This post is for my brothers and sisters in Christ. In the context of a family discussion there are certain agreed upon principles that bind us. We agree that Jesus is the one and only Son of God resurrected to defeat the curse of death deserved by all men. He is the perfect sacrifice freely offered by God of God so that those who deserved eternal separation might enjoy the eternal presence of the Lord of all. We agree that as God's children we bear his image and that our lives are governed by the moral standards established through his immutable and maximally excellent nature. We agree on this and so much more yet some of us have reached different conclusions on the moral nature of abortion. As many of us following the dictates of our conscience have dedicated our energies to protecting unborn life from what we understand to be the immorality of abortion, others following their own conscience determined that same act of abortion to be a legitimately moral choice or necessary evil to look after the welfare of those facing undesired pregnancy.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is part of my personal Christmas tradition, and every year I take something new from the reading. It reminds me of the bible in one sense in that the general story is so well known that few people take the time to actually read it. They assume they know it and as a result miss the richness of thoughts and dialogue that are absent from the voluminous television and movie versions.
I have yet to meet the defender of Scrooge against the charge that he is a bad man. His combination of greed and disregard for others is fully displayed when he answers the call to contribute to a special Christmas charitable fund by saying the poor ought to take advantage of the prisons and workhouses that Mr. Scrooge's tax dollars already support. When told that many cannot avail themselves of these institutions and others would rather die, he famously responds, “If they would rather die... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Later in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Present, his heart is moved by the plight of Tiny Tim. He asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will survive to which the Spirit replies:
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race... will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
That dialogue makes it into most every version, but the words of the Ghost immediately following are usually absent. As Scrooge grieves to recall the harshness of his earlier pronouncement the Ghost says:
“Man... if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, and what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
There is no way to compare anyone to Scrooge without leaving yourself open to the charge of being uncharitable. Aren't abortion rights supporters acting with noble aspirations to limit the suffering of poor women and to protect the freedom and equality of a gender that has fought to earn respect and compensation on par with their male counterparts? Aren't they protecting people from the burden and pain of living an unwanted life? How are these thoughtful people in any way like Scrooge?
Another benefit to reading the book is further insight into the man being redeemed. In a seldom quoted passage earlier in the story, the woman that Scrooge intended to marry, Belle, explains the decline of Scrooge. What was it that hardened him? Why did he become what he was? The answer, the fear of being poor once again. He was once poor and happy to be so, but then she gently says:
“You fear the world too much... All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one...”
So it seems to be with those who agree about so much regarding God, Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the value of human life. So many of their concerns are driven by that same fear of the world and its sordid reproach.
A friend and I have both separately been asked by different pastors, “If we get rid of abortion, what are we supposed to do with all of the poor children?” A man on a mission trip with me told me that China was doing the best they could and that the one child policy – the policy that has led to uncountable abortions, many forced against the will of the parents - was a necessary evil to control the threat of overpopulation. Another minister said that as much as he hated abortion, he hated the idea of suffering unwanted and unloved children even more. These people claim to be uncertain of the identity of the unborn as fully human. As a result they assume that the best way to combat certain social ills is to champion full access to abortion.
But the argument “I don't know for certain what the identity of the unborn is so I must not force my beliefs on others” makes an elementary mistake. As Frank Beckwith points out, in an effort to remain neutral we are asked to support a policy that treats all unborn legally as if they were not human. In the face of a lack of consensus, we are told that neutrality demands the other side – the other beliefs - get every legal consideration and those who believe the unborn to be fully human can merely refrain from participating. Abortion is regrettable, unfortunate, but ultimately necessary to do good so anyone may kill them for any reason at any point in pregnancy. For those that are concerned that we are killing more than a million innocent human beings a year without proper moral justification, well that is the price of a pluralistic and secular society. After all, if we don't know for certain what they are then how can we ask others not to kill them assuming there is a “them” to kill. They may be nothing so we may have the right to do what we are doing. As Dr. William Lane Craig once told me, it would seem more appropriate that ignorance would lead us to err to the side of caution. Only in abortion do we decide it is virtue to kill what we claim to not fully understand or that we claim we cannot identify with confidence.
A friend and minister often tells me that what breaks his heart is that people cannot believe that God can handle what they failed to prevent or foresee. They are driven by fear. What about all the poor children? How will the mother support her child? What about her dreams and desires for herself? The world is a dark scary place and the more people that we add to our ranks the worse it will get especially if those children are unwanted or in some way impaired. People cannot change or modify their behavior and so by fighting abortion you consign us to a world of back alley abortions and overflowing orphanages. All fear, fear, fear.
The arguments for the humanity of the unborn and their value are well chronicled on this blog. In this post I wanted to reach out with a simple message from the pages of a ghost story. The unborn are unquestionably human life. For those that believe we have value because of what we are and not by virtue of what we can do, they must decide whether these human lives morally matter. If your answer is truly “I don't know” then I beg you to consider the advice of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Consider what the unborn life may be in the sight of heaven and how our Lord must feel about the ant on the leaf declaring there is too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.