As soon as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict he went on record declaring abortion an intrinsic evil. This was no surprise to me. Apparently, according to the pope, there can be no justification for abortion. Not the preservation of a woman’s life, her health, her happiness, her independence, her financial solvency, or her way of life is a good enough reason to justify the procedure. If I understand his position correctly, the “innocence” of the “soul” that is contained in the fertilized egg is what makes the procedure so reprehensible. I put “innocence” in quotes because an egg cannot possibly be anything but innocent so the word in this context is meaningless. I put the “soul” in quotes because I have no evidence to believe such an item exists. The destruction of an “innocent” cat or dog or cow or pig or even chimpanzee is apparently of no consequence because such animals are akin to soulless machines.
A value system that would hold a fertilized human egg as more deserving of legal protection than a chimpanzee strikes me as wrong-headed, but I am told this system is based on a belief in the sanctity of human life as opposed to other forms of life. My problem is that I don’t believe those who believe. I believe that those who purport to believe in the sanctity of life are kidding themselves and/or trying to delude the rest of us.
I don’t base this contention on the past involvement of the Catholic Church in numerous forms of slaughter, such as the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the religious wars that plagued Europe for centuries, or even on the Church’s past support for abortion. That was then and this is now no doubt would be the retort to such accusations.
My distrust is based on something far more fundamental. If you are going to claim that all “innocent” human life is sanctified, then your claim must in fact include all “innocent” human life, which means the spontaneously aborted unborn and of course all those individuals who are born and have done nothing to deserve death. In other essays I have addressed the enormous indifference to the hundreds of millions of unborn that die naturally in the womb each and every year by those who claim to value such entities. But this indifference is extended to the born as well, and a good example is the Catholic Church’s refusal to explicitly condemn all those who participate in war.
In short, why is war justified? If abortion is murder because it is the deliberate killing of an “innocent” human life, then why isn’t war murder?
Why is it that a man can kill hundreds, even thousands, of innocent human beings who intend, and are in fact, doing him no harm, and as long as he (and others, it must be collective) label this collaborative killing war it is not murder, but is permissible, honorable, and even glorious slaughter, but if a woman kills a single insensate embryo existing at her expense in her own body, no matter how weighty the reason, even in defense of her life or health, that killing is murder? (Seems as if the double standard applies to killing and not just sex.)
No doubt the pope would claim that the intention in war is not to kill innocents—that is just collateral damage—but to kill those who are attempting to kill others. But this is rarely true. Even if attacked (and often wars involve invasion in the absence of attack, such as the current war in Iraq), immediate surrender will in most cases result in an end to hostilities.
Surrender in order to avoid slaughter? Now that can’t be allowed. Despite the commandment of Jesus to “turn the other cheek,” virtually every person in the civilized world, if not every person everywhere, believes that one has a right not only to kill to defend one’s life, but also one’s property, one’s freedom, one’s religion, one’s institutions, and everything that comes under the rubric of one’s way of life. In short, one can righteously slaughter innocent human beings even if one’s life is not on the line as long as one perceives that one’s way of life is somehow being threatened, however poor the evidence. But one is not allowed to kill the unborn for any reason whatsoever.
Here is a summation of the pro-life logic: If a woman has an abortion it is an intrinsic evil, no matter how early it occurs in her pregnancy, and even if her motivation is to preserve her life, or her health, or her independence, or her financial solvency, because the insentient embryo is innocent. However, if a man goes to war and during this war kills hundreds, even thousands of sentient human beings, this is not an intrinsic evil, even if such killing was motivated by a desire for glory and adventure, had nothing to do with preserving anyone’s life, and even if some or most of those slaughtered are in fact innocent.
On face value, the above line of reasoning appears unbelievable but only if one is beguiled by the notion that there is something honest about the “culture of life.” There isn’t.
The culture of life is really a culture of power. When men wage war they exert the power of who shall live and who shall die. This has always been a masculine prerogative and no religious leader, including the pope, would last for a minute if he wholeheartedly condemned the masculine exercise of war. For most religious people, war is not only not murder, but those who kill are heroes and are rewarded for their killing with salaries, pensions, medals, and parades.
Those pro-lifers who glorify those who kill understand that the power to control reproduction is more fundamental than the power to wage war. The power to control the gate of life is ultimately the power to control economic growth and propel (or retard) social change. It was the dearth of people in Europe after the Black Plague that ushered in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment by changing the balance of power between the feudal lords and their peasant subjects.
The seat of this power lies in the bodies of women. To give women control of their own bodies is to give women the ultimate power: the power to go on strike, to bargain for rights, privileges, and compensation based on the inherent value of childbearing and childrearing. The final result of such power is female independence and an end to the charade that the sex that does the most important work on Earth—reproduction—is or ought to be subject to the sex that doesn’t. Exposing the lie of patriarchy is the “intrinsic evil” of abortion.
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