Abortion: Finding my Moral Hypocrisy

 

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Leonardo da Vinci

 

The way we generally hear abortion debated, there seems to be an implied assumption that highly-intelligent, deeply-caring, profoundly beautiful people can’t exist on both sides of the argument.

This is simply not true.

Arriving at a position on this highly complex, nuanced, emotional issue shouldn’t be easy. If it is, then you haven’t thought about it enough. Once you dig in deep, once you pick your side—if you can’t spot any moral hypocrisy in your thinking (no matter which side you wind up on), you haven’t thought about it enough.

Because both sides are irrefutably right about some very critical things. And if you see no merit in the argument of your opponent? That’s right: you haven’t thought about it enough.

I am not a fan of the descriptors. “Pro Life” and “Pro Choice” are both misnomers, they both attempt to claim morally superior territory while, in fact, revealing their hypocrisies upon closer examination. But we’re sort of stuck with these terms, aren’t we? After all, we must respect how people “self-identify,” mustn’t we?

If we were to take the most radical Lifer stance, and ask the government to force every pregnant woman, girl, and child to give birth … it would be a moral catastrophe of epic proportion. That’s simply a fact. According to the World Health Organization, there are 56 million abortions a year, worldwide. Imagine all the children who would be born into extreme poverty; or into dangerous, drug-addicted or abusive households; or simply born to people who don’t want them, can’t afford to or don’t want to care for them. That’s a whole lot of babies suffering—does forcing them into the world really make you an advocate for children?

Let’s admit, also, that it’s an unfair gender equation. Women bear children. Men/boys may populate a small island with their seed then run off and do as they please. The sufferers in a world of forced births would be girls and women and their babies, the more disadvantaged they are, the more they suffer. As always, the wealthy fair better under duress. Additionally, the men too often will not be held accountable for their actions.

All of that is irrefutably true. And those truths are why I am forced to be a Choicer. But, trust me, I see my moral hypocrisy all too clearly. Because there’s something else that is irrefutably true.

There are no geneticists debating whether a fetus is a living human being. We call it “human reproduction” because that’s what we’re doing. We’re reproducing humans. Not gizzards or asparagus. Humans. We know this. The zygote is a living human being at its earliest stage of development. This is not a religious argument. It’s science. To say otherwise is to construct a fantasy in order to soften a harsh reality we’d prefer not to face. I say this, remember, as someone who is Pro Choice. I’m just not going to lie to myself about the science to make me feel better. (By the way, there are Pro Life Atheists, some of them famous, in case you were wondering.)

What we’re debating is not the humanity of a fetus, we’re debating whether the right of women to “have free agency” over their bodies and their futures supersedes the right of conceived children to be born. As a culture, we’ve decided (by law) that it does.

So, when I say I’m Pro Choice (which, again, I AM saying), I’m saying that I accept that a human life is being taken (because that’s science, not some emotion-driven flight-of-fancy). I’m also saying that this evil is less than the evil of 56 million unwanted babies being born to 56 million women/girls/children who aren’t ready to be mothers. Here, then, is my moral hypocrisy: as a good liberal, who claims to be a voice for the voiceless, I am saying that it is morally acceptable to take the life of the most vulnerable humans on Earth … because the alternative creates an even greater evil, an even higher level of human suffering. In other words, the only thing worse than having legal abortions available as a choice would be NOT having legal abortions available as a choice. This is hard for me to swallow, but I don’t see us changing human nature any time soon, so it is a conclusion I can’t escape, and it makes me Pro Choice at the end of the day, whether I like it or not. Being Pro Choice also, for me, addresses the fact that a significant percentage of pregnancies involve rape, incest, severe pre-natal deformity, danger to the mother’s life, or other extraordinary mitigating circumstances.

