Thursday, June 24

Pro-Life God? (Part 1)


Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness. – George Santayana

Among conservative pro-life people, it is an article of faith that the God of the Bible is staunchly, reliably, and uncompromisingly pro-life. But like virtually all articles of faith, the dogma of the pro-life God becomes progressively more fragile and untenable the more it is examined. Since many religiously motivated pro-life people take their ethical principles, and the justification thereof, from the Bible -- in fact, all religiously motivated pro-life Christians do -- let's examine whether the biblical text will support the weight of the pro-life ideology. Moreover, the biblical evidence for the pro-life God is equally questionable, regardless of which Testament we examine. This is not an issue of the "Blood 'n' Guts" God of the Old Testament versus the "kinder, gentler" God of the New. As we will see, there is very little difference between the Two.

Since "actions speak louder than words", perhaps the best place to begin examining God's pro-life credentials is the way God actually acts -- i.e., is said to have acted -- during the history of both Israel and the Church. If we refuse to "cherry-pick" and insist on giving all biblical texts equal evidentiary weight, the results are not encouraging for a strict and exclusive pro-life view of God. To save space, I do not describe in detail the following instances of God's sanguinary tendencies, contenting myself with just the biblical citation, and perhaps a couple of sentences of comment:

1. The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:23-28)


Even if there were no righteous people in Sodom, per God's impromptu debate with Abraham, are we really to suppose that there were no children in those cities?  And if there were children, and if God is as implacably opposed to abortion as "pro-life" Christians claim, what are we to make of the consequences for such a vulnerable population?

2. The Plagues of Egypt & Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 11:1–12:36)


Same question as with Sodom and Gomorrah:  what about the kids?

3. Monetary Fine for Causing a Miscarriage (Exodus 21:22-24)


One can only wonder and speculate about what "pro-life" advocates make of this.  They declaim their moral outrage about doctors taking money for ending what they consider to be a human life, yet God asserts that monetary damages suffice to compensate for an act of violence resulting in a miscarriage.  If that life was not (yet) human, i.e., "human from conception", then "pro-life" people cannot claim that human life exists from the moment sperm meets egg.  On the other hand, if that life was human, then God apparently holds human life to be -- quite literally -- cheap.

4. The Conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27)


Admittedly, in this instance God was determined to preserve some especially favorite people, e.g., Rahab the prostitute.  But -- one more time -- one must ask what the consequences were for the children of Jericho -- and for women who were pregnant at the time.

5. The Slaughter of the Amalekites (I Samuel ch. 15)


In this case, Saul, in what God regards as an unrighteous paroxysm of mercy, spares the Amalekite king -- whereupon God sends the prophet Samuel to finish the dirty work of genocide which Saul failed to complete.  The biblical text makes no differentiation between the slaying of combatants and the killing of children, and presumably pregnant women.  Any such distinction resides only in what pro-life advocates, waxing morally squeamish, read into the text -- the better to read it out of the text.

The conventional belief is that the God of the New Testament is a "kinder, gentler" version of "Old Blood 'n' Guts" Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures.  But this misconception results, like all such readings, from a carefully selective reading of the actual text.  But if we decline to "cherry-pick", we find texts that talk about ...

6. The punishment of entire cities / villages for failure to heed the Gospel (Matthew 10:14,15 and Mark 6:11)


The context of these passages makes it clear that Jesus approves of the destruction of such obstreperous and dissident communities.  At least, the Gospel text records no objection on His part. This is one reason -- their name is "Legion", for they are many -- why the Bible and the ideology founded thereon are fundamentally inimical to the Enlightenment values of tolerance and liberty of conscience that are so intrinsically "baked into" the principles of the US Constitution, e.g., the "establishment" and "free exercises" clauses of the First Amendment, to name just two.  (Of course, the Constitution did, however grudgingly, condone slavery -- e.g., the infamous "3/5 clause" -- but, aside from the fact that most of the Framers were themselves slave-owners, this willingness to compromise on the slavery issue was implicitly rationalized after the fact by appeal to the Bible.) You cannot advocate, even implicitly, for the destruction of religiously nonconforming communities and, in the same breath, for freedom of religion.  Still less can you advocate for a "pro-life" stance on "life" issues.

7. The White Horse Rider of the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:11-16)


So much for "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" -- Who leads the armies of heaven on a Christian jihad to exterminate unbelievers, and to generally "kick ass and take names". This text takes Jesus' own maxim about living by the sword and dying by the sword and adds a qualifying coda:  "Of course, it is quite all right to die by the sword, as long as it is the right sword and someone else's sword".

Other examples, too many to even synopsize in a couple of sentences, could be cited that would decisively refute the reputation of the biblical God as a great, cosmic Advocate of the "pro-life" position on "life" issues, abortion in particular. (E.g., Psalm 135:8, 136:10, 137:9; Hosea 9:11-16, 13:16, et al.). This does not prove that the Bible is an "evil" book. Actions become evil only in the presence of realistically cognizable alternatives, and whether or not those exist and were available at the time being considered are factors that are always historically conditioned. The various biblical texts were written at various times over perhaps 3,000 years, and, regardless of when a particular text was written, the biblical text as a whole breathes the air of a middle Bronze Age religious and moral culture. The Bible is very much a book of its time. Even granting that human beings often revert to this same religious and moral culture -- think, e.g., "Balkan war" here -- it is a mark of progress to reflect that, at the very least, we have, through much sanguinary trial-and-error, at least developed the capacity for moral revulsion on those occasions when we do so. Having principles is important, even if we are not consistent in actually following them.

Look for part 2 next week!

Thursday – Thoughtful Thursday, offering something to think about. Often, we are so attached to our own way of thinking that we don’t even consider new things. This will be an offering of something to pull us in deeper. It walks hand in hand with Becca’s “Nurturing Thursday.” While Becca’s prompt is geared towards self-care, this prompt is geared towards self-challenge–perhaps a specific type of self-care! Only by considering new ideas, can we grow. Growth comes in many ways. Through letting go of ideas and moving on, or through challenge that grounds you more firmly and knowledgeably in your current ideas. #thoughtfulness #FindingGod

(c) James Cowles  


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