COULD THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT BE WRONG, POLITICALLY, ABOUT ABORTION
Tonightís presentation is going to be a dramatic departure from my normal hue and cry against a big, intrusive, overbearing, over taxing government. It is going to very personal at times and perhaps uncomfortable for some. But I am compelled to speak about an extremely controversial issue that has enabled the Democratic Party to gain more and more control over the popular vote in national elections.
Before getting into any controversy, I retreat to the safety of my childhood. I grew up in Waco, Texas and, for those of you who know little or nothing about Waco, it has been and can be described as town full of Baptists with one tall building. Actually, the building really isnít very tall but Waco is most certainly a town filled with Baptists. Not the least number of which reside on the campus of Baylor University.
As a child I attended the First Baptist Church of Bellmead, presided over by the Reverend Dunlap. He was a kindly man, who lived long enough that he seemingly could not be replaced even after he became addicted to drugs because of what the congregation would later call, "too much pain". But ten-year-old boys arenít told about such things and I simply thought he blew his nose a lot.
In the summer, my mother, to get us out of the house more than anything else, sent us to vacation bible school. It was great, because the church was air-conditioned, the leaders served cold Kool-Aid and warm cookies every day and we sat around and memorized John 3:16 and my favorite verse John 11:35, "Jesus wept". It aggravated my mother when she asked me to recite a Bible quotation if I gave only "Jesus wept" and I quickly learned to give longer dissertations such as The 23rd Psalm.
This beautiful message, brought serenity and pleasure to my Mother and it remains a source of comfort to me, even today. I still remember, as a teenager, being arrested for vagrancy one evening and there was some considerable threat by this over bearing policeman that I was going to be taken to jail simply because I had no money on my person and was sleeping on the Court House lawn in Waco. It was too difficult to resist arrest with this big gentlemanís foot on my chest so I silently began to recite The 23rd Psalm. By the time I got to, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." He took his foot off my chest and told me to get the hell off the lawn.
He wasnít very polite but looking back, it must have seemed the Christian thing for him to do even though he hadnít a clue I was silently speaking with a higher being. Those of you familiar with this verse will also recognize that the policeman either did not have his foot on my chest very long or it took me a long time to wake up because there are only a few lines preceding where I got to in the verse before he unceremoniously ran me off the green pasture.
Leaving the green pastures of the Waco court house and jumping forward a few years, I am now enrolled in Austin College, a Presbyterian Institution, and, all students who had ever attended Austin College had been required to take, "An Introduction to the Old Testament" followed by, "An Introduction to the New Testament". I had a million excuses as to why these were useless, unnecessary courses for someone majoring in chemistry but my pleas fell on insensitive, Presbyterian ears.
Obviously, the professor did not know that I was a graduate of the Bellmead Vacation Bible School and knew everything about the 843 pages of the Old Testament and the 243 pages of the New Testament. What he also, clearly did not know was, that as far as I was concerned, these 1,086 pages had simply fallen out of the sky as written, bound up in a black binding. Had he known, he would never have opened with the following on the first day of, "An Introduction to the Old Testament". He said, and I quote, "In the Garden of Eden there could not possibly been any apples." "At best", he said, "the fruit which the serpent used to tempt Eve, which she in turn used to tempt Adam, which they all ate, was probably an apricot." This was a startling revelation because we never had any apricot Kool-Aid back in the Bellmead Vacation Bible School class. And, I can tell you all, that from that day forward, I never again swallowed "Adamís Apple", I now swallow only "Adamís Apricot", and, for the record, they both taste the same.
This lesson in the type of fruits available or the lack thereof of ancient times caused me to embark on a ten to fifteen year study of the Bible. I became intrigued about its definition, its authors, the time it was written, the places in which it was written and for whom it was written.
The simplest definition I have for the Bible is, library.
From my studies I would conclude The Bible was written over centuries of time by many authors in many places for an audience long ago. I would become so involved with this journey that I would begin to give lectures on the Bible, with specific emphasis on the Old Testament. Most of these lectures were delivered to local study groups within the various churches around Aurora, Ohio.
Prior to accepting an invitation to participate in a lecture, I always tried to make it crystal clear that what I would be speaking about was Bible history and not about Theology.
