The Fanatics of Tangier by Eugène Delacroix
I taught ethics classes in a university setting for over 30 years and I’m well versed in the philosophical literature surrounding abortion. And, as I have stated previously, the pro-life position finds virtually no support in this literature. But rather than penning another academic essay on the topic, I want to write a visceral response to the forthcoming Supreme Court decision.
Ok. So you believe there is an invisible supernatural superbeing (naturally he’s a man) and you believe this superbeing puts invisible souls (whatever those are) into newly fertilized, microscopic eggs. (By the way, this is NOT a Biblical position if that is something you care about.) This sounds insane to me but I suppose some people really believe this. Ok. Your religious beliefs are your own; they don’t have to make sense to me.
But I become enraged when people decide that their theological speculations give them the right to interfere in other people’s lives, impose their values on others, and use the coercive power of the law to force others to abide by their wild speculations. Believe whatever you want about fetuses and invisible gods and invisible souls but if you’re not the pregnant woman, what happens to that pregnancy is none of your business.
What then does follow from your fervent beliefs about the ontological status of fetuses? Don’t have an abortion, that’s what follows. You may also try to present arguments to convince people that your views are correct. But you should not coerce women by making it illegal for others to do what you don’t like.
Besides, your merciful god will let probably let those microscopic cells that now have souls into heaven. Surely he (remember he has to be a man) won’t send them to hell. Of course, that god is very busy putting those souls into the approximately 1 million newly fertilized eggs around the world each day. (Back of the envelope calculation. Almost 400,000 babies are born each day, only about half of the newly fertilized eggs implanted in the uterine wall plus many other pregnancies don’t result in live births.) And by the way, all these natural abortions imply that your (imaginary) god is the world’s greatest abortionist.
But if one of my daughter’s birth control fails (religious fanatics want to outlaw that too) and they don’t want more children then I abhor you trying to penalize them for the choice they make. Thankfully they now live in a progressive state in the USA but the zealots have their eyes on outlawing abortion and the abortion pill nationally. Soon they’ll be eyeing contraception. Heck, why not just go all the way and make it illegal not to be Christian? You could torture those who aren’t. Bring back the Middle Ages I say! After all, religion has long been trying to control people and tell them what to do. That’s its business model.
The problem arises because religions believe they have a monopoly on truth. Of course, the so-called truths of these thousands of religions are mutually incompatible so they can’t all be true. But once you think that you have the truth then you’ll want to force your beliefs on others. Fly planes into buildings, conduct inquisitions, deny the HPV vaccine to young girls, force childbirth, and on and on.
And the hubris of the justices themselves is simply stunning. They believe that their opinions are more correct than those of the many justices who have not objected to Roe v Wade over the last 50 years. It takes a lot of egotism to throw out a precedent that has been so firmly established. And I’d bet that less than 1/10 of 1% of the pro-lifers have ever read Justice Harry Blackmun’s opinion in the case. I have read it and it is a model of moral and intellectual rigor and clarity.
You know Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh would have been great torturers in the Middle Ages—real Torquemadas. If you don’t believe as they do, well then a little torture is deserved. And they have Barrett as their female handmaiden. She loves their misogyny and is/was a member of the “People of Praise” cult. Women, fall in line! How self-certain all these Catholics are of the truth of their metaphysical speculations about the ontological status of fetuses. How sanctimonious they are.
Now, do I think that I’m right that a microscopic group of cells isn’t fully human? Yes, I do. This follows almost straightforwardly from the arguments in the philosophical literature. Fetuses, depending on the stage of development, satisfy few if any of the necessary and sufficient conditions of what we generally agree on as personhood.
But I also have epistemic humility. I could be wrong about any of my beliefs thus I don’t try to make laws that force you to do things I don’t like. Maybe I want you to NOT have children because of overpopulation or because I think you would be unfit parents or because I think it’s too great a risk to your health or because you don’t have sufficient wealth to raise children or because the child will be born exceedingly unhealthy or because having children may itself be immoral or because …
In fact, there are a lot of things I wish you would do. I wish you wouldn’t kill and eat non-human animals. Not only would you not then cause them immense suffering but you would help preserve the environment, reduce climate change, and (since you are so pro-life) live a longer and healthier life yourself. (I became a vegan a few years ago and now weigh 130 pounds, the same as in my early twenties. The evidence that the Western diet kills and that a whole food plant-based diet is the healthiest is indisputable. If you are overweight it’s almost certainly because of the Western diet rich in unhealthy animal products.) So do the planet some good and become a vegan or at least a vegetarian. That might save millions of (actual, not potential) lives.
Now that would be something great to legislate—no more meat. We would save billions in health care costs. Still, I wouldn’t want to use the coercive power of government to force people to eat well. Even though what they eat costs me directly in terms of societal outlays for health care and damage to the environment, I believe people should be free to ruin their health and get all the cancers and heart disease they want.
And that’s just one example. I wish all these men who want to force childbirth and childrearing on women would wear masks and get vaccinated during a pandemic. But many of them won’t. They are putting my life in danger with their reckless, ignorant choices. But no, that’s too much for many of them. I can just imagine what they would do if they were forced to carry a fetus to term and then bear and raise children.
Heck, I wish people would learn science rather than take advice from illiterate shepherds from 2000 years ago or from Donald Trump. Still, I don’t want to force people to learn science. If they want to pray to the gods for cures, not take their antibiotics, or reject vaccines … great. They can live in a place that doesn’t know about or believe in modern science like Papau New Guinea or Alabama.
Fanatics convinced of their cause stride across the face of human history trying to impose their values on the rest of us. The old Catholics on the Supreme Court are the American Taliban. Who knows what they’ll try to force on us next? They all lied to get into the court and are derelict in their duty which is not to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us.
The founders of the US knew about the centuries of religious wars in Europe and desired a secular government with a strong wall between church and state. (If you think otherwise you simply don’t know American history.) So you are free to set up a private school and teach your children that the universe was created in 7 days about 6,000 years ago or any other nonsense. But don’t make me pay for your private school and don’t bring your religious views into science classes in a public school.
In the end, I just hate theocracy. It is opposed to everything I hold dear—science, reason, evidence, critical thinking, progress, tolerance, humanism, autonomy, sexual equality, and more. Why can’t we all live in places less like Arkansas and Saudi Arabia and more like Denmark and Norway? And why is the USA such an outlier among developed nations regarding sexual issues? Because the USA is an outlier regarding religiosity among developed nations. Is it really surprising then that the best countries to live in the world are the least religious? I don’t think so.
There is so much to say but I don’t have the time to write more. Furthermore, it’s largely pointless. Those fully immersed in religion won’t change their minds. Their lives and relationships are too caught up in it. Most have been thoroughly indoctrinated. But can’t they at least leave the rest of us alone? Of course, we know the answer to that question.
So the fight that began in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment must continue until ignorance and superstition and theocracy are finally banished from the earth.