I am not the political ally anybody wants. I’m the naysayer, the eternal critic, the guy who says it’s not possible and your energy is best spent elsewhere.
Part of it is just my temperament. I suppose I’m a realist by nature, but some would probably call me a pessimist, a fatalist, or even an entitled white male or a spoiled liberal. I don’t know what my ideology is: Pragmatist? Liberal hawk? New Deal Liberal? Vital Center Liberal? Radical moderate? Conservative of the Left? But if you try telling a person like me, with some severest forms of depression and learning disabilities on Earth that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, what can I do but laugh? Some of us, whether in reality or just in our minds, encounter a million pieces of evidence to the contrary every day. No amount of striving will change it, and striving against it may make things much worse.
I’m also sure that being from a family of ‘survivors’ is part of it. Other people from survivor families may draw different lessons, but after the Shoah, it’s a little tough for some of us to be outraged by anything less than a Shoah. For two millennia, hardly anybody raised a stink whenever Jews were killed by the million, and now we’re supposed to raise our voice in outrage every time an internet mob tells us there’s a new injustice? I don’t think that’s practical, let alone morally justifiable. Yet again, Jews are held to a moral standard no one else is, and if we don’t accede to this willingly, our character is automatically suspect.
What does move me is the end of life; not the end of lives, per se, the death of one person we don’t know happens 150,000 times a day, but the end of life itself. Our lives belong to more than ourselves, and there are so many places in the world where this tragic, messy, exciting, inextinguishable thing we call life went on, but are now extinguished to nothing. Whole communities, whole traditions, whole bodies of memory, all swallowed up by death, mass and premature – you didn’t just die, everyone who remembered you died too, everyone who valued you, everyone who would mourn you. There are no generations after you to reap what you sow, no younger generation to draw lessons from your life, no young people to teach what you know, no future to look forward to because it is as though your past never existed, and nothing can bring it back. What god worth worshipping can so blot out his children that he leaves no trace of them behind?
And when the warning signs of life’s end appear, that consequently fills me with a terror which less grandiloquent injustices don’t. Police brutality in America? I shake my head at how brutal life can be when you’re not white, but gun proliferation to the point that thirty-thousand Americans die each year from gunshot wounds? That moves me. Health care costs going through the roof? I feel bad for all the people I know whom that affects and pray I don’t have a major illness any time soon, but FDA deregulation to the point that millions may no longer be able to trust their drug treatments? That moves me. Flint not having proper drinking water? I’m sorry to hear that, but 3000 Puerto Ricans dying in Hurricane Maria with nary a response from FEMA? That moves me. President Trump successfully holding himself above the law? It certainly scares me, but his backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement? A potential billion people forced to migrate from the equator to countries ready to kill them all to keep them out? The extinction of a million species? The rise of sea level to the loss of thousands of miles of coastline? Air pollution to the point that every person in some cities consume the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes per day? Nothing in the world moves me more.
Lower pay and sexual harassment against women? Bless you Hashem for not making me a woman, but state after state passing abortion laws in a push to bring us closer to Christ’s Kingdom on Earth? Yes, that most definitely moves me.
The abortion debate is at least as old as history itself. From the very beginning of the religion, the bulk of Christian teaching says that abortion is a terrible sin. Realistically, that is never going to change. But the idea that early abortion is murder itself? That’s pretty damn new.
A Christian conservative of 2019 would read all this and immediately say: “Well what about all those unborn fetuses, isn’t that the most blatant form of mass murder there is?” Well, to any Christians reading this who thinks so, you should remember that it goes against many of your own foundational teachings.
