On Abortion

Abortion, argues Andrew Sullivan in his book The Conservative Soul, has been made the pre-eminent political issue not by rational citizens, but by fundamentalist Christians. Their position, he claims, flies in the face of reason, and seeks to undermine the principles of freedom upon which our society has been based. While conservatives maintain freedom of choice for the individual, the fundamentalist demands social adherence to a strict set of rules, which go above and beyond human judgement. And the abortion argument — that all people should have to ascribe to a zero-tolerance policy — is an affront to choice and part of a larger theoconservative project of restructuralization.

And yet, of all the issues Sullivan could have chosen to attack, the abortion issue is probably the least plausible. Others which he focuses on are much more feasible. Taste in music? A choice of individuals. Religious beliefs? A choice of individuals. Homosexuality? Also arguably a choice of individuals, although the “choice” argument is as often used against them as for them. But the one issue he seems most intent on confronting is the only one where a black and white overruling of individual choice seems to be logical. And in the same line of thinking, it is actually reasonable for abortion to be made into the most important issue in an election, as some Republicans have attempted to make it over the last decade.

Take Chris Selley’s position in a recent blog post at Macleans.ca:

I’ve long argued (not here, but elsewhere) that despite legitimate concerns over how Canada’s legal vacuum on abortion came about, ours is the single most logically coherent way for any nation to allow its citizens freedom of choice. A fetus is a fetus, and subject to the choices of its host, until it’s entirely outside the mother, at which point it’s a human being. The other pro-choice frameworks out there in the world aren’t without virtue, but they suffer from arbitrariness. In Sweden, for example, restrictions kick in at the 12th week, well before any definition of fetal viability. Why 12? Ten’s an even nicer round number, surely. And in systems that bestow protection on fetuses at or around the point of viability, such as in the UK, the arbitrariness is revealed whenever gaggles of politicians, very few of whom are OB/GYNs, start campaigning to lower it.

Canada doesn’t mess around with any of that. And as Cynthia Gorney pointed out in a brilliant piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, neither does Sarah Palin. Her views, says Gorney, represent “abortion opposition at its most coherent.”

If a fetus is genuinely a child from the instant of conception, then the law can’t permit killing it for any reason except the extraordinary circumstance of an emergency to save a woman’s life (and in some right-to-life circles there’s argument about that, too, or whether equal measures should be taken to save woman and unborn alike).

Selley misses the ball in a few ways. But his overall point is sound. If a position on abortion depends on the humanity of a fetus, it is logically a black and white issue. There is no grey if the core reasoning depends on a yes or no conclusion. For this reason, Sullivan and other realists like him are missing the mark when they say that yes, there is a logical middle ground that the extremes should be ascribing to.

However, the debate is clearly not quite as black and white as this. There are many factors which contribute to one’s thoughts on abortion. And I’d like to consider these, and through this dialogue justify what I think to be the right position on abortion. Consider it a response to my father’s post a couple days ago if you like, or a response to some of the comments on my own post slightly earlier. It’s an ongoing discussion, and I don’t hope to sway many people, but what I really aim for is to justify the theoconservative position on abortion, and hopefully show that we “fundamentalists” can think, too.

1. The Motivation:

I think the first and foremost distinction between hard-line Christians and other groups rests in the motivation for even considering the abortion debate. From a secular perspective, the goal of any discussion is generally either to enhance an individual’s life (often your own), or to achieve social justice. And these motives make sense, if the physical world is primary and the spiritual world is either nonexistent or secondary. It is this first strain of motivation which leads to arguments like the “safe, legal, and rare” one which is often put forth by pragmatists such as Clinton, Sullivan, Obama, and my father. The argument that follows is that if one is aiming to attain some sort of ideal society, or allow individuals the proper capacity for self-governance, then abortion is necessary, but not always ideal. By making abortion accessible and secure, but reducing social causes, one can hope to eliminate that outlying demand for abortion and allow only those who really need it to access it.

When it boils down to this, it is reasonable to get away from the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy. Clearly taking extremes is generally a social bane, rather than a social boon. Taking a purely pro-life stance leads to women and children starving or imprisoned, while taking a purely pro-choice stance leads to rampant carelessness and a sense that children are a burden rather than a blessing, as well as potentially leading to infanticide and other undesirables. This is where Chris Selley misses out. He assumes that Bush and his ilk are genuinely basing their arguments on a religious conviction, or that restricted-choice defenders are basing their arguments entirely on free will. Rather, the motivation from these middle-ground perspectives is generally some equilibrium between social values and individual choice, which would hopefully lead to an ideal society.

A religious perspective, though, fits into Selley’s argument perfectly. From a right-wing Christian stance, the goal of everything is to glorify God. Whether this is reasonable or not is another debate, and though I defend it, I’m not going to get into it here. The point is, if one seeks to glorify God in every choice, whether individual, societal, or global, then suddenly the issue of defining humanity becomes huge. The concept of the Sanctity of Human Life is pivotal to fundamentalist doctrine, an rightfully so, since human beings are the clearest and most powerful focus through which others understand God. If a fetus is, indeed, human, then killing it is a violation of God’s image, and one of the most destructive acts imaginable. Because the motivation is completely different, the root question changes from “what benefits society?” to “what demonstrates God’s glory?”, and inevitably you end up with a black and white conclusion.

2. The Implications:

Since the answer is black and white when motivated by the spiritual, rather than the physical, the answer is going to result in a black and white conclusion. If the question that is necessary to understand the debate is whether a fetus is human or not, the answer automatically determines the required action. If a fetus is not human, then Selley is right: Canada’s position is the most logical. Since a human becomes human upon birth, then any moment prior to that birth becomes a reasonable time to end the fetus’ existence. On the other hand, if a fetus really is human, then it is never logical to terminate it by our own will. Does a rape change the fetus’ status as human or inhuman? Does the ability to support the child in the future change whether that life is genuine or not? Of course not! If one is motivated by social good, then it makes sense to leave room for individual discretion. But in the case that the determining factor is whether the fetus is human or not, there can be no middle ground. Society should either embrace abortion in any form, or reject it outright. It is not something to be left up to individual choice, because murder is murder, and not defensible regardless of whether you feel murder is right or wrong.

3. The Actions:

Assuming the pro-life position that fetuses are human, there is only one logical course of action: Eliminate abortion, above all else. Yes, reducing abortion would save lives. But if human life is to be protected, it is unreasonable to accept any level of defilement. Albert Mohler describes the fundamentalist position well:

But I just cannot get past one crucial, irreducible, and central issue — the moral status of those unborn lives.  They are not mine to negotiate.  If abortion were a matter of concern for anything less than this, I would gladly negotiate.  But abortion is a matter of life and death, and how can we negotiate with death?  What moral sense does it make to settle for death as “safe, legal, and rare?”  How safe? How rare?

Our considerations of these questions will reveal what we really think of those millions of unborn lives.  Do we consider the battle for their lives permanently lost?

Those fighting for the abolition of slavery pressed on against obstacles and set backs worse than these because, after all, these were human lives they were defending.  What if they had listened to those who, after Dred Scott and the Missouri Compromise, said that the battle was “permanently” lost?  What if they had been intimidated by critics accusing them of “single-issue” voting?

Single-issue voting makes sense if the problem is one of mass murder. Even if only one abortion takes place per year, that life is still valuable from a theological position! The goal has to be the elimination of murder, not the reduction of it.

However, where I disagree with Mohler and his ilk is in their purely law-based stance. The Republican position demands that a law be passed to end abortion. However, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade would not end abortion, unless another atrocity were to take place. Arguably, nation-wide capital punishment to those who have an abortion would stand a chance of ending abortion. But at what cost? Does getting an abortion nullify the value of a woman’s life, particularly if she felt forced to be in that situation to begin with?

No, lawmaking isn’t sufficient, unless one wants to be inconsistent regarding the sanctity of life.took Because that’s the other side of the coin that many theoconservatives ignore. The women, too, need protection, and that means in health, wealth, and emotional wellbeing. If a woman can’t remain physically able, cannot support herself and the child, or feels completely stranded emotionally, then pro-life supporters aren’t doing enough in the battle to protect God’s image.

It simply comes down to effectiveness, too. Lawmaking is often the least effective tool of the state. And fighting through the slew of opposition in a purely legal forum is often more difficult than it’s worth. The example of slavery that Mohler uses is a great example. William Wilberforce and his English contemporaries won the legal battle against slavery not by passing a law plain and simple, but by putting forth another law which would inevitably damage the slave trade, but subtly. The blunt, tactless position of Republicans is the least effective way to go, and someone with the creativity of Wilberforce would surely bring in a different tactic to eliminate abortion.

So, in my mind, the pragmatic position is this. The first step is to make abortion safe, legal, and rare. Confronting social problems and stigmas will help to attain this. But to end there would be tragic. Instead, the long-term goal has to be to advance beyond safe, legal, and rare, and make it completely unnecessary and undesirable. It is the only logical course of action, if you really believe that all human are equally valuable.

And therein lies my defense (and slight rebuttal) of the fundamentalist perspective on abortion.

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46 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Silk
    Nov 03, 2008 @ 14:18:57

    I don’t understand why these same arguments aren’t used to ban war – or does it become ok to kill a fetus once it has turned 18 and we can put a uniform on it….

