Pro-life = compensation?

One of the things that always strikes me about the pro-life movement is how incongruously materialistic it is. Here you have people who, for the most part, fervently believe that people have souls and/or spirits, made in the image of God, and that these souls/spirits are “the real us,” the part of us that lives forever and for which the fleshly body is merely a temporary abode (and not infrequently a snare and a source of soul-threatening temptations). In almost any other context, this supposed “immortal soul” would be what makes us people, individuals with value and worth and significance, at least in their eyes.

Let the subject of abortion come up, though, and suddenly these same people have the most materialistic and reductionistic definition of personhood you can imagine.

Invisible, intangible things like souls and spirits are right out the window; the real definition of a person is nothing more than a certain pattern of nucleotides on a double-helix, plus some fluids and proteins inside a membrane. Suddenly, humanity is nothing more than a particular chemical formula, and metaphysics be damned!

Why is that? The two points of view could hardly be more opposite, yet the same people hold them both.

My stray thought for the day is that perhaps people hold them both because they are so opposite. Almost every other dimension of religious experience is based on believing things that aren’t tangibly present in any sort of verifiable way. In fact, a lot of things you’re required to believe are downright silly, gullible, and/or naive. You have to believe, for instance, in the infinite power and love and goodness of a God who, somehow, is universally unwilling or unable to say “Good morning” when you wake up, or “Happy Birthday” once a year. And you have to believe that He rules sovereignly, wisely, and justly over a world in which every tiny detail is under His absolute control, even though the world is full of violence, injustice, crime, fraud, heresy, poverty, disaster, and disease, which are not His will.

My guess is that this is a burden. Constantly having to believe in silly, spiritual, subjective nonsense, despite all worldly evidence to the contrary, is “spiritually rewarding” (as they keep reminding themselves), but it’s a huge and relentless effort. Perhaps it is something of a relief to be able to be dogmatic and narrow-minded about something so strictly and irreducibly materialistic. Perhaps it’s because they’re so tired of being “spiritual” all the time that they get so caught up in embracing such a downright chemical concept of personhood. What other opportunities does faith give them to be dogmatic about things that are actually real?

So that’s my stray thought for the day. Maybe, apart from the latent desire to control female sexuality, pro-lifers are driven by a kind of psychological compensation, a rebound effect from the strain of having to maintain faith-based spiritual beliefs in the face of a contrary reality. Perhaps they take materialism too far because they’re coming at it from so far away.


  1. Bruce says

    I think it’s more about seeing the world as absolutes. God isn’t just powerful, but all powerful. The world doesn’t just have bad things, but it’s all bad. So on abortion, they think: if a baby is able to kick at 8 months, the the baby must be alive and a person absolutely the entire time from conception. All questions can and should be answered with either one extreme or the other.

  2. Nemo says

    It has always been my impression that anti-abortionism is based on the doctrine of “ensoulment”: That, at a certain magical moment (usually identified as conception), the soul enters the body. This isn’t openly brought up most of the time, and the anti’s do pretend to offer materialistic arguments, but those arguments are paper-thin. Real materialists see fertilized embryos for what they are: not-very-impressive handfuls of cells, whose genetic uniqueness (a favorite argument of the anti’s) is pretty unimpressive when you compare it to all the combinations that never even happen. No, to see the embryo as something sacred requires seeing it as magic, I think. It’s not a view that’s based in biology.

  3. says

    @2: Inside church, the ensoulment idea is important, but they know that won’t fly any more in the realm of public policy, so outside they resort to secular (albeit fallacious) arguments about “unique DNA” and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of pop-sci helps that along when it talks about your DNA being the blueprint that created you etc, etc. (eg: clones in science fiction are often adult duplicates of the original, not infants who need to mature, and may turn out very differently). There are some widespread confusions out there about both the science and the metaphysics surrounding genes and personhood. The result is what I call the Fallacy of Genetic Essentialism.

  4. rjw1 says

    Agreed, Christians in particular, in liberal democracies, are trying to find a ‘common currency’ with secular society, so they resort to materialistic or pseudo-scientific arguments. “Because God said so!”, doesn’t work anymore, unless the god is Allah of course.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    The fetus: the ultimate symbol of helpless innocence.

    The abortionist: an uncaring devastator of that innocence (in anti-choicers’ eyes).

    “Pro-life” – a movement protesting attacks upon the helpless by vast impersonal forces beyond the comprehension of their targets.

    Much of the rank and file of the anti-abortion movement seem to be symbolically opposing the forces of modernism, capitalism, and social/technological change – which are, indeed, uprooting and disrupting their personal lives and their cultures. Confronting the actual sources of their distress would require more study, hard work, and courage than most can muster – but yelling at strange women on the sidewalk is not only safe, but gratifying in ways the antis refuse to consider.

  6. pixiedust says

    I did once get a fervent anti-choicer to concede that, in his belief system, the souls of 100% of the aborted go to Jesus, while something less than 100% of the souls of adults go to heaven. (It took days to get that concession out of him; lots of attempted subject-changing.)

    And yet he steadfastly maintained that abortion was wrong even though it would result in more saved souls. “So you don’t want people to be saved?” “I do!” “Doesn’t seem like it.” I honestly think he had never thought thru the implications of his ideas.

  7. theobromine says

    @pixiedust: So it’s better for the immortal soul of the fetus to be aborted since they will go directly to heaven. But it’s bad for the pregnant woman to have an abortion because she will be committing a sin. So does that mean that the anti-abortionists are actually putting the (spiritual) health of the pregnant woman ahead of that of the fetus? Talk about not thinking through the implications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *