Cynicism And Ignorance Beyond What I’ve Seen In A Long, Long Time

I’m going to make this a shorter column, because the pungency of my argument ought to come through to anyone with a heart of kindness and a mind capable of even minimal discernment.

Yes, it’s related to Doug Wilson’s continuing efforts to proclaim that by calling slavery a wondrously harmonious institution whereby Christian men demonstrated their kindness to other people by owning, buying, selling, and most often torturing them in a dynamic that was irredeemably exploitative and based on their race and his, he’s not in any way defending slavery.  I’ve dealt with this at length and quite often in the last couple of weeks; I’ve made my points and my conscience is clear.  

Wilson’s words regarding slavery were noxious then and his defense continues to be now.  But he is not alone in his stubborn wrong-headedness.  The men — and they’re virtually always men — who both excoriate and applaud him in the follow-up comments say things that are occasionally noble, always provocative, and usually distressing.  But almost nothing I’ve read, in this or any other Wilsonian exchange, has distressed me more than this — another tired, misguided, logically-flawed comparison of the evils of slavery and the comparative evil of abortion, especially in the Black community.

The following comment slipped in among a few dozen after a post on a March 19 post by Wilson on Blog and Mablog.  It is breathtakingly awful and irrevocably ignorant, which, sadly, means that it’s not a lonely voice either from Wilson or from his acolytes.  The commenter used his name in calling legalized abortion since Roe v. Wade “ten times worse than slavery,” but I don’t have his permission to share his remarks here, so I won’t name him. 

(Blog and Mablog, March 13, 2013, comments)

“Are you suggesting that being more concerned with the murder of 50 million babies (and counting–in other words, still happening now) as a direct result of the Civil War than being concerned with eradicating the servitude of less than a tenth of that under chattel slavery in a manner that will directly lead to the slaughter of those 50 million babies is not…’remotely Christian’?  I think some folks are missing the point here. Abolishing an evil in such a way as to give rise to one that is more than 10 times more evil (in terms of body count) is a mistake that we are paying dearly for. And it seems that because of the sensitive nature of the racial tensions swirling around it there are many who would rather suppress this truth so they can come across as compassionate…”

Breathe, Keely.  Breathe.  And forget your earlier promise to keep this one short.

First, though, a word from Dr. W.A. Criswell, the mid-century fundamentalist who championed dispensationalism, founded Dallas Theological Seminary, and was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for years, reflected the common early 20th century fundamentalist Christian view on abortion.  In the years following Roe v. Wade, this bastion of Biblical fundamentalism said:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” 

In other words, in other words, the guy was an effeminate, feminist, Bible-hating pomo, in Wilsonspeak.

It doesn’t matter, for the sake of the argument that I’m making, whether you agree with Criswell or not.  I don’t.  I am opposed to laws banning first-trimester and all medically necessary abortions, but I disagree with the dean of Baptist fundamentalism that the unborn child is not yet a person.  But my beliefs privilege the woman and her doctor, and I’ve known women whose lives were saved through the abortion of the fetus she carried.  I will not intrude on that decision.  Neither should you.

So let’s establish that Criswell was unsure of the personhood of the unborn child.  This educated, devout, Bible-revering Christian man was not convinced that any unborn child was the appropriate focus of State protection.  He didn’t depart from his faith in believing this — he simply didn’t recognize that the unborn child, and particularly the developing fetus in the first trimester when more than 85 % of abortions are performed, was a real person deserving of legal protection and moral stature.  But regardless of the sins of the fundamentalist Baptists during the Civil War and throughout the civil rights era, Criswell would join me and every person who’d ever seen a Black person as recognizing that that being in front of us is a person.

It’s embarrassingly simple, of course, but true nonetheless:  No one, no matter how they viewed slavery, could possibly fail to recognize the fact that the Black person in front of them — remember, someone who, in the Antebellum South, would be sold, bought, beaten, killed, and exploited the way sick and cruel people treat animals now — is a person.  A person to be hated, maybe, or a person to be killed, but a PERSON.

The first-trimester fetus is not obviously a person.  I believe that human DNA is not all that makes a being human, but certainly the fully-gestated, healthy baby delivered nine months after conception is a person.  But, like Criswell, most people don’t immediately, obviously, recognize that the six-week or two-month fetus — again, the focus of at least 85 out of 100 abortions — is a person.  The mother who seeks to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester doesn’t see the “person” before her; the one who seeks to abort at the end likely does so because the one inside her, perhaps fully formed, is profoundly ill or causing her profound illness.  Unless you believe there’s a cadre of sociopathic OB/GYNs out there who got into their fields because they love the idea of killing babies that could survive outside of the womb — please think that through — you must, if you’re reasonable, conclude that there’s a medical reason for that abortion that you neither know nor have the right to understand.

There’s a reason Roe v. Wade didn’t legalize the killing of three-month-old babies, three-year-old toddlers, or 30-year-old men.  Those are obviously human beings; intent to kill what all involved know to be a human being is illegal and grossly immoral.  The unborn child is, I believe, a human being — but not obviously so, not visibly so, not experientially so.  And not “so” in the way that the Black man, woman, or child on the auction block, in the fields, under the lash, and buried in graves around the South were visibly, obviously human beings.

Fear, desperation, poverty, illness, and other circumstances — defined only by the woman — fuel the abortion of the “not-obviously human.”  Malice, racism, violence and sinfulness fueled the grotesque enslavement of Black people standing, breathing — BEING — right in front of the eyes of the slaveholder.  And while Wilson’s fan will argue that the result is the same under abortion and slave murder — a dead person — the offense of equating the abortion of a fetus to the owning and exploiting, even not unto death, of an obvious human being is nauseating.  Classically so.

I’ll restate it:  Wilson’s defender believes that abortion is “ten times worse” than slavery because the number of mostly first-trimester Black fetuses killed is roughly ten times the number of Black children, women, and men enslaved in the South.  That any thinking person would equate abortion with the enslavement of human beings, quantify the unquantifiable evil of the latter with abortion statistics, and do so to proffer a defense of Wilson’s indefensible views on slavery is beyond galling.  That the one making that argument will never be faced with a crisis pregnancy, never have his life threatened by the life of the fetus he’ll never carry, never know the grip of terror that can punctuate a pregnancy, is utterly pernicious.

Yes, pernicious.  He took statistics on the abortion of invisible, not-seen, first-trimester fetuses and viewed the vicious enslavement of already-born human beings alive in their reflection of the image and glory of God as a lesser evil because of those numbers.  That is not indicative of a heart filled with the Holy Spirit or a mind devoted to a rational, reasonable love of the Holy One.  And nowhere in his comment did he acknowledge that perhaps it’s the legacy of slavery that even today is reflected in the numbers of Black women aborting their unborn.  Why would he?  It’s about the zygote and the numbers, brother.

It takes creativity to defend an apologist for slavery.  But it takes an astonishing degree of contempt to use statistics to assure us that the ending of fetal life in the Black community is anywhere analogous to, much less “ten times worse than,” the 250 years of their post-born ancestors chattel slave status.  Any defense of slavery, any attempt to minimize its horror, is contemptible.

But the man who claims such sorrow for the death of the Black fetal population before him is under obligation, if not to refrain from proclaiming the relative benignity of slavery, then at least to consider that his privileging of the Black zygote over the Black man standing in front of him as a slave is likely to cause thinking people to wonder whether he himself, in all the cognitive and empathic ways that matter, truly can be recognized by all as human. 

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