suddenly became a matter of morals, and that this shift has ro do with reinterpreting the Bible based on a social change. And that's very interesting.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:36 AM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


The very next verse is where we see the punishment for the death of either the woman or the fetus

Cortes, the text does not say this. You have to admit that "if there is serious injury" is ambiguous. Maybe it means the death of the mother or the fetus, or maybe it is saying that killing a woman is a more serious crime than an assault which causes a miscarriage. Why do you find the second interpretation implausible?

There's room for legitimate disagreement about how to interpret Psalm 139 and Exodus 21. It would be strange to make it a matter of dogma, one way or the other, let alone trying to make one interpretation into secular law.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:42 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What happened? Hold on, let me get out my decoder ring. Let's see women's suffrage really began in the early part of the 20th century. That's about the time Margret Sanger started putting in work for women to be allowed (yes, allowed) the right to use birth control. This all culminated in the feminist movement advocating fully for reproductive rights in the 60's. Roe v. Wade was finally decided in '73. All the large and powerful Religiosities is about subjugation of women, and if you can show me one that isn't then I can show you one that doesn't have any women in places of authority.

Shit, that wasn't so hard. Anymore questions?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:47 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


If anyone was hoping I'd chime in on this, here goes.

Clark is basically right. He's wrong about a lot of stuff, but not this one. It wasn't until Roe v. Wade that the evangelical position on abortion crystallized, largely because until then there didn't really have to be one. Evangelicalism has never really been characterized by taking strong positions on much of anything. It's basically the liberal branch of the conservative wing of Protestantism. So its theology is basically conservative, i.e. liberal theology is right out, but that's about as far as it goes. Christianity has long considered abortion to be morally problematic--more on that in a bit--but the specific arguments about it were never something the evangelical community had to deal with until it suddenly became a major cultural flashpoint.

A lot of confessional Protestants, even those with actual, serious, conservative theological bona fides, are actually kind of ambivalent on abortion, if you were to ask them about it in private. The whole "life begins at conception" bit is pretty recent, and actually leads to some pretty bizarre implications. Take, for example, the fact that a pretty significant chunk of fertilized embryos never implant on the uterine wall. If we're serious about every single one of them being a human person, why is there no real effort to do anything about this? But just generally, those with serious theological credentials tend not to be all that excited about abortion as an issue, partly because it's theologically murky, but mostly because getting involved in politics that way is problematic and complicated in and of itself.

That being said, there's an almost uniform consensus amongst theological conservatives that abortion on demand is wrong. An abortion to save the life of the mother is one thing. Catholics would object, but something like the principle of double effect is at least sort of in play. My father, theological, pro-life conservative that he is, actually prescribes abortions for some of his patients, e.g. those with Marfan syndrome, for whom pregnancy presents a serious risk of aortic dissection. Which'll kill you in about five minutes, resulting in the death of both mother and baby. Probably want to get that taken care of.

This gets a little harder when the risk of death is smaller or non-existent. Gestational diabetes is probably not a serious enough condition to justify an abortion under this theory--and the risk or presence of a birth defect never is--but preeclampsia can certainly look that way. Again, the question here is not balancing the life of the mother against the lift of the baby, but balancing the priorities of sexual ethics against serious health risks. It's a case-by-case analysis. No hard and fast rules.

But abortion on demand is something different, predicated on convenience and will, not necessity. The argument here is not that "life begins at conception," but that such an attitude seems to be at odds with the "natural order of things," i.e. the same reason Christians have historically been opposed to contraception. But you've got to have at least a version of some kind of natural law theory going on there, and most evangelicals simply don't have the intellectual background for that.

So the historic Christian position is generally pro-life, but less on metaphysical and more on straight ethical considerations. The nature of the fetus wasn't really an issue until the procedure was medicalized.
posted by valkyryn at 3:48 AM on February 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


but that such an attitude seems to be at odds with the "natural order of things," i.e. the same reason Christians have historically been opposed to contraception

I'll accept this as a valid reason to oppose contraception and abortion when you work just as hard to apply the same logic to the use of pharmaceuticals, electricity, clothing, and fire.
posted by localroger at 5:31 AM on February 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'll accept this as a valid reason to oppose contraception and abortion when you work just as hard to apply the same logic to the use of pharmaceuticals, electricity, clothing, and fire.

As a response, this really misses the point. When Natural Law philosophers use the word "natural" or the phrase "natural order" they emphatically don't mean "anything that happens" or "anything that happens without human intervention". They mean something a lot closer to "anything that happens in furtherance of the development of x toward its natural end" which is a statement carrying a lot of Aristotelian freight, but it's not on the face of it a hard-and-fast statement against human use and modification of natural resources or phenomena.

