Abortion and King Herod

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.



From Kaje:

Friday, March 6, 2009, 05:11 PM

Hey Duane,

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.

Keep writing!

Rush Limbaugh and the Poisoning of America, Part 2

“I want the stimulus package to fail. ‘Cause if this thing for the first time ever does what it never has done before, we’re in even worse trouble. If it becomes established that the federal government and the federal government alone can manage the economy and take over the private sector, then forget it, folks. I’m looking for property in New Zealand, and I’m going to put my money in Singapore. I do not want this to succeed…” -–Rush Limbaugh, February 13, 2009

At last America’s Truth Detector has revealed the truth about himself: he loves “conservatism” more than country.

Not merely content that Obama personally fail as president, Rush now desires the failure of the stimulus plan. He obviously believes it would be better if more people lost their jobs and homes, more banks failed, and more businesses were forced into bankruptcy because these failures would vindicate his philosophy. Sadly, unemployment, insolvency, and liquidation, like Biblical rains, fall on the just and unjust, on liberals and conservatives.

But since the extremists on the right wing have abandoned any semblance of patriotism, they should consider going all the way and plead for the failure of the new administration’s foreign policy. At least they’d be consistent.

Perhaps conservatives won’t put it so starkly, but judging by the cavalier attitude toward the economy that most of them have displayed, it is only natural for some of us to speculate that they would want the United States to also suffer some kind of colossal international misfortune, like, say, WWIII, to prove that Obama is not worthy of the job.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, or some other bright light of the right, could say publicly that Obama’s approach to Iran—direct diplomacy—will inevitably fail, and then Limbaugh could take to the airwaves and say that he hopes it will fail, resulting in a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East. That’ll show the country that Republicans mean business.

Lest you think it outrageous, all House and most Senate Republicans, apparently energized by the insanely ideological rants of conservative commentators like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, have gambled with their votes that Obama’s economic policies will fail. Indeed, many of them, no doubt, believe they must fail in order for Republicans to resurrect their party’s otherwise lifeless corpse in the 2010 congressional elections.

Gambling that the Democrats will make a mess of things may make Jethro in Joplin a happy culture-warrior, but it is not a responsible thing for an allegedly national political party to do. But the Party of Lincoln, now with its geographical roots firmly planted in the once-segregated South, and with its intellectual roots firmly planted in the reactionary, redneck brains of talk radio audiences, is fast becoming a regional party, with all the effectiveness and offensiveness of one.

Hopefully, someone in the Republican Party will emerge who will have the courage to dump Limbaugh and Hannity in favor of a realistic, truly conservative approach to politics, one in which patriotism trumps ideology. But don’t bet any of your stimulus money on it, because hell hath no fury like a demagogue scorned, especially one with access to millions of bubbabots, glued to their radio for the next message from the Man With Talent On Loan From God.

A thoughtful Republican (not yet, but fast becoming an oxymoron) should take advantage of Limbaugh’s latest display of national infidelity and call him on it, making him a laughingstock among real—that is, sane—conservatives. Otherwise, the Republicans are stuck with him as their de facto leader, a prospect that may bode well for Democrats, but diminishes our political discourse.

No one, with any patriotic sense, would publicly say that he hopes Obama’s foreign policies will fail. But neither would anyone, with any political sense, have advocated for the failure of his economic policies, as the bully of bull, Limbaugh, has done. So, don’t be surprised if on Limbaugh’s next comedy show he announces, “Obama is wrong on China, and I can’t wait for the nukes to pound us!”

And should that happen, the phosphorescent right wing survivors could emerge from their bunkers and take their country back.

Unfortunately for them, Rush may be in New Zealand.

Rush Limbaugh and the Poisoning of America, Part 1

One dittohead at a time, Rush Limbaugh and his Mini-Me imitators are poisoning America.

Their venomous talk is broadcast coast to coast, including here in Southwest Missouri, which seems, unfortunately, to remain forever poor, ignorant and Republican.