    Reply

  2. nebcanuck
    Nov 03, 2008 @ 17:14:28

    I actually don’t think it’s wrong to use those arguments to significantly reduce war, anyways. The only difference between abortion and war, as far as I can tell, is that war arguably can prevent the loss of lives, if the situation is very volatile. However, the abuse of this idea is clear in American history, and I don’t think it would be negative for more conservative Christians to take up the anti-war banner based on these same principles.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: On Abortion | Pelican Project Pro-Life
  4. Stephen
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 07:53:19

    One of the great things about this blog (if I do say so myself) is the respectful, rational dialogue we have about hotly contested issues.

    This is a good post, as usual — well done! Excuse me for posting such a long comment in response, but I have several points to make.

    (1) It’s difficult to resolve this particular issue because people disagree at the level of their presuppositions. To one person, it is self-evident that the fetus is a human being. To another person, that isn’t self-evident at all: as Jewish Atheist recently put it, “I think the idea that a days-old fetus is morally a human being is … ludicrous.”

    When people disagree at the level of presuppositions, it’s very difficult to reason your way out of the impasse. That doesn’t mean that evangelical Christians can’t or don’t think. It just means they begin their deliberations from a different starting point than, say, Jewish Atheist does.

    (2) I think you’re taking the position that the abortion issue shouldn’t be resolved by criminalizing abortion. But I’m not sure that’s what you mean to say.

    If it is what you’re saying, you and I are in agreement at a fundamental point. I think this is a social issue, and criminalizing abortion kind of misses the point. Better to respond by social supports: sex ed, parental engagement with their children, readily available birth control, financial and emotional support for a woman who finds herself pregnant and would like to keep the baby.

    But — the way the debate is structured — as soon as you oppose criminalization, you’re in the pro-choice camp. I agree that the fetus is a human being, and I think abortion is, in most cases, a sin. And yet, because I think criminalization is the wrong “solution” to this social issue, I am effectively pro-choice.

    (3) I understand your point, that abortion reduction can never be the final goal from the perspective of those who think the fetus is a human being. My argument in the previous post is essentially pragmatic: it is not possible to reduce abortions to zero.

    Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, each state would then decide whether to criminalize abortion.

    In the meantime, it may be possible to achieve a consensus on reducing the incidence of abortion. I fear that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are allowing babies to die right now because they won’t collaborate with like-minded people to see the number of abortions reduced within a pro-choice framework. And that disturbs me.

    (4) Finally — I knew this comment was going to be too long — I think everyone needs to keep two paradoxical data points in mind.

    (a) The fetus is (at least arguably) a human being from the moment of conception. It’s certainly alive, and it is certainly the product of two human parents; so it isn’t very reasonable to argue, for example, that the fetus is a fish. I remain convinced that when a man’s 23 chromosomes are united with a woman’s 23 chromosomes, a human life is formed. To me, the prima facie argument favours the humanity of the fetus. Therefore the onus is on people like Jewish Atheist to prove the contrary proposition: and they haven’t made a persuasive case to date.

    (b) On the other hand, the fetus can be placed at some point on a developmental continuum. Two weeks after fertilization, the baby doesn’t think, doesn’t experience physical sensations, etc. The fetus also doesn’t have responsibilities as a functional member of a community.

    That last point should matter to Christians, who are supposed to view human identity in communal, not strictly individual, terms.

    I hesitate to say that one human life is more valuable than another. Ideally, we wouldn’t ever be forced to make such judgements.

    But in the case of a woman whose life is threatened by the pregnancy, for example — I would prioritize the woman’s life ahead of the baby’s.

    In the case of rape or incest, where a particular woman is experiencing a profound psychological trauma — I would not force her to carry the baby to term. I would let her choose, effectively prioritizing the woman’s life ahead of the baby’s. (One woman may find her experience more traumatizing than another woman does — personal experience is, of course, subjective. That’s one of the reasons why the woman should be free to make the abortion decision herself.)

    I understand that this argument, where one human life is given priority over another, is a slippery slope. But sometimes these sorts of moral conundrums are thrust upon us, however much we would prefer to look away.

    Bottom line: I insist that there are two paradoxical pieces of information involved here. The abortion debate is not rational unless it grapples intelligently with both data points — both the humanity and the developmental reality of the fetus.

    Reply

  5. nebcanuck
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 08:32:19

    I think you’re taking the position that the abortion issue shouldn’t be resolved by criminalizing abortion. But I’m not sure that’s what you mean to say.

    That’s exactly what I mean to say.

    On a pragmatic level — which is what I was aiming for in the last section of my post — we are in agreement, at least for the short term. As an idealist, though, I don’t think it’s sufficient to say “criminalizing abortion is wrong”. As far as I can see, there is no need for abortion in a society where single mothers are cared for, men stick around more often, rape is reduced significantly, and safe sex is made easy and desirable. At that point, where you have significantly — if not completely — dented the social factors which make abortion “desirable”, then I think it should be criminalized.

    The problem with the conservative stance thus far has been an overly simplistic view of society, with the notion that law will create justice. It doesn’t. Law often hurts more than it helps. Treating women who are worried about starving to death if they carry the child to term as if they were mass murderers is a silly notion — even if essentially they are partaking in cultural mass murder! Why? Because it won’t actually stop the damage being done, and may in fact worsen it, since it will make even more women feel stranded.

    The other reason for my post, of course, was not just to suggest we need to eliminate abortion down the road. It was to justify the position that we are justified in making abortion the single most important debate of the election. Where human life is at risk, there must be a sense of importance!

    I will respond to more of your comments later. Off to class.

    Reply

  6. Bridgett
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:28:03

    Whew.

    “The Greater Life” argument is the one I was raised with in my RC household. My father was a nurse and both my parents, at the time, were against abortion in general but liberal in many other respects. They were very hesitant about criminalization (I mentioned in an earlier comment about my aunt who had an abortion in 1972, which I believe was technically criminal but was done so in her doctor’s office), though, because of the idea of the life of the mother. All sorts of incidents in a person’s life could be extrapolated around this idea–cancer, some sort of serious injury, etc. The Catholic stance, as I believed it then and up until just recently (I think the church has become more rabid on this point) was that you do not perform an abortion, but if an abortion (spontaneous/miscarriage) were to occur in the process of saving the mother’s life, this was not a sin, due to the idea of saving the greater life. IT is a slippery slope–at what point is the mother’s life “Greater” than her child’s? I personally would hazard the guess that this argument ends at the point of viability (what, about 7 months pregnant? Maybe a little earlier?). Which is why I am deeply troubled by inaction to limit/end late-term abortions in this country (although in cases where the fetus would not survive, like anacephaly, is it worth continuing a pregnancy? See, more slippery slope).

    But earlier abortions performed to save the life of the mother should never be criminalized.

    The abortions I would like to see come to an end are the ones that result from pregnancies that occur due to lack of experience, education, and birth control. Also, the ones that result due to financial restraints/poor health care/few choices. THESE are the things that RCs and evangelicals should be changing, RIGHT NOW. There is no excuse in a nation as wealthy as ours, in a world filled with information, for this to happen at the rate it does.

    There. I voted today for the the man that will send me to hell, according to the neighboring bishop here in Missouri. It was good that I did.

    Reply

  7. nebcanuck
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 12:41:12

    Okay, back to tackle another one before class! 🙂

    It’s difficult to resolve this particular issue because people disagree at the level of their presuppositions. To one person, it is self-evident that the fetus is a human being. To another person, that isn’t self-evident at all: as Jewish Atheist recently put it, “I think the idea that a days-old fetus is morally a human being is … ludicrous.”

    Ultimately, there’s bound to be some disagreement over the issue. But as far as I can tell, accepting the middle ground ends up inevitably coming to an arbitrary judgement. If you think a fetus isn’t human, you have to explain why. If your reason is that the fetus can’t think, then surely a vegetative human is now no longer human as well. What of a human in a coma? And if a human in a coma isn’t well, what of someone who suffered substantive brain damage and isn’t able to think well? Or a psychopath?

    It seems to me that in the definition of “human”, there can’t be room for disagreement. A hundred and fifty years ago, blacks and women were considered inhuman because of their physical and theoretical differences. Nowadays, it’s considered heinous to suggest as much — and rightfully so! Drawing an arbitrary line in the sand stating that a 6-month 29-day old fetus isn’t human but a 7-month old fetus is is ridiculous. There’s only one criteria that seems to fit in perfectly, and that is conception. Even birth — the next-best alternative, logically — involves controversy over premature births, partial birth abortions, and other half-grounds which demand clarification.

    Maybe it’s hard to create order where disagreement exists. But I wouldn’t want someone being justified in murdering me because he feels my mental capacities are less sufficient than his own. It’s got to be pretty black or white when defining a “moral human being”.

    Off to class again!

    Reply

  8. Stephen
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 13:54:45

    • Bridgett:
    Thanks for that informed comment. It’s obvious that you’ve given some considerable thought to this difficult topic.

    • nebcanuck:
    I totally agree with everything you said in your comment.

    I’m not sure whether your argument was directed at me specifically. To reiterate my point, I accept that the fetus is human from conception.

