Saturday, January 28, 2017

Abortion Stops A Beating Heart

When I was in college, I was strongly pro-choice.  My reasoning was based on cold blooded utilitarianism.  It went like this: a promising student gets his girlfriend pregnant.  If he assumes the responsibility of fatherhood, then it will mean sacrificing his dreams and ruining his life. Ditto for the girlfriend.  The blob of tissue doesn't get a vote.  It is ruining 3 lives, because what chance would a child have growing up in such an environment?  So a complicated moral dilemna is actually simple: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  It is a very cold system of math, especially if you are on the short end of it.  It is not surprising I had this philosophy.  In junior high and high school, I was repeatedly presented in public school with scenarios like “you have a lifeboat with only a certain number of seats and more people than seats.  Determine who should survive and why”.  I was taught that human life was not sacred and that some people have more of a right to life than others.  And I learned the lesson well.

When my college roommate's girlfriend got pregnant, this cold-blooded logic is exactly what I said to help convince him to not abandon his childhood dream of becoming an astrophysicist.  There is an interesting twist on this.  My roommate was agnostic and yet had a very high moral code.  An example: one time, when I left the bank after making a cash withdrawal, I found the teller had accidentally overpaid me $10.  The immediate image that came into my mind was the card from the game Monopoly that says “bank error in your favor, collect $$$”.  I was going to keep the money because, after all, what college student can’t use a few extra bucks?  But my friend talked me into returning the money.  It was typical of him. 

Because of his very high moral standards, my roommate was dead set against having the abortion and was preparing to drop out of school, marry his girlfriend and start his family.  The reason that did not happen was because his circle of friends, mainly me, talked him out of it.  My friend resisted us for a long time, but we wore him down and he at last reluctantly consented.  My argument prevailed, and the baby died.  I felt I had performed a service for my friend and kept him on the path he had chosen when we were kids.    

My friend was agnostic, and yet had more moral scruples than I, the “Christian” had.  My friend Aaron Astor has term he uses for the type of Christianity I practiced, which was in name only.  He uses Andrew Sullivan’s term “Christianist” to distinguish it from real life-changing faith.  The pervasiveness of this attitude in the modern church is a real problem because it robs is of our witness.  Friar Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel attests: “The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians, who honor God with their lips and then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply find unbelievable”. This is important for me to share, because too often Christians are viewed as extremely judgmental.  Commenting back and forth with folks over last weekend, there is no doubt that many have felt harshly judged by Christians for their pro-abortion views and, reasonably enough, don’t like it.  However know this – the well-meaning people who have hurt you have not spoken  truth into the lives of others in the manner we are told to do in Scripture.  Instead we are enjoined to speak the truth in love.  1 Corinthians 13 has become associated with marriage ceremonies so much that people assume that is what it is talking about.  It is not.  Instead it is a reminder that if we speak or do anything in the name of Christ, it must be in love.  Otherwise we become nothing but noise.  So remember that I am not judging you when I speak about abortion.  Instead, I speak to you as someone with blood on my own hands, and I certainly cannot say I am better than you.

In Christianity, we talk about the idea of repentance.  Repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means a changing of the heart and mind that leads to a turning away from the path you are on.  It is genuine action and not the half-hearted “I’m sorry you are mad at me for what I did" or I’m sorry I got caught”.  I was convinced my pro-abortion viewpoint was evidence of willingness to make the “tough call”.  However God has a way of correcting us when we go off course.  He gave me a strongly pro-life wife.  She had assumed because I went to the same church she did, showed up every Sunday and asserted I was a Christian, I actually was.  She was appalled when she found out my position on abortion and gradually won me over to her point of view intellectually.  What made it a true metanoia was when I saw my oldest daughter for the first time via ultrasound. This was no blob of tissue, but a visibly human being.  I have wept many times over the years for the life of the child I helped snuff out so callously.  I am weeping as I write this.  I have been forgiven by a merciful God for what I consider now to be complicity in murder, but not by my friend.  Our relationship was never the same after the abortion I counselled him to seek.   

