Monday, October 20, 2008

Why Abortion? The Politicization of Biblical Misogynism

With South Dakota's likely passage and coming Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade on the way, I wonder to myself, why is this such an issue to people? I understand to the extent that coming from a Catholic family, and being brainwashed by organized religion growing up, the motivation for the hatred of women from Christianity is as natural as it is despicable. It is hardly an accident that the greatest critics of feminism and women's rights, in the US and rural Afghanistan, tend to emanate from religious quarters. What is not understandable is the obsession with abortion.

There is nothing expressly denouncing abortion in the Christian Bible. There are a few references to the skygod knowing someone in his mother's womb, but that is not the same as saying that you are a living person while in the state of being a fetus.

Did not He who made me in the womb make him, And the same one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:15)
Yet Thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother's breasts. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou hast been my God from my mother's womb. (Psalms 22:9-10)
The closest the Bible ever comes to addressing the issue is an Old Testament reference to punishing someone under the law for causing a pregnant woman to miscarry her fetus.
And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life. (Exodus 21:22-23)
The problem is that abortion specifically is never mentioned. Indeed, causing a miscarriage is deemed a non-capital (i.e., non-murder) offense punishable by a fine (and a "life for a life" case applied only when the mother dies). Causing a miscarriage is not abortion, which was a common practice in ancient times. Tacitus wrote during that period of the wealthy women of Rome having abortions (and not being punished for it). More specifically, the Judaic laws, which the Old Testament bases itself from, never treated abortion is a form of infanticide (but at most a finable offense, or the equivalent to property damage).

This might sound like semantics. It is not. There are numerous quotes in the Bible denouncing homosexuality (from commands to commit mass murder in the Book of Leviticus, to blaming gays for causing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to Paul's comparison of gays to being drunkards and hell-bound sinners).
If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
This explains why homosexuality was outlawed once Christianity supplanted paganism in the West, to which homosexuality was treated as a criminal act until very recent times (and a capital offense, punishable by hanging in England until the 19th century [and expressly done for religious reasons]). Throughout the Middle Ages, being a suspected lesbian could land one before the Inquisition, accused of witchery and a possible meeting with a torch crew. I do not know of a single doctor in the history of Christendom who was burned at the stake for performing an abortion (and this is a practice that goes back long before it became a political issue to religious people in the 1970s).

Could it possibly be that organized religion responds the way that it does out of a genuine concern for the health and life status of the fetus? This would seem unusual, considering how life was deemed less than worthy for non-believers throughout the history of Christianity, into modern times. Witches, atheists, Jews, gays and lesbians had lives deemed beyond the pale of consideration to many a Christian since Constantine. Today's Christians that populate the body politic of this country are some of the strongest supporters of having the mechanized right to kill other humans as expeditiously as possible. And I think I need not remind the Southern Baptist Convention's view on capital punishment (or even slavery and segregation until the 1990s). True, there are some Christians who actually take the Commandment not to kill seriously, extending their consideration of life to include the fetus and all other living matter, but these people are frankly few and far between. And even within my own Church, when was the last time a Catholic archbishop in this country verbally denounced any Republican politician for favoring a "culture of death" because of their support for the death penalty?

So, if the right to life is not a real concern, what is? At the end of the day, it has to be the fear of women's birth canals that drives their view. Those areas of the Scriptures that mention women make it clear a female's place in this world (and it is not as equals). Be it commanding women to submit to their husbands, accusing women of causing the downfall of man in the Garden of Eden, which the skygod "punished" all women by "cursing" them with periods and childbirth, women are an inferior lot in Christianity.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:16)
I have never met a liberal Christian who has been able to explain away the Book of Genesis's accounts of these stories (or events, depending on one's level of belief). And regardless of what our brethren in the mainline Protestant churches like to say, the New Testament makes it very clear that women are not to be allowed positions of leadership (indeed, they are commanded to remain silent).
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
No one with an attitude towards women like this can ever see them as anything less than breeding material. It may sound harsh, but ask yourself: where are the women in positions of leadership in the Catholic Church or even most of the popular churches in the US?


The greatest threat of feminism over the past two centuries has been in the area of reproduction. The prescription of gender roles is a preoccupation in Christianity, as much as it is in Islam and Judaism (or at least the more orthodox forms of these religions). From the beginning, the purpose of marriage in the Scripture was designed to promote childbirth.