    I worked with mentally handicapped folks for more than six years. I never met anyone who, merely by existing, represented a threat to anyone else’s existence.

    Unfortunately, a fetus sometimes threatens the life or psychological welfare of its mother. As I said above, life sometimes dishes out these horrific ethical conundrums.

    I hasten to add that Bridgett is also right: most abortions do not fall into that category.

    Reply

  9. Zayna
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 14:59:50

    I weigh in only because I have some experience on this issue.

    I had an abortion when I was 20 years old. Already an unwed mother to a 3 1/2 year old and barely able to care for the two of us, I found myself pregnant again and I opted to have an abortion.

    It was by no means easy or off the cuff. I struggled for weeks with the decision and have lived with that choice for the last sixteen years and will live with it for the rest of my life.

    I didn’t then, and still don’t today, make any excuses…such as a life is not a life until it’s so many weeks old. I truly believe that life does indeed begin at conception.

    Still, I made the best decision I could at the time considering my circumstances and my level of support.

    So, am I a murderer? To me, that’s for God to decide and I’m more than willing to stand (HIS) judgement and will pay whatever penance He deems fit.

    As it happens, I went on to go to college and endeavoured to give my Son the best possible life I could provide. I eventually got married, had another child and settled into what would be considered a normal and even admirable (considering my ten years of community volunteer work) life.

    It’s all well and good for people, who have absolutely no chance of finding themselves young, pregnant and alone, to make judgements…that is their right.

    But do I personally believe that God will abandon me because of my choice, do I think I’m going to Hell, am I a murderer?

    No, on all counts. I believe that I am a child of God who has done the very best she could and is eternally loved and forgiven.

    Reply

  10. Bridgett
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 17:14:04

    Amen, Zayna. Stephen’s right: life sometimes deals us an unfair hand. As a Catholic, I still believe in the idea of the informed conscience and that no one else can know for certain my reasons for my decisions and actions. Only God can know what is in my heart.

    Reply

  11. nebcanuck
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 17:26:02

    All right. I’ll get to some of the other stuff I haven’t yet! And thus, it’s my turn for a whopper comment!

    Dad:

    But — the way the debate is structured — as soon as you oppose criminalization, you’re in the pro-choice camp. I agree that the fetus is a human being, and I think abortion is, in most cases, a sin. And yet, because I think criminalization is the wrong “solution” to this social issue, I am effectively pro-choice.

    Agreed. I find it rather disconcerting how conservative Christians tie themselves in with such ideologies, really. Even men who do a good job of thinking issues through — such as Albert Mohler — are painfully short-sighted in their position on how to deal with the issue. Perhaps it’s because I’m studying politics, but as far as I’m concerned it’s silly to place your faith in a government that does nothing but pass laws, particularly concerning as complicated an issue as abortion!

    My argument in the previous post is essentially pragmatic: it is not possible to reduce abortions to zero.

    I would prefer to pick an ideal and base my actions on that, than look at the world around me and attempt to “make due”. By taking the “pragmatic position” that we’ll never get zero abortions in a country, we will end up much further away from the zero mark than if we set that as our goal. The old “shoot for the moon and end up amongst the stars” analogy, I suppose.

    That last point should matter to Christians, who are supposed to view human identity in communal, not strictly individual, terms.

    That’s very well-put! Thank you!

    In the case of rape or incest, where a particular woman is experiencing a profound psychological trauma — I would not force her to carry the baby to term. I would let her choose, effectively prioritizing the woman’s life ahead of the baby’s.

    Personally, I feel like that’s still permitting too much room. One surely wouldn’t allow the woman to kill the man who raped her — a more coherent result from her fury — so why should she be allowed to kill the baby. If she really can’t handle having the child, there should be other options… but then, that’s another part of the problem. Things like adoption are horribly downplayed in this society, and abortion becomes almost the default option.

    Also, I think by making this concession — that a woman should be allowed to end her pregnancy in the case of rape — a stigma is created where women begin to view children as a negative byproduct of that person’s sin, rather than the blessing therein. There is no sound reason why the woman should feel upset at the child for its existence. By allowing her to end the pregnancy, a situation is created where the child becomes a sieve for her frustration, rather than the criminal or the system which allowed it to happen.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m for abandoning the woman. There needs to be a lot more focus on getting support for women in this type of situation — financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Until we have a society in which women have a person to turn to in adverse circumstances, it’s unsurprising that they don’t focus their pain correctly. Again, the goal would be eventual criminalization of abortion, once it is clear that women are genuinely able to deal with their pain in a constructive manner.

    Bridgett:

    The abortions I would like to see come to an end are the ones that result from pregnancies that occur due to lack of experience, education, and birth control. Also, the ones that result due to financial restraints/poor health care/few choices.

    Absolutely agreed that these should be the first to be tackled. I don’t see any justification for them, again, with the assumption that a fetus is genuinely human. If the fetus is just a parasite to be rid of, or a “part of the woman’s body”, then naturally it’s fine for them to be able to rid themselves of it whenever they want. And that’s why I feel the question of what constitutes humanity is incredibly important.

    Thanks for the input! 🙂

    Zayna:

    As always, I find your comment to be emotionally stirring. I think what you bring up captures the helplessness that I know goes on regularly, but cannot really connect with. And that’s the part that makes me hesitate the most when entering into a discussion on abortion: I haven’t, and never can be, in the situation that women are on a regular basis.

    I wanted to respond to one part in particular:

    But do I personally believe that God will abandon me because of my choice, do I think I’m going to Hell, am I a murderer?

    No, on all counts. I believe that I am a child of God who has done the very best she could and is eternally loved and forgiven.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s Christian at all to suggest that you are going to Hell for a single action, regardless of whether that action was murder or not. I profess to believe that a mass murderer who truly repents of his actions is forgiven and can be saved. Anyone who suggests otherwise misses the point of Christ’s death and resurrection.

    I love the way C.S. Lewis describes the process of redemption. He says that it’s impossible to come up with a blueprint of how a Christian life would look, because we all start in different spots in life. Instead, he suggests that judgement will ultimately depend on where a person is in relation to where they would be without Christ, rather than where they are in relation to other people.

    It’s quite easy for me to sit back and say I’d never have an abortion if I were a woman. But then, I’m a white, anglo-saxon male with good intelligence and physical strength, as well as a reasonable amount of money, considering the fact that for a while my family had no money on either side. Life hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than a lot of people’s. For me to claim that my own life should be the standard upon which others’ should be judged would be egotistical and damaging to everyone.

    Do I believe judgement exists? Yes. But I don’t believe it’s as easy to tell as “abortion=Hell, no abortion=Heaven”. Anyone believing that is a modern-day pharisee.

    Reply

  12. Stephen
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 21:01:39

    • Benjamin (using your real name this time) :
    I’m not going to try to rebut your arguments this time around. On the contrary, I respect the integrity of your position — knowing, as I do, how hard it is to maintain one’s position on this issue in the face of enormous social pressure.

    I have addressed this very difficult topic from time to time on the blog, which has given me an opportunity to engage in these sorts of substantive arguments at intervals. My thinking has been sharpened after each dialogue. So I look forward to another go-around at some point in future, when we may both discover that we have some fresh thoughts on the topic.

    • Zayna:
    Thank you for baring your soul a little on such a deeply personal issue. I admire the way you express yourself here:

    I didn’t then, and still don’t today, make any excuses…such as a life is not a life until it’s so many weeks old. I truly believe that life does indeed begin at conception.

    That’s why it’s so important, in my view, to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn baby. It forces us to recognize that the decision to abort is a gravely serious one.

    That doesn’t mean a woman can never choose to abort — at least, it doesn’t necessarily lead to that conclusion (though obviously that’s the conclusion that some people come to).

    It does mean that no woman should casually opt to abort. And I fear that some women are somewhat casual about it. They’ve bought into the argument that abortion is no more of a moral conundrum than the decision to have a wart removed.

    Far from thinking that you’re going to hell, I respect the honesty you display in your decision-making process. You faced facts — yes, this baby is human — instead of trying to evade the hard truth in order to make things easier for your own conscience.

    I know a little of your spiritual history; I know that your experience of the church community has not been been very positive. I, for one, am not going to pass judgement on you. If your conscience is at peace — then be at peace. God’s grace to you.

    Reply

  13. Zayna
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 16:50:38

    Thank you all for your kind responses to my comment…I really can’t tell you how much it means.

    It wasn’t easy to put that out there but I’m grateful that my experience could at least contribute to the discussion.

    The issue of abortion is not cut and dry and I do agree whole heartedly that it shouldn’t be regarded as merely another birth control mechanism.

    It is a matter of life and death.

    Reply

  14. James Pate
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 09:54:05

    Stephen,

    One of your statements disturbs me:

    ‘ On the other hand, the fetus can be placed at some point on a developmental continuum. Two weeks after fertilization, the baby doesn’t think, doesn’t experience physical sensations, etc. The fetus also doesn’t have responsibilities as a functional member of a community. That last point should matter to Christians, who are supposed to view human identity in communal, not strictly individual, terms.”

    I don’t think a person’s value depends on how much he contributes to the community. It’s inherent, because he was made in God’s image.

    Reply

  15. Stephen
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 13:33:01

    In other words, a person’s value arises from a relationship — his or her relationship to ("image of") God.