I understand the indignation and revulsion Choicers feel when they see angry people holding signs with graphic photos of bloody fetuses. The easiest thing to assume is that they are a bunch of ignorant, holier-than-thou, finger-pointing, religious hypocrites who want to shove their morality down the throats of everyone else. We see them as people who claim to prize “all the little children of the world,” while doing nothing whatsoever to help the suffering children already-born. We see them as self-righteous a**holes. And some of them are just that.

But I would propose that many, many Lifers are simply men and women who have concluded that abortion takes a human life, and their consciences won’t allow them to be okay with that. I don’t find that incomprehensible at all. I don’t find it offensive. I don’t feel this negates their intelligence or compassion or decency. I do think that people that reach this conclusion need to genuinely grapple with all the moral issues related to unwanted pregnancies. They need to ask themselves what they intend to do to help the (theoretical) 56 million and, more importantly, the children and single mothers who are here, now, suffering all over the world. If they’re doing nothing, their claim to care about babies rings rather hollow, doesn’t it?

By the same token, Choicers ought to genuinely grapple with the fact of what it is we are doing as a civilization, what the ethical bargain is here. What the unpleasant, haunting truth is. It should never be glossed over. If we see no reason to grieve … we haven’t thought about it enough.

There is something both Choicers and Lifers would celebrate: a world where unwanted pregnancies were a rarity. (56 million—that’s not rare. It’s incredibly sad and revealing.) Reasonable, compassionate people from both sides could unite over this common ground and focus on the one thing they agree on, focus on how to make it a reality to the extent that resources and human nature allow.

But they probably won’t. Because they’ll be too busy not hearing each other.

 

 

 

Arriving at Inhumanity

Last week, I heard a story on BBC News Hour that I wish I hadn’t. It was about a mass killing in a small village in Guatemala. The incident happened decades ago, though I don’t recall having heard about it before.

The newscaster—in his matter-of-fact tone, with his authoritative British accent—spoke of acts so brutal that I cried as I heard them described, moaned as if I’d been wounded. I had to choke away the visceral emotion because I was driving, but the story shook me up for some time afterward. The magnitude of the violence done to men, women, and children was/is just so incomprehensible. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could come to the place where they could do such unspeakable things.

I’ll give you the (abridged, edited) Wikipedia version. Warning: if you don’t know this story, prepare to be disturbed … don’t read it if you are hyper-sensitive to the suffering of others.

On the 6th of December 1982, during the de facto presidency of General Efraín Ríos Montt, around 250 people – including women, the elderly, and children – were killed in Dos Erres by commandos working as government forces as a part of the government’s “scorched earth” policy.

In the early afternoon, the Kaibiles separated out the children, and began killing them. They bashed the smallest children’s heads against walls and trees, and killed the older ones with sledgehammer blows to the head. Their bodies were dumped in a well. Next, the commandos interrogated the men and women one by one, then shot or bashed them with the hammer, and dumped them in the well. They raped women and girls, and ripped the fetuses out of pregnant women. The massacre continued throughout 7 December. On the morning of 8 December, as the Kaibiles were preparing to leave, another 15 persons, among them children, arrived in the hamlet. With the well already full, they took the newcomers to a location half an hour away, then shot all but two of them. They kept two teenage girls for the next few days, raping them repeatedly and finally strangling them.

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Sorting through the remains in the well at Dos Erres.

 This is such a heart-wrenching story. It’s crushingly sad. I could hear the weeping and the screaming and the pleading of the villagers (especially the children) as they witnessed these horrors and begged not to be killed. Yet the hammer blows were delivered, the bodies mauled, the corpses tossed in the well. One after another, as if they were no more than garbage. The “how could any human being do this to other human beings” question kept gnawing at me as I tried to get those heinous images and (imagined) sounds out of my mind.

Fear, I suppose is the only answer that makes any sense (truthfully, the reality of this incident makes no rational sense, but it happened so I suppose we are forced to analyze it, try to understand it). One assumes this General Montt was a man to be feared. One assumes it was made clear to the soldiers that if they didn’t exterminate everyone they would be killed, maybe their families too. Did they have to use sledgehammers? (As a matter of degree, shooting seems like it would have been a more “humane” style of execution, though still abominable.) Perhaps even the raping was part of the “scorched earth” policy. Or did the soldiers just do that because they could? No one could stop them. No one was going to survive to give testimony.

