Weakening the Abortion Debate

I got published. The November 15th issue of Cedars featured this editorial and a review of The Darjeeling Limited. Next issue, out December 6th, should have my review of Yeasayer’s debut album “All Hour Cymbals.” Perhaps I’ll post those two reviews later. For now, here’s the abortion article with – bonus! – my comments in green (these were unpublished obviously):


Our campus was fortunate to be visited a few weeks ago by Matthew Eppinette of Americans United for Life. His visit provided, among other things, a chance to further the conversation on bioethics, morality, and the sanctity of life. Of particular interest to me was his discussion of abortion, though I was disappointed that the Christian pro-choice perspective was given short shrift (unsurprisingly) and that the Christian pro-life perspective was defended so poorly (surprisingly). [Even more surprising: 0/12 students interviewed had ever heard the phrase “short shrift.”] However, rather than using my limited space to debate the particulars of a complex debate (one involving issues of law, constitution, biology, and philosophy – not just morality), I want to suggest an alternative way of even approaching the questions. Quite simply, against the dogmatism of the hard-line pro-life position (represented by Mr. Eppinette), I want to propose a more self-reflexive approach to the “abortion issue.” [That we usually say ‘issue’ in the singular strikes me as grossly reductionist. But I caved.] This approach can be called a weakening: away from sensationalized politicking and toward a kind of agnosticism aimed at de-dogmatizing the debate. [This is my subtle attempt at inserting some postmodern jargon — “weak thought” is a notion from Gianni Vattimo, which I have vastly oversimplified for the purposes of this article.]

[Deleted from here was my original argument against Eppinette that was long and unsuitable for a newspaper. Basically, Eppinette defines personhood in terms of “the image of God” which I find more than a little absurd. For starters, we’d generally want the “image of God” to include notions of relationality, emotions, rationality, etc — none of which a zygote has.] My primary dispute is not necessarily that Eppinette wants to endow embryos with complete personhood (as he articulated in both Thursday sessions), but that he fails to be upfront about his faith commitments while simultaneously maintaining such absolutism about them. Weakening the debate may mean that we ought to admit that our stance on the issue is probably deeply tied to our emotions, personality or disposition. After all, perhaps you’re either simply the kind of person who believes there are 400,000 American citizens cryogenically frozen and desperate for our help (as Eppinette believes), or you’re the kind of person who’s just a little more incredulous toward that idea. [This is a reference to his claim – which I haven’t verified – that there are 400,000 neglected embryos sitting in freezers around this country some of which are then used for stem cell research, some brought to term for adoptions, and some simply discarded.]

Furthermore, weakening the abortion debate may mean that we recognize the extent to which we’ve been culturally conditioned, both in terms of our positions and our ways of even framing our positions. Instead of passing off blatant eisegesis as solid exegesis (the hijacking of the beautiful Psalm 139 is particularly disgraceful), [I mean this wholeheartedly, even though I realize it alienates a large group of people. Pulling pro-life arguments from Psalm 139 is just grotesque to me. Sorry.] admit that the theological arguments for the pro-life position are based on certain unprovable presuppositions and not on Scripture itself – as a number of pro-life, Evangelical theologians already have. This opens up the way to less dogmatic (and less marginalizing) ways of proceeding in the conversation. If you want to be pro-life, this may mean arguing that because we don’t know when or how a person becomes/is a person, we ought to outlaw abortion “just in case.” [I change my mind on this argument a lot, but I generally find it to be pretty strong for me and is probably the only reason I’d ever be “pro-life”] It’s a wager open to the possibility of being wrong, but still willing to take action based upon belief. If you want to be pro-choice, you might argue that since we’re essentially agnostic on the personhood of zygotes, we ought to be open to a variety of individual choices and not legally restrict an individual in what is essentially a personal moral decision.

Lastly, an approach less dogmatic than Eppinette’s may not only be more productive for dialogue, but also open the way for a more robustly ethical position. We ought to become open to the possibility that radically following Christ might mean refusing rigid moral categories when it comes to abortion. If there is a formula or matrix to just uniformly apply to any tough question, in what sense can we be said to have acted ethically? [This is Kierkegaard & Derrida – brought home to me more recently by James K.A. Smith. I’m more and more convinced of the “undecidability” of truly ethical decisions.] In recognizing shades of gray, we’re forced to truly confront the dilemmas of life. Leaving behind dogmatic articulations on either side (and we ought to even question the terminology of “sides”) re-asserts personal moral responsibility and re-introduces a certain humility into a topic that’s too often needlessly divisive. The question of “sides” could’ve realistically been a whole new essay. I think it’s astounding how many metaphors we draw from sports & war — and if sports are war (as it’s often claimed, even in poker!), then we’re just left with combat. Debate shouldn’t be combat though, and I’d believe that even if I weren’t a pacifist — and even if I weren’t accustomed to the deconstructive subversion of binaries. There are very few areas in life where I’m not told to take sides, to pick a team and hope to win. BUT I SUCK AT SPORTS. Make your own inference.

One last note on Eppinette: after he spoke on Thursday night I went up to him to ask a question. Before I asked it though, I inquired as to what we call the union of sperm & egg, that first “thing.” I thought it was a zygote, but wanted to be sure before I used it in a sentence. Plus, I wanted to disarm Eppinette by lobbing him a softball (damn sports metaphors!) instead of just assaulting him (war!) with “omg ur position is teh suk!” Here’s the thing… Eppinette did not know what the union of sperm & egg produced. I’m not writing this to be needlessly cruel, I just think it’s sadly indicative of the level of discourse Christians bring to these debates. This man has a masters in “Bioethics” and travels the country defending the pro-life position… yet can’t answer basic biology questions? My ignorance here – I think – is excusable. His seems pretty telling. Eppinette’s presentation was chock full of “science” and “hard facts” and yadayada — how much of that does he know, and how much did he copy from Wikipedia with no understanding of what he’s reciting? Cheap shot, I deserve a red card (sports!) so I’ll stop already.

Theater etc.

Where have I been lately?

-> Thursday I saw All My Sons which I’d highly recommend. My review is forthcoming and will most likely be published in Cedars – the latest issue, by the way, has my music reviews of the singles by Katy Rose, Sarah Connor and Avril Lavigne.

-> Friday I went to the Zaireeka listening party, see below.

-> Saturday I went to Subway for the nth time since its recent opening, also recommended even if they’re still not quite the sandwich artists I expect from a Subway.

-> Saturday also found me at the last night of Ruth: The Musical (a sold-out command performance at that), written by the one and only Karen Mowrer. You definately missed out if you didn’t get a chance to see this, very well done overall. Huge props to all the cast and crew. There’s a possibility I may do a Cedars article on this as well.

-> Sunday, today, I’ll probably be at Solace again. Last week was excellent, I may write more on this later. If you have doubts about it, just go and try it once.

-> Monday I’ll be selling J/S tickets all day long starting at 7am. Seniors get there early for the best seating, tickets are only $35 this year.

Fosdick Quote

I forgot to mention the second controversial item from that infamous pimp Cedars. It was this quote:

“The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and though, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.”

– Harry Emerson Fosdick

Tell me if you disagree with the quote and why. I think Fosdick’s right on.