“The right to bear arms is a political right ... rights that God has given you,” said Newt Gingrich — his downward nod indicating another infallible statement.
Had your primaries jabs yet? I’m sure you were wise enough to get flu shots to carry you through last (non)winter. But did you make sure the Republican primaries inoculated you against infection from the germs of gun-totin’, sex-and-religion-obsessed politics that preceded the American presidential election?
Seriously, people, we may have only just returned our sagging jaws into the upright position, but there are lessons to be learned — or, rather, unlearned — from the mishmash of threats, misinformation and pseudo-religion that provided such a turkey shoot for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert these past few months.
There we were, fondly thinking that government has no business in the bedrooms of a nation, until Rick Santorum put us right. “Many of the Christian faith have said …contraception is OK. It’s not OK,” he said. Well, maybe it’s a shame that sex has now become just a recreational activity with side-effects, but what was he trying to achieve? He was beating the familiar nationalist-puritan drum: “the less sex you have, the more Christian you are (because sex is dirty) and therefore the truer American you are.”
We Brits are to blame for this. I admit it. The jagged disconnect between America’s lofty ideals and tacky practices dates back to when the Puritans stepped ashore from the Mayflower in 1620, though in defence I must point out that they weren’t our finest export material. In fact, they were out to lunch.
Those same colonists who had demanded equal rights in England wrote a constitution that reduced blacks to three-fifths of a person (more about persons later). Also, in spite of their search for religious freedom, they began the idea that every president must be religious, and by religious they meant Christian, and by Christian they meant protestant. Jack Kennedy’s Catholicism only just scraped under the wire. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism will attract as much sniping as the colour of Obama’s skin and alleged Muslim faith. Though fact and fiction respectively, they are both attempts to throttle religious freedom.
More brazen is the idea that abortion is against the will of God — period. “Scientifically, life begins at conception,” said Mitt Romney, as if that wraps it up. The “abortion is murder” lobby is a classic example of what conjurors call sleight of hand or legerdemain — drawing attention to what you want the audience to concentrate on (e.g. impressive words like “scientifically”), while disguising what you’re hiding with your other hand. In this case, conception is pronounced sacrosanct and anyone interfering with it is playing God. Since between one- and two-thirds of fertilized embryos are aborted naturally, it seems that God plays God rather a lot. Not that aborting an embryo is of little consequence. If you have ever sat in on someone seeking to abort a baby, you will know that the interrogation is every bit as harrowing as it is for adopting one.
Then there’s the matter of consistency and balance, dear to the heart of thinking people, anathema to single-issue bully-pulpiteers. One would logically expect ardent pro-life supporters to be against the death penalty, to clamour for gun restriction (gun-related deaths in America are 20 to 35 times higher than in comparable countries) and generally to be blue-beret-wearing peacekeepers in areas of conflict, not the cause of death-by-invasion in the first place. Strangely, though, the same people who cheered Rick Perry’s anti-abortion stance —“I’m 100 per cent pro-life from conception” — went ecstatic when the very second statement in his first GOP debate ran: “your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.” That’s pro-life?
Talking about killing, in law you can only “kill” a “person” and that is the nub of the abortion debate. For one thing, a zygote can split into twins, so it is not “a person” from conception. More generally, when do fertilized embryos become persons? When they become self-aware? Newborn infants aren’t, certainly not aware enough to realize that having their existence terminated is a loss (even if the mother does).
This is not a modern conundrum. For what it’s worth, in our Judaeo-Christian tradition anyone injuring a pregnant woman so that she aborted her child was fined for manslaughter, not executed for murder (Ex 21:22), and children under one month old weren’t even counted in censuses (Num 3:15). Children have never had the same rights as adults. There’s much, much more to it than “a woman’s right to choose.”
No doubt it was the current hysterical pro-life rhetoric that caused two Australian ethicists at the University of Melbourne to argue recently, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, that if abortion of a fetus is allowable, so too should be the termination of a newborn infant, because a newborn isn’t a person either. The proviso, of course, is that “the continued life of such children would be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole.” It is only allowable when physical or psychological damage to the fetus was undiscernible in the womb. It’s made crystal clear that grounds for termination are not social inconvenience.
Finally, on Thought for the Day (aka “the godslot”) on BBC Radio 4 one Holy Week, a rabbi spoke about the holocaust. He explained that fascism is nothing to do with swastikas or brown shirts. The essence of fascism is “if we can only get rid of that lot, we’ll be OK.” In Hitler’s case, “that lot” meant Jews, gypsies and the insane. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s No. 1 priority is “to make Obama a one-term president.” Never mind policies, get rid of ‘that man,’ much as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Canadians wouldn’t dream of talking about other parties in partisan terms of ‘that lot’ because we know that parliament comprises not just Her Majesty’s Government but Her Majesty’s Opposition.
We’re inoculated against fascist sentiments, aren’t we?
» Rev. Michael Skliros is a retired Anglican priest in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 12, 2012