Friday, May 31, 2013


I saw a line the other day, attached to a link about some abortion doctor that said, "Can't we all finally agree abortion terminates a human life."

I don't want there to be abortions. I don't think they should exist. I grieve the fact we live in a world where women feel so alone and vulnerable and scared.

I'd answer the question with another question, "Can we all finally agree there's no such thing as "A" human life?" There is life. All of us, really every thing in the universe participates in that life. Whether you believe that life is God's life into which all are invited or if that life is the beautiful cosmic mixing of subatomic particles out of which we emerge, we still must admit we're all connected.

Yes, we have individual choices and we make individual decisions, we even have names and faces and DNA that can separate us and tell us apart, but that doesn't mean we're disconnected.

When I die, I'm likely to decompose and the things that defined me then become parts of a tree or a worm or a cloud or a river and likely all four. In one sense I will have ceased to be and in another it's impossible to cease to be. There is just life, just existence.

We can say God created that newly fertilized fetus and it's true and it's not true. A sperm and an egg united to create that baby. Who created those, well they came from a man and a woman, who were created by other cells and other people and if we trace it all the way back, no matter what path we follow, we can get to God, if you believe that, but we get to some force at the beginning. Something.

Yes, God created that baby, but in the same way I created a cherry because I planted the seed that grew into a tree.

The point is not who created life or invited us into life or made us a part of life. The point is not even when life begins or when we join life. The point is that when life exists, it is precious and must be protected. Any life ceasing to be, outside the sort of natural progression of the universe, is a terrible thing.

Life ceasing to be is not simply another word for death, although death certainly qualifies. We're veering more into the philosophical here, but life requires determination, independence - even if it's at the end of a long series of genetic, instinctual responses, life dies a little when it's forcibly kept from doing what it longs to do.

Force. Coercion. They might as well be death. We run from like as if we're scared for our lives.

Of course, we also embrace them as tools of convenience. We use coercion to keep people from being coercive. We use force to keep people from using force.

I don't deny that the natural end of life is freedom and self-determination, I simply argue that just because it's a natural end doesn't make it good. It's not something to be strived for, not something to be sought.

If my aim in life is to ensure the absolute freedom of those around me, even at the expense of my own, ultimately it becomes the virtue by which others expend their free choice. Soon we have a whole society of people, a whole universe working only for the absolutely openness and independence of everyone else and people are truly free.

The system works when we respond in kind. The system also breaks down when we respond in kind. We deny freedom to each other, often for the benefit of our own. As we see such freedom denied, we claim it and define it and defend it. And we lose it.

Life is not a possession. It is not something to be held or created or defined. Life is something we inhabit and we inhabit together.

If we contain our conversations on life to such narrow, artificial definitions, contorting the discussion to play into our own preconceptions, we're really not talking about or dealing with life. We're dealing with a disease, something that's already eaten away at life, creating a lose-lose situation.

We've been handed a messed up world, one in which life is not all it could be, a diseased world. We've somehow decided we're either going to force people to live with the disease or put a band-aid on it, kick the can down the road, and avoid dealing with the disease until later.

To me, that's not a situation where we're choosing for or against life. That's a situation where life has already left the building. Our question then, is simply, how to we breathe life into this disease?


What have you got?


J. Thomas Johnson said...

First, I think the question of 'life' in the abortion debate is a constitutional one. So, it is natural for the idea of 'human life' to be central since that is the life assumed to be protected under the constitution. I'm aware that you've simply used the question to expand the scope of what is being asked, but there it is anyway.
Second, some of your description of life here seems quite materialistic. I do believe in a metaphysical self in a qualified way (not extreme Greek dualism, immortality of the soul sort of way). Are you arguing that there is no metaphysical component to the human that is not present in animal life generally?

Ryan said...

I'm saying the physical is an essential part of the human. Humans cannot exist without both a spiritual and physical component. Our physical component (and, I suspect our spiritual one) are not entirely independent, but connected to all of creation.

Essentially what I'm saying is when we choose to end life, in whatever way we do, it's like cutting off a finger. There may be a justifiable reason to do so, but we have to face the reality that even a justified, necessary amputation is not a "good" thing. It's a concession.

J. Thomas Johnson said...

I agree...the physical is essential. I'm inclined to go where you want to go in some ways. However, I'm not sure that death was never intended to be a part of this created order. Human death seems to have arrived as a consequence of sin, but it is not clear that death in the animal world originated there. Though I understand the peril here, and it may be one you're trying to mitigate, I am persuaded that, biblically, we do need to distinguish between human life and other life--not divide them, mind you, but distinguish them.

Ryan said...

I certainly agree. Part of our role as caretakers of creation, at least in our current state, involves a relationship to animals and death that is inherently different.

I think the line of reasoning I've used here absolutely applies to human life - as we move beyond the human, I think it could apply, but things do indeed get more complicated.

There's a lot more to learn and think through when it comes to how we've arrived where we are and what that means for us going forward.