    You make an important point, though I would present it a little differently than you do. A person who is alone in the world does not cease to be valuable; her value arises from her (inherent, universal) relationship to the Creator.

    On the other hand, we Westerners think in highly individualistic terms. The Bible doesn’t view it that way. Salvation comes not merely from being “in Christ”, but also from one’s membership in the community of the saved.

    That idea goes back to the Israelite religion, where (1) obedience to the commandments keeps one in good standing with the covenant community; and (2) membership in the covenant community means that you are a beneficiary of God’s grace. If you’re outside of the community — out there with the Gentiles — you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.

    Western Christians profoundly misunderstand the Hebrew scriptures, because they read them through an individualistic lens that was alien to the Israelites.

    All that to say, I stand by the claim that Christians must understand human identity in communal, not strictly individual terms. And I think the idea has consequences for the abortion debate.

    Reply

  16. James Pate
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:55:48

    Right, but there can be communitarian pro-life positions. What if a mom aborts the next Einstein? What will that do to the community? And what kind of a community do we have if it doesn’t value all people– regardless of whether they make a contribution that’s good enough?

    Sorry to cast you as Mengele here–I may be minsunderstanding what you’re saying.

    Reply

  17. nebcanuck
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 17:53:14

    Concerning the statement that human value is derived from community, not simply individualistic, terms:

    I think that ultimately it’s a failed defense of this idea of a sliding moral status, anyways. I would counter the point that contributions are important to determine moral worth by stating that it’s clear Biblically that communities should place particular importance on protecting the weak.

    A child does little to contribute to a society, at least in materialistic, educational, or other autonomous terms. However, it’s clear how important children are in the eyes of Christ, and he even states that harming such a one would be a deadly sin.

    With that in mind, how much more should the community strive to protect all those who are completely unable to protect themselves? Should they be seen as something with less worth? Are they to be the first to go, if the society is falling apart? No! Clearly, saving those who are defenseless should be a primary goal of society, and that goal will serve to bring the individuals within the community closer to salvation!

    In this case, a fetus has the most moral worth of any human being!

    Reply

  18. Stephen
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 09:59:14

    That’s a good argument. In fact, it may be the most compelling Bible-based argument for the pro-life position.

    There are no biblical texts that speak directly to the abortion issue. There are plenty of texts, however, that speak to the idea of protecting the vulnerable (a broad category which includes, for example, orphans and widows).

    Perhaps I’ll note in passing: There is one biblical text that suggests a fetus has less value than an adult woman. Admittedly, different translations give a different sense. But consider the Good News Bible’s interpretation:

    If some men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she loses her child, but she is not injured in any other way, the one who hurt her is to be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband demands, subject to the approval of the judges.

    But if the woman herself is injured, the punishment shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ….

    (Exodus 21:22-24)

    Compare the interpretation of the New King James Version: “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him ….”

    Anyway, I’ll set that text aside. Let me move on to clarify the point I was making earlier.

    I was envisioning a specific sort of moral dilemma. The clearest example is the case of a woman who likely will die if a pregnancy is allowed to continue. The family is forced to make a terrible decision: to continue the pregnancy at the risk of allowing the woman to die, or to save the woman’s life at the cost of killing the baby.

    In that scenario, I think it’s relevant that the woman is positioned at the centre of a network of interdependent relationships. Her life is not more valuable in any abstract sense — I should have been more clear on that point. But her life is more valuable, if we consider it in the context of a concrete fact situation.

    Insofar as various people will be harmed by her death, her life is more valuable than that of the fetus. No one’s well-being depends on the survival of the fetus.

    That’s a terrible ethical dilemma to hypothesize. Note that it doesn’t excuse hundreds of thousands of abortions per year. On the contrary, it’s a highly specific and relatively unusual fact situation.

    But we’re engaging in philosophical speculation at this point. We’re considering whether there are any circumstances in which we might prioritize the mother’s life over the unborn baby’s life; and, if the answer to that question is yes, on what grounds would we do so?

    The concrete scenario I’ve just laid out suggests that the answer is “Yes.” I’m arguing that the grounds are, the woman’s status as the member of a community over against the completely isolated status of an in utero baby.

    I’m sorry my argument has led to confusion. I stated it quickly because I knew my comment was excessively long, so I thought I’d better have another run at it here.

    Reply

  19. Stephen
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 10:07:15

    James:
    I overlooked your comment until just now. You ask, “What if a mom aborts the next Einstein? What will that do to the community?”

    Sure. But on the one hand we have a woman who is, as a matter of fact, at the hub of a network of interdependent relationships.

    On the other hand, we have a fetus who might grow up to be the next Einstein — though the odds are one in ten million.

    If we’re going to spin “what if” scenarios, we can equally imagine that the fetus is going to be the next Charles Manson. In that case, the community will be much better off if the abortion proceeds.

    But neither scenario is likely enough to be taken seriously, and the two scenarios effectively cancel each other out.

    Reply

  20. James Pate
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 19:13:41

    Okay, then I’ll posit another “what if?” What if the woman who would die from childbirth doesn’t really contribute to society? She just has babies and gets more welfare doing it.

    I understand your dilemma–you’re talking about a specific situation in which we have to choose between the mother and the baby. But I have problems basing a person’s value on his or her utility–or even relationships.

    Reply

  21. nebcanuck
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 23:22:54

    First, I’ll respond to the main conversation between Dad and myself:

    That verse is certainly intriguing, particularly in the more literal translations, where it states “no harm” occurs. It certainly seems to be suggesting that the fetus’ death is to be ignored on a justice scale. I don’t have much response, except to say that it seems rather inconsistent with the idea that God has knitted us together within the womb — the most commonly-quoted passage referring to the fetus in Christian circles. I’ll have to pray and consider that passage though, and hopefully something comes forth.

    I would say that an abortion is still slightly different than that, though. In the context of the Exodus passage, men are fighting and seemingly accidentally hurt the woman and kill the child. The real issue that springs forth with abortion is not necessarily one of death, but intent. As Sullivan points out, many fertilized eggs die before they’re even noticed, which could be seen as a tragedy. But I think the real tragedy is the human desire to “play God”, or to dodge responsibility, in many cases. Even in the case of rape, the channeling of negative emotions towards an innocent source is the entirely wrong reaction, and it’s that malice towards the fetus that seems to me the greater problem, rather than the fact that the fetus died.

    Intention is incredibly important, Biblically, and I’d argue even more so in the New Covenant. So long as one is intending to kill a fetus, I think there’s something twisted and wrong, regardless of a “moral scale”.

    Now I’ll play Devil’s (or God’s?) advocate in the back-and-forth between James and Dad:

    In other words, a person’s value arises from a relationship — his or her relationship to (“image of”) God.

    I want to know where the decision to interchange image and relationship came from. As far as I can tell, the point of men being the image of God is more relating to how well they convey His glory, rather than how their relationship goes with Him.

    Sure. But on the one hand we have a woman who is, as a matter of fact, at the hub of a network of interdependent relationships.

    On the other hand, we have a fetus who might grow up to be the next Einstein — though the odds are one in ten million.

    I hate to play the potential game. I honestly do. Why? Because it’s most commonly used in favour of pro-choice decisions, with the idea underlying it that a kid growing up in a rough situation is better of not existing whatsoever. Potential is a dangerous thing to base anything on.

    But for the sake of debate, I would say that potential could be considered within this sliding scale idea. It is fair to say that the child is likely to be a hub of personal relationships as well, since most people are. That being the case, since the woman is obviously older than the child, she likely will live less time than the child. If she can give another 60 years of networking, while the child can give 80 years, then surely we have to assume the child, not the mother should be saved.

    In that case, the only justifiable abortion is one which will save the mother if both her and the child would have died without the abortion.

    Reply

  22. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 09:35:38

    The potential game can be problematic for all sides. What if the mother turns out to be the next Manson? I guess my problem is basing a person’s value on his utility to society or his ability to network. That is one reason I HATE communitarianism–it makes the individual less valuable than the herd. There are systems that have done that–Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany. But they don’t correspond with what the New Testament presents as community. In the New Testament, the least valued member of the body is the most valuable.

    Reply

  23. Stephen
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 11:45:01

    James:
    What if the woman who would die from childbirth doesn’t really contribute to society? She just has babies and gets more welfare doing it.

    I think that’s very insulting. It betrays a tendency, typical of conservatives, to demonize people instead of viewing them sympathetically. Yes, yes, if she’s pregnant outside of marriage she must be a drunk and a welfare bum. Probably uses her welfare money to purchase cigarettes, and exposes her children to second hand smoke.

    My point is that she’s an adult woman. She has had a relationship with her parents for 20 years or more. She probably has adult siblings. She may have a husband or a long-term boyfriend. She has nieces and nephews and cousins. She has friends.

    Many of those people rely on her in one way or another — for emotional support, or financial support, or just because they enjoy her company. Her death would directly impact them.

    And you know what? Even if she’s a welfare mom who drinks and smokes, her death would still leave other people bereft. How arrogant of you to suggest that the life of a welfare mom is worth less than anybody else’s life.

    That is one reason I HATE communitarianism–it makes the individual less valuable than the herd.

    You should read the opening chapters of Acts, where people sell their property and donate the proceeds to a common fund to support widows and orphans.