I personally have a hard time making Natural Law work, and I used the word "natural" in my Natural Law definition of "natural" intentionally, because ultimately I suspect that some kind of recursion like that is in fact going on. But your response is a lot like that question that Intro-to-Philosophy professors have learned to dread: "Is it True that there's no such thing as capital-T Truth?" It's complicated, and a lot of pieces have to be in place to really understand what is meant by, for instance, subjective epistemology, and why it doesn't in fact mean that I can just go out there and rape and murder and steal to my heart's content. There are likewise a lot of pieces to Natural Law theory.
posted by gauche at 6:26 AM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Okay.. apparently nobody understood my reference to arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, they are all too busy arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If you argue within the frame of reference of a christian theory, that's what you're doing.

Go find your birth certificate. It has a time and date on it. Legally and medically, the recorded time of your birth, the moment your life began, was the moment the doctor held you up and slapped your butt, and you drew your first breath on your own.

But there are a significant number of births where the infant cannot draw its first breath, and is rushed to the NICU, intubated, and put on life support. Without significant intervention, these babies are dying, not living. Some doctors consider these infants as not being alive yet, until they can breathe on their own and sustain their own life processes by themselves.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:51 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


but it's not on the face of it a hard-and-fast statement against human use and modification of natural resources or phenomena.

But it can be that, and there's no reason why it isn't besides "Because I say so" ("because someone else said so" is more typical, really). It isn't hard to see that there's a bunch of hand-waving going on to simply prop up peoples' beliefs. "It's complicated" isn't an argument.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:52 AM on February 19, 2012


Okay.. apparently nobody understood my reference to arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, they are all too busy arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Pssshhhpsshhuusshh! It was just getting good! I like it when everyone keeps asking "Hey, what about this?" and the only answer they keep getting back is "Nope, you're wrong." *snaps fingers* "See? God."
posted by P.o.B. at 7:12 AM on February 19, 2012


How strange. I just went from this thread to the John Cleese one, and something he says in the video seems to be particularly relevant. From 0.52 on.
posted by Summer at 7:12 AM on February 19, 2012


Is it ok if I say I don't give a shit what the Bible or its interpreters say about whether a woman should carry a pregnancy to term, and that in a non-theocracy, they shouldn't get to demand laws that follow their religious strictures for people who don't follow those strictures?

(though I do love Fred. I just think that this discussion should be confined to seminaries and late night bullshit sessions, not taking place in the halls of government).
posted by emjaybee at 7:30 AM on February 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:53 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cortes: “The very next verse is where we see the punishment for the death of either the woman or the fetus and hey what do you know: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life." (NIV)”

As others have noted, this is a complete misreading of the verse. "Injury" and "serious injury" do not in any sense apply to the fetus, and thousands of years of rabbinical interpretation bears this out.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2012


Damn, what an unexpectedly excellent thread this turned out to be!
posted by waxbanks at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it ok if I say I don't give a shit what the Bible or its interpreters say about whether a woman should carry a pregnancy to term, and that in a non-theocracy, they shouldn't get to demand laws that follow their religious strictures for people who don't follow those strictures?

This is why I generally stay out of abortion threads, since to me it's a personal decision in which no two circumstances will be exactly alike, and as far as I'm concerned, separation of Church and State ought to be guaranteeing me that someone else's religion will have zero impact in my body. And as a member of a minority religion that has its own very non-Christian views on abortion, I find this particularly appalling, that someone else's religious beliefs could potentially prevent me following my own religion - which is precisely what separation of Church and State is supposed to protect.

But this thread's an interesting one - when religions essentially change their own rules, and THEN say they want to legislate based on the new ones, it's worth raising a stink to show people that their own beliefs are based on political motivations and not their actual holy writings. Everything else is just commentary.
posted by Mchelly at 9:02 AM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Damn, what an unexpectedly excellent thread this turned out to be!

Saturday night/Sunday morning posts generally keep the riffraff, bomb-throwing work-surfers out.
posted by resurrexit at 9:20 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it can be that, and there's no reason why it isn't besides "Because I say so" ("because someone else said so" is more typical, really). It isn't hard to see that there's a bunch of hand-waving going on to simply prop up peoples' beliefs. "It's complicated" isn't an argument.

It can be that if, deliberately or through omission, you bring to the table a definition of "natural" which is not coterminous with the definition that is being used in the original sentence, as is the case here. I did not advance "It's complicated" as though it were an argument. It is a description.
posted by gauche at 9:29 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll accept this as a valid reason to oppose contraception and abortion when you work just as hard to apply the same logic to the use of pharmaceuticals, electricity, clothing, and fire.

