Saturday, August 30, 2008

THE ISSUE OF ABORTION: Why Both Political Parties Take the Wrong Approach

I've found it a shame that the major political parties have both chosen to make abortion (as well as gay marriage) such hot-button issues in major political races, such as this year's race for the Presidency. Both sides have adopted very simplistic views on the issue, each drawing a line in the sand and refusing to budge beyond it.

My own experience with abortion came in 1988, when my girlfriend at the time informed me that she was pregnant. There was very little discussion on the subject, and before we even took the time to talk it over, she insisted that she had to abort it. She was a 21 year old college student whose father was a prestigious professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Once she knew, she made up her mind immediately. I had drifted away from my faith many years earlier, and I behaved rather poorly. I was stunned by the whole thing, and every time we were together in the days immediately following her announcement, I sat like a deer in the headlights, frozen in my tracks. In a single moment, the consequences of my actions had come crashing down on me, and I had no foundation of experience on which to draw. Rather than step up like a man, I withdrew from her. I thought I was being supportive, but in retrospect I was emotionally missing-in-action. A week or so later she had the abortion, I paid for half of it, and she told me she never wanted to see me again. I can't say I blame her. I didn't particularly like myself either at the time.

But in the years past, and since my return to my faith, I have revisited that situation again and again, and realized the importance of faith. If we truly follow God's laws, those sorts of things don't happen at all. God defines adultery as any sexual relationship outside of marriage, and tells us not to do it. He doesn't go into a lot of detail explaining why, but if you think about the fallout that can result, the reasons are obvious. Had I listened, I never would have gotten my girlfriend pregnant. Had we continued in our relationship to the point of marriage, in all likelihood the pregnancy would have been welcomed, and at the very least, provided a secure environment in which to handle an unplanned pregnancy. When I look at the Decalogue, I can't help but believe that if all of us, faithful believers to secular agnostics, took even the last six of the Commandments to heart, a huge part of the world's social ills would fade away like mist. Take a look at them sometime, and give it some thought. If we all behaved in accordance with them, wouldn't the world be a much better place?

Like many Christians, I believe that physical life begins at the moment of conception, and our spiritual lives began quite a bit earlier. I have come to love the beautiful verses of the 139th Psalm. Verses 13 through 16 in particular speak to our individual spirits and bodies, and how they are a part of God's plan long before we arrive on the planet.

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

I really don't understand how any person who claims to be a Christian could read this verse and still think that abortion is somehow okay. The problem is that both Presidential candidates support abortion-on-demand, and both candidates claim to be Christians (McCain changed his "official" stance for the election, but has stated on record that he supports a woman's right to choice). I realize that as potential leaders of a pluralistic society, they must make concessions toward universal values, but as they claim to be Christians, I still struggle to understand why they personally endorse the right to an abortion.

I think the problem is simple. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the people of this nation (including many Christians) have moved away from accepting personal responsibility for many of their actions, and started creating loopholes to deal with the consequences of those actions. We've also continued to change the definitions of certain words, allowing us to push the boundaries of our behavior to the limits. Unplanned pregnancies and the use of abortion to deal with the consequences provide a perfect case in point.

As a man who has impregnated a woman who aborted a fetus, I have come to realize that both my girlfriend and I were careless and irresponsible. We were both adults, and we both knew that unprotected sex can and will cause pregnancy. When we did take precautions, we were casual about it at times, and downright careless at others. As a result of both of our actions, an unplanned pregnancy occurred. Our careless actions had dire consequences. What should be an joyous occasion was in fact a sordid and destructive one, and event that not only took the life of an unborn child, but also destroyed something within me and my girlfriend.

Now we get to the critical part, the part about changing definitions and boundaries, and why I don't think abortion should be viewed as a "reproductive option," as many like to call it. I think that once my girlfriend got pregnant, the time for choosing "reproductive options" had passed. Prior to her getting pregnant, my girlfriend and I had many, many options before us, and all those choices involved things that could have been done to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. We were casual and careless to a fault, and as a result of not being responsible by taking advantage of the myriad opportunities available to us, she got pregnant. The fault was with both of us. Any unwanted pregnancy of this type is the fault of both the man and the woman, and this is where men need to step up to the plate.

When my girlfriend got pregnant, it was a direct result of the two of us not taking enough responsibility for our actions, or considering the consequences of them. Period. Once pregnant, we looked for a fast and easy way to deal with the consequences of our actions, and we took the easy way out...again, it was both of us, and not just her, not just me. At that point in my life, I viewed the abortion as just another option, rather than treating it as a consequence of ignoring my options.

And now I'll get to the reason why both political parties are getting it wrong. I think the Democrats are queasy about asking people to take personal responsibility for their actions, and instead want to create more and more options (some of which are quite boneheaded) for people who are suffering the consequences of being irresponsible. They do so, I'm sure, in the interest of not appearing intolerant to personal choices, but I believe that tolerance becomes a negative factor when it begins to tolerate bad things.

