Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hell and other feats of religious imagination


     There is no hell.
     No flames. No fiery pit ringed with horned demons using pitchforks to keep sinners' heads under the boiling lead.
     Sorry if I'm the one to tell you. 
     No hell. How could there be? Not only don't I believe in hell. To be honest, I have trouble believing anybody believes in it. How can they?
     Rather hell was a story, obviously, concocted in order to get people to behave in a certain way that they might otherwise not behave. Maybe they'd want to fool around before marriage. Hell kept them in line. Maybe they considered slacking off on their obligations to the church. Hell was what awaited them if they did.
     But the fires of hell cooled, in our modern world. I've never met anyone who sincerely worried about going to hell.
    So new stories had to be crafted, by those who would control the behavior of others.
    For instance, babies.
    Not born babies -- I'm not sure "born babies" is a term, as opposed to a neologism required by where we're going.
    But pre-born babies. What are under all other circumstances called "fetuses." In order to enlist them for their purposes, religious fanatics promote these forming fetuses to full babyhood, and use them as puppets to boss around women.
     Under any other circumstance, nobody believes it.
     Think about ordinary situations, outside the realm of the abortion debate. Outside the confines of the story. 
     Even the most conservative woman, upon learning she is pregnant, does not cry, "I have a baby!" (the confused answer would be "You do? Where?")
    She would say, "I'm going to have a baby." Future tense, not needing to add, "Once this fetus is fully developed and born."
    Until then, it isn't a baby yet. It's a proto baby. A fetus.
     But just as some unseen region underground was converted to hell, so fetuses, hidden out of sight, were backformed into babies, one of many disingenuous tricks to corral and control women, who lately tend to break free.
     You can tell that even the people who insist that fetuses are babies, for purposes of banning abortion, don't really believe it, because if you say, "So should we send women who have abortions to jail? For murdering these babies? Is that what you want?" most will just give you the I-refuse-to-think-about-this look. Because they don't really think it's a baby, they're just telling others that, to get them to conform, the way villagers cowered at the prospect of hell.
     They also keep changing the story, adding new details, trying to keep it fresh and convincing. 
    In Ohio, the Republican legislature is expected to soon pass a law making it illegal to have an abortion in order to avoid giving birth to a baby with Down Syndrome.
     A similar law is on the books in North Dakota, making it illegal to have an abortion due to concern over genetic anomalies, though nobody has been prosecuted under it and there is question whether anybody could be, as it is an unconstitutional intrusion into the mindset of a woman.
     You can't make a legal activity illegal because of the reason you do it. It's a lousy reason, oh, to go to college in order to drink beer. But you can't pass laws trying to stop it. 
    The reason a woman has an abortion is only on the table in the minds of those who want to ban all abortions for all reasons, picking Down syndrome out of the same impulse that caused them to pick abortion in the first place: they see it as a realm where they can push their religion in a way that otherwise would be completely unacceptable and, as it is, is accepted by a narrowing segment of the country.
     The Down syndrome aspect is a compelling detail, in their minds, a way to keep the story fresh, like Dante taking hell and giving it nine rings and winged demons.
     Advocates of the law, who otherwise don't give a damn about Down syndrome, have been focusing on the full personhood of those with Down syndrome, and they are correct. But then the non-Down Syndrome people who would be born would also be full people, or would be, were they not aborted first, just as both people with Down syndrome and without would be born were it not for contraception, which fanatics have given up fighting in order to fall back to a line drawn at abortion. 
     They'd of course like to just ban abortion period, but Roe v. Wade seems to be preventing that, at the moment. So they nibble around the edges, throwing stuff up, seeing what sticks. Maybe the Down syndrome ploy will work. If not, there's always a new gambit, a new tangent to take the narrative down. The only thing not on the table is letting women make their own moral choices for themselves, unhindered by law or outside meddling. The way that religious fanatics came to their beliefs. But that would be impossible. That would be like a Saudi sheik letting his wife drive.
     Ohio governor John Kasich, by the way, who is presenting himself as the voice of moderation, has signed 16 separate abortion restrictions since 2011. Quite a lot really. I grew up in Ohio, and don't remember it being the fundamentalist backwater it seems to be becoming, but I've been gone a long time, and it has been on hard times, and nothing like economic downturns to encourage people to really get their backs into manhandling the lives of others.
    So keep in mind: there is no hell, and no babies involved in an abortion. It's just another lie that gets repeated so much people pretend it's true. I almost said, "no heaven either," but I know lots of people view heaven differently, because it is where they imagine their loved ones dwelling in eternal bliss. A beautiful and a comforting image, and not one I would strenuously contradict. Because life is difficult, and people believe, and do, all sorts of things in order to get by. To throw stumbling blocks in front of others who are in difficulty is wrong. I wouldn't do that to a grief stricken person just to prove a metaphysical point, and I'm an agnostic. You'd think that a religious person, supposed imbued with the kindness that religion supposedly imbues, would embrace that. Would not identify women coping with unwanted pregnancies as the moment to to try to spread their faith by hallucinating their rice kernel-sized fetuses into the Gerber baby. But apparently it doesn't. Or at least that story is whispered very quietly, compared to the fantasy that gets thundered trying to force people to follow your religion through law, this time in the name of imaginary babies.


