Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Saving babies

I appreciate the comments on the previous post, but I wasn't intending to ask why Karl Rove and other Republican operatives have seized on this issue. My question is, why have a substantial subset of Christians -- specifically the Catholic bishops and evangelical protestants -- passionately embraced such a bizarre definition of what constitutes a morally relevant human life.

There is no basis in the Bible or in traditional Christian theology -- that is, theology prior to the late 19th Century -- for the proposition that an embryo is morally a human being. Furthermore, the proposition seems ridiculous to most people. It is not common in Judaism or Islam, nor is it accepted by most Christians, including I must add most Catholics. And, in fact, even most defenders of this position seem to practice doublethink on the question. As Steven Benen points out on Crooks and Liars, Tony Snow, in defending Bush's veto of the stem cell research bill, said that, on the one hand, Bush believes that embryonic stem cell research is "the taking of human life," i.e. murder; but on the other hand nobody should be too upset because Bush has not advocated banning such research, in fact he's all for it, it's just that he doesn't want to spend federal funds on it.

Weird, huh? For George W. Bush, who is a mass murder and quite probably a psychopath, to stand up and say that there is a moral line he will not cross with respect to a microscopic blob of slime, is beyond grotesque. While Mr. Bush is saving the blastocysts, he has nothing to say about 20 million children under five years of age who currently suffer from severe acute malnutrition, one million of whom will die this year. (PDF) And the same goes for the entire culture of life gang, who obviously don't give a shit about life.

So what do they care about? What is the "right to life" movement all about? Here's your answer. The church came to condemn abortion in the late 19th century not because of any concern about human life -- after all, the Catholic Church used to burn people alive and torture them to death on the rack -- but because of the women's movement of that era. Women began to affirm their sexuality, and to insist that sex could be separated from procreation. That was the claim that troubled the Pope, and it was, and remains, the offensiveness of sexual freedom for women that motivates the right to life movement today, not "life," which in fact they despise.

Embryonic stem cell research just happened to get caught up in the warped logic of this position. If zygotes and blastocysts are human life -- which they have to be to make the anti-abortion position consistent -- then they must be life in or out of the woman's body. If abortion is murder, then embryonic stem cell research must be murder too. But, since that is ridiculous on its face, the culture of life is in a bind; they have been demolished by reductio ad absurdum. So, we get this quantum transposition of ethical positions: it's murder, but it's really okay.

The final proof of my analysis is that the same people who oppose legalized abortion generally oppose contraception as well, which would of course prevent abortion. So it's not about life, it's about sex. Why not cut the crap, and say what you really mean?

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