Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Killing: Abortion and Guns

Lately, since our election season seems to have kicked into full swing more than a YEAR before the actual election, it seems like there's been a rapid increase of both abortion and gun related memes on Facebook. Now a Facebook meme is a great way to further trivialize the already trivial, but it's a terrible place to insult the intelligence and morality of people with whom you disagree on important issues. If people (read: Christians) are really concerned about the increasing divide in the US, the first move is pretty much anything, but demeaning and demonizing those people you believe to be "on the other team."

It seems even more silly to me when it feels like (and granted discerning the tone of a meme is somewhat difficult) everyone is really just talking about one thing: killing.

Now there are of course some gun advocates who genuinely want to preserve the right to hunt and are worried that new gun laws would make that more difficult. However, I don't see much virulent rhetoric from these people, in fact, most of them are pretty confident we're not headed that direction. The real ire comes from those people who are afraid gun restrictions will prevent them from defending themselves in ways they deem fit - while there aren't too many non-crank-wackos who talk about this in the language of killing, it is ultimately the extension that must be discussed when talking self defense - people want the right to kill in defense of their life or the life of a loved one.

And, there are, of course, some abortion activists enamored with the notion of family planning by abortion, contraception after-the-fact, if you will, who make the debate pretty callous and unfeeling - but these, too, are very few and far between. Most people recognize the physical and emotional toll an abortion plays on a woman (and those who love her, if they know) as well as the moral complications of such a decision - and would rather have as few abortions as necessary. Many people would rather not outlaw abortion simply because they're not comfortable making that decision for another person - likewise, you don't see a lot of rhetorical engagement from these people. Again, the rhetoric rarely gets formed in the language of killing, but it is the extension of the debate - even if one doesn't recognize a fetus as a person, it is certainly living tissue that might potentially be forced to stop living.

Ultimately, these are both discussions about in what circumstances killing is appropriate. In the end, such positions are just value judgments - either this "bad" person has done enough to deserve a self-defensive death (self defense, being itself, a value judgement) or the life into which this child might be born will not provide the kind of love and attention each human being deserves (which is, again, a value judgement in itself) and preventing that birth is the best choice.

There is an argument about someone who's alive and made choices vs someone not yet born who didn't - and that's certainly a valid argument to have - but it skirts the subject. In both cases, the counter argument is simply speculative: you never know how this "bad" person might respond to being treated with love and care as opposed to violence and death; you never know how this child or this mother or the larger community would respond to the love and life of a new baby. These counter arguments are, of course, equally powerful and valid.

Then there are also the arguments of how these decisions affect the larger society. Do we want to be a part of a society where human life is so devalued that virtually anyone can make unilateral decisions about ending it - whether at the end of a gun or of medical instrumentation? Likewise, do we want to be part of a society that stands idly by while people are threatened or killed or while children are raised unloved or under-resourced?

There are consequences to any action.

That is ultimately my response to discussions of this kind. We need to think more. We need to recognize both the value of life and the necessary interconnectedness of all life. There is no individual life on this planet. We all impact each other in ways seen and unseen. We are all in this together. Life is important and the decision to take a life is equally important. It is not a flippant decision. Too often our debates about such things make it an easy answer, "of course I can shoot someone who break into my home," "of course I can choose whether to have a child or not." And there's strong historical precedent for both.

At the same time, there's also a strong historical precedent that people wrestle not only with the decisions themselves, but with the morality of the decision itself. What does it mean to choose life? What does it mean to choose killing? This plays out in a number of other ways as well - military service, police work, capital punishment, euthanasia - even health care and nutrition debates. Life is a pretty big deal. Ending it, even more so. This shouldn't be something we settle easily... especially when it interacts with reality.

As a Christian, it's pretty easy to take a theoretical stance. Killing is wrong. Jesus makes the case pretty clear - "do not resist an evil person," "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek." The Christian stance is always one of self-sacrifice over killing. But those theoretical answers prove far more difficult when we put them up against real life scenarios - usually scenarios that spring upon us unexpectedly. We just can't say what we would do or even what we should do, because living in the midst of that chaos is part of the process. We can follow the words of Jesus, but in the real world, it is rarely without some reservation (not to mention our various competing interpretations of what exactly Jesus meant).

We can use our beliefs to engage in practices that help form us into the kind of people who will respond as we so choose - but in the end, actually experiencing such a decision makes the difference. Listen, I pray for a world where no one will feel the need to get an abortion and no one will feel the need to own a gun, but until that world comes, I live in this one.

There are sensible gun laws out there to be had. There really are. There are sensible abortion regulations that could exist. We constantly get push back on these issues around the notion of freedom. I believe in freedom. I do think, as much as possible, people should be able to make their own decisions. What I don't believe, though, is that this notion of freedom should supersede the consideration of life. Guns may not be the only way to kill a person, but they make that killing much easier - that needs to be part of the discussion. Abortion may be the choice of a woman (because even when abortion is illegal, it still happens a lot), but it is the ending of, at the very least, potential life. The decisions we make around these topics are not and should not be easy.

I've never heard anyone talk more openly and honestly about the realities and potential of guns than police officers, who face those decisions every day. I've never heard anyone talk more openly and honestly and about the realities and potential of abortion than doctors who perform them. You don't often hear casual definitive statements from these people, because they live lives in the midst of the mess. They see the realities of life on both sides of these decisions. They take killing seriously. They understand these issues are about life and have no easy answers. In other words: they're not meme-worthy - and it's our making them so that is the real tragedy.


Marsha Lynn said...

Thanks for this, Ryan.

Marsha Lynn said...

Thanks for this, Ryan.

Hans Deventer said...

Yes, we live in this world. And it is in this world that Christ has come, lived according to the Sermon on the Mount, and died according to those principles, forgiving those who tortured and killed Him.

So I do tend to disagree with you implying that Jesus' words aren't making sense in this world. He lived them here, in fact, in a world more violent than we are used to in the West.

Ryan said...


Thanks for pointing this out. I didn't mean to say what it seems to say. I do believe Jesus' words make sense in this world, I was more trying to imply that the realities of the world around us often make it difficult to act with definitive confidence. We do what we think is right, but it's rarely, especially in cases of life and death, without some reservation.

Hans Deventer said...

Thanks Ryan! That clarifies a lot.