38 comments:

  1. Thank you. I hope many read what you wrote with an open mind. The problem is that even if they succeed in making abortions unlawful again there will be still be abortions. I remember that time.
    Barbara Palmer

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  2. Right on!

    I also remember that time when abortion was illegal. Women had them and many died in back alleys and motel rooms.

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  3. Right on!

    I also remember that time when abortion was illegal. Women had them and many died in back alleys and motel rooms.

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  4. Right on!

    I also remember that time when abortion was illegal. Women had them and many died in back alleys and motel rooms.

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  5. There is one more degree of differentiation that can be made. The lowest fanatics on the totem pole, so to speak, are the ones that ostracize a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock, and proclaim no abortion allowed. The pro lifers that are willing to support a woman spiritually and financially, and encourage her to put the infant up for adoption, are at least one small step above.

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  6. Only one quibble: these people are also trying to get rid of contraception. They haven't given up the fight, as the Hobby Lobby and March for Life cases show.

    It seems crazy, but they call all contraception "abortion" in defiance.of fact. They are determined to defund health care for women.


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    1. Now that's where the crazy religious fanatics come into play, Caren. If you don't want abortions then why would they be against contraceptives, which are before the fact. The religious right isn't well known for logic on that or matters of science, especially in geology / paleontology, archeology, astromony and anthropology.

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    2. Hobby lobby and company uses religion for an excuse because they want to save $. I wonder if they are against paying for Viagra though. They are sexist indeed, in that fundamentalist, born again, nut bunch.

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    3. Yes, do think that late term abortions are a no no unless mom's life is in danger.

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  7. I must respectfully disagree with how you've framed the argument. One need not be a religious fanatic to be on either side of the issue. I don't believe in God, heaven, hell or religion, but I do believe in not intentionally killing human life. Legal abortion includes much more than a rice kernel-sized fetus. It also includes 25-week fetuses who are, in the curiously neutral term, "viable." Viable, that is, outside the womb. We can have a spirited debate about the merits about that. But let's agree that often we're not always talking about a mere microscopic organism, but a life with a beating heart and other viable human organs. Is that really "imaginary"?

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    1. "Often"? Look up how many abortions are done at 25 weeks and get back to us.

      While you're at it, look up the reasons for late-term abortions. They almost always involve a grave threat to the health, or even life, of the woman or the fetus.

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  8. I have a little trouble with this argument. It's hard for me to accept the notion that a child that has passed through the birth canal at 7 months is a person, but one that is a week away from doing so at 9 months is not.

