Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Theology versus religious ideology in abortion debate

The Roman Catholic Church is a well-known opponent of abortion, which does not mean all Catholics agree with their church. But the church has some influence on the issue.
Of arguably greater influence are the evangelical Christian churches. They tend to be strongly pro-life and politically aggressive. Leading up to the Commons vote, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which boasts two million members, was among the organizations that lobbied hard for the motion.
Evangelical Christians – and this is of course a generalization – tend to live in rural and suburban areas, the Conservative heartland. They tend to have a black-and-white, good-and-evil view of religious doctrine and of the world in general, which fits rather nicely with how the Harper government sees the world.
Recent speeches by Mr. Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in New York were quite radical by the standards of traditional Canadian foreign policy, although their messages would be compatible with evangelical Christianity’s view of the world. In the speeches, they painted the world in good-guy/bad-guy terms, full of threats and dangers, whereas as Steven Pinker has shown in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, we live in a time of remarkable peace and relative stability. None of the great powers threatens the others; none wishes to change boundaries. (from Jeffrey Simpson's piece, "Evangelical Christians find a home in Conservative politics," Globe and Mail October 10, 2012, below)
Packaging the issue of abortion (or any other issue, for that matter) in a yes-no binary equation is like trying to fit a 300 pound body into a size 36 men's suit.
It just will not fit!
And then to presume to know the will of God in the attempt is presumptuously preposterous.
Aphoristic theology, like cracker-barrel aphoristic home-spun philosophy, makes a sweet treat, much like the 'cracker-jack' of the snack shelf. It satisfies the palate of those refusing real nourishment; it panders to the quick fix, the bumper-sticker, the sound byte, the 'tweet' and the job of the selling of a faith perspective to a neophyte to the fold. And it can be very satisfying to the neophyte who is confused, distraught, discombobulated and depressed with the overwhelming weight of the complexity of his troubles.
Unfortunately, like the sugar-fix of the cracker-jack, it really does not "last" or feed the body, the soul or the mind and spirit of the person.
And in the process, it reduces the 'word of God' to another simple rule, rather than another painful struggle with all of the facts, all of the pain, all of the risks and all of the potentials of the situation, usually after a sexual encounter that might be termed accidental, unfortunate, unintended, or unplanned.
It is the sex outside the rules that is really on trial, in many cases where abortion is opposed. And, we all know that sex outside the "rules" (marriage, consecrated with the bounds of a sacred sanctuary) abounds around the world.
Anyone who has had an abortion will live with the decision, wondering what alternative outcomes might have been. No one, in good conscience, in a healthy state of mind, body and spirit, and in circumstances supportive of raising a healthy child, would easily choose to have an abortion. However, we all know that conception occurs sometimes when it is least expected, and least welcome, from the perspective of healthy nurture for the child. In fact, sometimes an unwanted pregnancy can and does significantly harm the emotional (and spiritual health) of the mother, not to mention the father who is often removed or segregated from the locus of the decision.
To wrestle with the complications, within a time frame that may or may not coincide with the mental state of the mother, with the support of medical and social and possibly spiritual professionals, with the open option of a therapeutic abortion, is a far better scenario than one that is foreclosed to that option, a state preferred by all Roman Catholics loyal to church teachings, and certainly to evangelicals.
Unfortunately, both groups take a similar "unalterably opposed" position on gays, once again inflicting their "theology" or rather their religious ideology, on others.
And therein lies the rub: the difference between a theology and a religious ideology.
The former posits a search for and a study of the relationship between person and God; the latter posits a political position with the fanaticism of a political ideologue. And with the second, there is almost invariably no discussion, no negotiation, no compromise, no tolerance of the other, and no respect or agape love for those who hold a view that supports a woman's right to choose, in a healthy framework of options.
Religious ideology, just as political ideology, is a brittle, sharp, uncontestable and self-righteous state of both mind and spirit. It tolerates nor harbours no debate, no respectful opposition, no greynesses, and clings to its views tenaciously.
For some, that demonstrates a level of conviction and commitment, and for those people, they may be so attracted to that conviction, in their search for "answers" to their life's conundrums, that the become new converts.
However, another perspective on such "conviction and commitment" is one that characterizes it as unfiltered, untested and untestable maxims, all of which negate the kind of God who/which would have disciples struggle with confusion, with complexity, with ambiguity, with uncertainty and with revisiting our decisions.
For some of us, any God worthy of the name, the power and the grace is one who supports and sustains each of us in our darkest struggles, and supports our resistance to precluding those dark 'nights of the soul' with aphorisms, no matter from which pulpit, including the Vatican.