    You should read the Hebrew scriptures, and understand that Israel was very much a communal society. That’s why the opening chapters of Acts say what they do: they’re following the communal model of Israelite society.

    You should allow the scriptures to shape your thinking on these matters instead of the American individualist, free market culture that you live in.

    See Acts 6:1 — “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”

    Or consider 1Ti. 5:9, which speaks of a list of widows. There’s a balance throughout the chapter (1Ti. 5) between individuals being self-reliant (family members caring for older widows, or younger widows providing for themselves) and the Church pooling its resources to care for those who are needy and alone.

    All those texts follow the model introduced in Acts 4:32, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Read on from that text, through the example of Barnabas (vss. 36-37) and the cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1ff). Christians sold their property and donated the proceeds to a common fund: that’s where the money came from to provide for Christian widows and orphans.

    Somehow conservatives gloss over that whole aspect of New Testament ethics. (Which, to repeat myself, goes back to the Hebrew scriptures. See how provision is made for the poor in Deuteronomy.)

    “I HATE communitarianism–it makes the individual less valuable than the herd.” That’s an appalling thing to say, coming from a Christian.

    • nebcanuck:
    The interpretation of that Exodus passage isn’t immediately clear. I briefly quoted the NKJV translation, because it speaks of a premature birth instead of a miscarriage.

    Some translations assume that the baby dies (which would result in a fine). The text then asks whether there is harm to the mother (which would call for a stiffer sentence).

    The other translation suggests that there would be a fine paid for causing a premature birth even if the baby survives. Or there could be the death penalty if the baby dies. In other words, the text distinguishes degrees of harm to the baby.

    I think the first translation is more likely, but that’s based solely on my gut instinct. Pre-modern societies accepted miscarriages and even the deaths of newborn children with much more equanimity than we evidence in modern, Western culture. My gut instinct is, those are the values which undergird the text: the death of a fetus/infant is a commonplace loss, and not taken as seriously as the death of someone who has survived to an older stage of life.

    But to adequately answer the question, you’d have to do some digging in the commentaries. There might be other contemporary texts which could provide some hard data, thus shedding light on the interpretation of the passage.

    Reply

  24. Stephen
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 12:57:35

    • nebcanuck:
    I forgot to respond to this point:

    “I want to know where the decision to interchange image and relationship came from.”

    A question: What does “image of God” mean?

    Actually, that’s a difficult question to answer. There’s room for speculation, and no one agreed answer.

    But whatever its precise meaning, it suggests that we stand in a different relation to God than other creatures do — right?

    One possible answer to the question is, we have a spiritual capacity that other creatures lack. And that unique spiritual capacity enables us to be in relationship with God.

    Thus we stand in a different relation to God; and we are able to be in relationship with God.

    Whereas someone who has been cast off by God — who is no longer in relationship with God — is considered to be worthless and destined for the trash incinerator (i.e., gehenna).

    So I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that human value derives from relationship — fundamentally, our relationship with God.

    Indeed, one way to defend the pro-life position is to argue that the unborn child is already in relationship with God.

    Reply

  25. nebcanuck
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 14:22:08

    First, to defend James a bit re. the Welfare Mom comment. I think it’s terrible to propose that one such woman has no value, as well, particularly since Mom was on welfare for a time. It takes tremendous strength and good fortune to get off of the system, and it’s absolutely terrible how Evangelicals are tied into the political ideology that states these women are lazy and worthless and paints them in such ugly colours. It’s entirely unacceptable for people who claim to follow a man who blessed the poor and oppressed wherever he went — including people like tax collectors and prostitutes, who many Evangelicals would condemn outright today!

    However, I don’t think James was actually arguing that they have no value. I think that he picked an unfortunate stereotype to play on to make his point, but his point seems to be this: That you can’t place value on a person based on their contribution to a society. He would agree with you that this woman has value simply because of her individual life, rather than on whether or not she’s the next Einstein.

    I think part of the conflict is derived from the fact that neither of you is hearing the other clearly. James, Dad’s not arguing that the next Einstein is the most valuable person simply because he contributes more to society. He’s arguing that our value as believers comes from our existence within society. It’s much like Aristotle’s claim that men are political creatures, and those who refuse to engage in human interactions are more animal than human. His point is that humans are valuable because people care about them and they care about them in return. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dad, but I think that sums up your argument better than the communitarian ideal does.

    Also, I don’t think James is arguing that individuals are good to exclude themselves from society. Yes, he’s proposing that moral worth is based on their individual life, but he also believes that the weakest should be protected. He’s not rejecting community work, he’s simply saying that infringing on individual worth to propel the worth of the society forward is wrong. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s better than stating you are a rampant individualist who believes people who suffer are only doing so because they are lazy.

    As to the degree to which you agree, that remains to be seen 🙂 .

    I also want to respond again to Dad:

    I think the first translation is more likely, but that’s based solely on my gut instinct.

    Rather out of character for you, now that I’ve understood the reading better.

    Every translation I’ve checked (NKJV, ESV, NIV, NLT) suggests that the baby is born and there’s no harm beyond that. The only one that supports your interpretation is the Good News, which is one which you yourself have expressed some distaste for, since it’s done by a single man and its colloquialisms can often be distracting and inconsistent with most interpretations.

    Though it may be true that in many societies of old miscarriages were more taken for granted than other forms of death, I don’t know if I can support that that’s seen in scriptures, particularly when pretty much every translation leaves room for it to work well with concepts found in Jeremiah, as I state above.

    But whatever its precise meaning, it suggests that we stand in a different relation to God than other creatures do — right?

    I think it does, but indirectly. It suggests that we are the best representation of God (since that’s what an image is), and I would agree that since we are the best representation, we also have a very different relationship with God than other beings. I think that’s what you’re getting at when you talk about spiritual capacities. Our spiritual existence certainly seems to be a better reflection of God than any physical traits.

    I’d need to know the actual connotations of the Aramaic to fully grasp what image means, but to me it doesn’t directly convey any sense of relationship.

    So I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that human value derives from relationship — fundamentally, our relationship with God.

    I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that salvation derives from relationship with God (although I think our understanding of relationship is often very cliche in this day and age). But I think a better measure of value is the degree to which we demonstrate God’s glory, since the Bible is pretty clear that all of us, and all of the cosmos, exist purely to demonstrate His magnificence. Again, I think there’s some cross-over, since we demonstrate God’s glory most clearly when we’re in right relationship with Him, but I think it helps explain some of the evil that exists in the world when we see it as Glory, not Relationship as the key to value. That way, even those who are destined to gehenna have some value — as a demonstration of how badly we need God (most suffering within the “incinerator” seems to be a direct result of God’s lacking presence).

    Reply

  26. Stephen
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 15:19:30

    In my opinion, you’re being too charitable toward James. He writes from within the hard-right evangelical / conservative subculture of the U.S.A. He didn’t just pick the welfare mom example at random. It’s a conventional whipping boy in that subculture.

    And you’re right to point out that people end up on welfare for all sorts of reasons: not exclusively because they’re lazy and prefer to suck at the public teat instead of getting a job.

    I quoted James directly about HATE-ing communitarianism. And I offered a sustained biblical argument in favour of a communal social safety net. A daily distribution of food, financed from a communal savings account — I guess James HATEs the ethics of the New Testament Church.

    Anyway, James is a big boy. I’m not giving him the kid-glove treatment here, because he needs to take responsibility for the words he uses. On the other hand, if I’ve misrepresented him — if he meant to say something significantly different — he can correct the record and put forward a more careful rationale for his position.

    Dad’s not arguing that the next Einstein is the most valuable person simply because he contributes more to society. … His point is that humans are valuable because people care about them and they care about them in return. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dad, but I think that sums up your argument better than the communitarian ideal does.

    Well — First off, I didn’t raise the example of Einstein. James used that example, to argue that any given abortion could rob the world of a Great Person. Which is true, of course, though very unlikely. And it’s equally true that any given abortion could rob the world of a Terrible Psychopath, which would be a public good.

    Second: my argument is essentially utilitarian or pragmatic in nature. That’s how I would prefer to characterize it.

    A whole network of people is adversely impacted when an adult dies. Not so when an unborn baby dies. From a utilitarian perspective, the option which produces less harm is preferable to the alternative.

    In my view, abortion is always an evil. But sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils, on a purely utilitarian calculus.

    Furthermore, I’m arguing that this point of view has merit from a Christian perspective. Christians are not fixated on the individual, as if individuals live in splendid isolation from the larger society. Christians care about the welfare of the community — as much as or more than they care about the welfare of the individual.

    That’s where James and I fundamentally disagree. He HATEs the idea that the the individual might be regarded as less valuable than what he calls “the herd”. (The use of the word “herd” is offensive to me: it shows a profound ignorance of the high regard the Bible has for the larger community.)

    I don’t think I’ve misunderstood James’s argument at all. I think I have identified the precise point at which he and I disagree.

    Third: At this point, my disagreement with James isn’t over abortion per se. The argument has drifted to an entirely discrete topic, as sometimes happens in a comment thread.

    So you’re right, the “communitarian” topic is peripheral to my abortion argument. That’s why I tossed it off in a single sentence in the original comment. It’s tangential — although I think it’s relevant to the abortion debate in some, rare instances.