    If it matters, I'm pro-life in my personal beliefs, but because those beliefs are just that, personal and not strictly based on science, I'm pro-choice for others. I don't claim to know where that line of personhood should be drawn.

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  9. NS, It appears as if you are trying to shove an argument down the reader's throat. Kick me in the shins if you must, but a fetus, given time does become a baby. Now that doesn't mean I'm not pro-choice and agree that one shouldn't push their personal beliefs on others. I'm all for abortion for rape, mother's life in danger or if an amnio shows a severe disability with the child. What I don't support is having one for convenience because someone or their partner didn't bother to use contraceptives. But again, it's not my business to try to stop them or to get involved in their medical decision My thinking is not really along religious lines as much as thinking people need to be more responsible. . So, I'm pro-choice while wagging a finger at times.

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    1. P.S. And some of your argument is opinion as well, not just scientific.

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    2. Well said, Gary. One shouldn't assume if one doesn't agree with some aspects of abortion or support a gay life style, even if they don't feel it's their business to stop it or to discriminate, it's not always about being a religious fanatic.

      Good point, Coey.

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    3. Well said, Coey.

      "...where that line of personhood should be drawn." This is really the crux of the matter, is it not? If one is an absolutist on either side of the issue, there are two clear choices for personhood that don't involve drawing a line -- conception or birth. I think this is the biggest reason that abortion is still such a contentious issue 42 years after Roe v. Wade -- accepting that a negotiable line being drawn is the logical outcome for a secular society. On one side, the religious folks (and others) opposed to ALL abortion have a definitive stand. Life begins at conception, that's it. A fetus IS a child. On the other side you have all manner of opinions about where "the line" might be, practically, morally or theoretically, between a fetus and a child.

      I think many, probably a big majority of supporters of abortion would agree with your second sentence, Coey. The Supreme Court dealt with that concept to a large extent in its trimesters analysis. So, to me, this is why the Right can chip away at abortion rights as effectively as it does in many states. Because everybody does understand that a fetus USUALLY will become a baby, and the question is when do the baby's rights outweigh those of the mother? To negotiate this question requires nuance and compromise, neither of which are required by those who seek to ban all abortion and who think that the rights of a FETUS already outweigh those of the mother.

      Still, while a baby's life does, in a certain sense, begin at conception, conception does even remotely come close to insuring that a baby's life will result. If the Creator intended for humankind to "know" that life begins at conception, the process of going from a fertilized egg to a baby, which results in so many millions of "naturally" occurring failures to implant, miscarriages, etc., does not seem "designed" to promote such an understanding. If every fertilized egg became a baby, barring human intervention, I might be convinced of the validity of the argument that the process must not be interfered with. But, the reality that there are so many spontaneous abortions and natural failures when it comes to reproduction leaves me unpersuaded when it comes to suggesting that this medical process, out of all the ones that folks celebrate human intervention into, must be allowed to run its "natural" course.

      In short (way too late for that, I know!), while "I don't claim to know where that line of personhood should be drawn", either, it just doesn't seem logical to me that it should be drawn anywhere close to conception.

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    4. Jakash, if you are not an attorney, you missed your calling.

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    5. Well, I placed that reply after the wrong comment, and the sentence that begins with "Still", should say "...does NOT even remotely come close..." Seems like malpractice to me, alas...

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    6. Good comments, Coey and Jakash. Though I will forever stand up for a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, the conundrum of fetus "viability" has always left me somewhat conflicted; ending a developing human life just gives me a deep feeling of sorrow.

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  10. Never met someone who believes in hell? Consider yourself lucky you never met my MIL, seriously lucky(wish I could say the same). She constantly told me that I was going to hell because I wasn't baptized. She really freaked out after we didn't baptize the kids. Shoot, she never really acknowledged our marriage bc it didn't happen in a catholic church. "You're going to hell in a basket!" I'd always correct her, "No, I'm going to hell in a bucket, but at least im enjoying the ride!" We never got along.

