June 02, 2009

Did George Tiller Deserve to Die?
[If we] try to comprehend the idea?central to nearly all abortion opposition?that killing human beings is intrinsically wrong, then it becomes entirely possible to see why people can abhor the life-work of George Tiller while condemning his murder. ~Freddy Gray

Can one imagine the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing in his diary, ?I hope my followers can see why I was able to abhor the life-work of Adolf Hitler while condemning any attempt to murder this poor, misguided soul”?

In turn, are there any pro-life advocates out there who?d like condemn Bonhoeffer, along with Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators, for attempting to kill Hitler? It?s more often claimed, most likely rightly, that Christianity was a great resource for these proud Germans as they summoned the strength to risk their lives and oppose the F?hrer.

More generally, while Christianity lacks the warrior gods found in pagan religions, there are no injunctions in the Bible for universal, unconditional pacifism. To the contrary, over the centuries, Christians have had countless debates about what constitutes a ?just war,? whether or not a conscripted soldier who follows orders is morally responsible for all his actions, and at what point violence is acceptable.

Would Gray also like to claim that the Crusaders were ?bad Christians?? (And if ?killing human beings is intrinsically wrong? then the historical question over whether the Crusades were defensive campaigns or wars of conquest is immaterial.)

There?s not much of a Christian tradition behind the kind of pacifism Gray gestures towards; indeed, I?d associate it mostly with either non-Christians, like the abstract moralist Bertrand Russell, or totally incoherent, silly Christians, like Sam Brownback, who connects his care for the unborn with his desire to send the U.S. military into African to liberate the innocents of Darfur.

But unfortunately, Gray?s response to the murder of George Tiller is rather typical of the American pro-life movement as whole, whose members have claimed, simultaneously, that Tiller was a mass-murderer and that it was terrible that he died and that the person who killed him should be apprehended by the government and prosecuted.

It?s rather easy for one to focus on adversaries who are obviously ridiculous?the hysteric Andrew Sullivan and anyone at the Huffington Post make good straw-men?and then fret about being persecuted and remind everyone of how peaceful, law-abiding, and harmless the pro-life movement is. It?s much more difficult, and important, to seriously contemplate whether George Tiller deserved to die.

One can, of course, answer ?no,? but since most all pro-lifers are agreed that Tiller was a murderer, the question simply must be asked.

I rarely write about the abortion issue because I don?t identify with either side. I am effectively ?pro-choice?; however, I also think Roe was a patent miscarriage of justice. The best outcome, in my mind, would be for the issue to de-judicial-ized and decided on a state-by-state basis by legislatures. In other words, I support Ron Paul?s position. (And just to make things clear, though I find George Tiller?s practice to be repulsive, I do not think he should have been murdered.)

I have great respect for Dr. Paul on this issue: when he says that he wants to take practical steps towards making sure that there are fewer abortions, he means it. I can?t say the same, however, for the rest of the pro-life movement, who in my mind seem to want to avoid most of the consequences of their ideas.

Mike Huckabee (among others) often like to compare abortion to slavery?both being brazenly immoral acts that should not be allowed to occur anywhere in U.S. territory. OK. But if abortion were outlawed, would pro-lifers want to charge every woman who gets one on the black market with murder? Would they want to start having federal agents investigate miscarriages, to make sure that no foul play was involved?

When I pose such questions to friends and colleagues who are pro-life, the usual response is something on the order of, ?No one in the movement wants to arrest the women, only the doctors.? Yet would these people say the same for someone who hires a hit man to take out a rival, essentially arguing, ?The hit man is solely responsible, the person who paid him money to do the deed is the real victim here??  Of course not.

To be clear, I?m not advocating that those who oppose abortion embrace violence, but the questions I outline above need to be addressed, for otherwise the pro-life cause remains merely symbolic, and analogous to the ?participatory democracy? movement Richard Neuhaus compared it to in his last published essay.         


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