William Saletan is often insightful and interesting and I often benefit from reading his ideas on bio-ethics in spite of the fact that we profoundly disagree on most every issue. That is why it almost impossible to fathom that he wrote a piece as base, stupid and thoughtless as this particular reflection on the murder of George Tiller.
Without going into exhaustive detail, Saletan’s basic point is that George Tiller was a brave man that lived his pro-choice convictions to the fullest by being willing to do what other people who claim to be pro-choice did not have the stomach to do. To quote:
“You think you're pro-choice. You think marching or phone-banking makes you an activist. You know nothing. There's you, and then there are the people who work in the clinics. And then there are the people who use the forceps. And then there are the people who use the forceps nobody else will use. At the end of the line, there's George Tiller.”
Wait. There is more. What about the violent murderous factions of the pro-life movement? Well I will let Saletan air his own idiocy:
“You think you're pro-life. You tell yourself that abortion is murder. Maybe you even say that when a pollster calls. But like most of the other people who say such things in polls, you don't mean it literally. There's you, and then there are the people who lock arms outside the clinics. And then there are the people who bomb them. And at the end of the line, there's the guy who killed George Tiller.”
You see in Saletan’s world today (I say today because I am hoping this article was a bad idea on a bad day for a writer who ought to be better than this trash) the true believers are the extremes and the rest of us are compromised. Pro-lifers do not organize lynching parties regularly for abortion doctors because whatever we may say we do not really equate the unborn with real genuine human beings.
Ay me. I am not certain how to address this. Sometimes people write things that are so obviously silly that it is best to leave it alone, but Saletan is not usually silly or thoughtless. Let’s get past the incredibly offensive comparisons of Tiller, his killer, and the men and women who have served honorably in combat facing unspeakable horror to secure the blessings of liberty for you, me, and many other ungrateful inhabitants of foreign countries. Let’s get past the stupidity of his basic claim unless Mr. Saletan wants to fully embrace this idea and admit that he clearly thinks that Africans are less than human as the genocide that has occurred on that continent did not drive him or other liberals into an uncontrollable murderous rage. As I have not seen him or anyone else from the left forming militias to confront Muslim communities over female genital mutilation am I to assume that he does not really believe that Muslim women have reproductive rights and bodily autonomy the same way non-Muslim women do?
You see Mr. Saletan is adult enough and intelligent enough to know that the world is full of terrible evils that stretch our abilities to find appropriate responses most especially when these atrocities are state sanctioned and supported. Samantha Powers wrote A Problem from Hell to discuss that very issue as it pertained to genocide. Some things are so awful that there is no “good” response to them. Abortion is such a thing. It should not surprise anyone that there is no satisfying course of action for our side in the face of the state sanctioned destruction of millions upon millions of innocent human beings.
Two things that I do think are worth addressing. First, why does the recognition that abortion is a violation of objective moral values that govern how we treat other human beings obligate me to murder abortion providers? It does not. Mr. Saletan and others that seem to grasp moral values sometimes fail to recognize the secondary component of moral duties. You see, I am not obligated to adhere to objective moral values simply because they exist. Atheistic explanations of objective moral values as necessary abstractions similar to numbers can account for the existence of basic moral values, but they cannot explain why I am obligated to adhere to them or duty bound to follow them. As a Christian, my moral duties are rooted in moral commandments from the Creator from whom all objective moral values are derived. More specifically, I understand my duties and obligations through the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity Jesus Christ and the special revelation of His Gospel and the power of His resurrection.
Does the Incarnate Son of God permit me, Jay Watts, to expand the divine Kingdom through murderous violence? Nope. Then I have to find another way. And sometimes that means that we have to endure unspeakable evil without returning hate for hate, violence for violence, and murder for murder. So I am no more demonstrating a lack of conviction on the humanity of the unborn by not killing abortion providers than Martin Luther King Jr. was demonstrating a lack of conviction on his own humanity by not murdering Bull Connor.
Saletan does make two almost interesting points. I whole heartedly agree that the moral outrage of those opposed in principle to abortion is not appropriate in light of the moral offense and am considering that very subject as central to a book that I am in the very earliest process of writing.
The other point he comes close to that I think is worth consideration is best articulated by sharing an exchange I had quite a while back with an abortion provider. I had written a critique of his blog post and in his response he listed all of the violence that he has been subjected to from the pro-life side over the years of his practice. After cataloguing the list of offenses, he asked me this question: What is the ideological equivalent to the violent pro-lifer on the pro-choice side? He meant it to be a trap as he believed that such an equivalent did not exist.
I shared with him the following response. “I am sorry that you have been forced to endure such violence at the hands of those that claim to represent the pro-life position. Such actions are in contradiction with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the spirit that ought to govern our methods of fighting the evil of abortion. But you are wrong when you claim that the pro-choice side has no ideological equivalent to the violent pro-lifer. Who on your side is so committed to the pro-choice position that they have taken radical action in support of that view? Who believes so strongly in a woman’s right to choose that they go so far as to facilitate the destruction of the unborn life in question? Though many people claim to be pro-choice, I would wager that the majority of them could not make their living ripping nascent human life to pieces in support of the cause. You ask the question who is the ideological opposite of the violent pro-lifer on the pro-choice side and you are the answer. The abortion doctor is the ideological opposite of the violent pro-lifer. “
Is it any wonder then that these two ideological extremes draw one another? Is it any wonder then that when these two groups meet there is so often terrible violence? I abhor the violence of both extremes. And Mr. Saletan needs to understand that I am duty bound to my Lord to find a better way to object than to organize additional murder.