Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Never-Ending Abortion Debate

(Another older post, which is depressingly even more appropriate today than it was 6 years ago )

I wonder what one of the so-called "pro-life/pro-capital punishment" people would feel if a scenario like this were to happen:  their own precious daughter is brutally raped and beaten by a vicious, murderous, serial rapist/murderer.  Another of their children is also raped and murdered in the same attack.  The surviving daughter, age 13, is discovered to be pregnant as she lies in hospital recovering from the vicious attack.  An already high risk situation (due to her extreme youth and her injuries) is exacerbated by her diabetes.  The doctors tell the parents that to continue the pregnancy will kill their daughter.  Protesters line up outside to tell them that this man's seed has the right to "live" inside their own precious innocent daughter,  even though the attempt to continue the pregnancy will kill her and the potential baby.  The rapist/murderer is caught and sent to death row....sneering all the while that he can "live on" in the child he has planted in his victim.

Of course, they will bleat on about how with a god's help they would endure.  But my guess is that their rage at the killer (and their easy ability to watch him go to the death chamber)  would rise to the fore and they would realize that to force the pregnancy on their daughter would be to victimize her again.

Certainly, this is an extreme example (though it could happen).  But sometimes an extreme example helps draw clearer, simpler lines around the issues -  something we sadly seem to need these days.

The point is,  if we allow the government to outlaw abortion for any reason, we allow the government to force women to become slaves to their biology...whether their pregnancies result from carelessness, forced sex, violence, incest or whatever.  Men,  on the other hand,  suffer no consequences at all for their lapses in judgement,  or even from their brutality (when it is rape)  unless they are caught and unless the charges can be made to stick (which is all too rare).  An anti-abortion law,  however,  would ensure that woman can never escape the judgement and interference of society.

Wait.  Could that actually be the point?  As some computer people I am acquainted with sometimes say,  is that actually a "feature" and not a "bug"?

Some societies (like extreme Islamist ones) are fine with laws which subjugate women almost totally to the control of men (and most conspicuously through denial of reproductive rights)...they seem to glory in the subjugation and torture of women.  Is that what we want here, I wonder?

 People who want to believe the lie that this country was founded upon "Christian" or "Biblical" principles should be very careful about what they are wishing was true.  Fundamentalist adherence to the Bible's 'laws' would be very much like sharia law in fundamentalist Islamist societies: Brutally harsh,  especially on women.

 Perhaps some people actually do relish and look forward to a fundamentalist society in America where women are subjugated to the extent that they were in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  However,  I think (or is that really only hope?) even most fundamentalist Christians would not look forward to such a prospect.  Yet,  they work hard to bring about the circumstances under which such a society could be easily ushered in.  I believe that the fundamentalist movement in America is heading in that direction...women are looked upon in these churches as mere vessels to carry babies.  Their rights and their needs are totally subjugated,  in this religious thinking,  to the welfare of zygotes.  When people start to embrace that sort of ideology,  we are a short walk from a taliban culture here.

Abortion Again...Adoption?

 (This post was originally written in 2005.  It was in response to a heated argument between anti-abortion and pro-choice people I knew.  My own contributions to the debate made even the nominally "pro-choice" theists I had once counted among my friends turn on me angrily.  My crime?  Being "mean" by calling so-called "pro-lifers" hypocritical.   Sadly,  the topic has taken on even more urgency with the recent wave of anti-rights legislation)

So, the debate rages on.  Now we get down to the nitty gritty.  No holds barred.  There's been discussion ad nauseum about what pregnant women should do.  Now I want to ask, what should we as a society do?

  What about adoption?  People bring it up all the time as a viable alternative to abortion for "these women" who supposedly use abortion as a carefree method of "birth control".  But what of it?  How many people really are prepared to put their actions where their mouths are?  Step up to the plate and adopt?  And I don't mean perfect babies from white Christian mothers who have "sinned", either.

Leaving aside for now the judgement implicit in the criticism of women having sex, what about this assumption that abortion is casually treated as an easy form of "birth control"?  Do any of the people having this debate have any idea how a significant percentage of young women in the western world really live?  While some women may indeed use abortion in a relatively "casual" way (if an invasive and uncomfortable procedure can ever be chosen "casually"),  there are many for whom it is a desperate last resort, and removing choice to punish the former could destroy the last hope of the latter.  I know that some must understand the reality, but I wonder how much people really think about this? 

 For too many women, pregnancies are not in the least chosen.  Pregnancy is often forced upon them, and then the consequences are borne alone by the woman.  I say, what about her life?  Doesn't her life count, too? Funny how there's not a lot of sympathy for young women, nor respect for their lives (women who were once babies themselves, I would like to point out).

