Thursday, January 15, 2009

abortion, religion, and empire

Over the last few months my mother and I have been having an email exchange on the topic of religion. I thought I'd share my last volley...

Mother Theresa names various social ills and names abortion as their cause. I agree that the problems she named are serious problems. I disagree that abortion, or the legalization of abortion caused them or has exacerbated them. Do you know of any data/studies that support her assertions? I think those problems were developing before abortion was legalized. Abortion is not the problem, or the cause of those problems. Our culture is the problem, and abortion is one of many symptoms.

The mainstream of contemporary western civilization is a culture of hyper-individualism, consumerism, and commercialism. The birth of this culture can be traced back to the advent of hierarchy, because this culture depends on the exploitation of people and natural resources by other people. More recently, look back to European colonialism starting in the 15th century, then to the industrial revolution and the rise of the corporation as a dominant social institution, and in the last 50 years to the rise of global, free-market capitalism as the dominant economic model. (Ironically, the first civilization known to outlaw abortions, the Sumerians, was one of the first to engage in war and slavery on a large scale. - noted in The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner)

What has come out of this culture? A set of socio-economic structures, imposed by the owning-class of world society everywhere in the world that condition people to believe that they themselves are disposable and that their only worth is in what they produce and consume. It is not people's relationship to unborn children that is the fundamental problem. People's relationship with themselves and their understanding of their place in the world is the fundamental problem. And this is being perpetuated by a system that has intensely greedy and selfish people at the controls.

Mother Theresa says about the woman considering abortion that, "we must persuade her with love, and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts... the mother who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love - that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child."

How can you tell a woman that without also acknowledging that so-called "pro-life" politicians like John McCain can't even remember how many houses he has? How can you justify telling a woman she can't have an abortion when over 50% of the federal budget is spent on the military? Mother Theresa says that if we allow women to kill their children how can anyone else learn that it's wrong to kill others. But where did these women learn that it's okay to kill their children?

You also sent me a video that included images of aborted fetuses. I didn't watch the whole video. I've seen those images before. I've also seen images of children in Africa, starving to death with their bloated bellies. I've seen images of children hit in the cross-fire of the war in Iraqi, waged by so-called "pro-life" politicians from their greed and lust for power. I know I will continue to see images of suffering people around the world, victims of a distinctly anti-life culture.

In contemplating my response to you, I looked up some statistics that you might find interesting. There seems to be an assumption that if abortion is condoned by society it will be more frequent. There also seems to be an assumption that somehow religiosity corresponds to morality, and thus, presumably, to a decrease in abortion. But if you compare statistics to various developed nations this doesn't hold up.:

..........................Abortion Rate....................Percentage Christian

US.....................22.9.....................................76.5
Canada.............22.1.....................................77
Australia..........20........................................64
Denmark..........19.1.....................................57 (21 believe in god)
Spain.................16........................................76 (59 believe in god)
Germany..........15........................................62
Netherlands.....13.5.....................................43.4

Sources:
http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

Abortion is legal in all of these countries. Also, religious affiliation is not inversely correlated to abortion rates. In these examples, the opposite is more the case. So what's going on in a country like the Netherlands that has a 13.5% abortion rate, but only 43.4% identify as Christian?

What's also been well documented is that the incidence of violent crimes in every other western nation are substantially lower than in the US. Incarceration rates are also vastly lower (the US holds 25% of the worlds incarcerated individuals.) What we also know is that public services and social welfare in other western nations (particularly Europe) are far higher, and that the US ranks low in health and happiness compared to other developed nations.

I think the frequency of abortion in the US is due less to the availability of abortion and more to the perpetuation of a culture that sees all things as disposable, including people and life itself, combined with a lack of social and economic support. As I've said before, if you want to stop abortion you need to ensure that every child that comes into this world will have their basic needs met. Abortion will not stop if it's outlawed. It didn't before, and there's no reason to believe that it will in the future.

Here are a few more statistics I found fascinating:

"While white women obtain 60% of all abortions, their abortion rate is well below that of minority women. Black women are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are roughly 2 times as likely." http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html

"Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as 'Born-again/Evangelical'." http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html

Here is a link to an article about a study showing a recent drop in abortion rates in the US. This and other articles say that the reasons for the drop are complex and unclear. It also points out that the new availability of the abortion pill did not increase abortion rates as many "pro-lifer's" asserted:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-01-16-abortion-rates_N.htm

What all this points out is that abortion is a complex issue wrapped up in a much larger and much more complex cultural context.

Another aspect of this debate that needs to be addressed is the difference in belief around consciousness and life. My understanding is that the Catholic position is that a human life begins when the egg is fertilized. To me, the animals and plants that we eat have as much consciousness as a zygote or bundle of cells. Fundamentally, I believe that the extreme anthropocentrism of modern society is part of the problem. Similarly, I also believe that our fear of pain and death helps disconnect us from the natural world, of which we are a part (as much as we forget or deny it), and allows us to cause the kind of suffering and destruction rampant around the world.

Again, if we want to talk about being "pro-life" we can't just talk about unborn babies, nor can we just talk about human life. From a strictly pragmatic perspective human life is dependent on the lives of other beings. If we ignore this fact, and continue to destroy the world around us, we will die. Again, the early civilizations that laid the foundations for our current anti-life culture were the first to outlaw abortion. Before that, women terminated pregnancies when it was clear the community and the natural environment couldn't support another human life. This was not about anyones "pleasure." This is a much different motivation than the one Mother Theresa speaks against, and is one that helped humanity live in balance with the earth for millennium.

