Sunday, November 11, 2007

Abortion is Biblical

One sided. That's the abortion stance of most Christians -- one sided. We hear the Christian Coalition speak against abortion. We hear Focus on the Family tell Republican candidates it will not support them unless they state their opposition to abortion. We hear Operation Rescue's Christian members praying God will turn back the clock and make abortion illegal again. Over and over we are bombarded with the "Christian" perspective that abortion is outright wrong, no exceptions.
With all these groups chanting the same mantra, there must be some pretty overwhelming biblical evidence of abortion's evil, right?
Wrong. In reality there is merely overwhelming evidence that most people don't take time to read their own Bibles. People will listen to their pastors and to Christian radio broadcasters. They will skim through easy-to-read pamphlets and perhaps look up the one or two verses printed therein, but they don't actually read their Bibles and make up their own minds on issues such as abortion. They merely listen to others who quote a verse to support a view they heard from someone else. By definition, most Christians, rather than reading for themselves, follow the beliefs of a Culture of Christianity -- and many of the Culture's beliefs are based on one or two verses of the Bible, often taken out of context.
This is most definitely the case when it comes to abortion. Ask most anti-abortion Christians to support their view, and they'll give you a couple of verses. One, quite obviously, is the Commandment against murder. But that begs the question of whether or not abortion is murder, which begs the question of whether or not a fetus is the same as a full-term human person. To support their beliefs, these Christians point to one of three bible verses that refer to God working in the womb. The first is found in Psalms:
"For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for Thou art fearfully wonderful (later texts were changed to read "for I am fearfully and wonderfully made"); wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139:13-16
Although this passage does make the point that God was involved in the creation of this particular human being, it does not state that during the creation the fetus is indeed a person. According to Genesis, God was involved in the creation of every living thing, and yet that doesn't make every living thing a full human person. In other words, just because God was involved in its creation, it does not mean terminating it is the same as murder. It's only murder if a full human person is destroyed.
But even if we agreed to interpret these verses the same way that anti-abortion Christians do, we still have a hard time arguing that the Bible supports an anti-abortion point of view. If anything, as we will soon see, abortion is biblical.
Anytime we take one or two verses out of their context and quote them as doctrine, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being contradicted by other verses. Similarly, some verses that make perfect sense while standing alone take on a different feel when seen in the greater context in which they were written. And we can do some rather bizarre things to the Scriptures when we take disparate verses from the same context and use them as stand-alone doctrinal statements. Some prime examples of this come from the same book of the Bible as our last quote. Consider these verses that claim that God has abandoned us:
"Why dost Thou stand afar off, O Lord? Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?"
Psalm 10:1
"How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?"
Psalm 13:1
"O God, Thou hast rejected us. Thou hast broken us; Thou hast been angry; O, restore us."
Psalm 60:1
Not only can we use out-of-context verses to support that God doesn't care for us anymore, we can even use them to show how we can ask God to do horrible and vile things to people we consider our enemies. In this example, King David even wanted God to cause harm to the innocent children of his enemy:
"Let his days be few; let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children wander about and beg; and let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. Let the creditor seize all that he has; and let strangers plunder the product of his labor. Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children."
Psalm 109:8-12
Are we indeed to interpret that God, speaking through David in these Psalms, is saying we have been abandoned by God and that when wronged we can ask God to cause our enemies to die and cause our enemies' children to wander hungry and homeless? Indeed, it would seem the case.
But rather than interpret that God is with us as a fetus, but forgets us as adults, and yet will allow us to plead for the death of our enemies, we need to look at the greater context in which all these verses are found: songs.
Called Psalms, these are the songs of King David, a man of great faith who was also greatly tormented. He was a man of passions. He loved God, lusted for another man's wife, and murdered him to get her. He marveled at nature and at his own existence. All his great swings in emotion are recorded in the songs he wrote, and we can read them today in the Book of Psalms. What we cannot do is take one song, or one stanza of a song, and proclaim that it is indeed to be taken literally while taking other stanzas from David's songs and claim they should not be taken literally.
