Friday, November 30, 2012

A Christian Argument for Abortion?

    One of the most bizarre arguments for legalized abortion that we have ever seen recently appeared on a blogpost by Greg Rubottom entitled "Death Throes of a Great Deception – The Fall From Grace of the 'Pro-Life' Movement." This, in turn, was copied with a lengthy introduction by Frank Schaeffer
on Mr. Schaeffer's blog at Patheos under the title "A Christian Answer to the Lies of the Evangelical / Catholic Pro-Life Movement." It is an extraordinary piece of sophistry.

    Mr. Rubottom rehashes the usual pragmatic arguments: forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term would cause her harm and doom the child to a miserable existence as an unwanted child. What is peculiar about his argument is that not only does he seek a Christian justification for this, but he actually claims that his argument reflects "the core elements of traditional Christian spirituality" and that the Pro-Life position is "heresy." In support of this dubious contention he gives us one of the most convoluted accounts of Christian doctrine that we have ever witnessed.
    He claims that Jesus taught that "the human body is a 'container' for what God values in human life – the soul – and the creation of a soul is a 'process' and not all conception is necessarily the will of God." Presumably human beings decide, through their own actions, to conceive a child, and then God might decide that it was a bad idea, in which case the pregnancy should be aborted.
    And how does Mr. Rubottom know that this is what God actually thinks? He tells us that "the core teaching of traditional Christianity" is that "God must always be defined as 'good.'" God, then would not wish the pregnancy to continue if it would bring harm to either the mother or the child. In other words, Mr. Rubottom believes that God is guided by the same "common sense" as himself, and that it would be evident, from a kind of cost/benefit analysis, that some pregnancies should be terminated.
    We do not know from what source Mr. Rubottom derives his conception of "traditional Christianity," but it is certainly not from any source with which we are familiar. What God actually said was, "You shall not murder"; and the reason assigned for this is that human beings are created in the image of God. "Whoever sheds man's blood,/ By man his blood shall be shed;/ For in the image of God / He made man" (Gen. 9:6; NKJV). In other words, human life is sacred because man was created in the image of God. Murder is a form of sacrilege.
    This, then, raises the thorny question of just exactly when does life begin. Mr. Rubottom's explanation is purely fanciful – it exists nowhere in the history of "traditional Christianity." It is entirely of his own invention.
    But what is the church's traditional understanding? The fact of the matter is that historically the church has been divided on the question. One line of thought, called "Traducianism," holds that the soul of an infant is derived from those of its parents by way of natural generation. This view was held in ancient times by Tertullian, and more recently by many Lutheran theologians. Obviously in this viewpoint abortion would always be tantamount to the taking of an innocent human life.
    The opposing viewpoint is called "Creationism" (not to be confused with opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution). According to this theory each soul is created individually by God. This viewpoint was held by St. Jerome and later by Calvin and most Reformed theologians. The obvious difficulty with this position in terms of the present discussion is that it is impossible to say when the individual soul is created. What we do know from Scripture is that at some point in the course of the pregnancy the developing child is a conscious human being: John the Baptist, while still in utero, leaped at the approach of Mary (Lu. 1:41).
    What proved decisive in the debate were the advances in modern medical science that showed that the fetus undergoes a continuous process of development from the moment of conception until the moment of birth and beyond. There is no specific point in between at which the fetus suddenly acquires the definitive characteristics of a human being. Genetically the developing child is a unique person at the moment of conception and is just as human then as it is after birth. It was undoubtedly with this realization in mind that most U.S. states in the late 19th Century outlawed abortion.
    What Mr. Rubottom has done is to palm off a modern version of ethical pragmatism as "traditional Christianity." It is, in fact, no such thing. The historic Christian position has always been that "The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 69). If life begins at conception, we are forbidden from taking it.

For a previous blog on Roe v. Wade see "Should Abortion be Legal?"

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