Thursday, December 11, 2008

On God and Abortion

Robert Tapp, in an essay on Religion Dispatches, asks a question that the anti-abortion movement refuses to address. He asks, "Is God the Supreme Abortionist?" The question arises from our knowledge of the number spontaneous abortions that occur by natural processes:

A major controversy in contemporary culture is the question of when human life begins. Religions have given different answers and the consequences that have followed have been very divisive. Does life begin at conception, or at implantation, or at quickening, or at birth, or…? Family planning and contraceptives have further complicated these controversies. Is pregnancy the normal/natural purpose/result of our sexuality—or is it an outcome that can be either intended or accidental (and thus probably undesired)?

We know now that perhaps 30 percent of fertilized human eggs spontaneously cease development and are thus aborted in the early stages of pregnancy—often undetected. A considerable number of embryos miscarry during later stages of pregnancy. If we use the phrasing of the country’s founders — Nature and Nature’s God — what do we make of this reality? Should we view Nature or God as the supreme abortionist? A friend of mine who is a churchgoing fertility specialist speaks of such events as “accidents” but the theological and philosophical implications are enormous. A current metaphor is that not every acorn can or does or should become an oak tree.
If nature is so wasteful toward human embryos, how can anti-abortionists be so sure that there is a divine imperative to preserve embryos that were produced by rape, incest and in instances where the life and health of the mother is at risk?

11 comments:

b. woodward said...

If that's a valid argument, than isn't it also true that because all men die by God's prerogative (or "Nature's"), it's OK for humans to kill one another at their own prerogative, at any stage of life? I don't think it's that the pro-life movement "refuses to address" this question, it's just that it's not a pertinent question.

Just because hurricanes occur doesn't mean that we would be morally right to indescriminately initiate such storms upon other people if we ever had the ability to do so. Just because cancer happens doesn't mean we would be right to give it to whomever we wished.

God has the ability to do things, always in accord with his wisdom and holiness, that humans are not given the right to do. Thus it should be up to God to decide which "acorns" (Tapp euphamistically means "human beings" here) become oaks and which do not. For humans to begin picking acorns to live and others to be discarded is to play God's unique role - a loathsome display of hubris before God and a terrible injustice to those acorns we've chosen to discard.

David Henson said...

I just addressed this very thing on my blog.

Of course it's a pertinent question because, though, because it speaks to the question of when life begins. If God implants a soul into an egg at the moment of fertilization, (i.e. life begins at conception), it raises huge questions about all those souls that fail to develop ... first, a) is this really intelligent design?!? b) where do these souls go and why did God bother... didn't God have foresight to know which were going to develop? and if b is the case, couldn't c) God foresee other things related to conception/termination?

Also, I recently gathered some acorns to use as Christmas decorations. There I go playing God again.

RonSpross said...

Does the soul even exist, at least in an incarnational sense? In my opinion: no. [See for example, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Current Issues in Theology) by Nancey Murphy, Cambridge] Resurrection of the body appears to be the more "pure" Jewish/Christian notion (with the concept of "ensoulment" being something of an import from Greek/Platonic thought). Scientifically, the mind and the personality is something that develops along with, or even subsequent to, the development of the brain with its zillions of cells, the single-celled fertilized egg. The inference would be that while human life in its immediate post conception form is or may be precious (I think it is), it is nevertheless quite problematic to assert that at this stage it is equivalent in value or stature to what it may become nine months later.

Asinus Gravis said...

Woodward is way off base in his reasoning. Since many in the "pro-life" movement talk as if natural processes must not be interrupted because such would be sinful, the evidences about spontaneous abortions is very pertinent.

Just because something happens "in nature" does not show that it is, or is not, morally defensible, however. That is the fundamental blunder in the "pro-life" reasoning. One needs quite different reasons for determining the rightness or wrongness of human activities.

God apparently does a marvelous job of aborting thousands of oak trees around my house, via the activities of the squirrels and the gardner. Praise God! I only wish he would send us some such help with the poison ivy.

Rhology said...

The main problem with this reasoning is that it conflates God with man.
Sounds familiar, really.

God is not a human. He is the Creator and has the right to take life, just as He gave it. Indeed, He takes all life. Doesn't everything die? Of course, and it's all His "fault".

He can take life at any time, be it adult or really young, and it is 100% justified, especially human life since all are sinners. The question is: What actions is man justified in undertaking? Murder of human life is not among them. Abortion is therefore unjustifiable.
It's an easy argument to deal with; I don't know why anyone would call it sthg the pro-life mvmt "refuses" to deal with. Let me suggest Randy Alcorn's book on pro-life answers. It's the best I've ever seen.

sepherim said...