In 1992, with the ending of the Cold War, I left the Army feeling that I had done my part and could not justify the strain my passionate love for the military was causing my family.  I did this without a particular plan, and considered many career options. One avenue I explored was going into the ministry in my denomination of United Methodism (the same as Hillary Clinton, if you recall).  The first step of the process was to be interviewed by local clergy and the District Superintendent.  Somehow during the interview, my strong pro-life position was brought up.  One of the clergy told me, ironically, that “perhaps I should go home and talk to my wife about that”.  Needless to say there was mutual agreement that I was not a good fit for the UM Church and I left it shortly thereafter.  I mention this for two reasons: first, it shows how deeply the lie is that women walk in lockstep on this position and, second, it points out that the Christianism is not only found in the pew.  In 1993, the Religious Coalition For Abortion Rights (RCAR) actually rented space for their lobbying activities in an office building owned by the UMC.  But if “Christians” cannot even agree about abortion, then who am I to say the prolife position is correct?

A succinct and compelling argument about the morality of abortion is based on the question of whether the unborn are human or not.  If they are human, then they deserve the full protection of the law.  If they are not human, then they can be disposed of as wished.  The other question is if they are human, then when do they become so?  Hillary Clinton rightly observed that the law as written says the unborn are not entitled to rights until they are born and thus can legally be killed until they are completely outside of their mother's womb.  This is the rationale that allows the butchery of partial birth abortion.  However, as the Reverend Martin Luther King observed so powerfully in his magnificant Letter From Birmingham Jail, there are times where civil law should not inform us of what is right and wrong: 
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a
legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just
or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.

Over the years there have been attempts to say when human life begins.  Usually the definition is subjective, like "at the point of quickening" or "viability" or else is completely arbitrary, like x number of weeks.  The only non-subjective startpoint for human life is at the point where, if uninterupted, it will continue.  That point is conception.

By relegating the unborn to the status of thing, killing it becomes no more of a moral decision than swatting a fly.  Most people are rightly uncomfortable with this and that is why most people will say "I would not have an abortion myself, but I don't want to tell others what they should do".  However, if the unborn are human and abortion is murder, this argument doesn't fly.  How does one say murder is wrong for me and not for you?  You can't.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Coming Battle

Since the election, I have been doing something that has changed my life.  Instead of trying to just guess what the other side was thinking, I have engaging in spirited discussions with people who
disagree with me.  The reason for this is simple - to be intellectually honest, a person needs to be able to make the case for what he or she believes. That is central to my Christian faith which tells us in 1 Peter 3:15:  "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do do this with gentleness and respect".  There has been a general lack of that kind of thinking in people's lives, particularly the "gentleness and respect" part, and I freely admit that I have been as guilty of this as anyone else.  Most people who bother to consider philosophy, religion, or politics tend to operate in the infamous "bubble" of the like minded.  When differing views are considered, if they are considered at all, their arguments are constructed in such a way that our way of thinking easily prevails.  Yet as Han Solo famously observed, "Look good against remotes is one thing, but against the living - that's something else".  In bubble world, it is easy to think we have everything figured out.  When we actually have dialogue with the living, it IS something else.

I have had many conversations with thoughtful Christians throughout this election cycle, and there was a great deal of ambivalence about President Trump.  Some, like my own son who is studying for the ministry, thought that President Trump's significant character flaws precluded their support.  On the one hand, folks like myself argued that though the candidate was flawed in many ways, the issues he represented absolutely needed to prevail. A case in point in this thinking was the Supreme Court appointment hanging in the balance, so with that battle days away from beginning, I thought it would be a good time to bring it up.

