Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stern and splendid: why abortion can never be the "compassionate" solution

Yesterday, I received a tumblr message from a fellow user of the blogging site.  She was challenging the pro-life views that I occasionally express on my tumblr blog.  Her claim?  That it is "uncompassionate" to deny an abortion to a woman with an unwanted pregnancy.

Here's my response:

'The great theologian and philosopher C. S. Lewis once asserted that “love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”
What’s he saying here? That kindness is unimportant? That we can stop being nice to each other, because it doesn’t really matter? No: just that kindness alone can’t be considered the epitome of love. It is only one side of a multi-faceted gem. Sometimes things must be put before comforting expressions of affection – things like truth. Love does not, and never can mean simply letting someone do whatever they want. Failing to interfere when someone is about to make a bad decision isn’t called love, it’s called cowardice. It seems that true love is often tough love.
Ok, now consider this. In my class on the theology of healing this semester, one of the many wonderful texts we’ve been studying is Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering. In it, at some point, he talks about the ancient Greek philosophers’ understanding of the meaning of happiness. To them, happiness is not a mere emotion. Rather, it is a state of being. The Greek word for happiness is eudaimonia, which means “good spirit” or “good soul”. Whether or not one is authentically “happy” is dependent upon his moral state. And thus, to these great thinkers, there existed much greater evils than to suffer, or even to die. To sink into moral depravity is the greatest evil – and greatest killjoy, if you will – imaginable.
To quote Kreeft: “What is the greatest good? What gives our lives meaning? What is our end? Modernity answers, feeling good. The ancients answer, being good…Furthermore, the most popular modern answer to the question of what it means to be a good person is to be kind. Do not make other people suffer. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s O.K. By this standard, God is not good if he lets us suffer. But by ancient standards, God might be good even though he lets us suffer, if he does it for the sake of the greater end of happiness, perfection of life and character and soul, that is, self.” (Making Sense Out of Suffering, 1986, pp 64-65.)
See, you speak of “compassion”. I suppose that if, faced with a frightened, distraught, confused pregnant woman, I could convince myself that it would be “compassionate” towards her to support her in getting an abortion. But oh, wouldn’t I feel like a hypocrite? And wouldn’t I be one, showing her “kindness”, at the expense of her own child’s life? Forced to choose one or the other, feeling good can never be chosen over being good. Emotions are fleeting. Your substance – well, that’s who you are.'

Receiving such messages via a computer - and from complete strangers, no less - often frustrates me, and always saddens me.  But I've discovered that these situations are really blessings in disguise.  Not only do they force me to think through, articulate and defend my beliefs, but they give me the opportunity to witness.

What do you think about the issues this woman brought up?  How would you respond?  Share below!

image: Charon and Psyche (detail) by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope


  1. I think that was a very well-thought and well-reasoned response. And I totally identify with your frustration over receiving such challenges from total strangers. And yet, like you said, it's truly a blessing in disguise.

    Abortion has been one of the issues I have struggled to understand how to address and present to those convinced of the pro-choice position. I have several good friends who have come to embrace that stance along with many other beliefs I can't condone, and it has been a struggle knowing how to express my thoughts on the matter and yet show them respect and love for who they are, regardless of what they believe.

    I long for others to understand that these positions are *not* unfair, not uncompassionate, not lacking in love -- indeed, that they are truly quite the opposite. But it just seems so hard to get across. I think it's because the debate hinges very heavily on emotions. And if someone's position is emotionally driven, it's very hard to reason with them. Even further, our culture so propagates the firm notion that any stance against the pro-choice one is bigoted, anti-woman, hateful (you name it) that I think there is a lot of pressure not to become "one of them".

    I've felt that pressure myself, on other issues, and it's been something I've struggled to overcome. It can be a mighty obstacle.

    I guess all this rambling really does have a point. It's that we have a much huger obstacle to overcome in this than mere rational opinion. The controversy is often not rational at all. So, that said, I don't know what I would write, exactly. I've been rethinking my approaches to these issues lately. I think I'm coming to realize that 1) our call in standing for the truth is, in fact, nothing less than a call to love our neighbor. So if we are arguing for truth in face of someone else's questioning, our first goal in responding to them is to understand them, why they might be where they are, to stand in their shoes: and then love that person with honest truthfulness. 2) Even then, we may meet with bitter resistance, and that's ok. If they are hard-hearted, it's between them and God. But (which is more likely) if they are stiff from a wounded and scarred heart, and still unable to feel the gentleness of the Wounded Surgeon that comes to make them well -- only the Surgeon can soften the scars and make them able to see his love for what it is. Like a wounded animal, they may strike out at the first loving touches -- but it means those touches are doing what they need to do.

    So, that's a long-winded way of saying: continue speaking the truth in love, ever seeking to increase in that love, and leave the results to God. When we do his bidding, he will take care of the rest. Sometimes people may refuse to change, but we musn't forget how beautifully and secretly God works through the most insignificant and imperfect of our own human efforts. :)


  2. Keep up the good work Liv! I've learned that's always the best approach with my brief interlude in the Angry Atheists Anonymous sphere…

    Many hugs and kisses!