This election year millions of ostensibly Pro-Life Christians will vote Republican because they feel that Republican politicians represent the best opportunity to strike down legalized abortions.
Of course Republicans line up like sheep to claim the Pro-Life mantle. Some indeed do try to pass legislation to overturn existing laws resulting from court rulings such as Roe vs. Wade, which delivered protection for legalized abortions in the United States.
Religion in the public sector
For perspective on the use of religion as a foundation for political alliance and public policy, you may recall that many people of conservative faith originally threw their hopes behind a largely politicized attempt to bar teaching of evolution in public schools in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. A teacher named John Scopes defied the Butler act, a Tennessee law prohibiting public teachers from denying the literalist interpretation of the biblical account of man’s origin. Scopes was actually convicted of defying the law, but was let go on a technicality.
What that story illustrates is not a flaw in the judicial system or public policy, but the eventual and necessary failure of a segment of society to impose a religious view on the society as a whole. States across the country now advocate teaching of evolutionary theory because it is founded on real, discoverable science, not just a religious view dependent on a narrow interpretation of scripture. Evolutionary theory is also (not coincidentally) supported and complimented by myriad other scientific facts and theories. Evolutionary theory has led to important discoveries in sciences ranging from medicine to genetics to astrophysics. It is an important theory not just because of what it says, but because it works. Just as importantly, the theory itself continues to evolve, because that is the heart of science, not a fixed, one-time snapshot, as if life were a Polaroid picture.
Creationism, by contrast, is essentially the practice of denying science to support an anachronistic worldview. It is nothing but a Polaroid picture of the process of creation. And like many early Polaroids, its picture of the world is mostly black and white and not very clear. In sum, creationism is a negative theory whose only contribution to the world is the surety it provides to its adherents.
The same sort of sum-negative-thinking theory is at work in efforts to ban abortion in America. Years before abortion was legalized, millions of women engaged in the practice on their own or through black market providers delivering abortion services. Abortion was not invented after it was legalized. Instead it was legalized to make the practice safer for women in need of abortions for legitimate reasons, including protection of a woman’s health in at-risk pregnancies, termination of pregnancies caused by rape and yes, selective choice to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
That last phrase is what causes abortion opponents the most pain. The religious view that life begins at conception––itself an evolving contention––is used to contend that all forms of abortion are a type of murder.
Here is where the Pro-Life movement begins to resemble the creationist argument in its religious framework. The Bible makes no specific reference to abortion anywhere in its text. The 10 Commandments do say “Thou shalt not kill” but again, the interpretation of that commandment is short on actual, specific substance with regards to abortion, except when supported by scripture such as Psalm 139:13, which reads “for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (NIV)
That very elegant passage makes a great case for protection of life in the womb from conception. You can see how that image would move and motivate people to advocate for protection of life and the banning of abortion.
But here we are faced with a difficult question. If the religious case for protection of life is so compelling, why hasn’t religion been able to convince our nation and the world that abortion is not a good choice for women?
Religion’s failures do not make good public policy
The answer is that religion has failed miserably in its chartered role of reaching the world through its ministries. This fact relates to its failure to make relevant sense of its message in several key respects.
The first of these is that the most conservative forms of religion fail to reconcile scripture to any form of modern knowledge, especially the sciences that informs and improve our daily lives. In that context, the continuing effort by literalist sects to impose teaching of creationism undermines the credibility of religion as a whole in the public sector. How can we trust what religion says on any practical issue if a big chunk of the faith is living in a dream world where something always has to come from nothing, and never changes?
Secondly, large segments of the Christian faith also take a contrary view toward practical solutions such as birth control that would prevent the need for abortion. This sort of denial is cruel, aggressively naive and irresponsible, yet the largest bloc Christian faith in the world would deny its believers birth control under any circumstances. How interesting that more than 90% of Catholic women ignore this “law” imposed by the church.
Then think about what the Catholic church actually advocates for a method of birth control. The so-called Rhythm Method suggests that couples conspire to engage in “natural” birth control by timing their copulation to avoid impregnation. What a cynical “solution,” for it actually advises lying about the reasons for sex!
