Thursday, June 04, 2009

Prolife purism

Some Christians are prolife purists. They don’t think you should try to do anything unless you try to do everything. You shouldn’t try to save any babies unless you try to save every baby–even if that isn’t a realistic possibility. As a result, they sacrifice innocent life on the altar of their ideological purity.

Let’s begin with a comparison. Should I save the life of a drowning swimmer? Should I save any drowning swimmer unless I save every drowning swimmer?

Well, it all depends.

1.To begin with, someone may be at risk of drowning because he’s a weak swimmer. In a case like that, if you’re a strong swimmer, then you’re at no particular risk of drowning if you dive in to save him.

On the other hand, someone may be at risk of drowning because he was caught in a rip-current, or because he fell into the rapids while he was rafting, or because a shark attacked him.

In that case, you may be assuming the same risk if you dive in to save him.

Likewise, someone may be at risk of drowning if he took a foolish risk. If he was responding to a dare.

2.That brings us to the next point.

Our social obligations vary from person to person.

i) In some cases, it’s a pretty risk-free endeavor to save a drowning swimmer. All things being equal, if you can save him, you should.

ii) Even then, there are exceptions. Suppose a convicted murderer escapes prison. Suppose I’m a deputy. I’m in hot pursuit.

The convict is on foot. To avoid apprehension, he jumps off a bridge. But the water is turbulent, and he’s in danger of drowning. Is it my duty to jump in to try and save his life?

No. There’s no reason I should risk my life to save his life. Not in the case of a convicted murderer.

iii) Suppose someone is a risk of drowning because he did something foolhardy. Should I put myself at risk to save him?

Not necessarily. It’s tragic if he dies, but his reckless action doesn’t obligate me to take a similar risk. He’s responsible for his own actions. And I, too, must be a responsible steward of the life that God has given me.

If someone does something reckless, he can’t expect someone else to put himself in danger to save him from the perilous consequences of his foolhardy behavior.

For one thing, we have other social obligations. If we kill ourselves in the process, we can’t provide for others who have a higher claim on our allegiance.

iv) Suppose, once again, that in order to save the individual, you’d be assuming a personal risk. But suppose the person in question is a close friend or family member–or a young child who fell into the rapids.

In cases like that, there’s a higher obligation to assume a higher risk.

To vary the metaphor, suppose your brother comes down with a contagious and potentially fatal disease. He’s helpless to provide for himself. He won’t survive without you by his bedside day and night. He may not survive even if you’re there to help him.

But prolonged contact puts you at risk of contracting the same potentially fatal disease. What should you do? Save yourself or try to save him?

In a case like that, your duty is to your brother, even if you both die in the process. However, you don’t have the same degree of obligation to a perfect stranger.

I’ll close with an exchange I had over at Justin Taylor’s blog:


JaredLorence said...
Saletan's email is if anyone wishes to contact him.

I emailed him my basic problem with his reasoning...

"Towards the end of the article you argue that pro-lifers don't actually believe abortion is murder because they don't react violently towards abortionists like they would someone who kills elderly people. You write:

"You think you're pro-life. You tell yourself that abortion is murder. Maybe you even say that when a pollster calls. But like most of the other people who say such things in polls, you don't mean it literally."

I disagree. Like most Americans, I believe that OJ Simpson murdered his wife. Should my conviction be questioned because I never attempted to kill OJ?

6/03/2009 09:45:00 AM

steve said...
Strong Tower said...

“The problem with your argument is the fact that with OJ the system was applied. In the case of the murder of the unborn, the system is not working.”

His comparison was perfectly valid. The legal system was applied in both cases. Both OJ and Tiller were tried and acquitted. In both cases, the system failed. You’re equivocating.

“Why is the murderess mother not the focus of Pro-life groups along with the practioners? They are conspirators in the same crime. While it may be true she is being confused and mentally infected often with the evil propaganada of the left, she is not innocent. She is a murderer.”

No inconsistency at all. The primary objective of the prolife movement is preemptive rather than punitive. The goal is to prevent or minimize the occurrence of abortion. Hence, prolife organizations pursue legal remedies that have the greatest chance of being enacted into law.

6/03/2009 12:12:00 PM

steve said...
Strong Tower said...

"How do you preempt it? Keeping it legal? Not prosecuting the conspirators? Right, like that ever works."

Are you trying to be slow on the uptake? The logical is pretty obvious. An abortion is a procedure with at least two parties: the mother and the "doctor." You don't need to penalize both parties to curtail abortion. To penalize the doctor would be sufficient to vastly lower the rate of abortion.