For some women, a forced pregnancy and subsequent motherhood in appalling circumstances really is life threatening, and at the very least,  ends all chance of any escape from a life of constant,  grinding poverty,  abuse and misery.  This is not an abstinence issue and not even a birth control issue for many women.  I think that the continued insistence on that theme is not only incorrect,  but dishonest and self-serving.  How easy to ignore the true plight of so many women by painting this as a promiscuity issue...that lets everyone off the hook very nicely!  Except, of course,  the invisible thousands of women who really bear the burden of our society's hypocrisy and cruelty to others,  all under the cozy banner of "christian morality".

 I believe that so-called 'pro-lifers' who object to abortion and yet are not willing to adopt or do much else to bring about social change in this country or other countries, (except to condemn the behaviour of other people) have no business foisting their opinions on others.  God forbid that their views become law and could thus legally be foisted on everyone!  (Update: see Mississippi's initiative #26 coming soon to a legislature near you).

Why should a self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" not be respected (by me, at least) for holding these views while not being willing to adopt ANY child (crack babies, disabled babies, babies of color, boys, sibling groups, etc etc) nor to work for real social change?  Because I believe that such grandstanding is cheap,  easy self-righteousness.  It is very easy for people to stand around feeling smugly superior and holier than thou,  saying what others ought to do,  when they are never in any way going to have to shoulder the burden that their so-called "moral values" would force upon others.  I think people are hypocrites if they say they are "pro-life" but only mean anti-abortion, and in fact, make no effort whatesoever to protect all lives or to respect the lives of young women in appalling circumstances or make any effort whatsoever to work for the social change which could actually eventually bring about the end of abortion.

To pick one aspect of life...pre-natal life--and elevate its importance above the importance of other lives makes no sense to me.  It is not a "pro-life" stance, in my opinion.  It is simply an anti-abortion stance.

 People who are truly good and who really care about life,  care about all life (or at least all human life), not just the cute little babies.  The real problem is that the long,  hard,  sweaty,  dirty,  dangerous and frustrating job of truly helping women through years and years of systemic poverty,  violence and other social disadvantages is just not that quick, easy or attractive.  It feels very nice and righteous to most people to say, "Oh we don't want abortion.  We all love little babies."  But abortion can often be the only way out of a horrible situation for a woman,  or the only way to prevent becoming trapped in an even more horrific life situation.  People who sincerely want abortion to end would be working hard to end the social problems which make abortion the only awful way out for too many young women.

These so-called "pro-lifers" are conspicuously absent from the trenches of social work,  yet they have just enough energy and time to rally and rage against abortion?  That's a pretty easy out,  in my opinion.

 The way to stop abortion is to improve life for all,  even the poor and disadvantaged.  But that takes too much work, so most people (not all) who call themselves "pro-lifers" just opt to be anti-abortion, imply or say outright that abortion is being used as birth control by promiscuous women, and congratulate themselves on having done their Christian duty.  Oddly enough, it is the pro-choice people who are most highly represented in the fields which are striving to end the social problems which perpetuate the demand for abortions;  and the pro-choice people who work most tirelessly to bring about the real end of abortion.

I recognize that most people have the best intentions and are good people.  But claiming we surely would offer to adopt the child of a friend or relative (though less than 2% of people actually do) is not the only thing I am talking about.  I'm talking about adopting a "crack" baby,  a child with severe mental retardation,  a sibling pair, from unknown backgrounds, from different races.  Whether or not we as individuals like to believe that we would do it, we don't.  Whether the majority of pro-lifers would also like to claim that they would do it...they don't.  Adoption statistics and the bulging foster rolls attest to this ugly and undeniable fact.  I know we all want to be good people,  and probably are good people, but, in my opinion, far too many people want to claim "goodness" for spouting a lot of virtuous-sounding claptrap with consequences that they will never personally have to face.

Plenty of people have "helped" in lots of ways, too.  They virtuously support and promote pregnancy hot lines and clinics where the young woman is presented with a teddy bear and congratulations upon receiving the positive pregnancy test result.  Then, they turn a deliberately blind eye to whatever circumstances may be making her desperate and alone and make her feel even more isolated and alone in her time of need.  "Helping" by donating baby items and money to "pro-life" causes, while conveniently ignoring that babies become toddlers and grow up,  long after these "good" people have moved on to the next anti-abortion rally.  I would bet that most people care enough about people to "help" whenever they conveniently can.  And most people forget about other people when it is not convenient - which is most of the time.

