Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Christian and a Philosopher Discuss Abortion

Christian: Abortion is murder.

Philosopher: ‘Murder’ is the unjustified killing of a human being. How is abortion the unjustified killing of a human being?

Christian: The unborn child is an innocent human child in the womb, and there is no justification whatsoever for killing an innocent human child in the womb.

Philosopher: In the early stages of pregnancy, is the conceptus any more a human being than an acorn is an oak tree? Would you say that destroying an acorn is the same as killing an oak tree?

Christian: We’re not talking about acorns and oak trees. We’re talking about the murder of innocent human children.

Philosopher: You haven’t explained how a conceptus in the early stages of its development is any more a human child than an acorn is a young oak tree, and how destroying this conceptus is, in principle, any worse than destroying an acorn.

Christian: The unborn child has a soul; the acorn doesn’t.

Philosopher: Leaving aside the question of how you know that these two claims are true and assuming, for the sake of our discussion, that they are true, how is the soul of a conceptus harmed by abortion?

Christian: It is denied the opportunity to live.

Philosopher: Are you saying that this soul doesn’t live after its body is aborted?

Christian: Of course it lives. Our bodies die, but our souls are immortal.

Philosopher: What happens to the immortal soul of a conceptus after its body is aborted?

Christian: It goes to heaven.

Philosopher: How does going to heaven harm a soul?

Christian: It doesn’t get to experience the joys of this life.

Philosopher: Isn’t it also spared the sorrows and sufferings of this life and ephemeral pleasures infinitely less than the everlasting joys of heavenly bliss, and isn’t it also spared any and all possibility of going to hell?

Christian: It is not for us to make that choice for the child. It should be allowed to choose for itself after it’s born whether it will obey God and go to heaven or disobey God and go to hell.

Philosopher: So, aborting a conceptus doesn’t harm its soul; it deprives it of the chance to choose a course in this life that subjects it to everlasting agony in hell in the next?

Christian: Yes.

Philosopher: Some might say that sparing a soul the opportunity to make this horrendous “choice” is the most humane and justifiable thing that one could do, and, if it is, then aborting a conceptus is not ‘murder.’

If a philosopher and Christian had a real discussion along the lines of the hypothetical dialogue above, I’m sure that it would be much longer and more complicated than that dialogue. And any reasonably well-informed and thoughtful Christian would probably make a far better account of himself than the hapless victim of my mouthpiece the philosopher. Yet, the dialogue raises some points that I’ve never seen discussed in heated debates between the religious opponents of abortion rights and those like myself who support these rights, unless I’m involved in the discussion. I don’t know if this is because these points are too ridiculous for intelligent and sane people to argue, or if it’s for some other reason. I leave that for the reader to decide.

However, it seems plausible to me to argue the following:

If you believe that there is a heaven of everlasting bliss where the good people go and a hell of never-ending torment where the uncleansed sinners go; and if you believe that the souls of the aborted automatically go to heaven, whereas the souls of the rest of us face the very real possibility of agonizing forever in hell, it is neither harmful to the soul to be aborted, nor necessarily selfish of a woman to resort to abortion. In fact, a woman who knows full well that aborting her fetus could plunge her into hell but goes ahead and does it anyway because she wants to feel absolutely certain that her fetus’ soul can’t go to hell could be said to be committing the most selfless rather than selfish act imaginable. In fact, one could even go so far as to argue that the most selfish thing anyone could do would be to give birth to a baby when they know that its soul might well end up in hell someday. And if you say that Christianity teaches that aborted souls don’t go to heaven, doesn’t that seem like just about the most absurdly unjust and unfair religion you could ever imagine? Are you going to use a religion LIKE THAT as the basis of your argument against abortion rights? If you say that Christianity doesn’t say where aborted souls go, do you believe that the God that your religion says is supremely loving, just, and merciful would send these utterly innocent souls to anywhere but heaven?

Of course, I don’t believe in heaven and hell or the God of the Bible, and so typical Christian arguments against abortion rights carry no weight with me whatsoever. Yet, it is no doubt equally true that secular arguments for abortion rights have no persuasive power over Christians. So, I like to frame objections inferred from Christian teachings themselves to argue against Christian arguments against abortion. Some might call this “fighting fire with fire.” Unfortunately, I doubt that my “fire” has ever persuaded a Christian opponent of abortion to change his mind. But it’s sure fun to throw a curve at these “true-believers” from time to time.

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