Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is Abortion Murder?

American society continues to be divided over the issue of abortion and there doesn’t appear to be any truce in sight. For those who oppose abortion the possibility of a supreme court justice that will tilt the court toward outlawing abortion has defined their choice of a president.   Following the November, 2016 presidential election, exit polls showed astonishingly that 76% of voters who self-described as “evangelical” voted for Donald Trump.  It appears that the deciding factor for many, if not most of such voters was that Mr. Trump promised to appointment a supreme court justice who would enable the supreme court to overthrow Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion.  As I write this, senate Republicans and Democrats are battling the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the supreme court.

Abortion opponents insist that abortion is murder.  For many that hold this view there can be no dialogue about the matter. Yes, abortion is a serious matter and should not be considered lightly.  But I am willing to argue that whether or not this is ‘murder’ can be debated with valid points on either side.  As early as the 1940’s and 50’s, even many conservative Christian scholars and clergy did not view abortion as something to be forbidden under any circumstance.  Abortion opponents insist that human life begins at conception and to terminate a pregnancy after this point is murder.  But, this is a relatively recent view. Historically, there have been various views regarding when a human life begins. Many believe life begins at birth, others assert it is when a heartbeat or brain activity can be detected.  Still others state that life begins when the fetus could be viable outside the womb.  

The issue of abortion is not addressed in the Bible, contrary to what many people insist.  The only case in scripture of something analogous to abortion is the case, addressed by Jewish law, where an individual strikes a pregnant woman with the result that she miscarries.  The Jewish law specifies a punishment for such an act, but it is not the same punishment as for murder. As far as the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” there has been historical disagreement as to the application of this in several areas.  For example, does this forbid a person from fighting in a war for his/her country? Does this preclude capital punishment? These are questions that are not easily answered.

As I have struggled with this in my own mind over the years, several considerations have led to my refraining from viewing someone who chooses an abortion as a ‘murderer.’  It appears to me that to make it a criminal act for a woman to terminate a pregnancy is in essence forcing a woman to have child, even if she is unable to care for a child, or has no one to help her rear the child.  While adoption is a wonderful act,  I don’t see society being willing to take up this responsibility on a large scale.

The life of a mother and her potential offspring cannot be viewed separately.  In the animal kingdom, offspring become self-sufficient almost immediately at birth.  A giraffe can stand shortly after emergence from the womb and actually begin running within an hour or two.  Guppies give birth to tiny babies who swim off immediately to fend for themselves.  Humans, on the other hand are helpless at birth and this doesn’t change quickly.  Parents know that it takes upwards of 20 years for that child to become a self-sufficient adult. America has an incarceration rate higher that any industrialized nation.  At the risk of over generalization, our jails and prisons are full of individuals that were not adequately prepared by anyone to become productive members of society.

An egg and sperm come together and form a cluster of cells that we call, in layman’s terms, a ‘fertilized egg.’ While some assert that this is the beginning of life, one could make the argument that there is life even before this fertilized egg.  After all a viable egg and a sperm that can swim are ‘alive’ in some sense.  So why insist that after they meet it is immediately ‘murder’ to prevent this from developing into a person?

Further, to say that to terminate this cluster of cells is murder is essentially saying that it must be allowed to become a person regardless of whether there is anyone capable or willing to care for this life physically, emotionally, socially, and educationally.  What astounds me is that the voting block for whom opposition to abortion is the singular issue that determines their vote seems to be, for the most part, the same block that opposes expansion of welfare programs, meals for the poor, better pay for public school teachers, education to prevent unwanted pregnancy, etc.  It appears to be the same group that favors ever tougher laws and the building of more prisons to house the people who break these laws.

Does it not seem logical that the same people who say that every fertilized egg is a life which must be preserved would also be the biggest proponents of a systematic program to help these eggs become lives that are worth living? There is great outrage and protest at the performing of abortions at health clinics, but this rings rather hollow when there is nothing like the same outrage expressed about the conditions in which children live in inner cities or poor rural areas of the country. I would respect abortion opponents more if they put forth even half the effort to help children born into poverty as they put into protesting abortion.

Abortion is a serious matter. Personally, I have not had to grapple with such a decision.  But, I have sat with individuals who have and it is an incredibly difficult decision.  But it doesn’t seem to me that this is something that should be decided by the making of laws.   I respect those who oppose abortion and they have every right to promote their view and discourage people from having abortions as long as this is done in a non-intrusive, non-forceful manner.

For some who will read this, what I have said is ‘anathema.’  They are not likely to change their minds.  I also realize that some people will decide that I am one of the bad guys in this debate.  But, in the interest of civility, tolerance, and a path forward in our society, perhaps some reading this will broaden their view of this matter even slightly, and thus bring greater understanding among us all. 

