A Dialogue with Dave on Abortion, Religion, and the Sacred Mystery of the Smile a Baby Makes When It Farts
posted by Bathus
On Jen's "Fair-haired, but strangely unbalanced" blog, I ran across the following lines in a comment penned by DaveSplash:
(Thanks, Jen, for hosting my dialogue with Dave.)
I am pro-choice. While I find abortion to be a somewhat unsettling concept, and would not want my wife, girlfriend, daughter, or sister to have one, I don't think that the government can make that decision for everyone ((italics added). It is a very personal and difficult choice to make, and a woman's privacy should be respected. She should not be taunted, threatened, or harassed because she is not ready at that time to have a child.DaveSplash's comment about abortion is perfectly unoriginal--the same mild-sounding blather you can elicit in ten seconds from "sensitive modern males" who know better than to offend the opinions of the liberated women they want to bed down with. (Definition of a sensitive modern male: "He drives you to the abortion clinic and is less than five minutes late to pick you up when it's over.") The only thing that makes DaveSplash's opinion interesting is how well it captures the conventional, ubiquitous, "moderate" pro-choice view. For that reason alone, it enticed the following reply from yours truly:
These days that view wears the veneer of enlightened moderation, yet in 1855, a similarly "enlightened" person would have written:DaveSplash's reply was predictably indignant:
"I am pro-choice when it comes to slavery. While I find slavery to be a somewhat unsettling concept, and would not want my wife, girlfriend, daughter, or sister to own one, I don't think that the government can make that decision for everyone. It is a very personal and difficult choice to make, and a slaveowner's privacy should be respected. A slaveowner should not be taunted, threatened, or harassed because he is not ready at that time to give up his slaves."
The purpose of the above comparison is to point out that the easiest way to deny a class of people their rights, either to life or to liberty, is simply to ignore their humanity: The defenders of slavery claimed that "negroes" were not sufficiently human to be entitled to a right to freedom. Today, the defenders of abortion claim that a child in the womb (a "fetus") is not sufficiently human to be entitled to a right to life itself.
Beginning from the argument that "negroes" were not really human like the rest of us, slavery was further defended on the grounds that ending slavery would cause hardship to slaveowners. Beginning from the argument that a "fetus" is not really human like the rest of us, abortion is further defended on the grounds that ending abortion would cause hardship to pregnant women.
Beginning from the argument that "negroes" were not really human like the rest of us, slavery was further defended on grounds that "negroes" were not capable of taking care of themselves and would have miserable lives if they were allowed to be free. Beginning from the argument that a "fetus" is not really human like the rest of us, abortion is further defended on the grounds that a "fetus" is not capable of taking care of itself and would have a miserable life if it were allowed to be born.
Beginning from the argument that "negroes" were not really autonomous humans like the rest of us, but belonged to the slaveowner, slavery was further defended on grounds that the government should not be allowed to interfere with what people do with their own property (conveniently ignoring the fact that there were a multitude of other ways the government rightly interfered with what people did with their property). Beginning from the argument that a "fetus" is not really an autonomous human like the rest of us, but belongs to the mother as a part of her body, abortion is further defended on the grounds that the government should not be allowed to interfere with what a person does with his or her own body (conveniently ignoring the fact that there are a multitude of other ways the government rightly interferes with what people do with their bodies).
If "squishily" pro-choice people like DaveSplash had lived in 1855, their ever-so-moderate slogan would have been: "I wouldn't have a slave myself, but I would never interfere with someone else's right to have one."
It is astounding to me that anyone could say that abortion is a "somewhat unsettling concept." It seems me that, depending on your concept of human life, abortion either has to be thoroughly unsettling or not at all unsettling. Either you think a baby in the womb is like a hangnail or you think that it possess at least some spark of humanity. If you believe the former, then the "tissue" can be gotten rid of without the slightest qualm, and there's nothing to be unsettled about at all. But if you believe the latter, then the destruction of that spark of humanity must be terribly unsettling even if you eventually still come down on the pro-choice side. The middling position of being only somewhat unsettled about the destruction of innocent human life is occupied only by those who, feigning virtuous moderation, wish to ignore what's at stake.