Yet that is exactly what anti-abortion Christians are asking us to do. They use those few verses from the Psalms to support their dogma that abortion is wrong. They proclaim those verses as holy writ and the other verses as poetry that we should not be following. Clearly, this is a perfect example of taking verses out of context. And it leads us to only one conclusion: if we cannot trust that God wants to kill our enemies and abandon us, we must also conclude that we cannot trust that God has defined the fetus as being a person.
For indeed, if we allow that kind of thinking we could also make an argument that God is willing to maul children to death if they make fun of a bald guy who just happens to be in God's favor. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. In the book of Second Kings, our hero, the Prophet Elisha, who was quite bald, so it seems, was taunted by a group of young boys. Elisha's response was bitter and cruel:
" he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, 'Go up, you baldhead; go up you baldhead!' When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number."
2 Kings 2:22-24
Did God kill those forty-two kids for making fun of a bald prophet? We can certainly make an argument for that if we use the anti-abortionists' kind of thinking.
Likewise we can also use the anti-abortionists' methods to establish that God approves of pornography, as seen in these following verses by Solomon as he pondered the female body:
"How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince's daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, the work of the hands of an artist. Your navel is like a round goblet which never lacks for mixed wine; your belly is like a heap of wheat fenced about with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle."
"Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I said 'I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its fruit stalks.' Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine."
Song of Solomon 7:1-3,7-9
Pretty steamy stuff. Taken by itself, it would appear God is indeed promoting a written form of pornography. But just like Psalm 139:13-16, we cannot take it by itself. Instead we must take it within the context it was written.
The same is true with the other two verses used by anti-abortion Christians to defend their cause. From the book of Jeremiah, these Crusaders are fond of quoting the phrase, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee," from the first chapter. But they never quote the entire passage, which changes the meaning considerably:
"Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."
Jeremiah 1:4-10
This is a special event -- the birth of a prophet. God brought the prophet Jeremiah into the world for a divine purpose, and because of that, God was planning Jeremiah's life "before" he was even conceived. God was preparing him to do miraculous things, such as speak on behalf of God while still a child and setting him up as an overseer of nations and kingdoms. But the anti-abortionists simply overlook this on their way to claiming that the one phrase they quote proves God sees us as individual people while still in the womb. God saw Jeremiah in that way, but to claim it applies to all of us is akin to saying that we were all prepared as children to speak for God, and that God has placed all of us "over the nations and over the kingdoms" of the world. In essence, to claim this verse applies to anyone other than Jeremiah is to claim that we are all God's divine prophets. We are not; therefore, we cannot apply these verses to our own lives.
Another problem in this passage is the phrase, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee." In Psalm 139:13-16 the anti-abortionists claim that because God was active in the creation of King David in his mother's womb that we must conclude the fetus is recognized by God as being a person. But here we see God stating that he knew Jeremiah "before" he was formed in the womb. By anti-abortionist logic, we would have to conclude that we are a human person even before conception. Since this is a ridiculous notion, we must, therefore, conclude that the anti-abortionist is interpreting these verses incorrectly.
The last verse most often quoted by anti-abortion Christians relates the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, while both were pregnant. When they meet, the pre-born John the Baptist leaps in his mother's womb at Mary's salutation. Let's read the original:
"And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:"
Luke 1:39-41
As much as the anti-abortion lobby would like this to mean that all fetuses are sentient persons because one is recorded as knowing Mary's words and then leapt inside the womb, the logic is as flawed as the Isaiah misquote. Again we have a miraculous event. Again we have a divine prophet whom God had ordained since before he was conceived. And this time it's even more miraculous, because the gestating John the Baptist is reacting to the approach of Mary, who at the time was pregnant with Jesus. Unless we believe all of us are chosen before birth to be the divine prophet ordained by God to herald the arrival of Christ on earth, then we cannot claim this passage refers to us. And indeed, it does not. While gestating fetuses are known to move and kick as their nervous systems and muscles are under construction, only divinely-inspired babies understand the spoken words of the mother of Jesus and can leap in recognition.