There are many examples in the bible in which Christ states that the intent of an oath or an act is as much a sin as the actual act. The idea of trying to avoid pregnancy and essentially “trick God” through use of the rhythm method sounds much like that moment when Adam and Eve were caught sneaking around the garden after they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and figured out they were naked. God didn’t like that little ruse, so the Creator surely must not like the Catholic Church encouraging its members to engage in procreative trickery.
The Catholic Church does not have a very good record in many such areas of theology, having actively persecuted scientists like Galileo for discovering that the earth was not the center of the universe, and others for teaching that the earth was round. These were practical realities that eventually revolutionized the Christian worldview, but not with much help from the Pope, who also threatened the life of Martin Luther for contending that it was not good works but grace alone that earned the believer salvation. Religion has a pretty sorry track record when it comes to figuring out the truth when it conflicts with some literal interpretation of scripture.
Old habits and infallibility
Yet we live in a time where many Christian believers persist in old religious habits and claims of infallibility (especially Leviticus and other texts of law) that have long been ignored, proven wrong or debunked through scriptural scholarship and newly inspired interpretation of holy texts. That process continues as faith evolves, as it always has since Jesus Christ himself came along to deliver the knockout blow to the love of law over the opportunity for fulfillment, salvation and life through redemption from sin.
Pay attention to what was just said. The love of law is not where Christians should reside, in whole. Jesus taught that the law of God is best understood through tools of parable, metaphor and experience, which when used together give us greater perspective on the will of God. He also chastised the religious leaders of his day for turning scripture into law, and turning the lives of believers into unholy efforts to justify themselves before the church or before God.
That also means that Christians should not try to turn their personal faith into the strict law of the land. Because as soon as you begin defining the core of your faith through the imposition of law, especially in the public sector, you have failed God in the commission of faith. Obviously your efforts have not been good enough on behalf of God to reach the people whom you seek to reach through law and politics.
If that sound harsh or accusatory, the truth really does hurt sometimes. But truly, nothing is so cleanly evident than the failure of religion when it claims to be the salvation of the world but fails in some grandiose and crucial way.
In politicians, not God, we trust?
Instead of taking direct responsibility for the failure of faith to convince people of those moral objectives some believers who high, they crawl instead to politicians in positions of public power, convincing them that the most important goal of the republic is to impose Christian law on a secular society. This is the exact same thing Christians find so abhorrent in the Muslim world when religious law is imposed in place of democracy.
The cynical sideline to all this has been the efforts of groups from the Christian Coalition to the Moral Majority working to install politicians who favor religious law over public law, thereby creating a virtual theocracy. This is done in spite of the fact that our own Constitution guarantees freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.
But when religion fails as it has on the abortion issue to convince people of its brand of morality, it is too hard for believers to admit or accept.
So you get pompously righteous politicians pumping their fists, proclaiming they are “on the side of God” while saying “We want to ban abortion!”
And why? Because it will get them elected and bring in campaign contributions. And yes, if they build enough consensus in America for their various pet “religious causes”, they may indeed seek to impose their religious worldview on the nation by banning abortion, teaching of evolution and taking away equal rights for gays and women and people of color. Well, America by definition and Constitution is supposed to provide equal rights for all, not just the religious citizens of the republic. Yet the Republican platform has determined that’s not good enough. They’ve made up their own agenda for America, supposedly in the name of God.
Failure twice over
We’ll state it plainly to make the matter clear. It is never right to use politics to compensate for the failures of religion. For religion to refuse to acknowledge its own failures and then blame America for persecuting the Christian faith is the ultimate hypocrisy. But that is the Republican platform these days, and it should be seen for what it is: A failure wrapped in political lies in an attempt to grab power.
So you should ask yourself: Is the reason you vote Republican because your religion has failed society? If so, then you should go to your church, not the voting booth as the means to effect change in society. Because if you really trust God, why do you need to rely on politicians to accomplish your aims?