Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Inhumanity of the Pro-Life Movement

If the damage weren’t so devastating, one would say that it is ironic that the movement to protect human fetuses, that brands itself “pro-life” and sprang from the moral and religious reverence for human life of the Catholic Church and Evangelical branches of Christianity, is in fact an inhumane movement.

The reader may well ask, “How can I call the pro-life movement inhumane?”  The dictionary definition of inhumanity is lacking kindness, compassion; being cruel.

Let me count the ways in which the pro-life movement is inhumane.

First, it is an act of cruelty towards the very lives that the movement seeks to save.  The life of a child is a difficult one filled with anxiety, insecurity, and fear.  Even when raised in what can be described as a loving family, things typically happen within the family that cause a child to suffer from these emotions.  And these are children who are wanted.

How cruel it is to force a child to be born into a family that does not want him or her.  How much more will that child suffer than the average child?  And if the child is given up for adoption or placed in a foster home, how much more will the child suffer? 

That the fate of these children once they are born is of no concern to the pro-life movement is itself an act of cruelty.  What’s worse, many of the same conservative Evangelical forces that are pro-life are actually in favor of reducing government aid to needy families with children.  Making it more likely that some of these saved children will suffer from malnutrition, poor health, and inadequate housing.  That some now offer short-term housing for women and their newborns is not an answer to the problem they have created.  

Second, it is lacking compassion for the living person, the woman who is bearing the child.  Any woman who makes the decision to abort the life moving within her struggles with that decision, not because of the pressures of society or family, but because of the biological and psychic bond between the mother and her unborn child.

It shows a total lack of respect for another human being, one who is living, to not acknowledge this decision-making process.  Whether she is in a bad marriage.  Whether there just isn’t enough money for another baby.  Whether she is at her wits’ end.  Regardless the reasoning, abortion is never undertaken lightly.

“Ah,” the pro-life advocate will say, “then she should have practiced birth control.”  Of course, the Catholic Church does not sanction protective birth control of any sort.  But putting that aside, this retort points to the third way in which the movement is inhumane.  

As has most recently been shown in the passage of a restrictive abortion bill by the Alabama State legislature, pro-life activists will not even allow an exception from their crusade for women who have been raped or been the victim of incest.  Such women had no choice to practice birth control.  But nevertheless the movement would force these women to bring into life children who were formed either by their rapist or their father or other relative who abused their trust.  If this is not a lack of compassion, if this is not cruelty, I don’t know what is.

Another cruelty, is that most pro-life advocates will not allow an exception for cases where the mother’s life is at stake.  They are pro-life for the unborn fetus, but anti-life for the living mother, who more than likely has living children.  They show more compassion for the fetus than for those living children; how will they be harmed by the death of their mother?

The Religious Right, as well as the Republican Party, has for the past several decades been extremely clever at setting the terms of debate, ever since the days of Lee Atwater.  At branding themselves in a way which comments favorably on themselves and branding their opponents, typically Democrats, in way which comments unfavorably on them.

Thus the recent pro-life hashtag, #EndInfanticide.  How in the world do you fight against the image that by protecting a woman’s choice, you are promoting infanticide?

I suggest that you fight fire with fire.  It is not enough to counter “pro-life” with “pro-choice.”  The slogans just don’t carry the same moral weight.

There are four strategies I would suggest.  The first is that Democrats and other pro-choice activists must make very clear that they are anti-abortion.  No one is pro-abortion.  Everyone detests the idea.  It’s just that in certain situations, some feel it is the lesser of two evils.  Thus the first new hashtag for the pro-choice movement should be, #antiabortion.

The second is calling the pro-life movement on the inhumanity and the hypocrisy of their position.  Thus I propose a second hashtag, #prolifeisinhumane.

The third is to bring the Christian denominations that have official policy supporting Roe v Wade to the forefront.  It must be clear that this is not a fight of the religious against the secular.  One can be Christian, religious and have a moral and religious reverence for life and yet support the right to end a pregnancy in properly limited circumstances.  This is not a contradiction.  Indeed, as I argue above, it is the pro-life position that is a contradiction.  Of course other religions should be included, but this should not be allowed to appear as a Christianity v other religions issue.

The fourth is to come up with a new name or names to replace “pro-choice”  as it just doesn’t have the necessary moral heft.  This one I had trouble with.  It has to have the right image, be short, and resonate.  Possibly “Pro-Mother” or “Pro-Child” with the accompanying hashtags.