But something happened on the way of subordinating half of the population to the kitchen and bedroom. Modernity and all of its components, urbanization, capitalism, individualism, democracy, etc. It freed women up from the bondage of being coerced to accept enslavement. Just as important was the technological advent of certain innovations like the washer and dryer (it sounds antiquated now, but hand washing was a near fulltime job) and most vitally the birth control pill. By freeing up time and giving control over reproduction to the individual female, it helped lead to what would become the women's rights movement, the demand for women to control their reproductive freedom to choosing whether or not to have an abortion, and ultimately its legalization. To someone who thinks women should be silent in church, pregnant at home, and submissive in marriage, there can be no greater enemy.

Thus, the opposition to abortion, while not Biblical, is based on the Biblical principles of making sure women remain what they were for thousands of years--obedient mothers and wives. If you doubt this, ask Sarah Palin what she thinks of legislating equal pay for equal work. She will oppose that, but then tell us that she represents women, except the ones who are raped and impregnated, of course. For that matter, ask the Concerned Women of America whether the "mommy wars" would be better resolved if women just stopped working and stayed at home. You would be surprised how many Laura Schlessingers are out there--conservative, working women who think other working women should be at home, raising their children (while they leave theirs to nannies and family members). They are the ultimate free riders and beneficiaries of a movement they dislike (but continue to profit from). It is a contradiction that each and every one of them must realize at some level. A violation of their own expressed principles, but this has never been a problem in Christianity. After all, invading countries that kill a quarter a million people can be deemed "God's will," but women having the right to decide when to have a child is murder.

But why? Is controlling women this important? If you look at the illiberalism and anti-feminist backlash in the US, one needs to take a global perspective to understand that religious anti-modernism is hardly a phenomenon of the West. Most of what constitutes human rights violations throughout the world are predominantly inflicted against women, in ways that often far exceed anything that transpires in a Western democracy. The greatest opponents of the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty that seeks a global ban on gender bias, are not just the Sarah Palins in the US, but their faith-based colleagues in the madrassas of the Islamic world (which is why Saudi Arabia has been one of the lead opponents of CEDAW, alongside Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and the US). To be sure, the fashion industry in the West objectifies the female body type, a subject of concern for many women's rights advocates (at least in the West), but when you live in a place where even the sight of your hair is seen as a potential threat to male supremacy (notice the beauty burden for women is nearly universal as targets of ecclesiastical authority) it is difficult to even conjure a discourse that would include women as anything other than second class human beings.

In the end, the opposition to abortion, like to women's rights, is one based more on fear--the fear of what a free woman in our society represents to a person who believes they will go to a bad place after they die, if they do not successfully compel society to live the values of those who oppose such freedom. And it is about freedom. For them, though, it is a freedom to impose, as one cannot prescribe gender roles in a secular modern society without imposition of some kind. And as the 2004 elections has shown, when people believe that their innermost held values are under threat (either by women's reproductive choice or gays and lesbians possibly getting married), the response to such perceived threats can be more easily manufactured, not the least by those who need uncostly political allies.

This uncostly ideological opiate is the convenience of abortion, as a political issue, and it is why it is an issue in our polity. What should not be an issue to any normal democratic country is one here because we are not a normal democratic country and never have been. We are a Constitutional republic with democratic tendencies, but democratic tendencies subject to immoderate opposition to those tendencies when they violate either the ethos of stockholders and slaveholders (the resolution of which necessitated a civil war), or to those who believe they saw their neighbors practicing witchcraft in Salem. It is the combination of the modern and anti-modern strains of our society that makes us the most interesting of all democracies and yet dangerous to those who seek to maintain their status as full citizens. With regards to women's reproductive choice, we shall see, but considering the elevation of Mr. Roberts and Alito to our Supreme Court (both avowed opponents of abortion and one of them replacing a pro-choice retiree), I am not very confident of what will take place in the next few years.

Assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned (and that is a huge assumption even now), reproductive choice will go back to the states, and from this two Americas will emerge. The secular, liberal America (the one with the democratic tendencies) on the coasts and upper parts of the Midwest, and the illiberal, mostly religious America in the South and lower parts of the Midwest (much like the lines that are starting to develop on the issue of gay marriage). Our culture wars will then become local issues for the believers in the hereafter, and the issue of abortion (which until now has been one of national and only periodically a state concern) will devolve into a state, county, and possibly municipal matter. One can only be thankful that Appomattox prevented the resolution of slavery in this manner.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"There is nothing expressly denouncing abortion in the Christian Bible. There are a few references to the skygod knowing someone in his mother's womb, but that is not the same as saying that you are a living human being while in the state of being a fetus."


You also need to cite passages like Psalm 58:3 which speaks of sinners speaking lies from the womb. Or passages like Psalm 139.

There are passages that say thou shall not murder. That would cover murdering a child in the womb.

If you want to go with the argument nothing says don't kill the person in the womb, on the other hand, then I can point out nothing says do not murder an elderly person. Would that then prove that the Bible teach it is ok to murder an elderly person? Of course not!

Yes, I know you deny the living aspect of the fetus. But pro-lifers don't, since your argument is talking past them.

The problem with arguing the person in the womb is not a person but property is besides of how close it is to how Dred Scott decision is on blacks on what constitutes a person, is that it denies biology 101 on what constitutes a person.

"Tacitus wrote during that period of the wealthy women of Rome having abortions (and not being punished for it)."

You also might like to mention pagan Romans and Greeks also killed infants AFTER they were born, as well.

And your attempt to point out how Christians today are for the death penalty also falls flat for these reasons: 1) not every Christian pro-lifer is for the death penalty, and 2) you misrepresented the pro-life position.

The pro-life position opposes murder of innocent people. Executing serial killers is not murdering innocent people.

In fact, support for the death penalty from churches is based on that it is reserved for people who violate the image of God in others by killing them, so they should be punished for the same. See God's covenant with Noah, on the shedding of blood of those who shed blood first.

I for one am NOT for the death penalty since I believe we are under the new covenant now, and that if people want to support the death penalty based on the OT, they also need to be consistent and use the two or three or more witnesses rule for that.

I was just pointing out you badly misrepresented the pro-life position, when you make the statements you did about, whether the pro-lifers are for the death penalty or not.

"No one with an attitude towards women like this can ever see them as anything less than breeding material. It may sound harsh, but ask yourself: where are the women in positions of leadership in the Catholic Church or even most of the popular churches in the US?"

That is why I chuckle when you would even appeal to the Bible for support in favor of abortion when you don't believe a word of it, but pick and choose from it.

Churches that are conservative tend to see in spiritual matters men are the leaders. But they also see leadership in servanthood terms where men cannot be tyrants over those they are called to lead, be it churches or families.

Churches, however, based on what they feel are biblical, don't see that forbid women from getting jobs or whatever.

Since you want to appeal to Paul to show how sexist the Bible is, you failed to mention other things Paul said, like men are to treat their wives as themselves, and even said both husbands and wives are to submit to one another. Or that the believing wife sanctifies the unbelieving husband, and the believing husband sanctifies the unbelieving wife.

Paul was not in favor of husbands treating their wives like property.

The same can't be said about abortionists in regards to how they treat kids (as property).


"The greatest threat of feminism over the past two centuries has been in the area of reproduction. The prescription of gender roles is an preoccupation in Christianity, as much as it is in Islam and Judaism (or at least the more orthodox forms of these religions). From the beginning, the purpose of marriage in the Scripture was designed to promote childbirth."

You got one thing right, that is reproduction issue is threat to women's rights. What you got wrong is to claim pro-life view in those centuries was the threat. Abortion was the threat. Why do you think the classical feminists like Anthony and Stanton hated abortion as both murderous and threat to womanhood?

You got a very incomplete view of what the Bible teaches on marriage. True, the Bible promotes marriage for purpose of having children, or "bearing fruit." But that is not the only reason. Marriage is also is to be centered on love between husband and wife. I suggest you read song of Solomon.

"Thus, the opposition to abortion, while not Biblical, is based on the Biblical principles of making sure women remain what they were for thousands of years--obedient mothers and wives."

When you don't have actual quotes or facts on what today's pro-lifers believe, you sure make things up.

Pro-lifers are not just pro-lifers on abortion issue. There are other issues as well such as murdering the elderly. And so on.

