Bible vs Pro-life

Continuing on with yesterday’s theme, I’d like to look a little more closely at the contrast between the values and principles of the pro-life movement versus those of historic Christianity. The big question here, of course, is whether God Himself would be a pro-lifer. That is, if we imagine a scene outside an abortion clinic, with security guards escorting women into the clinic, and pro-life protesters trying to stop them, which side would God join if He were to show up in person? Would He pick up a protest sign and stand with the pro-lifers?

Based on the Old and New Testaments, the answer is an unmistakable “NO!” God may be a lot of things, but “pro-life” isn’t one of them, by a long shot.

Before we start our survey of the actual texts, there’s one thing we need to be clear about. Which kind of life are pro-lifers supposed to be “pro” about? In Christian theology, a person actually has two lives: their physical, mortal life which ends when the body dies, and the everlasting life of their immortal soul (which by definition never ends). What pro-lifers will tell you is that abortion is wrong because it ends a life, so we’re clearly concerned with life in the materialistic sense here (thus betraying once again the materialistic roots and biases of the pro-life political movement).

How much value, then, does the God of the Bible place on physical, materialistic life? In a conflict between life and free will, to which does He give priority? The first chapter of Genesis does not address the topic, but the second begins to, and the third gives us quite the clearest demonstration possible of God’s preference for free will over pro-life principles.

Here’s Genesis 2:15-17:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

God already knew good and evil, being omniscient. He clearly did not want His children to know, since He explicitly forbade them to eat the fruit. Why, then, did He think there was any need to create a tree of  knowledge of good and evil? This tree does not appear again anywhere else in Christian lore or scripture; it has no other use. Its sole purpose is to create the opportunity for God’s children to make fatal choices.

Not a perfectly clear-cut case of God giving priority to free will over respect for life, I’ll grant you, but it definitely has pronounced inclinations in that direction. Can you imagine a sincere pro-lifer going up to a troubled, unwed pregnant teen, handing her the business card to the local abortion clinic, and saying, “Now you must not go to this clinic between the hours of 8 and 4 on weekdays and 8 to noon on Saturdays, parking in the rear, phone 727-555-1212 for an appointment, bring a photo ID and your insurance card if any, all interactions guaranteed strictly confidential.”? It’s just not pro-life to create the opportunity for fatal choices and then put it right in front of the chooser’s face. But that’s what God did in Genesis 2.

Genesis 3 is even clearer.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What’s missing from this picture? How about God? Where’s God in all this? Here is Eve, mother of all women, about to exercise her freedom of choice in a way that will be fatal for her offspring. Allow Eve to exercise her freedom of choice, and it’s certain death, not just for one baby, but for all her offspring, and all their offspring, generation to generation. And it’s not just physical death either: according to Jesus, most of Eve’s offspring will lose their salvation as well. Eve is about to make the ultimate anti-pro-life choice.

The pro-life thing to do at this point, assuming you know what Eve is contemplating, would be for you to intervene, deprive Eve of her freedom to choose, and thus prevent the consequent loss of life—and soul! That’s especially true in this particular case, since there aren’t any issues here about Eve being forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy—this is strictly eat or don’t eat.

And God, being divine, most definitely does know what Eve is thinking, and what the serpent is saying. He’s even known about it in advance, just as He knows everything in advance. He’s had more than enough time to slap some gory pictures on a piece of cardboard and a stick, and to situate Himself at the location where Eve and the snake are going to meet to arrange the termination of her immortal innocence.

If God were pro-life, He would have to be there. Anything less is a betrayal of everything “pro-life” stands for. Eve and the snake are about to commit the Ultimate Abortion, not just of one baby’s life, but of the lives of each and every member of the human species (at least eventually). Preventable deaths, every one. If only there were one pro-lifer around to talk Eve out of it! But there wasn’t, because God is pro-choice. He values the woman’s freedom of choice above the lives of her offspring, above even their immortal souls, and therefore He stayed out of it until after the decision was made.

Let’s look at a few more examples, like Genesis 6-10. Here’s an excerpt:

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

This time God isn’t just pro-choice, He’s the abortionist: taking the life of virtually everyone and everything, on account of the choices of man. (Yes, I know Noah and the Ark, but that’s a vanishingly small percentage of those God killed by the Flood, according to the story.) The pro-life thing to do would be to simply prevent man from having the freedom to choose to do all those evil things. Taking away the freedom to choose is what the pro-life movement is all about. But God values freedom of choice too highly to deprive man of it, even though the cost of that freedom is the sudden, violent death of every man, woman, child, baby, beast, and insect on the face of the earth! God is not pro-life.

So God, in the Bible, has a pronounced bias in favor of freedom of choice over respect for life. But does that apply to His followers too? Could this be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do,” a case of God having different moral values than He expects us to? Does God want us to have more respect for life (i.e. fleshly, materialistic life) than He does?

Well, no, not really. There are many cases in the Bible where God calls on His people to impose death penalties for a variety of offenses, from verbal things like cursing the name of God (Lev. 24:16), to things like disobeying your parents (Deut. 21), to picking up sticks on a Saturday (Num. 15). In some cases, God commanded His people to impose the death penalty for things the accused had no control over, like being born (or even just conceived!) as a descendant of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15).

