Many of us notice that Orthodox Christianity’s favorite issues are those that provide the most political fodder- issues like abortion, homosexuality, and “religious freedom”. In that regard it matters little whether these issues have any firm biblical basis. If little evidence to support the church’s position can be found in the Bible, scientific “evidence” or vague political concepts will suffice. Thus we observe that no meaningful biblical case is put forth in support of “religious freedom” or opposition to abortion.
Before I start discussing the wickedly complex subject of abortion, I want to be clear that I don’t view this practice as a desirable form of birth control. But neither do I believe it is to be reduced by criminalizing it. That is especially true if the criminalizing legislation is purported to be based on the Bible.
I propose to show that abortion is not an issue because of clear Bible evidence, but much more so because it is the perfect “moral” issue for political opportunists. Its opposition sounds so unassailably righteous, and those who see themselves as the proponents and enforcers of righteous, the church, naturally align with it. Opposition to abortion provides a convenient appearance of righteousness, it plays to our inclination operate out of anger and negative emotions, and it has no downside in terms of making any meaningful personal commitment or sacrifice.
In fact, one can have engaged in an abortion directly or indirectly and privacy laws will hide that fact or if necessary, one can now declaim what was previously done in an act of public repentance. It presents the ideal scenario for a cosmetic sort of piety. Many a cynical politician recognizes all this, even if the average abortion opponent does not and is motivated by a sincere desire to do what is right.
In this fashion, abortion has proved especially fruitful as a way to inject church theology into the political agenda. By positing itself as the defender of sacred unborn life, the church assumes a moral position which they promote as unassailable both from a biblical and a scientific viewpoint. The great emphasis, however, is focused on scientific evidence like viability, heartbeat, sensory awareness, etc.
This reliance on science in the case of abortion results from the fact that the Bible never directly addresses the subject of abortion, and in the one occasion where the Bible mentions causing the death of the unborn, it is not clearly condemned. Certainly the practice of infanticide (killing infants before or immediately after birth) was well known in Bible times. If that subject is so significant today, why wasn’t it so when the Bible was written? The answer, I believe, is much more political than moral.
What little anti-abortion evidence is taken from the Bible derives from the commandment condemning killing in general. The problem then becomes one of what killings are to be condemned. The church and Bible adherents have almost universally accepted capital punishments and warfare deaths as acceptable since they were state sanction. If the state decides who can and cannot be killed, then there is no need to introduce the Bible into the debate. Get control of the state, and define acceptable killing to your own liking.
Finally, if one considers Genesis 2:7 as evidence (and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul), there is a strong case for biblical life beginning when one first breathes. Adam was formed (existed as a body), he gained the breath of life, and then and only then became a living soul.
A vital question from a spiritual or biblical point of view is this- When is an infant invested with a soul- when does a child, unborn or otherwise, become fully alive as a spiritual being made in God’s image? Of course, this question does not lend itself to a scientific answer. All the anti-abortion scientific evidence flies out the window as irrelevant when the existence of a soul is the important point.
So we need to be a bit more biblically astute in our discussions of abortion. The question of when individual physical life begins in the eyes of God, when one becomes a living soul, should be the real issue, an issue which I never hear addressed and doubt we can ever answer definitively. None of this reasoning makes abortion comfortable for anyone, but it does suggest we need to tone down the religious posturing which demands criminalization as the proper way to discourage the practice.
I now move on to the other hot church sponsored political topic- religious freedom. Here again we hear a hue and cry about how religious conviction means a sacred and irrevocable right to discriminate against certain groups in the public arena by denying access to goods and services otherwise available to anyone willing to pay for them or otherwise entitled to them as part of the public function.
As we noted before in relation to abortion, there is no biblical evidence whatsoever to support any concept of freedom of religious freedom, if by that term one means the freedom to operate religiously as one’s conscience would dictate. All the Bible allows is the freedom to conform to its religious dictates or suffer the consequences. Neither Orthodox Judaism nor Christianity leaves room for freedom of choice according to conscience. Therefore by its very theology Orthodox Christianity is anathema to religious freedom. For such a religious group to claim religious freedom in supporting their right to practice religious oppression is laughable, because their dogma rejects freedom of religion. How can one man’s freedom result in another’s oppression in the name of that freedom? And how can a theology which denies religious freedom as a right then turn around and demand that freedom from those who don’t recognize or accept that theology and in fact suffer at its hands. It’s a strange sort of illogic which derives this sort of justification.
So abortion and religious freedom provide simple edgy, emotion packed political tools for both the church and the politicians. Throw either term out into the political/religious forum and you get a visceral, almost involuntary response out of many people. From then on there is no reason to appeal to reason or the Bible.