God in the Machine

Literally "God in the machine", Deus Ex Machina originally referred to Greek plays, where the "gods" would be lowered onto the stage with ropes in order to provide a quick resolution to the story. Today, Deus Ex Machina refers to any improbably and/or overly convenient character or mechanism that comes out of nowhere and saves the character(s).


"I don't get it, Big Dan..." -George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

How to make everyone hate you: the abortion post!

MLAH has an interesting take on prostitution, that got me thinking about abortion.

As a pastor, a Baptist pastor no less, the main problem I have with this issue is that to enter the fray, you have to label yourself with a lie. (note that I am excluding those who justify killings to prevent abortions in the form of killing doctors, bombing clinics, etc. These folks are just idiots, and I refer to non-idiots only in this post).

My response to Mlah was semantic and refers to the first lie: The term pro-choice. People who say they are pro-choice don't really support your choice to vote against legalizing abortion, do they? They don't (usually) support drug use and prostitution, which both go straight to their argument that a woman should be free to do whatever she wants with her own body. Pro-choice as a term means "free to make the choice we want, not the one you want."

And, just so I make sure that EVERYONE hates me after this, let me point out also that the term "pro-life" is as equally insidious a lie. People who are pro-life are (generally speaking) usually also in favor of the death penalty, which similarly takes away a person's right to live. They favor invasions and wars. They favor guns, which, well, you know, kill people, except that they don't and people kill people and yadda yadda.

The point is that the terms are masks to gain unfair moral advantage. Suddenly we're not arguing about abortion, we're arguing about abstract terms like choice and life.

The bad news is that, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the grey areas in-between.

For instance, my own evolving views are firmly in the grey.

I believe that if you can't decide if a fetus is alive or dead, give it the benefit of the doubt. The logic here is that if you see me fallen in the street and bleeding, call an ambulance, not a mortitian. Please assume I'm alive if you don't know for sure.

It is clear, as Ann Coulter (the very mention of whose name just made about 1/3 of you immediately discount whatever comes next) says, that SOMETHING dies in an abortion. I'm just saying let's hang out on the abortions until we decide what that is, exactly.

I am also "pro-choice." That is, I believe a woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body and she makes that choice when she has sex, yes? When sperm and egg make fetus, THAT is someone else's body. The act of sex is, historically, the way we make babies, so if you don't want the babies, don't do the sex (or do it very carefully, or in other ways, or.. well, never mind).

So that also clears up the cases of rape and incest/abuse. In those cases the choice to have sex was taken away from the woman, so abortion is justified, especially since her life as she knows (and wants) it is over if she is forced to bring the child to term. If she chooses to do so anyway, God love her - the rapist/abusive uncle/whoever should pay the kid's way in the world.

This only leaves the issue of medical difficulty, where the doctor must choose between woman and child. Here, I turn uncharacteristically to French philosophy, which prefers actuality to potentiality. The woman on the table is a fully-realized human; not so the baby. Therefore, the choice to save the woman is justified and the woman's choice to give her life to save the baby is also justified.

Interestingly, and not at all related, this also solves the chicken or the egg riddle. The actual line is "actuality preceeds potentiality." So the chicken is an actual chicken while the egg is a potential chicken, meaning, of course, that you no longer care anymore and I've gone completely loony. Actually loony, that is.

Anyway, the correct answer, as is so often true in life, is "chicken."


Blogger Jay Bullock said...

Dan, did you major in line-walking in college? I see a lot of it here.

I am adamantly pro-choice. However, I would like nothing better than if I woke up tomorrow and there were never another abortion performed in this country. The difference between me and your average pro-lifer is that they want to legislate abortion out of existence. Like prostitution and drug use (to borrow your two parallels), legislation won't stop abortion.

What will is actually addressing the root causes of unwanted, unintended pregnancy, which you can only do through addressing health care, education, economic and social justice, and more. Snapping your fingers (or passing a law) to make abortion go away is a cop-out for politicians or pundits who don't want to make the effort to really fix anything. True solutions are never easy; cop-outs are.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Well, I can't really say anything better than Jay, who I agree with completely. However, I just wanted to say that I am very much pro-choice (or pro-abortion-being-legal, to not be a liar ;) ) but that I liked this post. I can take dissenting opinion--I just like to get some rational argument as to why that opinion is held. You do a good job providing that in this post.

Out of curiosity, what is your take on the morning after pill? What about making it available over the counter? Yes, no, don't know what the hell I'm talking about?

4:48 AM  
Blogger Big Dan said...


I admire someone with firm convictions. Being adamantly pro-anything is admirable to the degree that that person stands firmly in a shifting world. My jobs, however, Baptist pastor and emergency room/ICU/code team chaplain, have taught me in my life that to agree with parts of two incomplete wholes is not "line-walking" as you put it so gently. Even letting folks think things I believe are wrong is ok if there is a greater good.

I walk between the extremes of Conservative and Liberal, pro-life and pro-choice, because that's where the truth is, and that's where people are hurting: in places where clear solutions aren't visible.

It's easy for white male millionaires to make ethical judgements for the nation, safe in the towers with clean hands. It's harder to paint with broad strokes down in the trenches where people are hurting.


Excellent question.

I know the basics of RU-286 and the other 'morning after' pills, but to be frank, I haven't taken time to study the topic enough to form an opinion. Simply put, it hasn't come up yet in my life, and enough issues come up in my life on a daily basis that require me to have thought them out that I haven't gotten that far yet.

To answer your question would require me to see medical opinions on fetal status, the pill's actual effects on sperm/egg union, effect on the mother (if she is, technically, a mother, yes?) and probably other things I haven't gotten to thinking about yet.