For the sake of clarification, what gives God the creator the right to take life? I can claim some part of the process of creating my children, but I don't presume that I therefore have the right to take their lives?
I will look at the Alcorn book but I have yet to see or hear anyone who is pro-life adequately deal with the "supposed" moral problem of God destroying hundreds of thousands of lives this way.

Rhology said...

For the sake of clarification?
Well, OK. There are a few reasons why God has the right to take life.
Nothing "gives" Him the right. He has always possessed it and possesses it forever by virtue of His character and existence. He is the greatest being in existence. He is holy. He is good. He is infinitely wise.
Ephesians 1:11 tells us that "He works all things after the counsel of His will." Romans 8:28 explains this working further - that "He works all things for good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose."
At any rate, He gives life to every person. He is the very one who holds that life together, indeed, He holds every molecule in the universe together, actively. He is the author of life. The author has the right to decide when the book ends.

You have a highly subordinate part of creating your children. I don't know if I'd say "creating" at all, really.
Sperm met egg. Who made the sperm? A part of your body. Who made your body? Etc - take it all the way back and the answer is God. God made you. He also knows when it is best for you to die, and that's when you'll die.
In the same way, it is part of His plan that these babies (including one of mine, who was miscarried) die at a very young age. We must and indeed are obligated to trust God for that. We may not understand, but there are plenty of things we don't understand.

It's not a moral problem for God at all. Who can judge God? Who can call Him into his courtroom? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, you know?

sepherim said...

For some reason I find extreme irony in the use of the "him who is without sin" quote coming from the author of Rhoblogy.

Rhology said...

Why?
And did you have any compelling reason to reject what I just said?

For some reason I find extreme irony in the use of the "I find extreme irony in the use of the 'him who is without sin' quote coming from the author of Rhoblogy" quote coming from Sepherim.

sepherim said...

I did not really see the need to comment on what you said, because all you did was fall back on faith statements that cannot be proved one way or another. I do not see that it is any more valid for you to say "God made it so God can break it if he wants to" than it is for me to say once a life has been created it is sacred and God has no more right to end it than anyone else.

And just as a point of clarification for something I thought was very clear, the irony is that on your blog you continually cast stones at anyone that disagrees with you. In fact you had some very harsh things to say about about Bruce Prescott because of this particular article. So to paraphrase the cliche, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't cast the first stone."

Rhology said...

sepherim,

You are supposed to be a Christian. Are you an atheist posing as a Baptist on a public blog?
I don't address atheists in the same way I address Christians. That should be obvious.

You said:
I do not see that it is any more valid for you to say "God made it so God can break it if he wants to" than it is for me to say once a life has been created it is sacred and God has no more right to end it than anyone else.

And the fact that the Bible presents God as the only self-affirming being in the universe? The One Who spoke everything into existence and continues to hold it together, Who alone is holy and pure and righteous and wise?
I have to ask - How do you think we know ANYthing about God? Is the Bible important in knowing God? To what extent?


the irony is that on your blog you continually cast stones at anyone that disagrees with you.

It looks like you're "throwing stones" at me too, here. Does that make you a hypocrite, or does that make your statement meaningless?

Answer - it's both. But I'm not "throwing stones" at all. To conflate execution by stoning with a blogger pointing out the errors in others' reasoning and trying to show the truth of God's Word to people is just amazing moral blindness.
Where have **I** consigned anyone to Hell on my blog? Haven't I instead spent my time holding people to a better standard of reasoning and devotion to God, pointing out inconsistencies and blasphemies?


In fact you had some very harsh things to say about about Bruce Prescott because of this particular article.

I said this:
"He's not apparently quite as fond of debate as he is of liberal politics, vicious assaults on President Dubya, unthinking social gospel 'theology' and naked assertions."
He of course can speak for himself on his own blog, but I'd guess he's proud enough of liberal politics, vicious assaults on President W, and social gospel theology. Not so much the others, but that's called a "critique" of another's writing. Kind of like what you're doing to me now. I don't have a problem with that, but you claim to have a problem with it and then engage in the same behavior.


So to paraphrase the cliche, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't cast the first stone."

Good deal. In what way have I shown myself to be "not quite as fond of debate as he is of liberal politics, vicious assaults on President Dubya, unthinking social gospel 'theology' and naked assertions"?
B/c that's the very basis on which I critiqued him. Maybe you can show me some places where I've engaged therein and thus revealed the glass house in which I live.

Peace,
Rhology