Murder and Abortion

June 3, 2009

The recent murder of an abortion provider by a Christianist terrorist (I say ‘Christianist’ because the alleged murderer is no follower of Christ and because, like ‘Islamist’ terrorists, he seeks to impose his religious values on others through violence)–this person presumably justifies his act by feeling that he’s only murdered a murderer. The traditional conservative Christian view is that the fetus is a human being and therefore that abortion is murder.

However, the Bible is quite clear on this point: the fetus is not a human being. Or, more accurately, we become human beings when we draw our first breath, not when a human egg is fertilized. And, of course, we draw our first breath at birth. Genesis 2:7 states this quite clearly:

“then the LORD God formed man [adamah] from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

At the other end of life, the direct connection between human life and breath is reconfirmed by John 19:30, the account of Jesus’ death:

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”

In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for ‘spirit’ and for ‘breath’ are the same. Jesus ‘gave up his spirit’ when he breathed his last.

Thus Christians who would recriminalize abortion on grounds that abortion is murder base their argument, not on biblical testimony, but on science. The Bible is actually rather sanguine sometimes about murdering children. Leviticus allows fathers to kill disobedient sons, Jephthah was required to murder his daughter in order to join the Israelite tribal confederation, and, of course, God the Father required the murder of his only son as propitiation for the sins of the world, according to Paul.

It’s also ironic that conservative Christians rely on the microcosm of developmental biological science (embryology and related fields) to define human life over and against the Bible’s creation story when they categorically reject developmental biological science in the macrocosm (evolution) as the demonstrably verifiable story of creation.

Let me be clear, though: I am sympathetic to the idea that the fetus has special moral status. Somewhere in the development of the fetus, it crosses a line between being a mass of dividing cells and being, if not fully human, at least so close as to be morally indistinguishable. I do not know where that line is. Any attempt to nail it down would be arbitrary, it seems to me. I only point to the contradictions in the fundamental argument against abortion as murder; it’s just not biblical.

4 Responses to “Murder and Abortion”

  1. Kate L Says:

    Part of your argument plays right into the hands of those who are for capital punishment.
    The argument between pro life and pro choice boils down to when life begins. Since we do not have emperical proof or Godly Word we cannot know. I believe life begins with the first breath and ends when the heart stops. My personal belief is a contradiction because a fetus has a heartbeat and no breath, a brain dead individual can continue to “breath” for a brief period after the heart stops effectively beating.
    Many non Christians and humanists, among others, have made up their minds and will not be swayed. They seek “proof” wherever they can fnd it whether the proof is misunderstood science, or religion.
    I believe the whole argument is a political hot potato that is used to distract people from other crimes and injustices such as capital punishment, lack of access to medical care, war etc..

    • biblemonster Says:

      I agree, Kate, that the abortion debate often distracts people from meaningful discussion of other important issues and it’s not clear to me how it gained such importance. I’m not sure about the capital punishment thing, though. I think you’re going to have to explain that to me.

      As to “when life begins,” is seems to me the question is, when does “humanity” begin. Clearly “life” begins even before it begins, since both sperm and egg are alive before fertilization. But when does a fetus become a human being? What defines human life?

  2. forrest curo Says:

    I just found this site (& wish there was more here.)

    Clearly, the issue is whether or not to use force (legal or otherwise) to prevent somebody else having an abortion. Most everyone would agree that for anyone (for strong reasons or otherwise) having to close out the potential of initiating a new human life is sad. But for anyone who knows that our spirit comes from God, it seems unlikely that God could be prevented, in any manner, from somehow incarnating any personality S/He wished.

    (I have an virtual urge to put a bumper sticker on the car I no longer have: “Save the unborn chickens”, illustrated perhaps with a picture of an egg carton. But it might be a Wicked Urge…) What was that joke?– “He believes that the right to life begins at conception & ends at birth”? I think that’s the mentality behind most of this fuss–but there do seem to be sincere, thoughtful people who see a fertilized egg & a conscious human being and some wretch being tormented in a nursing home veggy ward as equally wrong to kill, and I’m not really happy about upsetting them. But so it goes. A great many young women are getting far more upset, and in danger of their lives if this goes on.

    • biblemonster Says:

      This is such a complex issue, in which reconciling competing evils is unusually demanding. The criminalization of abortion reduces but doesn’t stop abortions and cascades through all the human lives involved with bad consequences. Yet it probably does reduce the total number of abortions. Does that come out as a net good? or rather as net less-evil?

      I think it really does depend a great deal on whether abortion is murder–on whether a fetus is a human being. An organism that cannot remain alive without its dependent relation to the mother certainly isn’t fully human yet. Yet, we always say, carrying the child, or “with child”, never “with fetus! The one thing I am sure of is that, while America is so politically divided on this issue, it’s not right for a political and social/moral system so dominated by men to decide on the criminality of abortion for all of us. The default position must therefore be against criminalization, so that individuals are able to make their own moral choices free of the force of law.

      The individual has always been the focus and locus of moral choice in Christian theology, anyway, though I think this is one of its great failings, myself. Jesus and his contemporaries understood that societies sin, also. “Israel” is, after all, the name of both a person and the tribe that defines itself as his descendants. Jesus the shepherd went off to find the lost sheep, but the sheep was lost without the other 99. We hold all of Germany accountable for the holocaust.

      Anyway, I do think society has a responsibility to deal with abortion, but it’s a holistic responsibility, not just a narrow legal toggle switch: yes, abortion should be a crime, versus no, it shouldn’t.

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