THAT is a cop-out, I admit, but I have no choice other than to plead ignorance. I would be interested in studying more, and this may give me the kick in the cranium I need to think about it.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In accordance with your guidelines, ;) I am anti-abortion except in cases of medical emergency. Yes, I embrace the gray areas at times; there are so many variables out there, none of us know everything.

Women who have been raped do actually have another option: adoption. I can understand how a woman would not want to carry the fetus to term, but it's still her child she would be killing; not some bug she pulled off a fencepost. [Sorry, bad analogy]

My belief system includes the death penalty. "Thou shalt not kill" is general, whereas Genesis 9:6 and Exodus 21:12-14 are specific.
But that's just me.

And yes, I own guns. ;)

Pam [pamibe]

7:45 AM  
Blogger Big Dan said...

I think I mis-read your comments, Pam, and I apologize. The first time through, I assumed that you were a Christian and not Jewish.

If you are Jewish, than certainly those passages apply and you SHOULD stand for the death penalty. If you are not Jewish but Christian, then I wonder why you prefer the passages written thousands of years before Jesus to the clear death penalty references Jesus made.

There are two such references, if I neglect that Jesus himself was an innocent man killed for a capital crime.

One is in John 8, the familiar story of the woman taken in the act of adultery, which was a capital offense. Adultery is the quintessential act of covenant-breaking, but Jesus not only reminds the religious authorities that taking a human life calls into question the moral adequacy of all ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), but also refuses to condemn her himself. If ANYONE could issue a just death penalty ruling, it would be Jesus, yes?

The other reference to the Torah laws you support is in Matthew, in chapter 5, when he is giving an update of sorts on the Hebrew Laws, which have justified lack of love. All his updates in this chapter follow the form of "You have heard it said...., but I say to you...."

Among 6 or 7 other updates of the law, Jesus takes on the capital punishment laws of "an eye for an eye" in verses 38 and 39: "You have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say to you, that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

I don't dispute that the Old Testament law called for the death penalty. In fact, the "eye for an eye" passage was initially meant to LIMIT death in response to crime. For instance, if I killed someone in your family in ancient Israel, you and your family might exact revenge by wiping out my entire family, or even clan or nation. The death penalty was big in the old times and was even used for disobedient children or men who worked on the sabbath.

I'm just saying the love of God in Jesus pointed out a better way.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:22 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Dan, just a little bit about morning after pills:

First of all, RU-486 is an abortion pill. However, the morning after pill--which is different--does not, medically, cause an abortion. Basically, it is a high dose of the standard birth control pill. What it typically does is stop the egg from being released and, thus, fertilized. It can, however, like the birth control pill, cause a fertilized egg to not implant in the uterus. By medical terms, that's not an abortion, but there are certainly some who consider life to begin at fertilization and would consider that an abortion.

The morning after pill is generally considered about 75% effective in preventing pregnancy, though the effectiveness depends on how quickly it is taken after sex. If it were widely used, it would almost surely prevent thousands, if not millions, of abortions. Even if you consider the occasional fertilized egg that doesn't implant an abortion, it would still have a net result of preventing many abortions as the typical result of taking the morning after pill is to stop fertilization from ever happening.

Anyway, my personal opinion is that it should be available over the counter, as was recommended by FDA scientific panels, and should be in very wide use because it would significantly lower abortion rates. Like Jay, I'm someone who believes the option to have an abortion should be legal, but that the fewer abortions actually performed, the better.

Here are some blog entries I did on the morning after pill and the recent FDA decision not to make it available over the counter. I link these because they are handy for me and will give you some more information about emergency contraception. They have a strong liberal bias, but they also link to straight news stories that don't have that bias. So if you want, check them out for some more info on the topic:

http://aimlessmind.blogspot.com/2004/04/best-kept-secret.html(This is the best entry to check out for info on the morning after pill, except that I do a poor job of explaining how it could be considered to cause an abortion in some circumstances. Okay, actually, I don't explain at all. That was a mistake that I regret.)


3:27 AM  
Blogger Big Dan said...

Thank you for this.

I'll look at it more deeply ASAP, but my initial reaction is that if an egg isn't fertilized, especially if nothing is implanted, it would be silly to try to call it abortion.

It is clear that the more advanced we are medically, the finer the arguments become.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Joel said...


Yeah, often times the egg isn't fertilized at all, which obviously isn't an abortion. I don't know how that could be argued to be an abortion at all. However, occasionally the egg will fertilize, but then fail to implant in the uterus because the pill can cause changes to the uteral lining. That is considered an abortion by some people--though it is not medically considered an abortion since pregnancy is not considered to start until the egg has implanted in the uterus.

But yes, the line does indeed become very fine the more medically advanced we become.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"Grey area" just means that you can't identify with a large group of people. Many of my values fall under that category, but they are still firm values. I can't identify myself as Pro-life or Pro-choice, either, but my beliefs are clear and logical.

On abortion:

1. The destruction of a living fetus is disgusting and should not be allowed. (Also note that I oppose the death penalty.)

2. If it's not a fetus yet, it's the woman's choice. (Also note that I think other things like drugs and prostitution are a choice.) Things like the morning-after pill prevent a fetus from forming, so I believe that this is acceptable. Once a fetus forms, then it is no longer a potential human, but a real, albeit underdeveloped, human.

3. If it's a choice between saving the woman and saving the baby, it's the woman's choice. Either way, a life is lost, so the argument of saving lives by opposing abortion is irrelevant in this case. Legally, it depends on the doctor's diagnosis as to whether the woman's life is in danger.

9:04 PM  

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