Apparently you don't have the intellectual background for any version of natural law theory any more than your average evangelical.
posted by valkyryn at 9:29 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently you don't have the intellectual background for any version of natural law theory any more than your average evangelical.

Neither do the prominent proponents of "Natural Law."
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


how many angels can dance on the head of a pin

A bit of that is required to show that the purportedly Biblical argument against abortion is a historically recent bit of pinhead-dance-debating about a handful of ambiguous passages, not the plain truth of scripture (tm).

separation of Church and State

The attempt to write religiously motivated abolitionism into law was a good thing, and the Biblical debate between abolitionists and slavers mattered. See Fred Clark on Quaker abolitionism. What makes religious abolitionism defensible is that religious abolitionists were good at translating their argument into secular terms that anyone could get behind (rights), and that it's an even a stronger argument there than in its religious context.

It's political positions that make sense only within the context of a religion and attempts to impose them on everyone else which are scary.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:17 AM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neither do the prominent proponents of "Natural Law."

Now you're just being obtuse for the sake of snark.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:00 PM on February 19, 2012


Now you're just being obtuse for the sake of snark.

Yeah but it was a really good snark.

posted by charlie don't surf at 12:08 PM on February 19 [2 favorites +] [!]

Things just aren't the same without The Looney Party to kick around anymore.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2012


If by "I don't have the intellectual bacground" you mean "I don't feel like taking a bunch of recursive arm-waving seriously," then you got me.

Yes, "Natural" is a loaded word with many meanings depending on who is twisting it. Natural is good because it is as God made it, uncorrupted by human agency, fit as God intended into the environment and the natural (that word again!) scheme of things. Who could argue against all that goodness? Of course botulism toxin and rabies are natural, but I digress.

But should I? After all, there are sects like Christian Scientists who argue against the use of medicine on precisely the same grounds. You can't really make the argument against contraception without explaining how you differ from then. And at that point you're no longer having an argument that means anything outside the narrow context of Christian theology.

All of the things I listed represent very large assaults on natural order as, if you believe in such things, God created it. (And if you think I'm being facetious mentioning clothes and fire, remember the crimes of Prometheus and Eve.) In order to separate matters like criminal law and bioethics from matters like whether it's a good idea to build nuclear reactors or pour CO2 into the atmosphere 24/7, you have to start drawing some very odd lines. Either the word "natural" has a meaning or it doesn't. I contend that, as it's used within the context of Christian Natural Law theory, it doesn't, and the rest of the theory is just a ball of words that never circle back into the real world.
posted by localroger at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2012


The crime of Eve was that she ate from the tree of knowledge. Not that she put on a fig leaf. That was a side-effect.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:07 PM on February 19, 2012


Apparently you don't have the intellectual background for any version of natural law theory any more than your average evangelical.

Stop pulling rank. You're right, localroger doesn't appear to be versed in legal philosophy, but it isn't hard to see that the general argument being made is that natural law is arbitrary. That's an argument that has been made by a greater legal mind than anyone in this thread. Just because localroger was a bit off on the meaning of "natural law" is no reason to simply pretend that the argument isn't there.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oliver Wendell Holmes, from Philosopher Dirtbike's link:

It is idle to illustrate further, because to those who agree with me I am uttering commonplaces and to those who disagree I am ignoring the necessary foundations of thought.
posted by straight at 1:08 PM on February 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


That's a quote that's going into the notebook.
posted by JHarris at 1:23 PM on February 19, 2012


the abortion debate: to those who agree with me I am uttering commonplaces and to those who disagree I am ignoring the necessary foundations of thought

Metafilter: to those who agree with me I am uttering commonplaces and to those who disagree I am ignoring the necessary foundations of thought

human discourse: to those who agree with me I am uttering commonplaces and to those who disagree I am ignoring the necessary foundations of thought
posted by Apocryphon at 1:51 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that she put on a fig leaf. That was a side-effect.

But clothing is an eternal reminder that we strayed from God's plan. Both the Prometheus and Garden myths are about how humans are different than animals, and how maybe this was not the way it was supposed to be.