The point to all this is simple: we cannot take the verses we like and interpret them to support what we want to support. And, more to the point, we cannot simply accept what some Christian leaders proclaim as being God's word on a given subject without carefully reading the full text of the book and taking into consideration the entire context. We cannot, as we have shown, simply interpret those few verses from Psalms, Isaiah, and Luke as a reason to be against abortion. And, as we will see in a moment, there are still other verses -- if interpreted in the sloppy manner demonstrated by anti-abortion Christians -- in the Bible that could easily lead us to argue that indeed God, at times, supports abortion. Let's take a look.
In the full context of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon makes the point that much of life is futile. Over and over he writes that if life is good then we should be thankful. But when life is not good, Solomon makes some interesting statements:
"If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things, and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, `Better the miscarriage than he, for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he.'"
Ecclesiastes 6:3-5
Clearly there is a quality of life issue being put forth in the Scriptures. And in this case, Solomon makes the point that it is sometimes better to end a pregnancy prematurely than to allow it to continue into a miserable life. This is made even more clear in these following verses:
"Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun."
Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
Here we have an argument for both euthanasia and abortion. When quality of life is at stake, Solomon seems to make the argument that ending a painful life or ending what will be a painful existence is preferable. Now remember, we're not talking about David's songs here. We're reading the words of the man to whom God gave the world's greatest wisdom.
And Solomon was not alone in this argument. Consider the words of Job, a man of great faith and wealth, when his life fell upon the hardest of times:
"And Job said, 'Let the day perish on which I was to be born, and the night which said, "a boy is conceived." May that day be darkness; let not God above care for it, nor light shine on it.'"
"Why did I not die at birth, come forth from my womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me, and why the breasts, that I should suck? For now I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept then, I would have been at rest, with kings and with counselors of the earth, who rebuilt ruins for themselves; or with princes who had gold, who were filling their houses with silver,. Or like the miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, as infants that never saw light. There the wicked cease from raging, and there the weary are at rest. The prisoners are at ease together; they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master."
Job 3:2-4,11-19
And again a few chapters later Job reiterates the greater grace he would have known if his life had been terminated as a fetus:
"Why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb."
Job 10:18-19
Clearly there is a strong argument here that the quality of a life is as important if not more important than the act of being born. Indeed, we could claim that the Bible supports ending a pregnancy in the face of a life without quality. And, if I wanted to be bold, I could claim that this interpretation is in fact a biblical mandate to support the use of abortion as a way to improve our quality of life. And taking these verses to their extreme, I could claim that abortion is not just a good idea, it is a sacrament.
Actually, I will stop short of making that claim. In fact, I will stop short of making the claim that the Bible condemns or supports abortion at all. It does neither. The condemning and supporting comes not from the words of the Bible but from leaders within our Culture of Christianity who use verses out of context -- the same way I just did to support abortion -- to support their views against abortion. The condemning and the supporting comes not from the Scriptures but from average Christians who take the easy way out, accepting one or two verses of the Bible as proof that their leaders are speaking the gospel truth. The condemning and supporting comes not from God but from those who do not take the time to read the Bible, in its own context, and decide for themselves the meanings therein.
For indeed, there is one passage in the Bible that deals specifically with the act of causing a woman to abort a pregnancy. And the penalty for causing the abortion is not what many would lead us to believe:
"And if men struggle and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."
Exodus 21:22-25
This is a very illuminating passage. In it we find a woman losing her child by being stuck by men who are fighting. Rather than it being a capital offense, however, it is relegated to a civil matter, with the father-to-be taking the participants to court for a settlement. But, as we read on, if the woman is killed, a "life for a life," then the men who killed her shall be killed. Some have claimed that the life for a life part is talking about the baby. But from reading the context we can see this is not true. It also states a tooth for a tooth and a burn for a burn. Babies don't have teeth when they are born, and it is highly unlikely a baby will be burned during birth. It is pretty clear that this part refers to the mother. Thus we can see that if the baby is lost, it does not require a death sentence -- it is not considered murder. But if the woman is lost, it is considered murder and is punished by death.