There are people who can and do adopt high risk babies, and obviously many people cannot and should not adopt high risk babies.  That should not stop us from working in other ways to resolve the social issues which result in so many of these children in foster care.  What is stopping us from doing that,  if abortion is such a concern?  Are the problems of the world not our concern?  Is it enough to look after our own families and not our place to try to solve the problems of others?  Do Christians ever ask themselves these questions?   I don't know where Abel is, Lord, Am I my brother's keeper?

I doubt that many of us spend much time in the toughest parts of town, week after week (let alone day after day!) babysitting for welfare moms so that they can get jobs.  I doubt many of us spend a lot of time at shelters,  volunteering on a daily or weekly basis to try to help battered women and their children patch together the shattered pieces of their lives,  find jobs,  find safe housing and then to follow them up every day and then weekly and then monthly and then through the inevitable return to the shelter after they have been tracked down yet again by an abusive partner or gang....not many of us have held a young woman through the DTs and also cared for her 4 young children at the same time in a cockroach-infested apartment with no power or telephone.

Not many of us "good" people really do this or in fact ever even think about it. We'd rather think this is a very rare thing, and that people in these situations have somehow brought it on themselves, and anyway the government takes care of it.  At best, most of us gather up a bunch of used clothes to drop off once or twice a year,  contribute money or canned goods to the food bank and sweep by as quickly as possible in our cars with the doors locked on the rare occasions that we find ourselves on the "wrong side of the tracks".

Yet, we are all happy to spout words like, "Oh, I would never have an abortion no matter what!"...while most of us are surrounded by loving family,  or have a loving partner or at least a circle of friends/church or whatever to support us in this noble decision.  How easy it is to feel this way when support is all around us!  How easy to condemn women who make a different choice when we refuse to know what their lives are really like!  How easy it is for us to feel superior and maternal and givers/protectors of LIFE,  while we loudly support a viewpoint which advocates heaping hardship on others and destroying lives, which we care nothing about.

In my opinion, what is immoral is advocating the continuation of the erosion of women's abortion rights without first working tirelessly and getting dirty in the trenches to improve conditions for the vast majority of desperate women who must resort to abortion.  If there was a concerted effort by all pro-lifers for, say, 10 years to get out into the poorest neighborhoods and work, take their children with them and play with the children of the drug addicts and prostitutes and victims of abuse and homeless...and perhaps offer them jobs in their businesses and homes...and if they were willing to open their eyes and put their time and effort into improving conditions of LIFE for everyone their anti-abortion efforts now affect,  then I would have respect for them.  Then, I'd join with them in their fight to end abortion. (Update:  Six years later, after countless anti-choice legislative feints and thrusts, endless evidence of the rampant misogyny and dehumanization of women in western culture, I must revise this last statement to read:  "Even so,  I will never join them in their fight to criminalize abortion.")

Once the world for the poorest and the least privileged in our society,  men and women and children alike,  becomes a place where some hopes and dreams and possibilities can finally survive and flourish,  then I think the time will come when we as a society can live up to the ideal of rare or non-existent abortion.  But,  unless we all are going to truly and actively work for a better,  more just society,  then limiting the rights and choices of the poorest and most disadvantaged will only exacerbate and continue the cycle of poverty and misery.

 This is not something that directly affects the most outspoken pro-lifers.  I think it is cowardly for men who will never face these consequences at all,  and unseemly for women who have protection and comforts,  to ever presume to judge or to imagine for one second that their opinions or their "beliefs" should ever ever hold sway over the lives of anyone but themselves.

And one final word. Most people who trumpet the anti-choice viewpoint take pains to say that they do not judge women who must choose abortion,  and that they do not try to foist their opinions or beliefs on other people, yet they do. They most certainly do. They protest in the streets - interrupting traffic and spreading misinformation where passersby cannot avoid it,  they harrass young women who seek abortions at clinics and they vote for candidates who campaign on a platform promising to work to deny abortion rights to women.

In my view, that is judgmental and very intentionally planning,  through political clout,  to impose a belief system on others. A surprisingly high percentage of voters in the 2004 elections told poll-takers that they voted for certain candidates specifically because the candidates had vowed to get abortion banned. In a free country, they have the right to vote for someone who will work to get something they want made into law.  However, to vote like this and then to declare that one is not trying to foist one's religious or moral opinions on others is contradictory and hypocritical.