The reason for my making this issue such a key part of my vote is that there are two competing legal philosophies in play: strict constructionism and legal positivism.  The notion of legal positivism is that laws should naturally evolve as society's standards change.  If legislatures are too slow to act, then it becomes the responsibility of the judicial branch to find rationales for modifying existing laws to conform to the new standards.  Not so say the strict constructionists.  Laws are written by legislatures and the purpose of the judiciary is to interpret laws in the spirit they were written.  The Constitution has a deliberately difficult process to modify it for a reason, they say, and that is because we cannot change laws based on lasting principles to conform to passing fads.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an example of a justice who is a legal positivist.  Here is a quote illustrating what judges should be about: "I thought, well maybe the law could catch up with changes in society and that was an empowering idea".  Ginsburg was not the first Supreme Court Justice with this philosophy.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said much the same thing almost a century earlier.  Holmes rejected the idea of the law as a moral teacher and instead, as a philosophical pragmatist, thought the law should be based on practicality instead of concepts of right and wrong.  He did not believe in a transcendent source of morality and therefore thought it was up to the community to determine its values and standards.  He also believed that the law should be ever morphing to keep up with these evolving standards. He scoffed at the idea of legal precedent having sway over the current views of society saying, "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV".  This philosophy allows for laws to be reinterpreted from their original meaning into what judges determine is an equivalent view of modern culture. 

Justice Scalia,  on the other hand, was a strict constructionist. He believed that laws were made with specific purposes and that they should be interpreted in light of their "original intent".  Under this philosophy, if society's values have in fact changed, it is the responsibility of the legislature to pass new laws, and it is wrong for the judiciary to act to make new laws when their constitutional role is to interpret them.  Also, as appointed officials, they have less credibility in this role because legislatures, presumably represent the views of the people more closely since they are directly elected.  If they are reluctant to modify or pass new law, that means that societal views are not as clearly defined as some might think.   

 In these two philosophies lie why the battle for the soul of the Supreme Court is viewed by both sides as vital.  To the liberals, legal positivism allows them to bypass legislatures and achieve recognition of laws that sometimes are against the will of the people.  The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which was passed with the intent of preventing southern legislatures from restricting the freedom of the newly freed slaves, is their tool of national enforcement.  Thus controversial issues like abortion and gay marriage, which may agree with overarching philosophy and sensibilities of some states but not others, become a one size fits all for all 50 states because they are held to be non-discretionary issues of basic liberty.

Conservatives counter that we are not a one sized fits all country, and that the 10th Amendment which says that all laws not specifically spelled out in the Constitution should be reserved to the states to regulate.  For example, California and Kentucky have very different philosophies, and the laws about how we live should be free to acknowledge those differences.  So we want judges who respect this notion instead of attempting to impose their personal philosophy as normative and then forcing everyone to go along, even when it does not reflect the values of many communities.

For me, Trump's pledge to appoint justices with the constructionist philosophy was a decisive reason for voting for him.  The death of my favorite justice, Antonin Scalia, created a conservative hole that I did not want to be filled by a liberal replacement.  Republicans have never successfully "Borked" an appointee to my recollection.  Instead they usually adopt the philosophy espoused by Bob Dole during the confirmation of Justice Ginsburg that "the President is entitled to his choice".  Mitch McConnell's refusal to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia therefore came as a complete surprise to me as we usually do not see such behavior in establishment Republicans, It was a very risky thing to do and, quite frankly, I think it was the wrong thing to do from a Constitutional standpoint.  But as a political move, it was brilliant.  It turned the national election into a national referendum for the direction the court would take.  Since Garland was deliberately presented as a more measured nominee, this was also rolling the dice in a big way with a "winner take all" outcome.  I was very surprised that Democrats did not make more fuss about it at the time, but then again they fully expected to win the election and then be able to appoint a candidate more in line with their own philosophy instead of a compromise, so they played along.

Making the presidential election a national referendum was probably the main reason that prominent evangelicals were enthusiastic about Trump instead of offering tepid support.  The Supreme Court, unrestrained and unaccountable, is the dream of the side whose view it reflects and the nightmare of whose philosophy is not represented.  So McConnell's plan certainly worked as intended in my case. I therefore eagerly await the announcement of who the nominee will be.  So far President Trump has honored his campaign promises and delivered on them, and I am very happy to see the no-nonsense approach with which he is moving out with his agenda.  I expect his candidate for the Supreme Court to be no different.  Now if he would only stop tweeting!