Both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas believed that ‘Ensoulment’ does not happen until the ‘Quickening’ – meaning when the unborn child begins to kick and move. Both Augustine and Aquinas had very bad things to say about abortion, but neither proclaimed early abortion murder. Pope Innocent III was zealot enough to launch the Crusades, but even he decreed early abortion not murder. St. John Crysostom, the most dangerous antisemite and homophobe until Hitler himself, didn’t even think late abortion was murder. Even the Tanakh and Torah, which pronounces death sentences for so very many things, doesn’t prescribe any penalty for a terminated pregnancy except a penalty for accidentally hurting a pregnant woman during a fight between two men (Judaism has plenty of solutions for problems we don’t have…) St. Paul, always reliable for a draconian pronouncement, is silent on the issue of abortion. Except for the earliest Church fathers, the idea that abortion is murder does not truly begin until Calvin and Luther – and neither of those loquacious sermonizers had much to say about abortion. Jews? Sermon after sermon, pamphlet after pamphlet. The state of their souls can’t wait. Abortion? Luther has one pamphlet, Calvin has barely even a paragraph.
There are 173 million Christians in America. 25-30 percent of them believe the Bible the literal word of God. That’s roughly 50 million fundamentalist Christians in this country. Today’s Christian fundamentalists clearly believe that life begins at conception, and take the obligation to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as literally as one can, so wouldn’t it then follow that the mechanisms of conception, the sperm and the ova, are nearly as sacred for them as conception itself?
Andrew Sullivan’s book, The Conservative Soul, has an amazing, brilliant explanation of why the Christian belief in the sanctity of life is a completely impossible standard. I can’t find my copy of the book, and it’s been roughly ten years since I read it, so I’m going to have to do my best to reconstruct his argument.
The average human female releases roughly 400 ova during her lifetime out of the 300,000 eggs a human female retains by adolescence – down from 1 million or so which every human female is born with. 300,000 potential children every woman can now have were she to freeze all of her eggs – I don’t doubt that some fringe Christian movement will one day believe that it’s a mortal sin to not preserve all of your eggs…. But even among the children who are born, the average American family has 2 children on average – if that makes sense, so that is 398 children the average woman is capable of having that she does not.
And then there is the male sperm. Over the course of a lifetime, the average male produces 525 billion sperm and releases somewhere between 40 million and 1.2 billion in any given ejaculation. Because so many Christians believe that life begins at conception, many Christians therefore believe that abortion is a holocaust in itself. But if conception is a sacred act, wouldn’t the means of conception be, at very least, sacred relics which are destroyed? There have been roughly a hundred billion humans throughout our existence. Belief in this standard would mean that the number of wasted sperm and eggs produced by humans for all time, sacred relics all of them, is, perhaps arguably to their beliefs, a holocaust of 7.875 nonillion souls! Here’s that number in the raw:
But let’s just assume that this is an exponentially exaggerated form of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. More realistically speaking, there are roughly 650,000 abortions in America every year. That’s surely a significant number, but it’s less than half of the 1.43 million abortions performed in 1990. What’s obviously happened since then is that sex education got much, much better, and precautionary steps were much easier to procure like condoms and birth control. One would think that the more rational elements of Christianity would welcome this development, but there’s an obvious problem – abortion is far more common in states where fundamentalist Christianity is far more common. If the true wish of fundamentalist Christians is to prevent abortion, their teachings have been counterproductive in the extreme. The reason is that their beliefs about sex are an impossible standard to uphold in practice, and the more they insist upon imposing it, the further they get from their goals.
So when you read that a legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio are simultaneously attempting to enact laws more extreme in their Christian doctrine than Paul, Augustine, Crysostom, Aquinas, Innocent, even Calvin and Luther, this is not just another mild encroachment on civil liberties, this is the loudest possible alarm bell that a giant mass of lawmakers have a much, much larger agenda in mind that doesn’t just stop at low taxes. This is about the elimination of Church and State’s separation, using any and all un-Christian methods to get there, knowing that the vast majority of big business’s superclass will fully support their efforts to make a more docile, trusting, believing public. A public who believes that the Bible is the literal word of God is a public much more willing to believe in the good will of vulture capitalists.
