Everybody Wants to Kill Somebody: Part 1, Abortion

This link is to the entire document, Everybody wants to Kill Somebody: An Epistle to Killers Everybody wants to Kill (1)

Introduction: Thou Shalt Not Kill

Of all the commandments of God could there be any that are easier to keep than, thou shalt not kill. Is it really asking too much of us to not kill each other? When I first entered parish ministry this was a precept of faith that required only a little attention either in sermons or pastoral care. Most parishioners would live their entire life without having to choose whether to kill someone. That was an issue for which the military chaplain was equipped. They deal with the restoration of the soul for those who suffer the horrific consequences resulting from the lawful taking of human life, but it was not a matter of daily concern for the parish pastor back home. Today, Western Culture[1] has greatly extended the lawful right to take a human life to the individual and for an increasing variety of purposes.  Every parishioner will have to answer the question, “Will I participate in the killing of another?” They will be confronted with this question frequently throughout their life.

Whether it is in the arena of political debate or the solemn privacy of our family home, our charge to protect and promote the sacredness of every human life is conflicted with our desire to reserve the right to kill someone. Some insist on the right to prenatal killing. Others desire to take the life of the infirm and elderly. Some demand the right to assist in the killing of those who want to kill themselves. Still others reserve the individual right to take the life of certain classes of lawbreakers through “stand your ground” laws or at least corporately through the state. Most Christians throw up their hands when asked for any moral answer to the perennial madness of war.

We try to resolve the conflict between our charge to promote and protect human life with our desire to take a life the way Westerners have been trained to resolve all conflicts between holiness and natural desire. We play with the definition of a word. In this case, we start with the etymology of the Hebrew word translated kill, then we take the words used to define kill and run them through legal dictionaries, diagnostic manuals, and medical journals. In the end we have an asterisk which includes “but, except, unless, until,” and so many other prepositional phrases that we have complicated the original word beyond any usefulness.

I speak to the matter from the perspective of a church which lacks either a coherent teaching or a consistent practice regarding a Christian’s participation in life and death decisions. What I have learned I have acquired on my own through ancient practices of searching Scripture, listening to the voices of the early church, and seeking mentors whose lives are a testimony to their pursuit of holiness.  Little of any use can be found in our seminary or other institutional resources. The individual Christian eventually finds themselves isolated in a hospital waiting room with no greater counsel than the personal opinion of the ill-equipped clergy member temporarily assigned to their parish.

In the next sections we will look at the most popular causes for which people desire to kill and many of the arguments used to describe life as something other than life and killing as something other than killing.  The conclusion may be summarized as follows: Thou shalt not kill means exactly what you thought it meant before someone explained it to you. It is a simple declarative statement. It is only four words in English. The taking of a human life[2] is displeasing to God, breaks Shalom, is contrary to a life of holiness, and is harmful to one’s soul. So much so that God demands recompense for the act either in this life or the next. There are no qualifiers attached to human life—neither innocent nor guilty, neither productive nor unproductive, neither happy nor miserable—and if you can think of any other qualifiers…they are not attached.  Thou shalt not kill means thou shalt not kill[3].

Abortion: When does life begin?

I am not an authority in any of the sciences but a dilettante of all of them. That’s okay because this a moral question more than a biological one. However, knowledge is a characteristic of God who is omniscient, and the acquisition of knowledge is a virtue. The language of science has a proper place in the discussion.

It only takes an elementary school level of education in biology to know that humans do not have a pupa stage or a larva stage. We do not undergo a metamorphosis where we transform into humans after being some non-human creature. Embryo is a stage of human development just as puberty is a stage of human development. No one would suggest that prepubescent teens are not human life forms because biologically they cannot function completely as an adult human. No one can suggest (with any academic or ethical consistency) that embryos are not human life forms because they cannot function as completely as a prepubescent teen. Biologically speaking, each is a human life in different stages of human development.

Science alone, however, is not an adequate guide for Christians in search of timeless morality. Knowledge is a virtue, but it is always limited…it is always in a state of flux. Today’s settled science is tomorrow’s foolish error.

If biological markers are what we are looking for then Scripture gives us a little something that might be of some help for the moral identification of when life begins. Among other places we find it in the ritual purity rites of Leviticus and Numbers—those passage which the seminary taught your pastor to ignore because they are rooted not in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but in a culture of misogyny, xenophobia, and patriarchal oppression. For those of us who did not listen to our seminary professor and studied the passages anyway, we find divinely oriented ritual ingrained with the significance of life and mortality. Life and death give color to the thread that runs throughout the tapestry of the biblical purity system. God is the giver of life. Death is the consequence of sin. Contact with death leaves one in need of the reaffirmation of life in the presence of God. The detailed care which the priests are to use handling a blood sacrifice and the cleansing of those who encounter blood is because, “the life is in the blood.” We know that the heart is beating, and the blood is flowing, no later than twenty-one days after conception. As a moral concern, terminating a pregnancy at this point is inescapably the taking of a human life. When Scripture says, “the life is in the blood,” that is neither a lesson in biology nor a primitive superstition: It is a theological statement. The taking of a human life—the spilling of blood—is displeasing to God, breaks Shalom, is contrary to a life of holiness, and is harmful to one’s soul. So much so that God demands recompense for the act either in this life or the next.

For Christians, biological markers such as a beating heart are not a terminus post quem for life. Life is a mystery. Human life involves something other than blood and biology. A person is a soul and a body. While for some the presence of blood and a beating heart may be a morally adequate biological marker for the presence of life, when we venture into the days preceding that we move into a cloud of mystery. It is not likely that science will ever develop the means to detect the presence of the soul. God has chosen to keep to Godself the mystery of the union of body and soul.

