Rita Crowell, a frequent letter-writer to the Joplin Globe, is all too typical of the kind of religious believer who tends to populate the fundamentalist and evangelical churches in our area, even if she happens to be Catholic. She is also typical of the religious fanatic who just assumes that all sensible people share her assumptions about the authority of Scripture, not to mention the extreme conclusions she draws from some of its passages. I label such people “certaintists,” which is shorthand for anyone who possesses certitude in unquantifiable and unjustifiable amounts.
In a letter to the Globe last fall, she claimed, “Abortion is a grave sin, an unspeakable crime against God and nature.” Such a breathtaking claim should at least come with a scriptural reference or two, but she offered us no biblical support. That’s because there aren’t many enlightening references to abortion in the Bible, and the usual conservative biblical position is derived from cobbling together various passages and attempting to derive a coherent understanding of God’s will. Truthfully, very limited inferences can be drawn from those “in the womb” passages that are usually cited as biblical support for the anti-abortion position.
I’ve always found it a bit odd that for such a stunningly important issue and, to many Christians, one so profoundly critical to our nation’s survival, the Bible is strangely silent. You’d think somewhere in all those Old Testament laws and regulations there would be one reference like, “Thou shalt not kill your baby before it’s born.” Something simple like that would settle the matter, at least for Bible-believers.
Ms. Crowell may be right that abortion is in some sense a crime against God and nature, but if it is she must do more to convince us than just say so. Merely saying it is a “sin” and moving on will not do it. There are some people who agree with her position on abortion without even believing in God. Nat Hentoff comes to mind.
Mr. Hentoff has written extensively about his anti-abortion views. He has also written about speaking before pro-life groups, many predominantly Christian. On one such occasion he made some anti-Republican comments, and the crowd’s aggressive reaction led him to believe that he had reason to fear for his safety:
As it happened, the souls on fire only wanted to say that I was in grievous error about these Christian presidents because I had not yet found God. Indeed, I often get letters from religious pro-lifers telling me that it is impossible for me to be simultaneously an atheist and a pro-lifer. Some of the pro-abortion-rights leaders whom I have debated are certain of the same correlation. No serious atheist, no Jewish atheist, no left-wing atheist could want to–as my fiercely pro-choice wife puts it–enslave women.
Yet being without theology isn’t the slightest hindrance to being pro-life. As any obstetrics manual—William’s Obstetrics, for example–points out, there are two patients involved, and the one not yet born “should be given the same meticulous care by the physician that we long have given the pregnant woman.” Nor, biologically, does it make any sense to draw life-or-death lines at viability. Once implantation takes place, this being has all the genetic information within that makes each human being unique. And he or she embodies continually developing human life from that point on. It misses a crucial point to say that the extermination can take place because the brain has not yet functioned or because that thing is not yet a “person.” Whether the life is cut off in the fourth week or the fourteenth, the victim is one of our species, and has been from the start.
If Ms. Crowell would make reasoned arguments such as these, instead of resorting to God-language or biblically-inspired injunctions, she may sound more convincing, or at least less hysterical.
In her letter she goes on to say, with the certainty of a certaintist, that, “A nation that allows the murder of its innocent children by abortion will never survive.” Again, she may be right, but what evidence, historical or otherwise, can she offer? There are many reasons why nations have failed, or may fail in the future, but if there is strong evidence that a cultural attitude toward abortion was or will be a significant factor, bring it on. Otherwise, such opinions are virtually worthless, if the goal is persuasion.
But even if Ms. Crowell’s abortion position had God’s blessing, surely she can’t be justified in any “Christian” sense to say something like the following about a fellow Christian:
A vote for Obama is a vote for dead children and an attack on God Himself. Let us not elect a Herod in this forthcoming election.
Leaving aside the questionable syntax, I think it is fairly clear what she means: Barack Obama cannot be a Christian. He is a bad man. He hates God.
To compare someone to Herod is, in the biblical sense, worse than comparing him to Hitler, Stalin, or, say, Bill Ayers. Herod, according to Matthew’s Gospel but no other extra-Biblical source, was guilty of killing little Bethlehem boys in hopes he would get the boy Jesus, presumably because the “Anointed One” would pose a threat to the King of Judea. Ms. Crowell, who I assume is a Christian in good standing, apparently has no reluctance about relegating another confessing believer to a level reserved for the worst of Christian super-fiends. Perhaps she needs to spend a little time in prayer over Matthew 7:1.
But the real problem with Ms. Crowell’s position on abortion is that she isn’t serious. I mean really serious. Imagine if, in Springfield, Mo., there were hundreds of elementary schoolchildren being systematically slaughtered every year. Imagine Ms. Crowell knowing where such slaughter was being perpetrated. Imagine her finding out who was doing the killing. And then imagine her merely writing letters to the Joplin Globe about it.
No, what she would do, hopefully along with others who share her convictions about murdering schoolchildren, is go to the slaughterhouse and put a stop to it, even if violence against the perpetrators were necessary.
But even though Ms. Crowell equates abortion with murder, even though in her mind terminating an early pregnancy is the same as slaughtering a second-grader, she does not—thank God—follow her belief to its logical conclusion. I would bet she does not support bombing abortion clinics or killing doctors who perform abortions. Even if she did support such things, I would bet she doesn’t support jailing or executing women who seek and receive abortions. My question would be, given her abortion-is-murder claim, why not?
If what goes on in abortion clinics is tantamount to murder, then how in good conscience do abortion opponents live with it in their midst? The truth is that most of them do not really, in any profound moral sense, believe that terminating a pregnancy is like killing a kindergartner. There is something different about it, even if that something is not readily definable or explainable. This very fact alone should give pause to those who go to such extremes to label people who disagree with them, “Herods” and “babykillers.”
None of this is to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns about the prevalence of abortion and what that prevalence says about our culture. As President Obama put it:
I do think that those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren’t expressing the full reality of it. But what I believe is that women do not make these decisions casually, and that they struggle with it fervently with their pastors, with their spouses, with their doctors.
Our goal should be to make abortion less common, that we should be discouraging unwanted pregnancies, that we should encourage adoption wherever possible. There is a range of ways that we can educate our young people about the sacredness of sex and we should not be promoting the sort of casual activities that end up resulting in so many unwanted pregnancies.
Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues.
Doesn’t sound like King Herod to me.
Friday, March 6, 2009, 05:11 PM
I’ve been a reader of the letters to the Globe for years. I’m such a fan I even have my own blog dedicated to them.
Rita is one of my favorite regulars. Where else can you find such crazy on such a regular basis? Still, I have suspicions that she’s much more than she appears to be.
But no matter how much I enjoy the unintentional hilarity of the Voices page, it’s always so much more refreshing to read the words of someone who actually has something rattling around in their brain case. For this I thank you. You’re a breath of fresh air.