Building and sustaining a government with the votes of Roman Catholics and evangelicals assures the country of a government not only capable but eager to embrace simplistic, aphoristic, bumper-sticker reductionistic policies, thereby generating even more base support among those who hold similar ways of viewing the world, of thinking and clearly of sending cheques to Conservative party headquarters.
Unfortunately, while that camp may be growing, there are small voices, like this one, in the wilderness, crying out for a different God, a different theology, a different view of the complexity of the world, of human beings, and for a government that embraces the complexities without fear or favour, and that embrace would include recognition of the importance of the dark nights of all souls, without needing to eliminate them, or the pain that accompanies them.
It is a very old, honoured and worthy tradition of Christian spirituality to embrace and to be embraced by the arms of a God who holds us when we cannot walk, cannot think clearly, cannot decide rationally and yet knows that with help, we are all doing our best to make the best decisions possible including one of the most difficult, to abort a fetus, however imperfect they may seem to our 'superior' christian brothers and sisters.
Evangelical Christians find a home in Conservative politics
By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, October 10, 2012
We in what is called the “mainstream” media tend to be secularists who either consider religion to be a private matter or have no religious faith at all. We tend therefore to minimize or miss the importance of religion in politics, especially Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party.
A recent vote on a Conservative backbencher’s motion to let a Commons committee ponder when human life begins plunged the House of Commons briefly again into the question of abortion. More than half of the Conservative caucus, including eight cabinet ministers, voted for the motion, which presumably meant they wanted the country’s abortion laws and practices tightened.
The Prime Minister had made it clear he did not favour the motion; indeed, he has said abortion law is settled. So, even if the matter had gone to committee, it would have died there, killed by NDP and Liberal MPs and Mr. Harper’s orders. Still, the abortion motion showed how powerful religion remains as a force in the Conservative Party. And it suited the party to have the motion debated, as a nod to its core supporters.
Abortion can be divorced from religion. People without a religious bone in their bodies can have strong views on the matter. On the pro-life (or anti-abortion, if you prefer) side, however, are churches that campaign vigorously against abortion, and Conservative MPs and candidates who, far from the mainstream media spotlight, use their pro-life/anti-abortion views in and between election campaigns.
The Roman Catholic Church is a well-known opponent of abortion, which does not mean all Catholics agree with their church. But the church has some influence on the issue.
Of arguably greater influence are the evangelical Christian churches. They tend to be strongly pro-life and politically aggressive. Leading up to the Commons vote, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which boasts two million members, was among the organizations that lobbied hard for the motion.
Evangelical Christians – and this is of course a generalization – tend to live in rural and suburban areas, the Conservative heartland. They tend to have a black-and-white, good-and-evil view of religious doctrine and of the world in general, which fits rather nicely with how the Harper government sees the world.
Recent speeches by Mr. Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in New York were quite radical by the standards of traditional Canadian foreign policy, although their messages would be compatible with evangelical Christianity’s view of the world. In the speeches, they painted the world in good-guy/bad-guy terms, full of threats and dangers, whereas as Steven Pinker has shown in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, we live in a time of remarkable peace and relative stability. None of the great powers threatens the others; none wishes to change boundaries.
One threat is that of Islamic jihadism, a fringe group within Islam – albeit a dangerous one. A regional threat revolves around Israel’s position in the Middle East. The Harper Tories have become the world’s most unfettered supporters of the Netanyahu government, a position that is deeply popular with evangelical Christian doctrine. Outside Jews themselves, evangelicals tend to be Israel’s most uncritical supporters.
Even the United Nations, which the Harper government detests and portrays as a nest of dictatorships and thugs, actually counts a strong majority of its members as democracies. As Freedom House in Washington has shown, democracies (some admittedly flawed) are now by far the majority of countries in the world. No matter. For the Harperites, the UN is best flayed and neglected, and the party base loves it.
Evangelicals appear to be gaining adherents, while traditional Protestant denominations such as the United Church and the Anglican Church are losing members. The Social Gospelers who married social reform with religion and gravitated to the CCF and NDP – men such as Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles and, more recently, Bill Blaikie – are all but extinct in the modern NDP.
Evangelicals’ support for the Conservatives is tremendously helpful in the form of financial contributions and votes. Only occasionally does their presence make itself felt, as in the abortion debate, usually without much direct effect. But indirectly, their view contributes to how the Conservatives see the world and act within it.


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