Monday, April 11, 2011

Who has the last word?

The topic even He wouldn't have dared brought up that night.

Some of my posts lately, it may be noted, do not necessarily hold true to the original intent of this blog. You may have been thinking for example, that talking about a backpacking trip may be an OK, or perhaps even pleasant dinner table discussion, provided your mouth wasn’t full. I admit such topics lack the controversy and spice that all of my thousands of avid readers hope for week after week, given that the blog’s title suggests such contentious material. Well, in order to stay true to the theme, I felt that it was about time that an issue be addressed that would truly be inappropriate for a dinner table discussion; one that may even cause some to stand up and walk away to avoid the topic and discussion. So here it is: abortion – read on if you dare.

I was inspired to think about this issue anew a few days ago, after Lawrence O’donnell, on his show “The Last Word,” passionately defended federal funding of Planned Parenthood. In tears, O’donnell read the email of a woman who pleaded with him to “yell some sense into [the] people” who desire to prohibit taxpayer money from funding the organization.

First of all, I’d like to reiterate what I said months ago in a previous post. I think that politicizing God and religion is a dangerous road on which to travel. I doubt a single person has ever been converted by the argument that God endorses a particular party – and I believe making such a claim cheapens God, and even borders on blasphemy. That being said, I don’t ever like approaching topics like this with the intent of “getting people riled up,” or to put anyone or any viewpoint down – but I think that on certain occasions, the two things (religion and politics) cannot be separated.

I should also disclose where I come from on the matter (which you may have gathered from some previous posts of mine). I am an evangelical Christian, I do believe in moral absolutes, absolute truth, and the Bible to be the divinely inspired Word of God. I realize that I have lost all credibility with many people on the subject after saying this, but I don’t desire to fool anyone by claiming my worldview doesn’t inform my opinion on the matter. I would only say read on, and acknowledge that your worldview informs yours too (more on that later).

The truth of the matter is, anyone reading this post by this point has already decided where they stand on this matter. I’d be quite silly to think that there is someone out there that is on the fence who is going to read this and end up having their minds changed by what I’m about to say. That being said, you faithful dissenters out there, I don’t think that means that we should avoid engaging each other on this issue. Honest and civil discussion even on controversial issues can lead to a mutual understanding which puts both parties in a better place than where they began.

Now that most people have gotten up from the dinner table, let’s discuss.

I could not help but wonder when I saw O’donnell - a grown man and a seasoned political commentator and debator - in tears while talking about this issue: “How have we come to this point?” How have we come to this point where an individual’s right to choose what they want for their life (and others lives) is so sacred that it can make a grown man cry? Choice has been elevated to such a high level that it is actually immoral of me or anyone to claim that there is some over-arching truth, some law of right and wrong that should inform the choice you should or can make.

Many out there claim that science and religion are irreconcilable – that we live in an age of reason, and that there is no room for the superstitions in the Bible or any other “Holy Book.” But on this issue, no one is debating whether or not an abortion is taking a human life or not. Any scientist would tell you that terminating a fetus at any point after conception is ending the life of a human being – I have not said anything controversial yet. Here’s the controversy: it’s not for us to choose whether that human can live or not.

Martin Luther King once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe King to truly be a gift from God to a society which had things dangerously wrong about what it believed the “moral universe” was. There is so much truth in his statement, and we should always be asking ourselves whether we are living out God’s call for us from Micah 6:8 to “act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” But I think that as a society, we are beginning to bend that arc so as to point toward the "justice" that is an individual’s right to live however he or she wants. Many believe that the next great battle of our time is the battle between conservative fundamentalists and those who believe in sacred individual rights.

What if we are bending this arc too far? At what point does this arc snap, and we are left with no moral universe at all? I don’t think that’s what King would have wanted – and I would venture to say that the Reverend would never have agreed with the claim that an individual’s right to choose the way they live their life trumps and absolute moral law in society which exists whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

I am aware that I am treading on thin ice right now with many people - as any exclusivity claim as to an “absolute” moral law is viewed as immoral in our day. At the end of the day, however, every one of us is making an exclusivity claim. One may say when I open up my Bible to Micah and say “God says here that… [yadi, yadi, yada...]” (A very wise claim from God by the way), that I am no longer credible, because I am citing from a book which only I believe is true and they do not – but have you not at this point “opened up your Bible,” so to speak, in saying that the word-view of moral relativism and individual choice is exclusive and authoritative over what the Bible says? I could just as easily say to you: “Close that book too!” My point is that we should both acknowledge that we both have our “Holy Books”, and rather than yell at each other to close them, let’s just think about why we have them open in the first place.

I think that our postmodern society is not necessarily straying away from the idea that there is in fact a “moral universe” of which King is speaking. No, it is instead just redefining what King meant when he said the words. It no longer means the "moral universe" means saying “this is right,” or “that is wrong” – it means : “I am allowed to make up my own mind about that which is right and wrong.” To those who believe the latter, including Mr. O’donnell, I don’t desire to smack you across the face with the Bible in order to enlighten you with my claims to absolute truth, I would just ask why do you believe what you believe? Why is an individual’s choice so sacred, and why do we get to define what is moral and what is not in our society? Those that believe the former can answer such a question definitively, but I fear that everyone else is simply writing their “Holy Book” as they go along.

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