Pregnant with phony patriotism, Rush, Sean Hannity, and a phalanx of right-wing radio propagandists profess love only for an America modeled on their dreadful mix of anti-intellectual conservatism, anti-science religion and moral superiority.

Limbaugh and Hannity tirelessly tell us they love their country, that they are great Americans. But they don’t love an America that dares to tell Wall Street financiers to cut their pay, if they are on the public dole. They don’t love an America that dares to give unions a fair chance to organize workers, so those workers can enjoy a fraction of the bounty of this country that the “titans of talk” enjoy. They don’t love an America governed by Democrats.

Rush, who famously said recently that he wants President Obama to fail, and Sean, who has a curious fascination with Jeremiah Wright, are incorrigible ideologues, who seek to humiliate and destroy those who don’t share their vision of American idealism.

It’s only natural that these two and others like them would wrap themselves in the flag, hypocrisy being their tribute to virtue. But the flag they embrace never waved more proudly — no matter your political preferences — than it did that first day the Obamas made the White House, built with the sweat of slaves, their home. Only in a nation founded on a fierce and profound philosophy could such a thing be possible.

But from Day 1, these purveyors of discord began their assault on the new president, confident their listeners — no, followers — would support their attacks; confident that the Rita Crowells, Richard La Nears and Allen Shirleys would tune in and be emboldened to write letters to and columns in The Joplin Globe, playing on and reinforcing the fears of gullible, misguided readers.

Rita Crowell, representing Christ, has repeatedly called Obama a baby-killer in her frequent letters to the editor. Richard La Near, under the guise of economic expertise, has spent seemingly a trillion words attempting to remove the Democratic mote from the eye of our economic crisis, while largely ignoring the beam of Republican blame. And Allen Shirley, happy to be writing anything at all, has obediently mimicked the talking points of any run-of-the-mill conservative talk show.

None of these dutiful diatribes comport well with classic conservatism. In the New Republic recently, conservative writer Sam Tanenhaus wrote, “What passes for conservatism today would have been incomprehensible to its originator, Edmund Burke, who, in the late eighteenth century, set forth the principles by which governments might nurture the ‘organic’ unity that bound a people together even in times of revolutionary upheaval.”

Limbaugh, right-wing radio, and the Hannitized local minions who contribute to the Globe, obviously don’t long for a government that nurtures unity, organic or otherwise. Their conservatism is divisive and destructive, a toxic concoction by which the most famous of these snake oil salesmen earn a substantial, if sullied, living.

The irony is that Barack Obama, a Christian who has earnestly tried to nurture some kind of unity in our politics — much to the chagrin of his supporters on the left — is in Tanenhaus’ words, “more thoroughly steeped in the principles of Burkean conservatism than any significant thinker or political figure on the right.”

Not to mention that in terms of mere cultural conservatism, President Obama, happily married with two beautiful children, clearly outshines the thrice-divorced Limbaugh, who, as far as we know and some of us hope, is childless. And Obama has not been to rehab for a regrettable addiction to OxyContin, nor has the president needed to make a deal with prosecutors to avoid jail time for a drug offense, as Rush has.

Obama’s life virtually oozes conservative values, yet he has quickly become an enemy of the good for the disaffected right wing.

Michael Medved, himself a radio man of the right, but not rabidly so, wrote, “A radio show (locally or nationally) that draws just 5 percent of the available audience can achieve notable success in ratings and revenue, but a conservatism that connects with only a disgruntled, paranoid 5 percent of the public will wither and die.”

He also warned his fellow-talkers that depending on how they address the new Obama administration, they would either rise to new heights or risk becoming irrelevant, appealing only to an “increasingly angry and alienated fringe.”

Unfortunately, the key demographic of most conservative talk shows is the angry and alienated fringe, even if that fringe comprises 20 million listeners, and even if, as here in our part of the world, it remains poor, ignorant and Republican.

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