It is past time for the tables to be turned on the Religious Right and for Democrats and other pro-mother/pro-child people and religious institutions to set the terms of debate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Failure of Religion to Lead

I was reading a book the other day that happened to quote two verses from the Bible that just stopped me in my tracks, realizing what a failure not only we are as humans but what a failure religion has been in leading its flock.  The verses were:

“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”

These are core principles of Christian teaching, together with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Similar teaching with different words can be found in all the great religions.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 37% of Americans are classified as “highly religious” based on their self-reports of church attendance and the importance of religion in their lives.  Another 30% are classified as moderately religious.  

Yet the same poll found that 48% of highly religious Americans approve of Trump’s performance in office, 40% of the moderately religious.  Regarding party affiliation, 80% of Republicans are classed highly or moderately religious, but only 61% of Democrats.

How does one make sense of this data considering the teachings noted above?  It is obvious that there is a serious disconnect between what people feel being religious means regarding their own and others’ actions and the teachings of the Bible and other spiritual sources.  This is not only seen in the support of the religious for Trump but in their everyday actions, be it within their family or in the context of their work.  

We live in a culture that promotes the quest for power at all cost, vanity, and deceitfulness.  We live in a culture that is supremely irreligious.  But why do the religious, who rebel against some aspects of modern culture, not stand up against this ethical and moral cancer?

One could look at this situation and say that the failing is due to the weakness of man.  But that is only part of the answer.  The more damning (pardon the pun) answer is that our major religions, especially the more orthodox branches, have failed to pass on the most meaningful aspects of their religion … how one acts towards his fellow man.  Of course they give lip service to the moral and ethical responsibilities of man, but they do not press the point.

Instead the orthodox branches of religion are obsessed with gaining power, with having influence, and as a result stress the functional aspects of orthodox religious practice far more than the moral or ethical aspects.  The only moral aspects they promote are cherry-picked from the Bible and again are geared to their defeating what they see as enemies of their power.

And so, whether it’s their stand against a woman’s choice, which they label “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” (is anyone pro-abortion?), or whether it’s their stand against the LGBT community, that is the orthodox moral litmus test for being a good Christian or a good Jew.  To abstain from vanity, from deceitfulness, from the quest for power and wealth at all cost seems not to concern them.

And this is not just a criticism of Evangelical Christians (much has been written about the apparent hypocrisy of their support for Trump) or ultra-orthodox Jews.  The Catholic Church in general has fallen into this same trap.  Actually, the preeminence of survival is nothing new for the Church.  It has historically seen its most important role as preserving its power, its presence.  So for example, during WWII, Pope Pius said nothing about what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy or the conquered countries.  He was more concerned that the church not be attacked.

And what about the ongoing scandal of the abuse of children, not just boys, by Catholic clergy?  Not just the abuse, but the deceitful, disingenuous actions of church leaders in keeping the truth of this monstrous moral failure from their own flock.  All in the name of preserving the power and strength of the Church.  

If one reads the Bible in its entirety, not just the favored sections intoned in the culture wars, they will know that they and their religion have failed.  That they are not leading a religious life in any truly meaningful way.  Evangelicals may be “born again,” and ultra-orthodox Jews may maintain all the rituals and study the Bible and pray for hours, but orthodox Christians are not doing what Jesus would do, and ultra-orthodox Jews are not doing what G-d would have them do in dealing with their fellow man.  And by the way, I should note that the eastern religions are not free of this problem.  Look at the violence that Buddhist monks have promoted against the Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar.

Religion should be at the forefront of a real culture war, which is to say against the prevailing culture’s promotion of power, vanity, and deceitfulness.  It should be our moral compass.  But that would take real courage because it would risk turning people off and thus “weakening” the church’s power and presence.  

It is ironic that it is the less-orthodox, less-conservative branches of the religions that do a better job at teaching the moral values of their religion, and those who are classified as “not religious” who do a better job at implementing those values.  Something has gone haywire.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Tariffs 101 - The Big Trump Lie

Trump is fond of saying, in support of his trade war tariffs, that as a result China is paying billions of dollars directly into the U.S. Treasury.  That is blatantly and categorically false.  Either Trump knows the truth and is lying, or he is just dumb about how tariffs work, which is certainly possible.

What really happens when tariffs are imposed is that the producing country, here China, does not pay a penny.  The tariffs are instead paid by the company importing the product into the U.S., typically an American company.  It is they who are paying the billions of dollars into the U.S. Treasury.

And guess what the importing company then does?  They pass the cost on to their consumer, whether it is a business or the American public.  

So at the end of the day, the billions of dollars in tariffs are in fact paid by the American consumer, not China.  China is only hurt by the tariffs in so far as the increase in the cost of their products to consumers because of the tariffs causes sales to decline.

And that, as Edith Ann (the Lily Tomlin character) would say, is the truth.

* Note:  Prior to publishing, this post was sent to the New York Times as a letter to the editor.  When a few days later they published an editorial making this very point, I was free to publish my post.