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

Not long ago I was in line at a local pharmacy waiting to pick up a prescription.  In front of me was a woman who was obviously visually impaired.  She held a guide cane such as blind people often use to help them find their way and it was obvious that her eyes did not focus on any particular object.

When it was her turn at the counter, she said that she was looking for a particular over-the-counter medical product and needed help finding it.  The young clerk told her to look on "Aisle Nine."  The customer said politely, "I am afraid that I will not be able to find it.  Would you be able to help me?" There was a long line and the clerk appeared frazzled.

When the clerk returned with the product, she held it up in front of the customer's face and said, "Is this what you want?"  The customer, not being able to see, did not respond.  I reached over and took the product and read the label to her.  "Yes," she said, "That is it.'  When the clerk asked her how she would like to pay, she said she would like to use her credit card, The clerk then said, "you need to swipe your card." Again, the customer held out her card but was unable to find where to swipe it.  Again, I assisted her and finalized the transaction.  The customer turned and, using her guide cane, began to find her way to the exit.

I don't mean to be critical of the young clerk.  She had never dealt with someone who had to do things differently due to some disability.  But, I ask myself, "Why are so many of us ill at ease around someone who functions in a manner different from what we know to be 'normal'? Why do we find it so hard to adapt what we do to someone who will need to do it differently?

A few years ago I had a client whose young son was born with a portion of one arm missing. There was just a little arm beyond the elbow and no hand on that arm.  This cheerful young mother appeared to take this in stride.  One day she came for her therapy session and she said that she was very frustrated.  She had been calling numerous piano instructors in town and each one told her that they would not be able to teach piano to a child with only one hand.

As I type this now, I feel as I did that day; stunned, speechless, and deeply saddened.  I ask myself why all these piano teachers would be unwilling to try to adapt to someone with only one hand. Then I ask myself, would I be different?

There are people among us that must do things in different ways due to their particular life circumstance.  Sometimes it requires another person to stretch him/her self a bit.  I hope that when that circumstance crosses my path, I will be able to think outside the box.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Enough with Political Correctness?

A comment often heard in the current political climate is that people are tired of “political correctness,” that it is refreshing to have leaders who are not afraid to be “politically incorrect.”  As I have heard this comment, I have reflected upon the introduction of this term into the vernacular.  My distinct impression is that the term “politically correct” is not used by individuals who are trying to be careful as far as the terminology they use or the views they espouse.  Rather, it is a pejorative term employed by people whose thinking seems to be something like this, “I don’t see a problem with that word or those views and I think most people agree with me. They are probably just avoiding those words/views because it is the popular thing to do.” 

Like many people my age, I grew up hearing and using terms that are now widely avoided because they are unkind, hurtful, disrespectful, inaccurate, and even racist. Certain terms and the assessment of certain individuals whom these terms described communicated that these individuals were of less value and that it didn’t matter if our views or words hurt them. To the degree that society now sees it as unacceptable to use such words, I see that as a good thing.

I have heard well-meaning individuals say that they are proud to be “politically incorrect.” Let’s be clear, the term “politically correct” is a term invented by people who do not want to exercise care in the attitudes they espouse or the words they use. When someone says, I refuse to be politically correct, are they not then saying that I refuse to avoid words or attitudes that offend, hurt or oppress people? 

I lived and worked among people of Asian descent for many years.  It used to be common in America to refer to such individuals as ‘Orientals.’  Some years ago, I was talking to a friend who happened be of Asian descent and I used the word, ‘oriental.’  He felt comfortable in telling me that this term could be viewed as condescending and therefore offensive to some.  I certainly didn’t mean it that way at all!  I could have insisted that the term did not mean that.  I could have stated that there was no reason not to use it and that I intended to continue using it.  But since he was a friend and someone I cared about, it was easy enough for me to adjust my terminology out of respect.

Some would say, “What is acceptable is continually changing. What used to be acceptable now is not.”  This is indeed often the case.  In academic settings, it is now preferable to refer to particular student as ‘developmentally delayed’ rather than ‘retarded.’  There seems to be a change afoot to refer to certain citizens as ‘disabled’ rather than ‘handicapped.’  We can be forgiven if we make a mistake in the term we choose but why can’t we be willing to adjust so as to help others feel less stigmatized?  There are even terms found in the King James Version of the Bible that would certainly earn me angry looks if I were to use them at a dinner party.  Language evolves and sensibilities evolve, thankfully.

There is an idea within a certain now popular political camp that states that it is imperative that the terrorists that we are now combatting in the world be referred to as “Radical Islamic Terrorists” rather than another term such as terrorists or extremists.  The Bush administration and the Obama administration avoided the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” because of the possibility of offending Muslims (believers in Islam) the overwhelming majority of whom are our allies in fighting terrorism. Muslims have been the victims of terrorism and extremism even more than have people of other faiths.  Why would we want to make it difficult for them to cooperate with us in fighting terrorism? Many insist that avoiding the term is “political correctness” and there is no need to avoid it.  Indeed, the new administration has begun proudly using the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” during the first month in office (Interestingly the new national security advisor, McMaster, has stated that the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is not helpful in fighting terrorism and in fact is not accurate).