    Reply

  27. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 15:42:46

    I’ll read these comments later, but I WAS NOT stereotyping welfare moms. I’m critiquing a point of view that bases people’s value on their utility to society, or how many friends they have. My argument is that, if we’re going to go that route, then what about mothers who don’t seem to contribute anything to society? I’m not saying that about ALL welfare mothers–but there are adults who don’t contribute, but take.

    And, yes, I value the individual. Any community that doesn’t is Nazi or Stalinist. It is not the type of community the New Testament advocates.

    Reply

  28. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 15:44:37

    “How arrogant of you to suggest that the life of a welfare mom is worth less than anybody else’s life.”

    Hey, Stephen, you’re the one creating a hierarchy of value here. I’m not. I think all people are valuable, whether they contribute to the commune or not.

    Reply

  29. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 15:53:51

    On all those Scriptures about helping the poor, my response is, “What? Help those who don’t seem to contribute to society?” Apparently, the biblical idea of community is not one that bases individual worth on social utility. God looks out for the isolated–those who don’t have too many networks or friends. That’s why there are commands to take care of the widows and orphans–they don’t have families who do so.

    I hate ANY communitarianism that bases a person’s worth on contribution or social skills.

    Reply

  30. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 16:07:24

    One more comment, even though posting this many makes me look psychotic.

    I’m really shocked at you, Stephen, for basing human value on networks or contribution to the whole. It’s inconsistent with other positions you have taken, which, in a sense, value individual life over the good of society (or what people claim to be the good of society). I have in mind your positions on war, the death penalty, and torture.

    I think there are times when the Bible places society over the individual. In my opinion, the examples you cited work against you, since they actually value the helpless and the isolated, regardless of societal contribution. But, when the Torah mandates the death penalty, it’s placing society over the individual, since the sinner must die so that God will bless the community. The same goes with war.

    So this is a complex question. I feel you contradict yourself, but (in a sense) so do I. Maybe the Bible has tension over this. I think it values individuals AS individuals–regardless of their contribution. But it also doesn’t hesitate to dispose of certain bad apples.

    Reply

  31. nebcanuck
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 16:48:18

    With that said, I maintain that you’re both agreeing more than you seem to be agreeing more than either of you realize.

    Dad, you’re saying that the presence of the individual within society is important. Unless I’m mistaken, which your comments don’t seem to countermand, you are not arguing what James thinks you are: that Einstein is more valuable than Welfare Mom. Instead, you are arguing that Welfare Mom and Einstein are both valuable because they are present within a society and their loss would be more important for those around them than someone who exists outside of society. Again, it’s much like Aristotle’s argument, that people are human through the political engagement, period. It’s not that they are valuable because they contribute wealth, science, or power to a nation (although those are good things), but simply because they are part of a larger commune.

    James, on the other hand, I believe that you are not arguing completely against the idea of social justice. Instead, you are taking the stance that absolutist governments that impose perceived social values on all those who would have other opinions is wrong. You believe that a person cannot be judged on the premise that he is contributing to a linear view of society, by bringing about advancements or increased prosperity. In fact, you believe that their existence as an individual makes them valuable simply because they are made in the image of God!

    Correct me if I’m wrong on either account, but if that’s the case you are a lot more in agreement than you seem to believe. Neither of you is promoting the extreme. Dad does not believe in a totalitarian state. James does not believe in individuals taking advantage of one another for personal gain. Rather, both of you believe that people should be helping one another out and working for some sense of social justice. Where you disagree is on the fundamental argument of where the value derives from. For Dad, it’s the fact that one exists within society. For James, it’s the fact that one exists as an individual with a will and a purpose. I think the debate is fascinating and worth maintaining. But it’s worth noting that neither of you is promoting the extreme and clearly damaging version of your principles.

    Reply

  32. James Pate
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 22:19:24

    I’m back from some meetings, and more things came to me on my walks. I’ll have a quote from Stephen, then a response.

    “And you know what? Even if she’s a welfare mom who drinks and smokes, her death would still leave other people bereft. How arrogant of you to suggest that the life of a welfare mom is worth less than anybody else’s life.”

    My intention here was not to make a blanket statement about welfare moms. What I was criticizing was your argument that the mom is more valuable than the baby, since she’s the one who has networks and contributes to society. I don’t think your argument works in every case, since there are moms who don’t contribute to society.

    Plus, why do you make your argument based on someone’s present contribution? Why isn’t someone’s future ability to contribute relevant? That was why I made my point about the next Einstein. It may not be taken “seriously,” as you say, but I still think it’s important, so I put it on the table.

    “In my opinion, you’re being too charitable toward James. He writes from within the hard-right evangelical / conservative subculture of the U.S.A. He didn’t just pick the welfare mom example at random. It’s a conventional whipping boy in that subculture.”

    First of all, I think you should respond to me rather than stereotypes you have about my “subculture.” Second, your stereotype is one-sided. That evangelical subculture helps unwed mothers–through crisis pregnancy centers and homes.

    “Somehow conservatives gloss over that whole aspect of New Testament ethics. (Which, to repeat myself, goes back to the Hebrew scriptures. See how provision is made for the poor in Deuteronomy.)”

    For some reason, you think you’re telling me things I don’t already know. I’m aware that the Bible talks about provision to the poor. So are most conservatives. Many of them aren’t against a social safety net, and, if they are, they believe in individual charity.

    “A whole network of people is adversely impacted when an adult dies. Not so when an unborn baby dies. From a utilitarian perspective, the option which produces less harm is preferable to the alternative.”

    How do you know? When your wife was pregnant with Nebcanuck, there was a whole network that cared about him, right?

    I’ll stop here in terms of the quotes. I recognize that you are dealing with a hard issue: whom do you allow to live if there’s a choice between the mother and the child? People ask me that all the time: If you’re for an exception for the life of the mother, aren’t you saying the wife is more valuable than her child? I don’t have a good answer to that. And I realize you were trying to come up with one.

    But the quote I challenged really touched a nerve. I have problems with communitarianism in general, since it values the people who fit in. Not everyone fits into communities. And communities can be quite oppressive, either formally (in terms of government structure) or informally (what Mill called the “tyranny of the majority”). As someone who’s challenged socially, your statement that we should value a person based on his contribution or ability to network offended me, and that’s why I responded.

    Reply

  33. Stephen
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 06:32:43

    James:
    You need to understand that you’ve used inflammatory language at points in this thread.

    Your comment about welfare moms was the worst kind of stereotyping:

    What if the woman who would die from childbirth doesn’t really contribute to society? She just has babies and gets more welfare doing it.

    Is there such a thing as a human being who contributes nothing to society? The only example I would give is someone like the aforementioned Charles Manson, who actively, intentionally causes harm.

    Otherwise, we’re all on a continuum. We take a little here, we give back a little there. If you measure the various transactions in a balance, I’m not sure it comes out very favourably in most cases. We might give a little more than we get; lots of people take a little more than they give.

    Precious few people give enormously more than they receive: we call those people “saints”.

    You serve up a caricature of a woman who has babies because it increases the size of her welfare cheque!!! I doubt that any woman has babies because she views it as a profitable enterprise. (Not here in the West, anyway — it’s expensive to raise a baby!) It’s an inflammatory thing to say, and it reveals a certain contempt for people who receive social assistance.

    That’s why I lumped you in with a stereotypical subculture. If you don’t want to be regarded as one of those people, you shouldn’t talk the way they talk: e.g., you shouldn’t talk about welfare moms the way they talk about welfare moms.

    Similarly with respect to your use of the word “herd”. What am I to conclude when you use language like that? Is that how the biblical authors regard the community: as a herd?

    Yes, I’m speaking to you as if you don’t know these things. More to the point, I’m challenging you. How is your contempt for welfare moms and “the herd” consistent with biblical ethics? You need a change of heart on these matters — seriously.

    You do better here:

    I’m really shocked at you, Stephen, for basing human value on networks or contribution to the whole. It’s inconsistent with other positions you have taken, which, in a sense, value individual life over the good of society (or what people claim to be the good of society). I have in mind your positions on war, the death penalty, and torture.

    Now that’s a constructive argument. You make a good point there.

    In response: I didn’t say the individual has no value. I said there’s both an individual and a communal element of the equation, from a biblical worldview. (Whereas the West cares only about the individual.)

    Also, I was speaking within a specific context: If the mother’s life is endangered by a pregnancy, would abortion be justified? If so, on what philosophical (or theological) grounds?

    Both the woman and the fetus have value as individuals created in the image of God. That’s my conviction. We agree on that point.

    However, the woman is also embedded in a community, whereas the fetus is not.

    Yes, “When [my] wife was pregnant with Nebcanuck, there was a whole network that cared about him.” But they cared about him in a kind of abstract way: “Oh, isn’t that nice, Stephen and Kimberley are going to have a baby.”

    That’s very different from an adult woman, with parents that have made personal sacrifices for her over a period of a couple of decades. And maybe she has other children, and she has adult friends who rely on her, etc. I’ve explained all this before, and you won’t acknowledge the point.

    So on the one hand, we have a fetus who has value as an individual. On the other hand, we have a woman who has value as an individual, but also has value as an adult embedded in a community, who shoulders responsibilities to the people around her. (Unless we’re talking about your hypothetical welfare mom, who contributes absolutely zero to society — but I don’t believe such a person exists.)