The Republicans, who claim to place so much value on the sanctity of life (but have no problem with the death penalty and unjust wars), demand we protect these unborn children at all costs. That would be nice, except that the majority of American women who get abortions are poor single minority mothers, whose children are often born into poverty and strife, many continuing the process through generations. Assuming those women carried these pregnancies to term, it's the Republican party that wouldn't want anything to do with helping them once out of the womb. I think it's wrong to demand that we preserve life in the womb, and then desert the mother and child once the fetus is born. One important point to keep in mind here is that I'm speaking of the majority of abortions, which are the result of consensual sex between a man and woman, and not dealing with situations like incest and rape.

The real problem, of course, boils down to this: our society simply must find a way to return to a time when we accepted personal responsibility for our actions, and took the necessary precautions to insure that our behavior wouldn't put us in situations that require us to take the life of an unborn fetus. Where both political parties fail is at this point. Neither wants to address the issue in real terms for fear of alienating voters and losing the election. The Democrats want all options to be on the table, rather than asking people to accept personal responsibility. The Republicans make the mistake of asking the government to enforce a law with moral implications, rather than simply asking people to accept personal responsibility.

The solution is simple, but implementing it is much harder because it requires individuals, and a nation of people, to change their hearts. That can only happen when Christians begin to live like followers of Christ, spreading the Good News through works, and not asking a worldly state power to enforce their beliefs on unbelievers by rote of law. It's time for Christians to lead by example, living by God's laws. If we do this, and our light shines brightly enough, others will seek it out and discover the source for themselves. We shouldn't need the compromised powers of state to make our case for us.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

OBAMA-NATION: How liars and misguided zealots try to shape an election

For the record, I'm a fiscal conservative who happens to be a registered Democrat. I don't see a problem with that. Being a Democrat doesn't automatically make one a liberal, although some of today's right-wing pundits still love to cram us into convenient categories so that it's easier to lob stones at us. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh come to mind.

Additionally, being a Democrat doesn't automatically make me a supporter of Barack Obama, but that doesn't mean I'll stand idly by while radical right-wingers grossly distort Obama's words, or worse, make them up to fit their needs. I've always believed that if you have to lie about someone to make a case, you really don't have much of a case to begin with.

The rash of Obama-hating emails circulating around the Internet is appalling, especially since so many of them are outright lies, and a number of them are apparently from people who refer to themselves as Christians. Many of these Christians, I notice, also think the Iraq war is a just war and that we're fighting international terrorism there. It's not, and we're not. I won't go farther into that arena again except to say that you can read more about my stance on that subject here and here and here.

At first, I actually took the time to respond to some of these emails and go through them point by point, showing how each one was either an outright lie or a grossly distorted truth, and then presented the evidence to counter it. That really got a few people PO'd at me. I think they wanted to hang onto their unfounded biases, and I was asking them to consider that they've been buying into a batch of lies. How insensitive, unpatriotic and un-Christian of me for defending a black man with an Arab-sounding name who had a Muslim father. What was I thinking?

I think I hit the breaking point this morning when I opened an email from an older woman for whom I have a lot of respect, but question why she has also bought into the campaign against Obama. I suspect, sadly, that it's because he's black and she's a Southerner and I've heard her talk about the issue of race before. She considers herself a God-fearing Christian, but harbors an intense dislike of black people, a fault for which I forgive her, but worry about anyway as she seems to see no conflict between her perceived values and her actual ones.

The email in question was a video clip pulled from a speech Obama gave a few years back about faith in the public arena. It was an excellent speech, and I read the content in its entirety. In it, he asks that if we're going to have a Christian nation, whose version of Christianity are we going to follow? Right-winger Jim Dobson's, or left-wing Al Sharpton? He pointed out how people often take scripture out of context to slam others who don't agree with them. Obama then went on to point out that Scripture also calls for us not to eat shellfish, or talk back to our parents...just a sample of the commandments that we all break all the time. So which part of Scripture do we get to ignore, and which part do we hold others accountable for? Keep in mind that the Bible is very specific about what's known as "The Law," stating that if you break any part of it, you break all of it. Christ also tells us that not one single bit of the Law is considered invalid, and that it all stands until God's purpose is accomplished. So how is Obama taking Scripture out of context, as the narrator alleges? Actually, he's not...just read the speech in its entirety if you're so inclined.

I won't go on, as it simply gets me too riled up. I'll just post the link to the video and let you decide for yourself. I agree with everything Obama says in the video, and having read the entire speech, I know the context he's using. The maker of this film obviously had an axe to grind, and pretends to be a breathlessly indignant Christian as he spouts his obvious hate message. He claims that Obama has grossly distorted the context. I think Obama nailed it on the head, and wasn't mocking the Bible at all, as the narrator claims. It sounds more as though Obama's chiding people like the maker of this video, urging them to be better Christians.

In the end, the narrator convicts himself of breaking a number of commandments, including bearing false witness and failing to love others as Christ loves him, This is a perfect example of why Christians need to stop worrying about building a so-called Christian nation, and spend more time building the true church for Christ, which is for all people of all nations, regardless of color, creed or political affiliation.