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, awash in 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 religion as an impulse toward loving kindness only goes so far. Or at least that story is whispered very quietly, by some people under certain situations, compared to the fantasy that gets thundered by huge choirs of the faithful, trying to force others to follow their religion, not through hell, whose fear has cooled, but through law, this time in the name of imaginary babies.