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    1. "We never got along." Really? ; )

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    2. extra points for the Dead reference.

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  11. Your husband should tell her off and stand up to her. Luckily, all Caths not like that. Sometimes it's the fundament. who think nothing counts unless you baptize as an adult. She'd be sorry if I was her DIL.

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    1. Oh she was told off plenty by him. I'd remind her at times to be kind since I was the one who was picking out the nursing home, but note the past tense being used. She's no longer a living aggravation. Funny thing is, I was the one asked to do the readings and whatnot at the funeral bc they knew I could do it w/o any emotions. I wore white.

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    2. Good one, Nikki.

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  12. In 2004 Scott Peterson was convicted of double homocide in the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn baby. That took place in California. The laws seem inconsistent at best.

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    1. The laws are inconsistent, but I can see that argument when you're talking about killing someone else's fetus that they plan to bring to term. You can also be convicted of homicide for driving the getaway car, in other words, these examples are fluid.

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    2. Definitely inconsistent. I'm not sure why personhood should be determined by whether the mother plans to carry to term, especially since it's possible she could change her mind more then once.

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  13. That's a valid point, Mr. Piluski.

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  14. There are definitely people who believe in literal, fire-and-brimstone hell. They live in a constant unspoken fear that it might not be real which would mean they've wasted their lives following a bunch of rules based on an empty threat.

    I've met lots of hell-believers in my life (they're always convinced it's somebody else who is going there) but I've never met an abortion opponent who, presented with the choice of saving a freezer full of frozen zygotes from a fire or a single squalling infant wouldn't instinctively, emphatically choose the infant. If they truly believed that frozen zygote = baby this wouldn't be the case.

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  15. The far right seems to view pregnancy as a sin. The penalty, it must be continued until birth, no matter the circumstances involved. The woman is guilty by having sex in the first place, whether married or not, and she shouldn't be allowed contraception, either, otherwise she's a slut. Never are men included in this responsibility or "sin" as they would have it. And it's always men who decide how women should be allowed to reproduce or not.

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  16. I fall into the group that believes that life begins at conception. Primarily because it seems that any other point is arbitrary - along the lines of Coey's comments. I don't see how a pro-life stance is meant to control women. It's a focus on the life of the unborn child. And I don't see how it's strictly the woman's choice - since the unborn child (which is a person in my view) doesn't have an advocate to plead its case. These are my own views. Everyone has to make their own choice. Abortion is allowed per the Roe v. Wade decision, but it shouldn't be decision that's taken lightly and I hope that people will ultimately choose life.

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    1. Many conceptions do not produce viable fetuses, which fail without outside interference. So, why should this be protected life? Why should this difficult decision to end preganancy before viability be seen as evil?

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    2. Stan --

      And I understand and respect that. In this discussion, the issue is not what a person themselves believes. The issue is whether a person then attempts to force those beliefs on others through law. Abortions happen all the time -- in nature. We don't fault a woman who has a miscarriage. Abortion is giving that control to the woman who makes a decision. A life may very well begin at conception, but it also ends at miscarriage, or abortion. I'm not a fan of either, but I think trying to stamp out either is equally fruitless.

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  17. Religion seems to be about sexism, whether Christian, Hindu,orthodox Jewish or Islamic. Those who are pro gay rights seem to give Islamics against gay rights a pass.

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  18. The Ghost of Christmas PastSeptember 4, 2015 at 12:04 AM

    Personally, I support the right to have an abortion anytime for any reason. I also support retroactive abortion of right to lifers, up until the 300th trimester.

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  19. I find it far easier to embrace the existence of Hell as compared to Heaven because we have no real understanding of what Heaven would be like. In contrast, we all too well understand the pains and sorrows said to be in Hell just by reading the paper or googling online.

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