Of course, as appalling as this incident is, it pales in comparison (in terms of magnitude) to the Rwandan genocide, or the atrocities committed by Europeans against Native Americans, or the systematic extermination of Jews during the holocaust, or the American enslavement of Africans.

How can people do such things to other people?

One of the steps that leads to genocide is the reduction of “the other” to less-than-human status. Give them a name that robs them of humanity: cockroach (against the Tutsi), savage or redskin (against Native Americans), Untermensch or “subhuman” (against Jews), n-word (against enslaved Africans). In Mein Kampf, Hitler called jews “parasites,” he said, “The Jew is a planetary bacillus.”

It’s easier to mistreat or kill a cockroach than a person.

On being “named,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “And I saw that what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do.”[i]

Mass killings happen for different reasons in different social and historical contexts but, at the bottom of them all—aside from simple, good-old-fashioned bigotry—is a drive to gain or preserve dominance over land and resources. In other words, it’s about power.

Are you a Hutu who doesn’t want to share political power or scarce resources and economic opportunity with your Tutsi neighbors? All you have to do is slaughter them (800,000 slain in 100 days), so you won’t have to.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26875506

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Don’t want to share the land with the native population when your ships arrive at their shores? After they’re nearly wiped-out by the diseases you brought with you, you can see to it that the rest are eliminated or neutered as a threat through murder and dislocation. Then you can relegate them to a tiny spot of their own land and think of it is a kindness. Over the course of 500 years, you will have reduced their population from 10 million to 300,000.

http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/native-americans/

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Think that Jewish people are pretty much the reason for every bad thing happening in your country and the world? Set up an assembly line of mass murder. You can kill 11 million in a few years’ time if you really try.

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008193

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Are you a European settler needing to get some back-breaking work done, but you don’t want to do it yourself? Go get yourself millions of black bodies from across the ocean. Beat them, rape and murder them into submission. Keep this going for 250 years, so you can build your so-called Democracy. The UN estimates 17 million of those black bodies died over that time period as a result of the slave trade.

http://www.un.org/events/slaveryremembrance/background.shtml

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We read these statistics and they boggle the mind. So many dead. So many murdered. In the end, it boils down to the seizing of power through dehumanization, subjugation, terrorizing, and murder of “the other.” Make them an object of fear, of disgust. Make them an obstacle to dominance. Pave your road to progress with their blood and bones.

With Dos Erres, Rwanda, the mass-elimination of Native Americans, the holocaust, and American slavery, we see varied combinations of violent bigotry according to skin tone: brown on brown, black on black, white on red, white on white, and white on black. This is human evil, the powerful oppressing the weak.

Examples of “man’s inhumanity to man” are far from limited to these. There are so many more. It’s hard to think about the harsh realities of all the violence in human history. Genghis Khan, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Idi Amin, the Khmer Rouge … all played their part. As did ordinary people who helped by carrying out orders or voluntarily aiding in the oppression and murder authorized by those in power.

Violence against, and oppression of, certain classifications of people is not limited to “long ago and far away.” Police brutality against African Americans is still happening. Institutionalized racism is still happening. Read the news. All across our country, and around the world, there are oppressed people groups. Nor is discrimination limited to the sphere of race. We discriminate against women, Muslims, albinos, the differently-gendered, homosexuals, those with disabilities … the list goes on and on.

How can we stop these injustices?

It seems like it ought to be so simple. The answers could be written on a message in a fortune cookie or on a postcard.

We’re all the same race: the human race. All of us have the same, intrinsic worth. All should be treated the same, given the same opportunity for education and economic success. Martin Luther King said it: judge people “not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” Jesus said it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s not hard to articulate the answers, but it is hard to implement them. It’s hard to give up privilege and power.

