The Abortion Debate

Posted: June 16, 2010 by joelmartin in Abortion
Tags: ,

Thomas Fleming has an ongoing series of important posts up at Chronicles on the abortion debate. So far there are:

Part I, II, III

Often, the comments after the posts are as insightful as the posts themselves. Here is a snippet from his first column:

There is really no good Scriptural text on abortion, and the common pro-life bumper sticker “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” assumes a knowledge of embryology on Jeremiah’s part (and an intention) that is quite out of the question.  The various fundamentalist/evangelical attempts to find a secure Scriptural basis for outlawing abortion are as futile as most of their theology.   Exodus 21, the most frequently cited text, merely states the penalty for causing the death of the fetus, though it is quite true that rabbinical commentators used this to support their condemnation of abortion.

Despite rabbinical prohibitions, there is no reason to believe that Jews did not behave more or less like other Mediterranean peoples.  This has no bearing on the undoubted fact that Christians were early on distinguished for their rejection of infanticide and abortion.

There is no need for Scriptural authority in this case.  Man is made in the image of the God who sent his Son in human form to take upon Himself the sins of the world, to die for us, and in rising from the dead to give us the promise of life everlasting.  The Christian vision, then, could give no support to infanticide or abortion, except in the difficult case where a mother’s life is at stake.  (I do not intend to take any position on this since it is of almost no significance today.  We shall stick to the main road.)

Like other ancient texts, the Old Testament says nothing nothing about the rights of children and very little about parental duties:  What matters most is the child’s duty to the parent and not the reverse.  Nonetheless, the OT texts, like the literatures of the Greeks and Romans, gives a very positive portrayal, generally, of parents. There is no need, I think, to speak of Abraham and Isaac, or  Jacob and Joseph, when we have the portrait of Mary and Joseph’s very tender regard for Jesus.  Mary’s outburst, on finding her son teaching in the temple, is almost amusing, it is so like what any normal mother would say when realizing that her son is safe–and not through any effort of his own!  I can hear my own mother’s “Where have you been? Do you realize your father and and I have been waiting up all night long…?

In the Christian tradition, then, there is no talk of a child’s universal human life to be guaranteed by a government or legal system, only the parents’ duty to love and care for their children.  This is not a universal or convertible obligation:  I have to take care of my children but not your children much less everybody’s children.  Of course, a Christian society will want to enforce up to a point Christian moral law and might even institutionalize some forms of charity, but in an anti-Christian society it is incumbent upon us to return to a more traditional Christian way of thinking about matters such as abortion, divorce, and charity, lest we find ourselves sacrificing the moral authority of family’s to the power of an anti-Christian state that makes war upon the family.

There is really no good Scriptural text on abortion, and the common pro-life bumper sticker “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” assumes a knowledge of embryology on Jeremiah’s part (and an intention) that is quite out of the question.  The various fundamentalist/evangelical attempts to find a secure Scriptural basis for outlawing abortion are as futile as most of their theology.   Exodus 21, the most frequently cited text, merely states the penalty for causing the death of the fetus, though it is quite true that rabbinical commentators used this to support their condemnation of abortion.

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