Theology, for me, was, and is, too personal a subject. Theology involves the evolution of the philosophy of religion and each person is a product of what they were when. If you had been a Baptist, such as I, you brought one set of prejudices, if you were Episcopalian, you brought another, if Greek Orthodox or Jesuit, two more. Theology grows even more complex when one becomes involved with men and women who have been brought up primarily only on the Pentateuch or The Koran or a myriad of other specific writings and teachings.
During this quest for knowledge about the time and place of writing, the authors and audience and possible interpretation of some of the meanings of scripture I met a wonderful man, Father Jean Laverdier, a Jesuit priest.
Laverdier, is categorically brilliant. He can read, speak and think in seven languages including Hebrew and Aramaic. He was a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is kind, caring and persuasive. He is the only man I have ever known who could stand before a Catholic audience and say that probably Mary was not a virgin when Jesus was born and that it was very likely the carpenter had been involved in things other than arranging for lodging. No one in his audiences ever seemed to get upset with this radical concept because by the time he said it he had intellectually prepared his audience to at least accept the possibility.
Laverdier would teach his audiences, especially non-Catholics, other things. For example, those of you who are practicing Catholics know that once the priest blesses the wine it must be totally consumed. Laverdier would say as he blessed the wine that, "even though this is the blood of our Lord it has a peculiar effect on me if I am forced, as required, to empty too much of the bottle by myself."
In the Bellmead Baptist Church we always had red grape juice served during communion ceremonies. Reflecting back, if Brother Dunlap had served a good merlot or even a Kendall Jackson chardonnay I wager he would not have had to keep his flock way beyond lunchtime waiting for just one more sinner to come down the isle and confess his or her sins.
Careful as I was not to get involved in any theological controversy I made the fatal mistake of accepting an invitation to speak to a group of traditional, older members of a congregation that I had visited before. As always I began by telling the audience that we would be dealing only with Bible history. Unfortunately, at the end of the lecture this tiny, elderly lady came up to me and began to question my view that Jesus was, based on historical evidence, simply a free thinking Pharisee. She did not get through the question before breaking into tears.
That was the last lecture I ever gave because I realized that I had done something to cause this gentle lady a problem with her faith. It had certainly not been my intent and her happiness and contentment were more important to me than any desire I might have had to teach Bible history.
Were I capable of intellectually and logically preparing my audience this evening with an argument so persuasive that when I make the potentially blasphemous statement, or better yet, ask the question, "Could the religious right be politically wrong about abortion?" I could count on the same calm response as when Father Laverdier would tell his Catholic audiences that Jesus was not born of a virgin.
Such preparation will not be forthcoming but I do intend to ask this question with some hope that my views will not cause me to be stoned out of the club. For example, I will not say that the evidence for or against abortion is so overwhelming that no such tissue of confusion would exist between those trained to examine evidence scientifically. Nowhere, will I say that, except among the esoteric elite of a few universities, is anything done to promote an honest attempt to decide such a question according to the evidence. It is easier to tackle theology in general than to attack this question directly.
I will postulate that a credulous people are, very often left defenseless against the wiles of clever politicians. Politicians, interested only in mob psychology who lead the masses through inflated self-esteem to hatred, from hatred to internal war and from internal war to national misery and division.
The modern advances in the art of propaganda on both sides of this issue have been met with no corresponding advances in training to resist such propaganda.
As Bertrand Russell wrote, "I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit in the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the refrigerator when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be 'frozen' at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again."
And so our Nation stands divided on this complex and emotional issue that is causing the religious right to go down into a dark pit of madness where all that is worth preserving is the fight against aimless slaughter.
We could argue that the universe is what it is, not what you or I choose that it should be. If it is indifferent to human desires, if human life is a passing episode, hardly noticeable in the vastness of cosmic processes; if there is no superhuman purpose, and no hope of ultimate salvation, it is better to know and acknowledge this truth than to endeavor, in futile self-assertion, to order the universe to be what we find comfortable.
Let me pause from asking such questions and adamantly state that I am opposed to abortion in any form at any time. But this is my philosophical view, which is extremely private.
