Category Archives: Religion

The Right to Life

The right to life”—we are all endowed with it. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, next to the right to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course we believe in the right to life. But what if that life will be denied the liberty to pursue happiness? When we stick up for the right to life by trying to ban abortion, do we consider whether the child whom we mandate be born will have the love and care to maintain life? Do we consider whether the three rights are equal? Or whether “quality of life,” as implied by liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be taken into account? And are we talking about only the unborn lives or also those of the living who will be impacted by each new child? Because I can’t answer these questions for others, I support the availability of abortion.

I know a couple who already had four young children when they found they were unexpectedly pregnant with a fifth. The baby would likely be as beautiful and bright as its siblings, but the parents had neither the money nor energy to absorb another child without jeopardizing the welfare of all five. In a decision that would remain painful throughout their lives, the parents chose abortion. Abortion was not taken lightly. No need for the in utero photos brandished by pro-life supporters. The parents could picture the child whose life they were ending. But they could also picture the struggle for food, bedtimes with too few beds, no time for stories, no room in the car for everyone, and not enough money to be sure that each child would have the chance to experience anythingfrom camp to college.

Not that I prefer abortion. Contraception is my solution. I’m furious when two people, perhaps even strangers, hot for sex, and likely inebriated, have a one-night stand that results in a human being no one wants or is prepared to raise. Furious if a child is conceived to prove its father’s sexual prowess. Furious if its mother spreads her legs so she can boast, “See, he loves me. I’m going to have his baby.” No child asks to be a badge of its parents’ sexuality. Each baby deserves to be the result of a loving commitment to raising a human being. But since it’s unlikely that sex will be limited to those times when adults want to create or increase a family, contraception is the answer.

But contraception isn’t always reliable, affordable, or available—and never in rape. And so I support abortion because I care most about the welfare of the child after it’s born, not its right to a life that could be miserable. To me, abortionlike food, adequate housing, educational opportunity, and, most importantly, the parent’s desire to have a child—must be available to insure that each child born can pursue happiness.

What about the mother’s right to liberty? Without abortion as an option, a woman is forced to carry an unwanted child through birth. Nine months of her life dictated by others—perhaps because the contraception she’d counted on failed. Pro-lifers might argue that the baby can be put up for adoption. More cruelty because once a woman has heard and held her baby, maternal instincts kick in. Giving the baby away is wrenching. And what if the child is not adopted? Right now, more children are eligible for adoption than there are adoptive parents. Even if we believe that life begins at conception, can we recognize that abortion might be a better alternative than lives constrained by whatever conditions caused the request for abortion?

Republicans in Congress, sympathetic to their evangelical base and with no respect for a woman’s right to liberty, champion the right to life of a fertilized egg but show little interest in assuring that the resulting child has a chance at happiness. They’re reluctant to increase support systems such as CHIP, to raise the minimum wage for over-worked parents, or to allow the puny tax breaks for the middle class to extend beyond eight years. Don’t the conditions of life count, too? Who should be the judge?

Your God or My God?

The Supreme Court is hearing the case of the Colorado bakery artist who refused to create one of his masterpiece wedding cakes for a gay couple because doing so would violate his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. His refusal was a slap in the face to the gay couple; their love was unworthy. Here’s the problem: does the baker’s religion also condone demeaning other people? Or is this a question we forget to ask when sticking up for our religious beliefs?

The baker argues that the Constitution guarantees the right to freely exercise his religion. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He exercised his belief. Were the gay couple able to exercise their belief that their marriage was valid?

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are major monotheistic religions. We all have one God, but we evidently don’t share the same rules about how God wants us to behave. So when we stick up for our religious beliefs, we’re like children on a playground taunting, “My God is righter than your God.” I picture God, the Father, looking down and shaking his head in dismay, “Oh dear, the children are fighting again.”

We sing hymns: “With God on our side.” But do we really want God to takes sides? Religious beliefs pit Shiite against Sunni, Evangelical against Episcopalian, but it’s hard to picture God cheering, “Go Sunnis! Get those Shiites!” Or “Homosexuality’s here to stay, Evangelicals go away!” If, as we say we believe, God created heaven and earth and all its creatures, would He take sides among His own children?

The problem with justifying a position based on religion is similar to that of the Supreme Court when deciding how to interpret the Constitution. Some Justices look to the Founding Fathers for their interpretation; other Justices take into account today’s reality. Who is more right? Thankfully, the Constitution is a paper document. God, however, is supposed to be God.

Perhaps instead of concentrating on what religions tell us not to do, we should rely on what they tell us to do. Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The same words appear in Judaism, Leviticus 19:18, and are sometimes called the central commandment of the Torah. I’m no expert on Islam, but I’ve read a quotation from the Prophet Muhammad, “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”

I have to give the bakery artist credit for fairness because he stopped making signature wedding cakes, even though he lost money. But what if, instead, he had whispered to God, “I’m sure You don’t approve of this marriage, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings and, after all, it’s up to You to deal with homosexuality,” and then had smiled at the gay couple and asked what decorations they wanted on their cake?

Righteousnesssticking up for one’s beliefsfeels good, but it doesn’t lead to peace. And with conflicts raging almost everywherefor power, property, and profitI want peace. “Peace” is stenciled on my Christmas cards and extolled in the carols I’ve sung since childhood. So for this Christmas season, I’ll stick to the Golden Rule and try to respect rather than demean other people.