It's important to note that some anti-abortion lobbyists want to convince us the baby in this passage survived the miscarriage. They point to the more "politically-correct" translation they find in the New International Version of the Bible. There it translates the term "miscarriage" into "gives birth prematurely" (the actual words in Hebrew translate "she lose her offspring"). While this may give them the warm and fuzzy notion that this verse might actually support their cause if maybe the child survived, it is wishful thinking at best. In our modern era of miracle medicine only 60% of all premature births survive. Three thousand years ago, when this passage was written, they did not have modern technology to keep a preemie alive. In fact, at that time, more than half of all live births died before their first birthday. In a world like that, a premature birth was a death sentence.
Others have looked to the actual Hebrew words, themselves, to try and refute these verses. They note that the word "yalad" is used in verse 22 to describe the untimely birth, and that yalad is also used in other places to describe a live birth. They then go on to say other places in the Bible use the words "nefel" and "shakol" to describe a miscarriage. Therefore, the argument goes, the baby in Exodus 21:22 must have been born alive. It's easy to see how a novice might make this mistake, but a closer look at the words in question reveal the flaw in this argument.
The word yalad is a verb that describes the process of something coming out - the departing of the fetus. Since it is describing the process, and not the result, it could be used to describe either a live birth or a miscarriage. Shakol which shows up in Hosea 9:14, is also a verb, but its meaning is to make a woman barren. Now a barren woman certainly might miscarry, but with this understanding of the word, it's clear why the writer of Exodus would not have used it since this miscarriage was caused by an accident, not by barrenness. And the word nefel is not even a verb. It's a noun. True, as a noun it is the term for a miscarried fetus, but the writer wasn't using a noun. He was using a verb to describe the coming out of the fetus. Thus, if I were describing a man falling to his death, I would use the verb "to fall" which can be used for both those who die and those who survive a fall, but to describe the man himself I would use the word the "fatality." So we can see that while a novice might mistake a verb for a noun and come to the wrong conclusions about the original Hebrew words used in the Exodus passage, a more careful look proves that the words only describe the action of losing the fetus, not the fetus itself. And that being the case, we can't use the Hebrew translations to determine if the fetus was alive or not when it came out - so we are forced to accept that in all certainly, considering the medical knowledge at the time, the preemie died. This makes it even more clear that the "tooth for a tooth" passage refers only to the mother, not to the miscarried fetus.
What has been so clearly demonstrated by the passage in Exodus - the fact that God does not consider a fetus a human person - can also be seen in a variety of other Bible verses. In Leviticus 27:6 a monetary value was placed on children, but not until they reached one month old (any younger had no value). Likewise, in Numbers 3:15 a census was commanded, but the Jews were told only to count those one month old and above - anything less, particularly a fetus, was not counted as a human person. In Ezekiel 37:8-10 we watch as God re-animates dead bones into living soldiers, but the passage makes the interesting note that they were not alive as persons until their first breath. Likewise, in Genesis 2:7, Adam had a human form and a vibrant new body but he only becomes a fully-alive human person after God makes him breathe. And in the same book, in Genesis 38:24, we read about a pregnant woman condemned to death by burning. Though the leaders of Israel knew the woman was carrying a fetus, this was not taken into consideration. If indeed the Jews, and the God who instructed them, believed the fetus to be an equal human person to the mother, then why would they let the fetus die for the mother's crimes? The truth is simple. A fetus is not a human person, and its destruction is not a murder. Period.
It is time to stop the one-sided view of abortion being proclaimed by Christian leaders. These leaders do not -- despite their claims -- have a biblical mandate for their theologies. It is time to stop preaching that the Bible contains an undeniable doctrine against abortion. It is time to stop the anger and hatred being heaped on abortion doctors and upon women who have abortions, especially when it's done in the name of a God who has not written such condemnations in his Bible. It is time to stop, because the act of making a judgment against people in God's name, when God is not behind the judging, is nothing short of claiming that our own beliefs are more important than God's. We must stop, because if we don't, then indeed the very type of theological argument being used against abortion can be turned around and used to proclaim that abortion is biblical.

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