While we may engage the secularist in the discussion of life in terms of biology, the Christian must never lose sight that we are guided by the truth that human life is more than biology. We recognize that each person is a body and soul, and each body and soul is a person. The parents reproduce the body, but God creates the soul. Without correcting the various heresies of folk religion (preexistent souls, soul sleep, immortality of the soul….) let us recommit to discerning the truth of the matter from this starting point: A living human body cannot exist without a soul. Whatever discussions we may have with secular pseudo-biologists, the Christian must never lose sight that the indicator of human life is the presence of a soul.

When is a soul present?  Given God’s predisposition for procreation and disfavor for that which interferes with procreation the Christian is well advised to enter that mystery with an assumption in favor of life. The earliest indicator of the presence of a human body is the earliest indicator of a soul. The first manifestation of the human body is its embryo. The soul, even in an embryonic body, is capable of communion with God and God’s creation. The most that can be offered in opposition to that assumption is that we are in an area that is uncertain. Uncertainty as to the presence of life is reason to act with greater caution not less.

I once spoke to a person who was in the business of demolishing buildings. He described the precautions they take to prevent the unintentional loss of life when the demolition charges are detonated. Immediately before its destruction a search crew is sent through the building from top to bottom. They check every room and look in every closet or stairway. They check any place where a person could be even though there is no reason to believe anyone is there. Demolition will not begin until each search member has reported back and been accounted for. If during their search they find a wino consumed by tuberculosis gasping for his last breath; then they stop the demolition, call paramedics, and repeat the process the next day. So great is their concern for human life that they will not proceed on the principle of uncertainty or on the premise that there is no reason believe a human life should be there. They maintain a moral obligation in cases of uncertainty to take extraordinary steps to affirm the negative—that there is no human life present. If we are uncertain of the presence of life, then we act with caution in presumption of life. To act otherwise is reckless disregard for life.

Few people today are truly uncertain as to whether a child in the womb is a human life. The argument that abortion is not the taking of a human life has been largely abandoned. Those who do so are mostly the academically dishonest and morally disinterested. Even among Christians, it is often a self-deception in which we find refuge from the reality of our actions. For many, so much is emotionally and financially invested in the belief that abortion is not killing that arguing the point is as effective as trying to convince someone with a delusional disorder that they are not really Julius Caesar. The more common arguments for abortion are variations on theme of, “My case is a moral exception to ‘thou shalt not kill.’”

To all these exceptions let us first consider this: Can you imagine that Christ, while he was with the Apostles, would approach an expectant mother and ease whatever afflictions she may have by laying hands on her and taking the life within her? Now, some people can imagine that Jesus would do just that. They teach in our seminaries and preside in our pulpits. We worship two different gods. We happen to call them by the same name. We have heard his question, “Who do say that I am?” and we provided two wildly contradictory answers.

As to the specific exceptions that people assert for the right to kill through abortion, the following summarizes the Biblical narrative and the historic Christian teaching:

Christians do not take a human life to increase our happiness or minimize our misery.

Christians do not take the life of another to reduce our suffering.

Christians do not take a life because the person cannot function at a specific standard for a particular stage in human development.

Christians do not take the life of those who are a burden to us or society in general.

Christians do not take the life of another to improve or maintain our health. (If health of the mother is an argument for abortion, then morally we are to the point where we would allow an individual to kill a weaker person to obtain an organ transplant. Each involves taking the life of another to improve or maintain one’s health.)

Christians do have a responsibility (and in some sense a right) to make our own reproductive choices, but we exercise those choices before we reproduce—not after. Abortion is not a moral method of birth control.

 

Each of the above exceptions, if acted upon, constitute a sin. The sin has a name. Its name is murder. Among the reasons for killing, abortion is unique in that it claims its justification on one of two premises; either 1) it denies the existence of a person’s soul, or 2) it claims ownership of a person’s soul. Whatever assertions can be made about a person owning their own body (an obscene proposition given that the Christian proclaims, “I am not my own. I have been bought with a price.”) no one can make the moral claim to the ownership of and right to dispose of another person’s soul. This unique aspect of abortion makes it more deadly to the participants than to the victim.

This was known from the time of the ancients until recent history. It has only been seventy-five years since any predominantly Christian nation accepted the individual’s arbitrary right to take a human life in the womb. It is only in the fifty years since the inception of the United Methodist Church in 1968 that any significant organization identifying itself as a Christian church has condoned the slaughter of innocents. We are now cut off from the historic Christian faith for two generations, and there remain but a few who know the way back.

The only argument remaining for abortion is the “life of the mother” exception. Because this is a self-defense argument, we will revisit this exception when we consider the morality of taking of a human life for reasons of self-defense.

[1] The term “Western Civilization” has fallen out of use in deference to Western Culture. It is a change I accept since is little left of civilization that can be claimed of the West. As a culture, however, it is increasingly a culture of death.

[2] The context of the command concerns human life. Scripture has much to say elsewhere about respect for and responsibility to plant and animal life. Human life alone has the capacity for holiness and only human life may be called sacred.

[3] While an argument can be made for translating the Hebrew word as murder rather kill it is not a useful distinction for the purpose of the questions before us. First, because that interpretation is widely accepted only because it it is the most comfortable—not because it is indisputable. Second, as we shall see later, all taking of human life is sin. The sin in taking a life may be something other than murder but it is still sin.

One thought on “Everybody Wants to Kill Somebody: Part 1, Abortion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s