I believe pregnancy is not a social issue. It is a physiological fact brought about in most instances by two consenting adults both of whom hopefully and ideally reached the moment of ultimate intimacy and joy coincidental with simultaneous world-class orgasms at the time of inception. This may not be a wondrous as the virgin birth but at least it gives us mere earthlings something to shoot for and I do not mean this in the vulgar sense.
I also believe that when you meet with opposition on the abortion issue, even if it be from your family including your young daughters, we should endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is rarely lasting.
In developing our intellectual argument it is recommended that we put in perspective other beliefs and isms held in former times which are now recognized as absurd when we try and impose our view or justify the infliction of suffering. Take, for instance, medical practice. When anesthetics were invented they were thought to be wicked as being an attempt to thwart God's will. Insanity was thought to be due to diabolic possession, and it was believed that inflicting pain upon him could drive out demons inhabiting a madman, thereby making said demons uncomfortable.
In pursuit of this opinion, lunatics were treated for years on end with systematic and conscientious brutality. I cannot help but think of the consequences if this erroneous medical treatment were still practiced today, though disagreeable to the patient, it would be a modern day malpractice lawyerís delight.
Going back to early writings, including the Bible, male superiority in former days was easily demonstrated, because if a woman questioned her husband's he could beat her. From superiority in this respect others were thought to follow. Men were thought to be more reasonable than women, more inventive, less swayed by their emotions, and so on. Anatomists, until the women had the vote, developed a number of ingenious arguments from the study of the brain to show that men's intellectual capacities must be greater than women's. Each of these arguments in turn was proved to be fallacious, but it always gave place to another from which the same conclusion would follow. It used to be held that the male fetus acquires a soul after six weeks, but the female only after three months. This opinion also has been abandoned since women have had the vote. Thomas Aquinas states parenthetically, as something entirely obvious, that men are more rational than women. For my part, I see no evidence of this.
Male domination has had some very unfortunate effects. It has made the most intimate of human relations, that of marriage, one of master and slave, instead of one between equal partners. It made it unnecessary for a man to please a woman in order to acquire her as his wife, and thus confined the arts of courtship to irregular relations.
Owing to the fact that there was no equality in marriage men became confirmed in domineering habits. All this has now more or less ended in civilized countries, but it will be a long time before either men or women learn to adapt their behavior completely to the new state of affairs. Emancipation always has at first certain bad effects; it leaves former superiors sore and former inferiors self-assertive.
In the year 2000, women do not accept men as their superiors and they are, as stated above, being self-assertive. This self-assertiveness is manifested in the way millions of women vote in national elections. I do not have the exact numbers, but, am confident one of our members does, as to the percentage of women who voted for Al Gore in this yearís presidential race. To quote William F. Buckley, "we should pay some attention to the fact that unmarried women went almost two-to-one against Bush. This was not the case four elections ago, when they were pretty much even on the matter of Reagan." Whatever, the number and percentage, women voted in masse for Gore and I postulate that their vote was and will continue to be predicated on their insistence on doing what they want with their bodies, careers and lives in general and that a party that stands against this reasoning will not receive their support.
Most of these women will never consider having an abortion much less actually go through the pain and suffering of this brutal and debilitating procedure. They are too smart and there are too many techniques available to prevent getting pregnant. Not the least of which is to just say no. If they do begin to say no most of the time, I will wager nine to five that males would come around to the ladyís way of thinking sooner rather than later.
Belief in a Divine mission is one of the many forms of certainty that have afflicted the human race. Some of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon women and men have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.
To know the truth is more difficult than most of us suppose, and to act with ruthless determination in the belief that truth is the monopoly of a single party is to invite disaster. Long calculations that certain evil in the present is worth inflicting for the sake of some doubtful benefit in the future are always to be viewed with suspicion, for, as Shakespeare said: 'What's to come is still unsure.' Even the shrewdest men are apt to go wildly astray if they prophesy so much as ten years ahead. Some people will consider this doctrine immoral, but after all it is the Gospel which says 'take no thought for the morrow'.
Reflecting back on Bible history I am convinced Jesus had a beautiful message that he delivered in public and probably in private. For me he said the most important things are tolerance and kindliness, without the presumption of a superhuman ability to read the future.