Pro-lifers also include non-religious folks as well, including women. What do you do with them?

Pro-lifers believe life begins in the womb, and that our rights do not extend to murdering innocent people, be it women, men, young or old, in the womb or out of the womb. Period.

Pro-lifers also protest against gender selections where abortions are involved in places like China.

The charges of opposition to abortion today by Christians are only for keeping women at home are sleazy and without merit.

"They are the ultimate free riders and beneficiaries of a movement they dislike (but continue to profit from). It is a contradiction that each and every one of them must realize at some level."

I guess by stereotyping Christians, who are conservatives, you can get people to become as bigoted as you are against them.

You might be thinking in terms of Christian conservatives from the 1800s or the 1900s but you sure are not dealing with the average Christian conservative, male or female, in the 21st century, who have no problems with women in the workforce, women in positions of authority in the workforce, and women getting fair pay based on performance. Get a new line of reasoning. It is old and tired. Not to mention false and sleazy tactic of the left.

Conservative feminists that I know of are thankful for what they got from their predecessors, but that does not mean they have to agree with them on everything.

If you want to moan about how wicked they are for that, then you might like to do the same with the earliest feminists who are not exactly fans of abortion either.

TA said...

"There are passages that say thou shall not murder. That would cover murdering a child in the womb."

You're not going to find this in the Bible, at least with regards to abortion. The closest that exists is on the issue of forced miscarriage (and even then the eye-for-eye, life-for-a-life principle only applies to the mother, not the fetus). Even by the standards of the Old Testament, the Torah, abortion was never treated as murder, anymore than a forced miscarriage was (which was a finable offense, equivalent to property damage, under Judaic law), and your friends in the New Testament never bothered with the issue, either.

"Conservative feminists that I know of are thankful for what they got from their predecessors, but that does not mean they have to agree with them on everything."

I will take conservative "feminists" seriously the day they actually call themselves feminists and begin talking like them, instead of just religious conservatives obsessed with issues like abortion, birth control, and rationalizing why gays should not be treated as full citizens (when their own Bible commands for them to be physically exterminated). Ask a "conservative feminist" his/her view on legislating equal pay, the ERA, and the Violence Against Women's Act, and you will see just how anti-feminist such conservatives truly are. That is the whole point of the post. Abortion is just a trojan horse.

"That is why I chuckle when you would even appeal to the Bible for support in favor of abortion when you don't believe a word of it, but pick and choose from it."

I don't look to the Bible for support on abortion. Just the opposite. I have no doubts that people who believe in this nonsense oppose abortion and look for convoluted interpretations from their most favored book to justify their position. I only use the Bible's lack of prohibition on abortion to exemplify how it did not forbid such a practice as vociferously as being gay or a woman in a church and marriage, and that is beyond doubt. Again, outside of about a eight or so passages about knowing someone in their womb, you're not going to find your imaginary friend anywhere declaring abortion to be murder. The Jews, the people who you ripped your religion off from, never punished it that way even in the Old Testament. The opposition to abortion is a Biblical product of something much deeper, which is the Scripture's overall paternalistic attitude of subordinating women to silent, obedient wives (which you cannot dispute, if you take seriously what Gen. 3:16 tells you to do in your relationship with men).

"The charges of opposition to abortion today by Christians are only for keeping women at home are sleazy and without merit."

Putting aside the fact your own Scriptures commands women to submit to their husbands and remain silent in church, while being collectively blamed as a group for original sin and "cursed" by their beloved male creator with periods and childbirth (again, that is what the book you think is the literal of word of your skygod declares), you only need to look at your fellow religionists on the issue of the role of women in society to see what they really think. Your comrades in morality like Dr. Schlessinger even goes so far as to berate women who work during the first years of their childrens' lives, stating them to be unfit mothers. Notice, you never see such ascriptions or commands from the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church for the fathers. There's a reason for that, and even you deep down know why (and yes, it is because of the gendered expectations for how a woman in the minds of many should behave [basically, as the primary caregiver, unequal spouse, and underpaid worker]).

The day I see The Vatican or Chuck Dobson stressing these issues, then I might take more seriously anything they have to say on what should otherwise be peripheral matters like reproductive choice. Until then, I will simply take them and the words of their otherworldly advocates in the pages of their own book for what they say.