Adeimantus -- apparently you are simply incapable of doing anything but bashing me. Well, no big deal. Your attempt to turn this discussion to something other than what it was actually about is a nice trick (you must be a lawyer). There is nothing at all inconsistent about being personally opposed to abortion, but thinking that others should be allowed to choose for themselves. That is called freedom.In fairness to DaveSplash, I must disclose that I have not reproduced his comments in full because the remainder lacked any substance worth repeating and was, as DaveSplash later admitted, simply misdirected. (Here's the link to Dave's full comment, so you can judge for yourself.) But I felt I should try to cure DaveSplash of the common and condescending "liberal" fantasy that opinions opposing abortion are the result of religious brainwashing. And so I replied:
I don't believe life begins at conception. In all honesty, I'm not certain when "life" technically begins. Unlike you, I can be honest about it. I just don't know. My opinion is no more right or wrong than yours. . . .
I won't go any further with this discussion because it will get too nasty and personal. Your opinions are clearly based on your religious beliefs (emphasis added). I respectfully disagree with them. I will not bash you in such a way. By saying it is "somewhat unsettling" I was referring to the trauma one must go through in finding out that you are pregnant, and having to make such a difficult decision. I do not, and cannot know, what that would be like. The best I, as a man, can figure is that it would be...somewhat unsettling.
So, go on thinking what you want to about me or my positions. But, you are incredibly disingenious to claim that if I came down harder on one side of the argument as you frame it, then I'd be ok.
Dave, I am sorry you think I am "bashing" you. What's being bashed is not you but your ideas. I have no doubt that you are a very nice fellow. I just think you have some mistaken ideas.I'll let you know if DaveSplash comes up with a reply, if it's worth sharing. (But don't feel sorry for DaveSplash that his views are being represented unfairly in a forum where he has no means to defend himself. He can post a comment below if he so wishes. And he has his own blog, aptly titled "that dave guy," where he can be as nasty to me as he likes.)
Your assumption that my view of abortion is based on religious beliefs misses the mark. My religion is pretty much a mystery, even to me! If getting to heaven depends on belonging to a religion, then I'll meet you in hell.
Here's the extent of my "religious" beliefs.
1. I believe in a Supreme Being who created this existence, and therefore created you and me, either directly or indirectly. I am pretty confident of this first belief, based on what seem to me to be very rational arguments, but it still remains "only" a belief.
2. I have no idea how much, if any, role the Supreme Being plays directly in everyday events on this earth. But I do think the Supreme Being had a plan when he set this top spinning. Unfortunately, the workings of that plan are far beyond my comprehension. But I think I see little pieces of the plan everywhere I look, in the veins on a leaf and in the smile a baby makes when it farts.
3. I believe the Supreme Being is good and his plan is good. This belief is based not so much on theoretical arguments but more on my actual experience of the goodness of life itself. (Some days, I do have my doubts.)
4. I also believe, with less confidence, in the immortality of the human soul. I pray that I will get to see my mom again some day, but maybe I believe in the immortal soul because I am too weak to accept that she is gone from us for good.
5. I believe that we are morally obliged to do good things and to make beautiful things as much as we can and to learn as much as we can about life because the Supreme Being put in us such wonderful abilities to think, to love, and to create. I am not sure this is a religious belief, though it is informed by my belief that the life the Supreme Being gave me is good and beautiful, so I probably ought to try to spread the favor so far as I can.
Beyond that, for me religious things are a complete mystery. If you can extrapolate my views on abortion out of the five beliefs listed above, then go for it.
No, I am not so arrogant as to say I "know" when life begins. I never said I knew the answer to that question. But I do have some "beliefs" about it. Notice the difference between the word "know" and "believe."
I know the difference between "knowing" something and "believing" something. I know that when we lack knowledge, such as on the question of when life begins, then we should proceed with great caution, erring always on the side of life, especially when that life (if it is life) is the life most innocent, most vulnerable, and most unable to protect itself.
So if I believe there is a rational possibility that a fetus is a human life, then that belief, though it is only a belief, is in that instance as compelling as if I possessed divine knowledge itself.
On judgment day, (and here I use the words "judgment day" only metaphorically lest you think I am a religious kook), it will not be sufficient to say:
"I really didn't know for sure if those fetuses were living human beings or not. Since I wasn't positive about whether they were human beings or not, I figured it was acceptable if other people wanted to go ahead and kill off millions of them, just so long as I didn't dip my own hands into the blood. So keep in mind, I never killed any fetuses with my own hands. . . . Well, okay, maybe I did fight against the people who were trying to stop the slaughter. But I gotta tell you, I was 'somewhat troubled' about it the whole time."
(Thanks, Jen, for hosting my dialogue with Dave.)