Currently, the global economic empire that is ruled by the corporatocracy, primarily from the US, and imposed by the US military and espionage establishments is leading us all on the path of social, economic and ecological suicide. Don't take my word for it. Just read any news sources that are not CNN, FOX, ABC, or CBS, and ideally sources that are from other countries (the Guardian is great, for example.) This has to be stopped and it has to be stopped as soon as possible. Otherwise, the question of abortion for most people will become moot in the face of far more pressing issues of basic survival.

9 comments:

Jay said...

"...the question of abortion for most people will become moot in the face of far more pressing issues of basic survival." Huh?!You've got it backwards: The question of abortion IS an issue of basic survival. It is THE issue of basic survival. The other issues are moot if you're not given the chance for life!

Ted said...

Look for an email from me soon.

Ted said...

OK. I guess I figured out how to make a comment. So forget the e-mail. I feel the needd to stop lurking on your blog and respond.

Sky: I admire your search for Utopia, but I take a more pessimistic view of our fate. Thru evolution mankind acquired consciousness. This has been our glory, but it will probably be our doom as well. Consciousness only went so far, and it allowed us to be aware of things like time and space, but it doesn't allow us to comprehend them fully. You know, where does it all begin and end. To fill in the gaps we have created religions and other irrational systems to provide the answers. These have served, in some cases, as organizing principles on a small scale. But on a global scale it has led to exploitation and even enslavement of, many groups for the benefit of the few. If we are going to survive on this planet, and we have the capacity to do so, we need to put aside petty ideologies and use the ability we have to make use of Earth's resources for the benefit of all. Abortion is the least of the ways we have for killing one another. If we are going to save ourselves we must stop worring a hereafter which doesn't exist and work for the good of all of us. I commend you for trying to find ways to make it happen. As I said, I am a pessimist, and I think we are on a downward slide. In the long run, that's ok too. Once we're out of the picture, and if we haven't blown the place up maybe something more rational will evolve.

Jay said...

Ted said: "Abortion is the least of the ways we have for killing one another."
Abortion is arguably the most egregious way we have for killing one another, because it is the intentional killing of the most innocent and defenseless members of the human family.
This fact is not dependent on religious belief or belief in a "hereafter that doesn't exist".

Caitlin said...

Jay Said: "Abortion is arguably the most egregious way we have for killing one another, because it is the intentional killing of the most innocent and defenseless members of the human family.
This fact is not dependent on religious belief"

I agree with you that people of all religious and secular affiliations can aggree on the basic desire to reduce the number of abortions across the country. However, the issue I take here is your rhetoric, and the process you propose. The way that you discuss abortion, Jay, has a very condemning tone. The process you propose is condemnation at its most basic.

abortion is driven by a culture that does not allow an unwed pregnant woman the basic human right of dignity. a woman who keeps her child despite her inability to care for it is regarded as criminally irresponsible, a woman who puts her child into the sysetem is immaternal and her child often becomes a second-class citizen in the eyes of their peers. There is nowhere in our culture for that woman or her child to take refuge.

Outlawing abortion will not reduce the number of abortions. Continuing your war path of guilt-mongering rhetoric and single issue voting will not reduce the number of abortions, it will only alienate your target audience (family included). We can only reduce the abortion rate by changing the way our culture views and values women.

Jay said...

Caitlin: You said, "The process you propose is condemnation at its most basic." What "process" did I propose? Condemnation?! Explain yourself, please!

You said, "a woman who keeps her child despite her inability to care for it is regarded as criminally irresponsible, a woman who puts her child into the sysetem is immaternal and her child often becomes a second-class citizen in the eyes of their peers. There is nowhere in our culture for that woman or her child to take refuge."

Hogwash. There are people and agencies who seek to help women in this situation. If she is viewed as a "second-class citizen", well, at least she's alive! The unborn baby does not have that right, apparently. I've "been there, done that" in terms of being a single mom on welfare. Yeah, it's not pretty. Neither is murdering your own child. And the latter does a heck of a lot more psychological harm to the mom than the former.

"Outlawing abortion will not reduce the number of abortions."

Hogwash again. By that logic, we might as well legalize all acts currently deemed criminal. Outlawing abortion will reduce it, as there will be less money involved for Planned Parenthood et al. But more importantly, there is a need for people to understand WHY abortion is wrong, and to choose on their own not to resort to this barbaric practice.

"Continuing your war path of guilt-mongering rhetoric and single issue voting will not reduce the number of abortions, it will only alienate your target audience (family included)."

Geez. C'mon. Talk about "guilt-mongering rhetoric"!!! I'm not sure that people unwilling to consider the illogic of their own position are my "target audience". If my family fits that bill, so be it. I pray for all of you daily, regardless of your political views and/or moral sensibilities.

I think you, Caitlin, closed your mind to anything I have to say on any subject some years ago, based on others' expressed opinions of me. If that's not true, feel free to open a dialogue with me via email.

"We can only reduce the abortion rate by changing the way our culture views and values women."

Certainly that would help. But we can also reduce the abortion rate by changing the way our culture views personhood, the human embryonic person, and personal responsibility.

Caitlin said...

Jay, I'm mad at you because you appeared on my blog unannounced and under a pseudonym after years of silence and started telling me that my beliefs and opinions are wrong.

If you want to be my aunt without telling me what I should believe and how I should vote you are more than welcome. Until then, I've done fine without you for quite some time.

Jay said...

Caitlin, you just won't give me a chance. Feel free to email me if that's changed. drjayboyd@msn.com

Caitlin said...

Jay, I believe that a woman who has chosen an abortion or is considering an abortion needs my compassion. Therefore I do not vote for a politician who wants to put that woman and her doctor in jail (i.e. Mcain and Palin). You do not hold the magical combination of words that will change that. I'm just as committed to my stance as you are to yours. You planning on changing your beliefs any time soon?

I'm done talking about this. As I said, I'll give you a chance if you stop shoving politics down my throat. Until then I'll settle for the annual Christmas letter.