A democrat need not believe that the majority will always decide wisely; what he must believe is that the decision of the majority, whether wise or unwise, must be accepted until such time as the majority decides otherwise. And this he believes not from any mystic conception of the wisdom of the plain man, but as the best practical device for putting the rule of law in place of the reign of arbitrary force. Nor does the democrat necessarily believe that democracy is the best system always and everywhere. There are many nations which lack the self-restraint and political experience that are required for the success of parliamentary institutions, where the democrat, while he would wish them to acquire the necessary political education, will recognize that it is useless to thrust upon them prematurely a system which is almost certain to break down. In politics, as elsewhere, one does not do to deal in absolutes; what is good in one time and place may be bad in another, and what satisfies the political instincts of one nation may to another seem wholly futile. The general aim of the democrat is to substitute government by general assent for government by force, but this requires a population that has undergone a certain kind of training. Given a nation divided into two nearly equal portions which hate each other and long to fly at each other's throats, that portion which is just less than half will not submit tamely to the domination of the other portion, nor will the portion which is just more than half show, in the moment of victory, the kind of moderation which might heal the breach. I hope George W. Bush will prove to be an exception to this axiom.
Perhaps George W. does indeed posses those moral qualities which have been advocated by moralists for many ages, but hitherto with little success. The qualities most needed are charity and tolerance, not some form of fanatical faith such as is offered to us by the various rampant isms.
The Copernican system showed that the earth is not the center of the universe, and suggested to a few bold spirits that perhaps man was not the supreme purpose of the Creator. In the main, however, astronomers were pious folk, and until the nineteenth century most of them, except in France, believed in Genesis.
Stalin could neither understand nor respect the point of view which led Churchill to allow himself to be peaceably dispossessed as a result of a popular vote.
In a Balkan country, not so many years ago, a party which had been beaten by a narrow margin in a general election retrieved its fortunes by shooting a sufficient number of the representatives of the other side to give it a majority.
Democracy was invented as a device for reconciling government with liberty. It is clear that government is necessary if anything worthy to be called civilization is to exist, but all history shows that any set of men entrusted with power over another set will abuse their power if they can do so with impunity. Democracy is intended to make men's tenure of power temporary and dependent upon popular approval. In so far as it achieves this it prevents the worst abuses of power.
The Roman Catholic Church demands legislation such that, if a woman becomes pregnant by a syphilitic man, she must not artificially interrupt her pregnancy, but must allow a probably syphilitic child to be born, in order that, after a few years of misery on earth, it may spend eternity in limbo (assuming its parents to be non-Catholics).
The Christian ethics inevitably, through the emphasis laid upon sexual virtue, did a great deal to degrade the position of women. Since the moralists were men, woman appeared as the temptress; if they had been women, man would have had this role. Since woman was the temptress, it was desirable to curtail her opportunities for leading men into temptation; consequently respectable women were more and more hedged about with restrictions, while the women who were not respectable, being regarded as sinful, were treated with the utmost contumely. It is only in quite modern times that women have regained the degree of freedom which they enjoyed in the Roman Empire. The patriarchal system . . . did much to enslave women, but a great deal of this was undone just before the rise of Christianity. After Constantine, women's freedom was again curtailed under the presence of protecting them from sin. It is only with the decay of the notion of sin in modern times that women have begun to regain their freedom.
Majority rule, as it exists in large States, is subject to the fatal defect that, in a very great number of questions, only a fraction of the nation have any direct interest or knowledge, yet the others have an equal voice in their settlement. When people have no direct interest in a question they are very apt to be influenced by irrelevant considerations;
Negroes may continue to increase in the tropics, but are not likely to be a serious menace to the white inhabitants of temperate regions. There remains, of course, the Yellow Peril; but by the time that begins to be serious it is quite likely that the birth-rate will also have begun to decline among the races of Asia If not, there are other means of dealing with this question; and in any case the whole matter is too conjectural to be set up seriously as a bar to our hopes. I conclude that, though no certain forecast is possible, there is not any valid reason for regarding the possible increase of population as a serious obstacle to Socialism.