Nor is this absence of respect for life limited to the Old Testament. In Acts 5, for instance, it’s not clear whether God or the Apostle Peter is to be credited (if that’s the word) with immediately slaying an elderly couple who sold some land and donated the proceeds to the church, claiming to have donated the entire sale price when in fact they had kept some for themselves. Granted, Ananias and Saphira were deceptively trying to win some credit they hadn’t earned, but is that sort of thing really a capital offense?  “Respect life” indeed!

Some will say at this point that these examples don’t count. God is wise above all the imaginations of men, and if He did demonstrate a callous disregard for the value of a human life, it’s because it was ultimately destined to bring about the greater good (for values of “good” that are not incompatible with suffering, disease, death, sin, and the eternal damnation of most of God’s children).

But that’s not the point. The point is, what is the real value of fleshly life? Pro-lifers place a much higher value on physical life than God does, if the Bible is correct. Is God wrong about how much a human life should be worth, or are the pro-lifers? Is the pro-life obsession with fleshly life merely a reflection of the materialism at the foundation of their movement?

I’m going to side (roughly) with the pro-lifers on this one. The life of a person should have a much higher value than God gives it in the Bible. That’s not to say that (as materialistic extremists would argue) the person exists from the moment of conception onwards. Far from it: the process of gestation is a process that slowly assembles a person from a large number of component parts, of which the fertilized egg is merely the first and simplest. But once all the pieces are in place, we should value human life too highly to casually toss around death penalties.

 
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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Politics. 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Bible vs Pro-life”

  1. Tacroy Says:

    God is wise above all the imaginations of men, and if He did demonstrate a callous disregard for the value of a human life, it’s because it was ultimately destined to bring about the greater good (for values of “good” that are not incompatible with suffering, disease, death, sin, and the eternal damnation of most of God’s children).

    I really hate that argument, because it shows that the person making it doesn’t believe that God is omnipotent, despite their own claims to the contrary.

    If God can’t bring about the greater good without performing acts that seem evil right now, then He is not omnipotent, by definition. Omni-potent means (roughly) “capable of doing anything”; if He is not capable of doing this, then He is not omnipotent. I’m not sure how that escapes people.

    Another one I hate is the argument from free will: namely, that God must let us choose to do evil, because He doesn’t want to stomp on our free will. And yet they don’t realize that saying an omnipotent being “must” do anything is a contradiction in terms.

    Further, it also leads to the rather unfortunate implication that God doesn’t really care if we’re good people or not; you can choose to do bad, and the only repercussions will come from our society. Try to exceed the speed of light in a vacuum, though, and you’ll find it’s utterly impossible. Why shouldn’t this be the other way around? It would make our lives a lot better.

  2. Jer Says:

    I really hate that argument, because it shows that the person making it doesn’t believe that God is omnipotent, despite their own claims to the contrary.

    I have found over the years that every single argument that attempts to justify the all loving, all knowing, all powerful God in the face of the collection of empirical data we call “reality” falls into one of three camps:

    1) Redefining the word “omnipotent” to mean something other than “all powerful”
    2) Redefining the word “omniscient” to mean something other than “all knowing”
    3) Outright denial that God is all loving and instead insisting that God only loves a subset of humanity and so is only willing to extend his omnipotence and omniscience to this group of Elect that he loves.

    Of these only the folks in the third camp seem to be intellectually aware of what they’re doing. The folks in the first two camps never seem to actually realize that they’re limiting God’s power to explain why he doesn’t act in the way a loving parent actually would.

  3. Yahzi Says:

    You’ve discovered the divine calculus, a form of math where multiplying an attribute by infinity results in zero.

    Infinite mercy = eternal torment
    Infinite love = total abandonment
    Infinite power = inability to act at all

  4. Jer Says:

    Actually, all you need to do to come up with a version of God that comports with empirical reality is to ditch the “all loving” nature of God. If you remove from God the aspect that he loves all of humanity, and instead replace it with at best an indifference to humanity or at worst outright hatred, then the idea of God becomes at least logically consistent. A monster who should be put down for the good of humanity, but at least logically consistent.

  5. John Morales Says:

    Jer,

    Actually, all you need to do to come up with a version of God that comports with empirical reality is to ditch the “all loving” nature of God.

    No.

    A being that is both omniscient and omnipotent is logically contradictory (how could this being falsify its knowledge? :) ).

  6. Harvey Says:

    Once again, it becomes evident that “believers” in either the concept of God or of Scripture are faced with the unreconcilable disonance that exists between the two. Either one is forced to “modifiy” God or “defend” the absolute truth of Scripture. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways (at least if you want to apply even the slightest bit of logic or recognition of reality to the process).

  7. MLee Says:

    Deacon,

    I would like your opinion. Obviously this topic is an example of biblical gray area. So for issues like this:

    Why does god not grant prayers of biblical clarity? I mean why would god not grant full understanding of the entire bible upon such prayers by christians? Why would it be necessary to spend a lifetime studying the bible?

    Furthermore, we’ve had many many generations of christians who have undoubtedly prayed for direction in their spiritual life, why have these people not gotten identical directions from god? Why would god tell one man to be a morman and one to be a catholic, and one to be a baptist? Doesn’t god really talk to them? Don’t all of these believers swear that god has spoken to them?

    Of course, I believe it’s all just their imagination, but surely this question has come up in history, how have the ancient apologists answered this?

  8. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I think “God works in mysterious ways” pretty much covers the traditional range of responses.