    A utilitarian calculus leads to the view, yes, that the woman’s life is, in concrete terms, of greater value (utility) than the unborn baby’s life.

    Now let me talk about torture for a moment. I oppose torture because of the value of the individual — you’re right about that, which is where you make a good point. Because someone will argue, “What if it’s in the best interests of society to torture the individual?” — and I will still oppose torture in that case.

    Roman Catholics have a category, “intrinsic evils.” If something is intrinsically evil, it can’t be justified as a means to an end. Torture fits into that category. You can’t justify torturing the individual on the grounds that to do so will provide a benefit to the community.

    You could take the same position re abortion. It’s intrinsically evil to kill the fetus, therefore abortion is never justified, regardless of whether some good results from it.

    But then, in the case where the mother’s life is endangered, you might end up with a dead woman instead of, or in addition to, the dead baby. The outcome is plainly immoral, it seems to me. Which suggests that there must be an argument in support of saving the woman’s life.

    Re torture: in theory, I would be prepared to grant the “ticking time bomb” scenario as an instance where torture could be legitimate as the lesser of two evils. But you’d have to define the scenario very clearly. (a) You’d have to know that the person you’re about to torture is, in fact, guilty of committing a great evil. (Mere suspicion won’t cut it.) (b) There would have to be a literal ticking time bomb: a very limited window of opportunity to prevent a catastrophic harm from taking place. (c) You’d have to know that the person you’re about to torture has information that could prevent the catastrophic outcome. (Again, mere suspicion wouldn’t cut it.)

    If those three conditions were met, I could see an argument for torture as the lesser of two evils. The problem is that no one ever stops at the extreme scenario.

    The Bush Administration has tortured a whole class of people where literally none of the three conditions have been met. And yet they appeal to the ticking time bomb scenario as justification.

    Similarly, with abortion, people raise the “dying mother” scenario and then they justify abortion on demand. I don’t agree with those people. I’d like to think you don’t agree with the Bush Administration’s torture policy, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

    Reply

  34. Stephen
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 07:13:59

    Benjamin (nebcanuck) :
    Re Exodus 21:22-24 —

    I have always had a high regard for the Good News translation. You’re thinking of my contempt for (the original edition) of the Living Bible.

    The original edition of the Living Bible was translated, very idiosyncratically, by one man. (I believe the revised edition was translated by a committee — though I’m still not fond of it.)

    The Good News Bible was translated by the American Bible Society. It is their business to translate the scriptures, not just into English, but into all the languages of the world. No one else has comparable expertise in Bible translation. And it shows: the Good News translation is a paraphrase (which I object to, on principle) but in each case their interpretative decisions are informed and quite defensible. The Good News Bible is always worth consulting.

    Other translations which agree with the Good News Bible, re Ex. 21:22-24 include the New Revised Standard Version and the Jewish Study Bible:

    \When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, —

    here there is a note in the study Bible: other damage; i.e., damage to the woman

    — the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ….

    The New Jerome Biblical Commentary also supports the “miscarriage” interpretation of the text. Note: the NJBC is a work of Roman Catholic scholarship. If anything, the authors’ bias would be against abortion.

    But it won’t due merely to cite translations that agree with my guess as to what the passage means. That’s the wrong way to proceed.

    The purpose of consulting various translations is to see whether there’s more than one legitimate way of interpreting the passage. That’s how multiple translations should be used — not as proof texts for a particular interpretation.

    Next we have to ask, But which interpretation is correct? Since there’s more than one way to interpret the text, you’ll have to do some research.

    Unfortunately, I have never found a commentary on Exodus that I particularly like. But there’s a relevant note in the Jewish Study Bible:

    “Halakhic exegesis infers that, since the punishment is monetary rather than execution, the unborn fetus is not considered a living person and feticide is not murder.”

    The note refers to Rashi (1040-1105) and the Ramah (1170-1244). Both are ancient Jewish interpreters: they aren’t modern commentators, seeking to justify abortion as it is practised in our era.

    Again: I happen to know, from previous studies, that Jews emphasize the text in Genesis 2, “The LORD God blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Jews conclude that a baby becomes a living being when it draws its first breath. Similarly, life is considered to end when a person ceases to breathe (contrary to modern science, which goes by the cessation of electrical activity in the brain).

    I don’t mean to say that this is the last word on the topic. But I insist: if you want to know the correct interpretation of a passage — particularly where translations diverge, as here — you’ve got to do the research.

    Brevard Childs, in his commentary on Exodus, indicates that there are several parallel texts from the Ancient Near East: the Code of Hammurabi, two Assyrian texts, a Hittite text, and a Sumerian text. However, it isn’t clear (based on Childs’s commentary) whether the parallels are to the reference to miscarriage. I suspect it’s more likely that the parallels concern the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” part of the text.

    Anyway, you’d have to look up the texts to see what they say, and I don’t have them in my library.

    Reply

  35. James Pate
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 08:07:53

    I do not think my language was inflammatory. Sure, maybe I went overboard to say that anyone contributes NOTHING to society, and, again, I was not stereotyping all welfare moms. You’re reading that into my comment. I’m just taking issue with your claim that the mother necessarily contributes more to society than the unborn child. That may not be the case. And I don’t think that you should blow off so easily my point on potential: an unborn baby can grow up and contribute to society. That’s relevant.

    You say I don’t acknowledge your point on networks. Oh, I acknowledge it, all right. My issue is that I find it troubling: the very idea that a person gains value based on how many friends he has. This, when the biblical ethic you claim to expound specifically reaches out to those who are deficient in terms of networks. As I said before, widows and orphans don’t have family to support them. And the gerim were very much alone in ancient Israel, which is why God wanted them to have some sort of safety net.

    You say I’m inflammatory, yet you call me “profoundly ignorant,” or “arrogant,” just for stating my concerns. That’s not exactly consistent with any morality, individualistic or communitarian. And I hope you don’t say something like “Jesus and Paul told people off, so I can too.” I expect more from you than that.

    Reply

  36. James Pate
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 08:17:14

    Here’s a response to your latest comments to Nebcanuck:

    I think you’re only presenting one side of Judaism’s position on abortion. You say you have the Jewish Study Bible. Then you should check out Jon Levenson’s comments on Genesis 9. An alternative reading to “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” is “Whoever sheds the blood of man IN man, his blood shall be shed.” There were rabbis who concluded, therefore, that God is against abortion.

    Also, according to Babylonian Talmud Niddah 30a, an unborn male child is a person 40 days after conception, and a female one 80 days.

    Reply

  37. James Pate
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 08:22:27

    To repeat one more point: I really resent you stereotyping my “subculture.” We’ve done a lot for poor, single moms.

    Reply

  38. James Pate
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 08:43:10

    “Yes, I’m speaking to you as if you don’t know these things. More to the point, I’m challenging you. How is your contempt for welfare moms and ‘the herd’ consistent with biblical ethics? You need a change of heart on these matters — seriously.”

    You know, Stephen, this quote of yours is an example of what really irks me about a lot of evangelicals. Am I supposed to have a change of heart when you talk down to me? And what makes you think that a change of heart is simple–like the wave of a magic wand? Maybe I have some legitimate problems with community. Have you ever thought of that?

    Reply

  39. Stephen
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 09:37:48

    James:
    I have legitimate problems with community, too. Not least, the evangelical community, which has spat me out like I’m some kind of Laodicean. And I probably had it coming. I’m not very good at staying inside of compartments constructed by other people.

    I’m not interested in ad hominem attacks. You sort of compared me to Mengele at one point; later, you compared my position to that of Nazis and Stalinists. I didn’t deign to respond to either of those comments. In my view, they were just a distraction from the topic under discussion.

    But, like your reference to women who have babies in order to increase the size of their welfare cheques(!!!), and to the community as “the herd” — you know, that sort of language doesn’t exactly facilitate civil discourse. So I called you on it, and I won’t apologize for that.

    Evangelicals have earned much (not all) of the bad press they receive. If you don’t want to be mistaken for that sort of person — i.e., superior to those less fortunate than yourself, and ignorant of biblical, communitarian ethics — you need to be careful about the language you use. Jesus was a friend to the disenfranchised.

    In terms of praxis — I take your point that evangelicals support widows, homeless people, etc. In fact, I think the younger generation of evangelicals are much more oriented to matters of social justice than earlier generations were. (E.g., Rick Warren’s support for HIV/AIDS victims.) It’s a welcome development: one suggests that evangelicals like you and liberals like me might one day find common ground.

    Thanks for sharing that information from the Babylonian Talmud. Perhaps medieval Jewish interpretation took a different line than earlier interpreters.

    If you have more information specifically about the Jewish interpretation of Exodus 21:22ff., I’d be glad to hear it. I’m genuinely open to considering an alternative argument, in support of the “premature [but healthy] birth” translation favoured by some Bibles.

    So far, it seems to me that various arguments point in favour of the “miscarriage” interpretation of the text.