Most of the people who have been the most outspoken against abortion rights have never faced the challenges faced by many women in this country,  and they frankly do not seem to care about these women's lives.  They are not "pro-life" because they make no effort to work to improve lives but instead opt for the easier path of pretending to a morality which is empty and meaningless in the face of the human suffering which surrounds them,  but for which they seem to be utterly lacking in compassion.  From the relative comfort and security of their lives,  they condemn others.

The people who are in the trenches really dealing with the problems,  and not just handing out baby baskets to teens in high schools, or cuddling babies in the nursery...the ones who follow up on those babies in 5, 10, 15 years and watch the horror of their lives...and the horror of their mothers' lives....these people,  whom I think are the really moral and good people, say:

 Give women a choice. Keep abortion legal.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Am Atheist

Over the years, I've written a few essays entitled "Why I am an Atheist"  or something along the same lines,  but after making numerous attempts to start the one to answer PZ Myers' challenge,  I realized that I am no longer comfortable with that phrasing to describe myself.  Not because it is not useful and not because I do not like it (I do -  and I think those essays are enormously helpful and inspiring),  but because my own earlier efforts under that very title were so embarrassingly accommodationist,  so desperate to be accepted (and therefore so dishonestly flattering to theists),  that I simply must do something a little different now. 

The road from shrinking, fearful accommodationism to bold, brave honesty has been rocky, lonely and often frightening.  I am still standing in the shadows at the last turn in the path,  uncertain if I am ready to step out into the light.  But,  I am certain that my days of explaining myself and begging the community to understand and accept me are over.  I may quietly reveal my true thoughts to a few trusted friends and family members or I may choose to remain silent for a few more years,  even with them.  Whatever I do say, however, will be stated with simple positivity. 

I am atheist. 

I am female, I am someone's mother, wife, sister, friend.  I think, I write, I breathe.  I am atheist.

Being atheist is just one part of who I am,  and it is only significant because of the culture in which we live.  Humanity's obsession with deities makes an outlier of one who does not share the obsession.  And outliers make the majority feel uneasy.  Atheism is far more significant and noteworthy to theists than to atheists,  I think,  and the constant cultural pressure to justify our apostasy - our freedom from god-obsession - mostly explains our need for some sort of community with other atheists.  We are not really "like-minded";  we are as individual and varied in our interests and our philosophies as theists are.  What we share is that we are not theists.  But,  in this religion-cursed world that is a huge thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PZ Myers Issues a Challenge!

PZ Myers has thrown down the challenge and I am going to take it up!

One of the first posts I copied into this blog was a long essay from a much older blog called, "Why I am a Humanist".  In fact,  the original title was "Why I am an Atheist Agnostic",  but 5-10 years ago (long before I discovered Pharyngula and Friendly Atheist and the whole amazing blogosphere of freethought), I was still very intimidated by the possible fallout I (and worse, my family) might experience if I expressed my position on religion in unambiguous terms.  So, I changed the title to "Why I am a Humanist".  Less offensive to theists,  you understand.

In the essay,  I alluded to the unhappy confrontations that I had experienced simply by expressing the mildest of agnostic views.  In a discussion that had been billed as a respectful (there were TOS!  ha) discussion of world religions and philosophy - including atheism and agnosticism -  the reality was that I found myself attacked, demonized and finally ostracized by a shocking number of people,  a few of whom I had previously considered friends.

I have lived thousands of miles from my birthplace and extended family for many years, and had recently moved to a community which is saturated with religiosity and it is not overstating the case to say that,  after that discussion (my "coming out" as atheist),  I suddenly became aware of my vulnerability and alienation. With no support network around me or my family,  I began to understand for the first time the very real concerns of unpopular minorities.  The real and constant cost of being "other".  It was bad enough that I might risk ostracism myself,  but - in a culture which demands conformity to a theistic worldview - it suddenly dawned upon me that expressing my opinions openly could bring unpleasant consequences upon my partner and children.

Moderates scoff at the notion that there is very real and very intimidating pressure to conform to a Christian worldview in this culture,  but the rash of visits from proselytizers who singled out our house from all others in the neighborhood following that miserable exchange convinces me otherwise.  That would be in addition to the egging of our house and the discovery of religious junk (plastic jesuses, prayer bracelets, etc)  pushed into the dirt in the front garden.  The evidence may be circumstantial, but coupled with the pervasive, overwhelming religiosity all over town ("Salvation" music in the grocery store;  Xian "rock" blasting from outdoor speakers at the gas station, religious colouring books at the family dentist's),  I am inclined to think it was not all coincidental.  If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. 