It comes down to the human heart. Mine. Yours.

Can we see our own prejudices? Can we see how we contribute to racism by denying it, ignoring it, minimizing it?

I’m speaking to myself. I’m speaking to my white* friends, family, neighbors, and countrymen.

I have to wake up. We have to wake up, recognize the indelible and cruel injury we have done to our brothers and sisters of a darker hue. See that we have not sought to understand or empathize with those with different sexual orientation. Admit it. Out loud. Ask forgiveness. Extend a hand. Be part of a movement that insists we are all the same, a movement that seizes the mechanisms of established power and ultimately, permanently, bends the arc of our future moral universe toward justice. A justice that truly applies to all.

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Educate yourself. Read Coates’ book Between the World and Me. Read Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop. Hear their voices. To the extent you can, enter into their suffering. Do some reading to help you understand LGBTQ issues. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-best-lgbt-books-of-all-time/

These are starting places. This is the easy stuff. But if you let the reading change how you think and feel, even just a little, then you can say the journey forward has begun.

I’m still in these first steps. And I was moved to write this. This is my beginning.

Namaste.

 

*There is no white race. There are light-skinned people of many ethnic backgrounds. Whitness is a construct we have used to empower a majority based on an artificial unity relating to shared skin tone. This seems so obvious, yet it took Ta-Nehisi Coates to make me see it clearly.

[i] Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me (Kindle Locations 1280-1282). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Walking the Labyrinth

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I walked the Earth-Wisdom Labyrinth on our church’s property today. I’ve been attending the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin for almost two years and I’ve been a member for less than a year. Because this season of my life is so full and challenging, regrettably, my attendance there is spotty. I am always glad to have attended on those Sundays I make it. Today was my first labyrinth walk.

A few details about the labyrinth (copied from church website):

  • It is made up of over 25 tons of stone.
  • It spans more than 93 feet in diameter.
  • It winds in for 1/3 mile and out for 1/3 mile.
  • It’s one of the largest labyrinths of its kind in the world.

What did I learn on my walk today?

  1. That my mind is an obnoxiously busy place and has trouble shutting down the “constant dialogue” machine. My thoughts kept wandering to the comic. What would it be like if we had to navigate the labyrinth on unicycles? Is that Columbian Gold Minister Leslie is burning in the center (the answer is “no”)? If I suddenly hopped over a few rows, would anybody say anything? How fast could church member Todd get to the center and back on his bike (he bikes a lot)?
  2. The labyrinth takes longer to walk than I figured.
  3. Spiderman (or it might have been a very young churchgoer wearing a Spiderman jacket, I can’t be sure) does not recognize the implied constraints of the labyrinth, and yet he is not invulnerable to the slipperiness of the ice-coating on the path. Still, his powers seemed to protect him from harm (thankfully). Spiderman is adorable.
  4. As we walked in silence, the sound of our collective footsteps—as they softly crunched on the pavement and less-softly crackled over the icy areas—created a comforting, constant rhythm. It reminded me I was not alone on the path. It made me wonder what the experiences of the other walkers were like. Did some of them have the same trouble quieting their thoughts? Did some recite mantras? Did some pray? It made me reflect on the fact that even as we walked the same path, The Way was different for each of us.
  5. I encountered a few stones whose juxtaposed edges fit together nearly as neatly as puzzle pieces. That made me wonder if their placement was deliberate. It made me contemplate how things you might not think would fit together can (like atheists, Christians, and Buddhists—oh my). lab-2
  6. It re-confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time now. UUCE feels like home to me.

What a cool way to start the new year!

I will walk the labyrinth again. Wonder what I might learn next time…?

 

Why I’m Struggling with Wearing “The Safety Pin”

My church is full of loving, liberal-minded, enlightened people whose ideals match mine to a large extent.

I’m looking at the safety pin my church gave me on Sunday … it is still attached to a card made of thick paper.

