Monday, May 5, 2008

Mike: Reply to Rami's 5/2 Post

While I knew the general position rabbis took with regard to abortion, I did not know the interpretive history which undergirds it. Thank you. I am intrigued by the idea of a "rodef" (a would-be murderous pursuer). To me, this sounds like a concept that might arise naturally in a time when childbirth entailed substantial danger to the mother. I suppose a successful birth (both mother and child safe) occasioned quite a celebration, as the "rodef" transformed into a blessing.

You wrote, "As it was explained to me the issue in Christianity is one of the soul. A mother who was baptized has the chance to go to heaven, but an unbaptized baby does not." Certainly, this may have been an issue to medieval Christians, and it may remain one to many Christians today. Many Protestant Christians long ago adopted a belief that unborn or young children who die are protected by the grace of God and so go to heaven. For such Christians, baptism is not an issue.

In America, at least, many Christians either oppose abortion or have deep qualms because they regard human life to be the gift of God. To take a human life is to usurp the place of God, and so amounts to murder. They debate when human life begins, by which they mean something akin to personhood.

Many Christians argue that abortion is permissible in order to save the life of the mother. Like the rabbis, we divide over how broadly "saving the mother's life" may be construed. Others add two other matters: in the case of rape or incest. Very few American Christians argue for an unrestrained practice of abortion. A fair number oppose abortion for any reason. Nearly all Christians regard abortion as a tragedy, part of the sadness of being a fallen human in a fallen world.

Christians divide rather sharply over how to interact with society with regard to abortion. Some attempt to use the tools of politics to write their position into the law of the land. Others restrict the application of the church's teachings to members of the church. A good number believe the decision must be left to the individual, whether alone or in conversation with their most trusted loved ones.

The sixth commandment, interestedly enough, is a foundational text for all of the above approaches.

Changing focus, Christians divide over the issue of capital punishment. The Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament allow for state sanctioned executions of those who commit premeditated murder. That being said, I tend to side with the rabbis! The taking of a human life is a grave matter. We now know for a fact that a sizable number of innocent people have been condemned to death via our justice system. The abolition of capital punishment seems to me to be the only way to ensure we do not take an innocent life. We may also be delivered from the temptation to become the kind of people who confuse revenge for justice.

I'll leave suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia for another post.


AaronHerschel said...

I've always loved Tolkein's quote on capital punishment. When Frodo suggests early in the quest that Gollum "deserves death," Tolkein has Gandalf reply: "I dare say he does. And many die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be to eager to deal out death in punishment, for even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. It's always good to encounter another Tolkein reader. I think the citation you mention is one of the most profound Tolkein offered, and it certainly summarizes my own perspective. I tend to think it captures that of Jesus as well.