Ok, let me flog this dead horse one last time and then I’ll shut up about it. This is the e-mail we received yesterday from a campus organization called “Students For Life”:
“Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, and for the rights of those who are left without help.” – Proverbs 31:8What: Greene County Life Chain
When: Sunday, September 30 from 2:30 to 3:30 pm
Where: the corner of Main and Detroit in front of the Courthouse in Xenia
Why: because over 34,000 children are legally killed in Ohio each year
Students for Life will be providing transportation for those who need it. Please reply to this e-mail if you need a ride. Signs will be provided at the event.
– Cedarville Students for Life
Did you spot the problem(s)? See now, here’s the thing: I’m a “student for life,” in many senses of the phrase. And there’s a large part of me that likes to insta-delete this spam and just go eat M&M’s or play tiddlywinks. But sometimes disgusting rhetoric brings out my ornery side. So I wrote back, as President of Students Against Life:
Dear Students For Life,Thank you for your invitation to the Greene County Life Chain. We at Students Against Life will also be in attendance, though as members of the opposing team we’re obviously hoping it’ll be a Greene County Anti-Life Chain. Naturally, we will be there to support abortion because we’re your opponents so it’s our obligation as good sportsmen. Like Bill Clinton used to say, we need to keep abortion “Unsafe, Legal, and Popular.” As you know, we’ve fallen short of our Quota of Legally Killed Children in Ohio goals for this year so we’re hoping this Sunday’s rally will significantly impact our figures.
It’s quite obvious where our teams differ (you’re pro-life, we’re anti-life), but we wanted to extend an olive branch and write to affirm our common ground. Like you, we also support the polarization of debate and affirm with you that dialogue is most productive when there are obvious dichotomies so it’s not confusing for the fans at home. Like you, we at Students Against Life prefer sloganeering over nuanced argument — what fun would a discussion be if it wasn’t all conflated terms and straw men? And we certainly want to affirm with you that this is entirely a moral game: political, constitutional, philosophic, legislative, and/or scientific questions are best left to the sophists (they have too much time on their hands anyway). So as you can see, despite our fundamentally different World-ViewsÃ‚Â® our groups share a lot of similarities and we ought to get together sometime in an ecumenical celebration (we’ll bring the beer, you bring more binaries!). Cheers.
– Students Against Life
Funny or not, I think I have a point. I checked out their website hoping for more insight and was not surprised to see that “Students for Life” actually means “Students Against Legalized Abortion… Oh And Sometimes We Think About Other Injustices and Occasionally We’re Anti-War As Long As That War Is Between Uncivilized Nations And Not Initiated By America.” Furthermore, I was not surprised to learn that a group seemingly dedicated to fuzzy logic would author a page on “the argument for pro-life” that is dedicated to proving the uncontroversial claim that fetuses are human. Nobody in this debate denies that, just as nobody in this debate is anti-life or pro-abortion (as SFL and their president, Murray Vasser, keep asserting). The real question here is whether a fetus is a person (has a “soul,” “spark of life,” “human spirit” etc). If there are some on the “other side” who say a fetus is not human, this is usually sloppy shorthand for the above. Yet SFL’s entire “pro-life argument” consists of quotes copied from the nearest available biology texts — quotes nobody on either “side” denies whatsoever. SFL obviously focuses on this because addressing the real problem is infinitely more difficult. The burden of proof is on them to demonstrate that a zygote has personhood AND how/why (when, we might query, does God inject a soul? or were the souls floating around prior, waiting for a zygote/body to appear? etc). Do you see why this is a significantly more difficult issue? Personhood & personal identity have been some of the most hotly debate issues throughout the history of philosophy. That SFL wants to gloss over this with cute sloganeering is sad, but not surprising to me. In everything I have read by SFL, they consistently insist on framing the discussion with false dichotomies and mis-leading terms that seem rather contrary to the spirit of charitable dialogue and a community of shalom.
There’s another bit of amazing SFL writing found here:
“…I infer that if [Lauren Winner] had talked about the 2008 elections, she would have suggested that Christians should vote for one of the Democratic frontrunners. This is not something that I would applaud. The reason has nothing to do with the Democratic Party; the reason is simply that all of the Democratic frontrunners support abortion. If a pro-abortion Republican like Giuliani were running against a pro-life Democrat, I would do everything I could to get that Democrat elected. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not about the party; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about the issue of abortion.”