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The Safety Pin Movement is a response to the perception (which appears to have some merit in light of current events) that Donald Trump’s election may embolden certain people, i.e. people who have negative, even hostile, views toward “minority” populations, to act out that hostility.

The card basically says that if I wear it I’m pledging to take action if I witness verbal or physical attacks on others. It says I should be prepared to intervene “with my physical body” if necessary. The card lists these potential victims: “women, LGBTQA, transfolks, people of color, those wearing religious garb, people speaking languages other than English, those who are visibly different—anyone.”

My first response is to think, “What a wonderful, simple thing to do to show solidarity with, and a willingness to come to the aid of, others who may be thought to be disenfranchised or under threat by certain segments of society.” I think, “I can do that.”

Wear a pin? Yes. I can do that, obviously. Place myself (potentially) in harm’s way to protect others? Well…

That’s a far harder question, isn’t it?

I mean, I totally want to wear the pin. The principle behind it is a good one, the intention is awesome and laudable.

I ask myself: Would I, in fact, risk harm to myself to stand up for this principle of unity?

The answer: I don’t know.

I ask myself: Have I ever stood up for someone before?

I can say, yes to that.

A time or two. In very small ways. In grade school and in high school I can think of two times I stood up for kids who were being picked on at school for being “different.” The kids doing the picking on were just being mocking, they weren’t trying to beat up anyone. Nor were the perpetrators particularly “dangerous” fellows. And in both cases, we were on school grounds—so there was pretty much zero real physical threat to me.

What if it had been at night in an alleyway, far from the safety of adults in authority? What if there had been pushing, or worse? Would I have acted?

Doubtful. Maybe run for help. But intervened? Sadly, probably not. I wasn’t at all a tough kid. I’d never been in a serious scrap. Wasn’t athletic. Wasn’t particularly courageous.

I’m 56 and none of that, regrettably, is any different.

So, would I stand up, today, for someone if I thought there was pretty much no possibility of violence? Yeah, I would. Would I be happy to be a friend and support to someone in one of these categories who came to me distraught? Yep, I would. Would I call 911 from across the street? You bet.

But am I going to risk real physical harm to myself? Probably not. That’s just the unfortunate truth of that.

Does that make me a coward? Maybe.

But wearing it without feeling certain I could follow through with the pledge that the pin represents? Well, that presents its own moral dilemma, doesn’t it?

I feel like I just got jabbed with a pin that I haven’t even put on.

Maybe that jab wants to teach me something. (Like, now is the time to take that self-defense class you’ve always wanted to take?)

Am I doing the right thing by not wearing the pin?

 

 

Death as a Halloween Prop or What Does it Mean to Really Live?

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It isn’t surprising that we seek to take the “sting” out of death by making it into a cartoon lawn ornament, or wearing it as a costume, or embracing a belief system (religious or secular) that enables us to make peace with it.

Death is the great, inescapable, metaphysical killjoy waiting in the weeds for every man, woman, and child. Clearly, it is the end of one thing: our consciousness in this body on this planet in this moment.

We long to believe that it may be the beginning of another thing; because, if it isn’t, the little light that is “us” winks out forever. We are the center of our universe. We can only perceive life through our singular prism. A world that goes on without us, is a world that might as well not exist.

“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” Said William Wallace, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart.” And this simple statement is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

We move through life wishing away mortality because we fear we have not lived well. “Really living” is something most of us feel we have yet to accomplish. It is out there. Maybe it’s falling truly, madly, deeply in love. Or maybe it’s a great friendship we don’t yet know. We think real life is waiting in a thousand future moments. It’s writing that song or that screenplay or that novel. Getting that royalty check—that validation of our worth, our talent, our intelligence. It’s in reconciling with our dad or our son or … you know who.

I watched my elderly mom die slowly for two years. She wasn’t a perfect saint. She didn’t live a perfect life. But she absolutely had zero fear of death. This had a lot to do with her unwavering faith, but it also had a great deal to do with her being able to look back at her life and feel good about it. She knew she’d been a good wife and mom and friend. She knew she’d (mostly) lived well and loved well. This, I believe, gave her a peace about facing death.