Philosopher Dirtbike, thanks for the assist. I one of the three students in the entire history of the university I attended who actually took Philosophy 1000 instead of Boolean Logic to satisfy the "philosophy" requirement for the engineering curriculum, so I have had some exposure to these ideas -- 30 years ago. What I recall today from that course was being quite impressed with the rigor that one could apply to the Universalization Principle -- and the obvious desperate sloppiness with which it was twisted in order to extend it beyond things like lying and murder. For the rest, I was glad to go back to the world of machines and computers where there is no ambiguity about what words like "center of gravity" and "Rotate Left through Carry" mean.
posted by localroger at 1:52 PM on February 19, 2012


So did they ever decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Ooh, ooh! I know this one! From Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens:
“In order to arrive at an answer, the following facts must be taken into consideration:

Firstly, angels simply don’t dance. It’s one of the distinguishing characteristics that mark an angel. They may listen appreciatively to the Music of the Spheres, but they don’t feel the urge to get down and boogie to it. So, none.

At least, nearly none. Aziraphale had learned to gavotte in a discreet gentlemen’s club in Portland Place, in the late 1880s, and while he had initially taken to it like a duck to merchant banking, after a while he had become quite good at it, and was quite put out when some decades later, the gavotte went out of style for good.

So providing the dance was a gavotte, and providing that he had a suitable partner (also able, for the sake of argument, both to gavotte, and to dance it on the head of a pin), the answer is a straightforward one.”
/whimsy. Back to logic and religion.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:37 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


/whimsy. Back to logic and religion.

Logic without whimsey would lack Lewis Carroll.
Religion without whimsey would lack High Anglicanism.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:01 AM on February 20, 2012


Just because localroger was a bit off on the meaning of "natural law" is no reason to simply pretend that the argument isn't there.

Perhaps, perhaps not, but:

1) that isn't actually the argument, or at least not the good one;

2) there are several competing versions of natural law theory, not all of which are even susceptible to that one;

3) straight is right: if he can't be bothered to figure out what I'm talking about when I cite what is one of the most basic philosophical concepts, I can't be bothered to teach Phil 101, and;

4) if he gets to snark, why don't I?

Geez.
posted by valkyryn at 2:13 AM on February 20, 2012


the horrific effects of legal abortion became obvious

Won't somebody please think of the coat hangers?
posted by Francis at 3:38 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


That explains something in my own family history that has been baffling me for years. In the mid-seventies, through a tragic set of circumstances my mother found herself pregnant out-of-wedlock with the child of her fiance who had just died unexpectedly. My memory of this situation is that my devoutly Evangelical grandmother gently suggested that my mother consider having an abortion.

Years later the topic came up in a conversation with my grandmother, and I mentioned remembering her suggesting an abortion. My grandmother, who at some point inexplicably became staunchly anti-abortion, now insists that she tried to talk my mother out of terminating her pregnancy. I was utterly shocked to hear her say this because I so clearly remember the conversation they had.

It's possible, I guess, that I simply misremember the event but I really don't think so. I have not asked my mother because I don't want to dredge up sad memories for her, just to get some kind of "gotcha!" on my grandma. I do remember as a teenager my grandmother telling how her own devoutly religious mother, upon finding herself unwantedly pregnant back in the 1930s, tried to throw herself down the stairs in order to have a miscarriage. I don't remember this being said with any sort of horror or condemnation, just matter-of-factly and with mild bemusement.

Interesting that this article talks about how Evangelicalism as a whole seems to have rewritten their own history on this in much the same way my grandmother apparently has.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:27 AM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


According to this, Christians have been vacillating about the status of the fetuses for quite some time.
posted by klarck at 4:38 PM on February 21, 2012


4) if he gets to snark, why don't I?

I wasn't snarking. I was totally serious. I don't have the background in this because I don't have the patience for shit that doesn't make any sense if you look at at a 15 degree angle.
posted by localroger at 4:47 PM on February 21, 2012


You mean, as opposed to the horrific effects of back alley abortions, coathanger attempts, and other ways women had to sneak around to get the abortions they wanted before it was legal?

Yes. As sad as it is that bad things happened both ways, there is not much of a comparison, especially if you know that the fabled back alley abortions mostly took place in doctors' offices -- many in better condition than legal abortion clinics today.
posted by michaelh at 4:57 PM on February 23, 2012


the fabled back alley abortions mostly took place in doctors' offices -- many in better condition than legal abortion clinics today.

BULLSHIT.
posted by localroger at 5:14 PM on February 23, 2012


michaelh: “As sad as it is that bad things happened both ways, there is not much of a comparison, especially if you know that the fabled back alley abortions mostly took place in doctors' offices -- many in better condition than legal abortion clinics today.”

I happen to believe this is a difficult subject to riddle out, and as such it's probably worth it to have conversations about right and wrong where abortion is concerned. However, it seems as though those conversations are not well served when one attempts to use lies and deception to support one's side.
posted by koeselitz at 6:39 PM on February 23, 2012


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