I’m not going to dissect this much because I really just wanted to post about SFL’s approach to the “abortion debate.” Suffice to say I think it’s extremely dangerous that the president of SFL votes solely on the basis of a candidate’s stance on legalized abortion. The US president has so little effect in this area that it’s absurd to make that the key issue over and above other questions of qualification for the most important job in the country. Your efforts ought to be focused on the judicial and legislative branches; this latter part raising the obvious question: since Republicans controlled the Senate & House for twelve years why couldn’t they “reverse” Roe v Wade or pass other legislation that could accomplish the same thing? Randall Balmer, for one, suggests that this is simply because most elected Republicans really don’t care about legalized abortion at all. They simply use this issue (and hot button topics like gay marriage) to motivate a certain demographic to garner votes.
Let’s continue reading from the same source (by Murray Vasser) quoted above:
“Now, some people might wonder why I would elevate abortion above all of the other issues facing our nation. In America, over 1,000,000 people are violently and brutally murdered each year through legal abortions. There is no social injustice in this nation that comes even close to abortion.”
Notice the equivocation yet again, the same one he made in the SFL: he refuses to ever say “fetuses” and automatically conflates “human” with “person” without attempting to prove this. The terms he chooses are designed to inflame emotions and sensationalize the discussion to obscure the real issues. Secondly, it’s extremely confusing on what basis Vasser (and SFL I’m assuming) can claim abortion is the #1 case of injustice in this nation (and the world?). His unstated, unchallenged premise is that this is determined strictly numerically. Perhaps there are other options for determining the greatest injustice?
1. That which causes the greatest amount of pain
2. That which causes the most prolonged period of suffering
3. That which a community (or authority) has decided to be the greatest
4. That which Jesus himself spoke most often (most passionately) about
Etc. There are may be other ways to determine this. At least defined according to some (all?) of the definitions above, legalized abortion does not qualify. Note of course that you don’t even have to necessarily disagree with Vasser to see this as questionable thinking. It may actually be the case that genocide is a lesser evil than abortion, but how we decide this (or why) and how we defend that are a whole new can of worms. Continuing on…
“…most of the other evils in society (such as poverty, racial inequality, etc.) are disliked by almost everyone. Those who differ over such issues are divided only in their approach to stopping these evils. Abortion is different, because some people hate it and want to stop it, while others applaud it and want to keep it.
This is absurd. Abortion is exactly like those other issues. Does Mr. Vasser seriously believe Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter “applaud [abortion] and want to keep it”? I do not know for sure, but I’d guess the vast majority of those who support legalized abortion do not fit Vasser’s descriptions (perhaps Peter Singer is an exception?). It’s extremely surprising to me that the president of an organization obsessed with the abortion debate is so clearly confused about the terms of the debate. Because he’s stuck on binaries (You’re either for abortion or you’re against it), he’s incapable of seeing that there may be moral reasons to oppose abortion but medical/social/pragmatic/legal/constitutional/philosophical reasons to support the legalization of the practice. SFL prefers to keep the question solely centered on moral terms because it’s easier for them to control the debate that way. As Christians at a Christian university in a Christian nation, they may be tempted to believe they’ve cornered the market on morality so it’s to easy sit atop a throne and objectively deem this evil, that holy. Were SFL and its president to take seriously the debate over constitutional interpretation (and philosophical questions of freedom, democracy, personhood, etc) it would probably require nuanced discussion and research into tricky issues. It may require suspension of judgement or compromise (or middle ground), things that are incongruent with demagogical activism of the brand that SFL practices.
Obviously, I am not expecting this level of debate in a mass campus-wide e-mail but their SFL website might be a start for their defense. The more fundamental issue here is that SFL have gone out of their way to demonstrate their unwillingness to actual engage the subject (their repeated use of mis-leading, polarizing terms possibly constitutes Exhibit A). I’ve been thinking and talking about this too much not because I’m particularly interested in a rigorous debate over legalized abortion (since – gasp! – I don’t have everything figured out), but because I think SFL’s rhetoric is all too characteristic of what passes of intelligent discussion. Their constant equivocation and obfuscation is indicative of a dismal lack of substantive engagement with the issues and a disturbing willingness to deliberately sensationalize (in, it appears, an attempt to solicit sign-holding protest-drones). This is neither real activism, real intellectual honesty, nor real grace.
Your president of Students For Life & Kittens, signing off.