She also was 89. She’d lived a long life. I’m confident it’s a very different thing to get a terminal diagnosis when you’re 45 or 29 or six.

At the very end of her life, my mom was still as a stone for three days, didn’t move a millimeter. I have to admit, it was a bit eerie standing over her during that time, saying, “I love you, Mom,” out loud, not knowing if she heard or understood. She looked like a corpse. The only thing that told me she was alive was the fact that, very slowly, she was still breathing. Finally, that stopped.

Seeing death in such an intimate way, up close and personal, is something you don’t forget. Not ever. But it’s my mom’s life that I reflect on, far more than her death. I am grateful she was my mom. I’m lucky I had her as a model.

I’d like to be able to say that today I’m living well and loving well. All I can say is that I’m trying. I’m as caught up in ego and worries about everyday things as the next guy or gal. Maybe more.

What, then, does it mean to “really live?”

I’m tempted to say it’s about living in the present tense, appreciating each moment, seeing the beauty in small things, doing everything you can to be at peace with all people, finding meaning and purpose in loving family and friends, following your “calling” in every aspect of life, finding your spiritual bearings, you know—seizing the bloody day and all that…

I guess that I believe those things are all part of “really living.” However, I believe them to a much larger extent than I am actually doing them. So, it feels fraudulent to say them. It feels like someone else’s list.

And yet … these ideas are the best I’ve got. So, I will say … I’m working on it.

That’s all I’ve got. How about you?

(It seems this blog keeps inspiring me to write: https://writerswithoutmoney.com/ This post is 95% a comment on left on this guy’s blog. He’s smart and insightful and I enjoy disagreeing with him in a friendly way. He takes it well.)

 

Thanks Science, Thanks Religion

Nature is amazing. The stars. Animal life. Microscopic life. Forests. Oceans. 

Science has done astonishing things with its ability to deconstruct nature, explain it to laymen (sometimes in terms we mostly understand). 

Science is useful when its analyses lead to good medicine and a more thoughtful approach to the use of natural resources.  

But science is forever USELESS when it comes to the things that we yearn to know. Most of what truly matters to people in life remains entirely outside the domain of its relevance: love, friendship, the “high” we experience in an encounter with literature or film or music or any kind of art that moves us, the transcendent sense of awe we feel before nature, the search for purpose. 

Such pursuits are not the job of science, never have been. When we try to make science a God, we have made a horrifying error bound to result in things like sterilizing races we deem as inferior or using unwitting people in tests without any thought to the morality of doing so. 

Yes, the USE of science can accomplish great moral good too. Feed more people. Teach us how to live sustainably. But scientific principles, when applied, are only as “good” as the souls of the people behind their application. 

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The same is true of religion. Its application is only as good as the hearts of its leaders and adherents. Religion can spread brotherly love or divisive rhetoric. It can elevate us or turn us into groveling idiots. 

People can be beautiful and noble. Sadly, they can also be really fucking dangerous. Power in the hands of people is the most dangerous thing of all. In the guise of religion or atheistic totalitarianism or socialism or communism or democracy … humans having power over other humans is the great bugaboo of all suffering and tragedy. 

And this boils down to intent. Do those in power want to minister to the people or manipulate them? Do they want to serve them or make them subservient?  

These are moral questions, not scientific ones.  

So, thank you science … for heart transplants and AIDS treatments and flat screen TVs. 

Thank you religion … for prayer that brings connection to the sacred, for the dissemination of ideas that lead us to give to others, to love mercy and to seek justice and peace. 

Just watch your hearts, atheists and theists and agnostics. This is where all future hope will come from. This is where our doom will come from.  

Consider well what manner of thought and belief you deposit and nurture therein.

(This post inspired by another blog post: https://writerswithoutmoney.com/2015/08/04/the-surgeon-on-the-mount-or-science-the-theology-after-god/comment-page-1/)