An organization that still exists in the U.S. and has come into our consciousness from time to time is the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  This organization is known historically for its white supremacist views and horrific acts such as the lynching and murdering of blacks.  What a lot of people do not know or do not want to acknowledge is that the KKK is a “Christian” organization.  They use the bible in their meetings and they even burn a cross (a Christian symbol) during their terrorist activities.  When the KKK applies for a permit to have a demonstration, they often apply under the premise that they are marching in support of ‘school prayer.’ 

If you are a member of a Christian denomination (Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) how would it sit with you if the KKK activities were referred to in the media as “Radical Christian Terrorism?”  I suspect that most would say something like, “That is not Christianity, that is just a hate group that uses the bible to justify their terrible views and activities.”  I would agree.

I suspect that people who are determined to use whatever terms they wish just because they can will continue to do so.  But, perhaps there are some who have unknowingly accepted the fallacy that ‘political correctness’ is something to be avoided.  Whether or not such a thing as “political correctness” actually exists, it can only make the world a better place to avoid words that hurt, offend, tear down, and oppress the lives or others.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Alabama Judge Roy Moore: A Christian Hero?

Recently a federal judge ruled that Alabama’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to gay couples is unconstitutional.  While this has taken place in a number of states across the nation, what has put Alabama in the spotlight is that State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has instructed all state probate judges to defy the federal court ruling and to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  A few judges have gone ahead and issued such licenses but most have followed Moore’s directive.  It remains to be seen how this will all turn out.

Moore is the same judge that was removed from the state supreme court some years ago after defying a federal order to remove a large stone monument bearing the ten commandments that he had erected in the court rotunda.  He ran for this office again in 2012 and was returned to the post of Chief-Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court.

Judge Moore frequently cites biblical morality as the basis for his defiance of federal rulings.   Some evangelical groups and leaders have hailed his actions as noble, courageous, and righteous.   Evangelist Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) recently said of Moore’s actions, “I applaud Justice Moore and the many Alabama judges who are upholding the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

I would like to suggest that those who feel compelled to support Judge Moore and hold him up as a Christian hero consider the following:

1.    How does it further the Christian mission to alienate a whole segment of society? No one chooses sexual orientation.  Even if one disagrees with same-sex marriage, why take such a public position that likely ensures that gays (and their families) would never want to attend your church?

2.   Jesus never taught his followers to demand that their government make laws that enforce Christian beliefs and traditions. 

3.   Would Jesus have made opposition to a particular segment of society the centerpiece of his work on earth?  Today, many have come to associate Evangelical Christianity with opposition to Gay rights. Jesus, on the other hand, famously refused to condemn someone who was presented to him as being clearly in violation of a Jewish commandment.

4.   Does refraining from marrying someone of the same gender insure a person’s salvation?  If the mission of Christianity is to bring all to salvation, what is the point of insisting on laws that force non-believers conform to Christian practices? 

5.    Many gays who would like to marry their partners are sincere Christians.  It is easy to view gays as individuals who choose to defy God, but the truth is that many attend Christian churches, pray, give, and serve.  Larger cities often have churches that minister primarily to gays.  These believers read from the same Bible and sing many of the same hymns as believers in churches across the country.  Yet, leaders on the Christian right are in the habit of saying that those seeking same sex marriage are bringing God’s judgment on America.  Does this make sense?

6.   Judge Roy Moore has some surprising associations and backers.  Moore’s 2012 campaign was heavily financed (60% of campaign donations) by one individual (Michael Peroutka) who has frequently had to fend off charges of being a white-supremacist and who has close ties to a group which advocates that the southern states may need to withdraw from the United States.  In addition, the Mississippi KKK (Ku Klux Klan) has made a public statement in support of Moore’s efforts in Alabama to prohibit gay marriage.

7.   Are Christians going to someday regret having so ardently opposed gay marriage? Historically, Christianity has vehemently asserted a number of things that now seem absurd;  1) the earth is flat, not round 2) Slavery is an acceptable practice 3) Women should not be allowed to speak in church or vote in elections 4) Women must always cover their heads 5) men must not cut their beards 6) certain races are cursed by God 7) people are not to marry someone of another race, 8) People with mental illness are actually demon possessed, etc. If you come to the conclusion that an individual is gay by no choice of his/her own, then you must eventually accept that it is wrong to deny that person the rights that heterosexuals enjoy. 

I find it sad that many feel that in order to be a good Christian, they must follow Judge Moore's view in this matter.  By allowing gays to marry, government is not forcing anyone to violate their own beliefs nor is it denying non-gays of any of their rights.  This fight does not further Christian ideals and is not a worthy fight. 

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