Or, I could be paranoid.  Quite possible.  The reaction I got when I came out among "friends" in a safe forum was so shockingly negative,  the rejection so complete,  that I was quite disturbed about it for several months.  Could be that something became unhinged in me.  Around that same time, my (then) 12 year old was grilled by the father of a neighborhood friend about his beliefs (!) and then lectured on the "lie" of evolution and the "truth" of biblical creationism.  Perhaps the chill I felt over a 40 year old man coming outside to harrass a 12 year old child about religion was simply my own paranoia.  Perhaps that religious zealot was behaving perfectly normally and I was overreacting.

Nah.  Not bloody likely.  Worried about the impact on my family? Yes indeed.  And in that respect,  I believe that my concerns were (and still are) well-founded.  You see,  it really is true sometimes that just because you feel paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you!  ;-)

So,  after the stunning attack that I experienced (and in response to the astonishment expressed by those friends who did not attack me but were nevertheless surprised and disturbed to learn of my atheism),  I wrote a blog post (reposted here as "Why I am a Humanist") in which I attempted to honestly explain my thoughts on religion and philosophy of life,  but without "offending" any theist friends or acquaintances.  The result was predictably accommodationist and, even more miserably, almost apologetic.

I would like to think that it was not strictly dishonest,  because in that post I described many of the things I truthfully felt in the (oblivious!) younger decades of my life,  but the tone and the tortuous elaboration betrays my inner battle between the (suddenly crystal clear!) truth and the patchwork of intellectual accommodations I had used during my life in order to allow myself to continue to "belong" to the church tradition into which I was born.  In the editing process,  fearing that my use of "they" to denote theists might anger those who read it,  I went back and rewrote everything to include myself,  writing "we".  That was not honest,  because while I did participate in the religious culture for many years,  I was never a believer in the same sense that I now understand theists to mean by "believer".

I spoke about the dark side of religion,  but I was ever so careful to balance those remarks with glowing praise for the "wonderful creativity" of human tribes in developing this psychological tool for increasing their own security and comfort (while avoiding explicitly mentioning the obvious continuation of that thought:  "at the expense of the security and comfort of other tribes and outliers").  I waxed poetic over the "fascinating" "resourcefulness" of human beings.  I expressed delighted, apparently uncritical, interest in every religious text known to man and allowed that any new such texts that came to light would also enjoy my enthusiastic endorsement as testaments to human imaginative power.

Yes!  I was an atheist agnostic.  But I was an atheist agnostic who respected my religious friends and their religious traditions.  Nothing to fear here!  Nothing to hate or demonize.  I had "come out" as atheist,  but I was begging my theist friends to please not hate me.  It didn't work, of course.  I learned who my real friends were (depressingly few),  lost my reputation in a community in which I had been active for ten years, was sidelined as a moderator and soon pushed out (after 8 years of faithful service) and generally made to understand that who I am and what I offer this world is nothing to most people if I disbelieve in their gods.

Well, that's enough of that.  It was a good learning experience, though.  I learned very well how utterly ineffective accommodationism is.  I have lain low for a couple of years,  trying to weigh up the risk (to my self-respect and happiness) of continued silence and conformity against the risk of danger and discrimination to my children and partner if I am open about my anti-theism.

Oh right.  I forgot to mention that mere atheism has evolved into anti-theism over the past decade for what I consider obvious reasons.

Anyway,  I am ashamed of the earlier essay now.  It doesn't exactly lie,  but it shamefully avoids the whole truth of what I really believe.  Oh yes, I do think ancient tribes were damn resourceful inventing a sky fairy to use as an ultimate authority to back their own claims to land, mates and resources.  I should have continued to elaborate on how that sky monster and the convenient biblical canon built around it was (and still is) resourcefully used to justify genocide, infanticide and misogyny among other innumerable horrors,  but I stopped short of doing so.  In short, I was afraid to offend.

Not any more.  PZ Myers,  Christopher Hitchens,  Jen McCreight among many writers,  and especially the amazing commentariat on PZ's blog (those commenters literally thrilled me when I first discovered Pharyngula.  No guff!  No suffering fools gladly!) have inspired me.  Daily doses of their no-nonsense, unapologetic atheism (and especially the bracing feminism of the Pharyngula commentariat) has fortified me and stiffened my spine. 

I am a fifty-year old mother of five nearly grown children,  a homemaker and a thinker.  I am an atheist and a humanist.  I hope to write regularly on the topic of life as an ordinary atheist in an overwhelmingly theistic country,  general thoughts on religion in western society,  and on the danger of rising religiosity all over the world.  And I intend to write a new essay "Why I am an Atheist" to send to PZ Myers.