And that is politically feasible in a way that penalizing the mother is not. Therefore, since responsible prolife organizations are trying to make use of preexisting political framework to implement their agenda, you favor initiatives that are more likely to enjoy political support. That's in the nature of the democratic process.

6/03/2009 06:38:00 PM

steve said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, moral compromise does not involve failing to do what it was never within your power to do in the first place.

Prolifers don't have the political clout to penalize women who undergo abortions. Faulting prolife organizations because they don't waste time and resources on a futile exercise is irrational on your part.

And, yes, it's better to save some innocent lives than to save no innocent lives unless you can save all innocent lives.

6/04/2009 12:29:00 PM
steve said...

BTW, if you think prolifers should invest time and effort in lobbying Congress or state legislatures to pass laws penalizing women who undergo abortions, then no one's stopping you. You're more than welcome to lead by example. Don't attack others for failing to do what you yourself fail to do. If you think that's doable, then do it.

And, in the meantime, don't sacrifice innocent lives (sparing as many babies as we can) on the altar of your utopian principles.

6/04/2009 12:38:00 PM


  1. Steve,

    I know this is something of a tangent, but it kind of fits amid all the recent posts regarding abortion. Victor Reppert posted this link on his blog:

    Could you please respond to the gist of the author's argument, or direct me to places where you may have already responded to these ideas?


  2. Here are two online resources:

  3. That paper is utterly ridiculous. I think Reppert was pointing out how dumb it was. If he was endorsing it, so much for his skills as a Bible reader.

    I'd say the "arguments" in there are self-evidently bad.

    However, I responded to his "main" argument from Ex. here:

    But I'll paste in the relevant section:


    PM: Again, Moore just offers us his benighted, nullifidian reading of Scripture. No attempt at *exegesis*.

    First, the term "miscarriage" isn't in the original. The Hebrew word simply means, "Her fruit comes out." It is impossible, by that word alone, to determine the state this child comes out in - dead or alive. The same Hebrew words are used in various other places to indicate live births. Moore depends on the notion that the child comes out dead for his argument, yet this view cannot be demonstrated from the text.

    Second, had the author wanted to indicate a stillborn birth, he could have used the word used in the very text from Job that Moore himself referenced earlier (in Job)! The Psalmist also talks about children born dead. The word is nephel. Nephal is defined by Gesenius as “a premature birth, which falls from the womb, an abortion” (p. 558; cf. Brown, et al., p. 658). Another word could have been used too. Shachol and its variations were used in places like Gen. 31:38; Hosea 9:14; Ex. 23:26. Shachol means “to cause abortion (in women, flocks, etc.)” or “to make abortion, i.e., to suffer it”. But Moses didn't use these words. He used words that were used over and over again to refer to live births. But besides that, the term is not indexed to either life or death.

    Third, when the text says "no lasting harm" or "no harm" is done, the text leaves it open, grammatically, that this refer to either the woman or the child. Moore cannot show that the object of the "harm" is the woman. To claim it means only the woman is an unjustified reading. The best interpretation is that the author meant for the ambiguity to be able to be indexed to woman and/or child. This is most economical as well rather than the author writing out the various permutations, viz. death to both child and mother, death to child but not to mother, death to mother but not to child, injury to child but not mother, etc., etc., etc.

    As Archer states, "What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (ne-pes’) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule (Encyclopedia, 1982, p. 248)."

    Fourth, in the text we're dealing with an unintended injury or death to mother or child (or both), this is clearly disanalogous.

    Moore can consult these articles if he wants:

    Or consult some standard commentaries, Stewart, Enns, Currid, etc.


    Lastly, to claim that talk of "teeth and eyes" means that death wasn't required for the death of the child is ridiculous. That's a woodenly litreral reading of that phrase and I'm unsure of ANYONE who takes it the way the author does. It's talking about principles of justice. On the author's dumb reading, if a man with no teeth knocked the teeth out of a man with teeth and eyes were killed, then if you killed him teach wassn't required!

  4. I realize my last couple of sentences are completely unintelligible:

    I wrote: "On the author's dumb reading, if a man with no teeth knocked the teeth out of a man with teeth and eyes were killed, then if you killed him teach wassn't required!"

    Should be: "On the author's dumb reading, if a man with no teeth and eyes were killed, death wasn't required of murderer since there could be "eye for eye" justice!

  5. No endorsement of the biblical argument, only a presentation of the issue for the sake of discussion. My own view is that Scriptural arguments provide modest support for the pro-life position, support because there are certainly passages in which, for example, the Psalmist identifies himself with his pre-natal self, and modest, because I don't know of any passages that explicity put that identity all the way back to conception.

    That's guaranteed to disappoint everyone.