    Reply

  40. James Pate
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 13:54:19

    I guess I’ll let that part of the discussion fizzle out, and I appreciate what you said about community treating you as a Laodicean. It showed somewhat of a human, vulnerable side. I take responsibility for what I said. Do I apologize? I’ll say I’m sorry that you thought I was calling you Mengele. I wanted to communicate my problems with a utilitarian approach to human value, since I think that’s what separates societies that value human rights from those that do not. But throwing you and evil men in the same sentence was not exactly wise (regardless of my intentions), and it understandably provoked a reaction.

    As far as my welfare mothers comment goes, I believe there are people who abuse the system. As I said, I can’t stereotype all welfare mothers. And, when I wrote the comment, I wasn’t thinking of all welfare mothers. People go on assistance for all sorts of reasons. If I didn’t have my family helping me out, I’d probably be getting state money myself. That being said, there were stereotypes going through my mind of those who just take from the system, or who use money for drugs, etc. I think you did well to point out, though, that they may matter to someone. I still have problems with your quote, but I stated them above, and I won’t repeat them here.

    On the “herd,” I’ve not had a change of heart there, at least not yet! But that’s where I am right now. Do I have a problem with New Testament ethics? I don’t have a problem with the helping the poor part. I do have issues with the fellowship and forgiveness parts. I also have issues with group-think period, whether it’s in the church, or in academia. Pressure from a group to conform also turns me off.

    On the praxis, I agree that younger evangelicals are big on social justice–politically and personally. I think that the older ones are too, in the sense of supporting private charities. But the younger ones have added more of a big-picture mindset to that.

    I’d like to share with you the Septuagint’s translation of Leviticus 21:22-23:

    “22 And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her child be born imperfectly formed, he shall be forced to pay a penalty: as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he shall pay with a valuation.
    23 But if it be perfectly formed, he shall give life for life” (whatever translation my BibleWorks has).

    I can’t say I understand this completely, but James Kugel interprets this in a pro-life sense, if I remember correctly. As far as ANE parallels go, they more or less support your interpretation–death if the mom dies, a fine for a miscarriage. Can the Bible be different, though?

    I hope I wasn’t offensive in this particular comment. To be honest, I didn’t exactly anticipate your reaction to my welfare moms and herd comments, so there’s a possibility that I may be offensive when I don’t intend to be.

    Reply

  41. Zayna
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 14:53:51

    Oh boy, when you guys delve, you really delve.

    I’ve been following this thread with great interest, for reasons that are quite obvious from my earlier comments within.

    I find it interesting that though I am in fact representative of the “welfare mom” stereotype in question, I seem to be less emotionally affected by the arguements from either side than the two of you seem to be.

    I don’t feel anymore insulted by James’ comments than I do vindicated by Stephen’s.

    What does that say? To be honest, I’m not sure.

    But I do feel compelled to say this…

    You boys can argue Scripture, Spiritual Law and Semantics till the cows come home, in the end it will do very little to change the social landscape.

    It will do even less to change the mind of a young woman who feels desperate and alone.

    It serves us all much better for those who disagree to find a common ground and work from there rather than to point out flaws in each other’s arguements.

    Can’t we all just get along!

    🙂

    Reply

  42. Stephen
    Nov 11, 2008 @ 18:07:28

    Thanks, James, for the conciliatory comment.

    I do have issues with the fellowship and forgiveness parts [of New Testament ethics]. I also have issues with group-think period, whether it’s in the church, or in academia. Pressure from a group to conform also turns me off.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that — I thought you were more of an evangelical insider than that remark suggests. If you’re something of a maverick, you and I ought to get along better than we have in this thread.

    Thanks for providing some additional information on the Exodus 21 text. The LXX translation surprises me; the ANE parallels are more what I expected.

    Can the Bible be different from parallel ANE texts? Of course it can. My understanding of the early chapters of Genesis is that they deliberately subvert the parallel myths of the surrounding, Gentile nations. Genesis is modelled on parallel ANE texts, but changed in significant ways to deliver a fundamentally different message.

    But I don’t think we can assume the same about the Exodus 21 text and its ANE parallels. The Creation account concerns monotheism and God’s absolute sovereignty. Ex. 21, on the other hand, addresses social mores. I would argue that social mores are relatively consistent from one Ancient Near Eastern nation to another.

    If the author of Exodus 21 wanted to subvert ANE morality, I think the text would have had to be crystal clear (not ambiguous, as seemingly it is).

    Still, it’s good to assemble the strands of data and wrestle with the issue. That’s the best we can do from this social and historical distance. And I haven’t reached any final conclusions yet.

    • Zayna:
    I can’t believe you followed that whole discussion, which must amount to thousands of words! I assumed that James, nebcanuck and I were the last three people engaged in this thread.

    I completely agree that such detailed scriptural arguments don’t offer any assistance to people in need. That’s not the point. The point is for the Church to get its thinking straight, so that Christians can be the good news to vulnerable folks.

    James and I haven’t exactly reached agreement, but perhaps we’ve given each other something to think about. I sincerely appreciated his assistance on the Exodus 21 text.

    I’m relieved to hear that you weren’t offended by the discussion of welfare moms. And I think James and I are reaching a point of mutual acceptance.

    I predict that we won’t descend into similar hostilities in future posts.

    Reply

  43. Zayna
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 13:54:16

    Stephen – “I completely agree that such detailed scriptural arguments don’t offer any assistance to people in need. That’s not the point.”

    Isn’t it the point? Isn’t the whole point of Jesus’ message to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and befriend those who are alone?

    “That which you do unto the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”

    Stephen – “The point is for the Church to get its thinking straight, so that Christians can be the good news to vulnerable folks.”

    To me that’s like saying, “We’ll have children once we can afford it.” If people really waited until they could “afford” to have children, the world would be grossly underpopulated.

    How can Christians BE the good news if they’re waiting for the Church to okay, in other words validate, their experience of Christ?

    Reply

  44. Stephen
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 14:02:16

    I meant, that wasn’t the point of the discussion between James and me.

    I think the Church is a pretty messed-up institution. You’d agree with me about that, wouldn’t you?

    When I start tearing into social issues, citing scriptures, I’m doing a bit of “consciousness raising”. That’s what feminists would have called it in the early days.

    When I said, “The point is for the Church to get its thinking straight, so that Christians can be the good news to vulnerable folks,” my objective is the same as yours. I want Christians to be the good news to their neighbours — feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, befriend those who are alone, etc.

    But it seems like the Church needs to have its consciousness raised, before it will recover its interest in those things.

    On the other hand, maybe I’m just part of the problem. I don’t claim to be a model for anyone else. But I’m confident that my heart is in the right place, at least.

    Reply

  45. nebcanuck
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 14:53:44

    Dad and James:

    You both completely surpassed me in the nit-picky Biblical scholarly portion of the debate. I will note that you’re right, it was the Message I was thinking of, not the GNB, Dad. Also, I think it’s pretty hard to really come to any solid conclusion regarding the Exodus text, but regardless of what the thought was concerning the “moral status” of the fetus, I would re-iterate that I think that abortion’s sinfulness is as much about the intent as the actual death. I appreciate that in the case of one dying or the other, it’s very difficult to determine which path is right. I would almost resort to relativism in that case, stating that it’s up to the will of the parents, then. But it still shouldn’t be taken lightly, or as a default position of the fetus being let go.

    Either way, it sounds like we’re all agreed that it’s negative to accept abortion in any circumstance where it’s not a life or death situation for the mother. Which leaves us in a position to look at the causes. Social issues are clearly prevalent in bringing about abortion, whether it’s poverty, stigma against children, or simple lack of responsibility amongst youth. These things can and should be dealt with — and I would argue the goal should be to have zero abortions, albeit I actually have always defended the technology of abortion for the very rare case where both the mother and the child are going to die, so the saving of the mother is made possible in the bleakest of circumstances.

    Zayna:

    I, too, am impressed and pleased that the debating hasn’t gone completely unnoticed by other readers! 🙂

    I had one thought regarding this comment: Isn’t it the point? Isn’t the whole point of Jesus’ message to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and befriend those who are alone?

    Jesus did indeed serve as an exemplar of social justice. But I think we too often undermine his awesomeness by overlooking the fact that he did so much more than that, too. He was a religious reformer, too, and he challenged the religious figures of his time to change their ways. He warned us to be both gentle and sly at the same time. That means we should be serious about learning too.

    I know you didn’t mean it this way, but all too often I think we assume any and all social justice is the key to Jesus’ ministry. It’s not. Jesus used his ministry to bring people to a full understanding of God, and we as Christians need to be very deliberate about our actions. Yeah, we also need to be able to get along with people who don’t believe the same thing as us, and even to work with them to reduce poverty and oppression. But without that desire to further our understanding of God’s will, I think we miss out on the joy of living for God, and begin to live for society! It’s a blessing to have debates like this one, and I fully expect to carry it with me as I go to classes and work on starting some sort of career in the political sphere!

    Reply

  46. Zayna
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 15:17:56

    To Stephen and Nebcanuck – See, I’m new to these kinds of serious debates…normally, I write about how it feels to be under appreciated as a mother and a wife. 🙂

    The truth is, while I rebuke the usefulness of these exchanges, I realize that I am actually learning quite a lot from them.

    I’m no theologian of course, but I do take my personal experiences of Christ very seriously and I’m grateful that you read and treat my comments with respect.

    Thank you.

    Reply

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