Friday, January 13, 2006

Judge Alito Shall Be Outwitted and then Confirmed

Listening to the confirmation hearings for Judge Alito, one might well conclude that abortion is the single most important issue—the overriding social, religious, moral and legal problem—facing the United States. IT'S NOT. Abortion is the straw man that christian terrorists want us to focus on while we forget the real message of the Biblical tradition, which says, “If I have made gold my trust, or called fine gold my confidence; if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, or because my hand had acquired much….this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I should have been false to God above.”

The “pro-lifers” [SIDEBAR 1: these folks are not “pro” anything; they are “anti” abortion; that’s all; somewhere along the line they figured out that rhetorically their argument would be more palatable to the common folk if they gave themselves a positive name; who could possibly be “anti” life?] have made much of the supposed similarity between the abortion "struggle" and the 19th-century fight to abolish slavery. In a widely read and oft-quoted article on the subject, George McKenna wrote, “Here, then, is the center of it all. If abortion had nothing to do with the stilling of heartbeats and brains, there would be no abortion controversy” (“On Abortion: a Lincolnian Position.” The Atlantic Monthly, Sept 1995). The difference is that slavery involved real, living, human beings, and abortion involves a mystery.

You may believe that a heartbeat and a brain make a human being if you want. I do not. I believe that a human being is a living, breathing, freely–acting creature. This is, of course, a futile argument. It is completely religious in nature—a statement of faith. You believe one thing, I another. And if freedom of conscience means anything in America, it means you can't force your belief on me. Period.

A brief look at my belief: The Psalmist of the Hebrew scripture says, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…” (Psalm 8.4-6). A brain and a heartbeat cannot have dominion over anything.

I prefer to stand with one Hebrew writer who disavows playing God, who submits his ego to the power of God, rather than proclaiming his knowledge of the mysteries of birth, life, and death: Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11.5).

All of the egocentric nonsense about knowing when human life begins (“just look at the sonogram!”) is pure christian terrorism: "we will force our belief onto everyone, beginning with druggists refusing to fill prescriptions for the 'morning after pill,' continuing on to terrorizing abortion clinics, flowing on to making laws that embody our belief, and ending with packing the Supreme Court with judges who agree with us."

Even a sonogram says nothing about “human life." Can one see a “soul” in a sonogram? [SIDEBAR 2: People who, on the one hand, refuse to believe in evolution because it’s not Biblical and only a “theory,” and on the other, embrace the scientific process to prove something that can’t be proven—namely when “human life” begins—live in a kind of logical tension that I, for one, could not survive.] Part of the nonsense in this country stems from either misreading or mistranslating the Hebrew scriptures. Does Psalm 22 in the original say, “By thee have I been holden up from the womb” (KJV); or, “From birth I have relied on you” (NIV); or, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth (NRSV); or, “On you I depend since birth” (New American Bible). If one does a concordance search for the word “womb,” one will discover that the Bible is inconsistent in proclaiming whether one is in God’s care from inside the womb or from birth. And it's perfectly unclear whether it's a brain and heartbeat or a soul in the womb. The Bible is careful to leave certainties uncertain. This is obviously not a Biblical question on which one ought to stake one’s life. If a brain and a heartbeat make a human life, I would be guilty of conspiracy with my vet to commit murder because I paid her to euthanize my poor, sick, 19-year-old cat last summer. Taffy had a brain and a heartbeat.

Nowhere does the Bible declare that we should confirm Judge Alito in order to make of our land a fertility cult. Job is only one of many Biblical witnesses who say Senators Specter, Kennedy, et al, should be asking much different questions:

If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,

or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the orphan has not eaten from it
for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or a poor person without covering,
whose loins have not blessed me,
and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.
If I have made gold my trust,

or called fine gold my confidence;
if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great,
or because my hand had acquired much;
if I have looked at the sun when it shone,
or the moon moving in splendor,
and my heart has been secretly enticed,
and my mouth has kissed my hand;
this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges,
for I should have been false to God above. (Job 31.19-28)