The goal is an American Theocracy. Theocrats don’t need to follow their own rules. That’s the very point of a theocracy. Whether the theocracy is religious like ISIS or the Taliban, or secular like Hitler’s and Mao’s, the point is to set up laws with so high a standard of moral behavior that no person can hope to live up to them, and once no citizen lives up to its standards, every person is a criminal. If the State considers you a criminal, crimes against you matter not at all, particularly when they’re perpetrated by the state. Punishing a victim is a crime, punishing a criminal is justice.
Life does not begin at conception, because if it does, conception itself is the worst holocaust of all, and only a theocrat has magical thinking enough to believe that you can change something so fundamental to the human condition. Once they try, and of course they’ll fail, what’s next?
A lot of people believe that the reduction in crime which began in the mid-90s was not due to stricter policing at all, but because the Roe v. Wade generation came of age in the mid-90s. After 1973, widespread access to abortion meant that the most disadvantaged families could terminate their pregnancies, which meant far less young adults at the bottom of society susceptible to lives of crime. If crime in middle class neighborhoods becomes as pervasive a problem as it was before the mid-90s, policing will only become that much more brutal.
We do not live in the 1990s anymore. No urban American residents will ever tolerate that level of police brutality again in our lifetimes. In today’s political climate, that kind of policing can only lead to civil unrest unheard of in America since before the 20th century. And if, whenever that happens, the NRA is still selling guns with impunity, can the end result be a civil war of the chaotic type that overwhelmed Syria and Lebanon?
Syria’s population used to be around 21 million, it now hovers around 18 million: 500,000 dead, 2.5 million refugees. Now imagine an American equivalent to Syria, a population more than fifteen times that number: 7.5 million dead? 50 million American refugees? Then add the fact that so many more weapons of mass destruction exist in America than exist in Syria.
Civil Wars happened in countries just as seemingly stable as ours – all it takes is the mass adaptation of a new technology like the internet which fundamentally changes people’s behaviors, much as the invention of the printing press once precipitated European wars between Protestants and Catholics deadlier than any seen in Europe until the early 20th century. Or maybe it takes an unnegotiably large disparity between the ideologies of one regional population and another, as of course happened in the American Civil War. Or maybe it takes an increase of mass poverty and wealth concentration to untenable lengths, which lead to the collapse of the Chinese Empire. Or, as happened in sub-Saharan Africa and all around Asia during the postwar era, it had as much to do with the illicit election tampering, the deliberate provocations, and the business interests of foreign superpowers, namely, America and Russia…
We’re far from as great a country as we think we are, but all things being equal, we’ve had a pretty great run. In the entire history of the world, it’s possible that life itself has never been as vital as it is right here. Thousands of communities, thousands of traditions, thousands bodies of memory, leading to untold hundreds of millions of potential futures. Can it all vanish?
I have no idea, but when a religion of a billion adherents demands dominion over aspects of civil life, it means business. The Crusades may have been 800 years ago, but 2 Peter said it best: ‘one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.’ Conservatives went apoplectic when Obama invoked the Crusades as evidence that Islam is no more evil than Christianity, but modern Islamic fundamentalism proves that religion devolves just as quickly and deadly as it evolves. If they don’t see the potential in 2019 for a Christian Taliban, they can’t be reasoned with any better than fundamentalist Christians can.
Ask the majority of Christians in this country whether they think that Donald Trump is a good President. Of course they do. Trump is the most comically obvious sinner to ever occupy the White House by an exponential factor. In his entire body, he does not have a single cell of faith, hope, or charity in his body. He advertises it proudly, yet Christians love him for it. Why? Because a person who truly followed the path of Christ would never be able to establish a Christian state, it’s an impossible dream of an impossible state with impossible standards to uphold. And therefore the person most flagrantly in league with Satan would be the person they need to enact it. Ergo, if you want a Christian state, you will have made a deal with the Devil to make it happen.
If there is a just God, She will make you pay.