There are few things that can ignite a firestorm of rage as easily as that single word. The discourse of this debate, like so many in this country, is dominated by the extremities. Passion fuels action, but it also tends to fuel radicalism.
Last week we were lucky enough to host this tiresome dispute, albeit in a different medium than usual. Instead of speeches or websites or giant, disgusting posters, we were all witness to an ideological duel waged with a new weapon: sidewalk chalk.
A tool whose utility is usually best executed by six-year-olds drawing unicorns in their driveway was instead repurposed to bring a serious message in pastel. A genius tactic, I must say. In the pro-life corner we had the Silent No More Awareness Campaign posing the eternal head-scratcher, “What’s so bad about abortion?” And in the pro-choice corner we had the 1 In 3 Campaign with their own clever slogan, “My body, my choice!”
I can only assume that they organized a midnight battle on campus. “Bring your chalk, [insert profane reference]. We’ll settle this plaza-style.” One would think that the conviction of their beliefs would be directly proportional to the permanence of their message, but instead this will all wash away in a couple days while the guy who spray-painted “Free the Universe” in the middle of the plaza grins as his message resists all erasing efforts. As a side note, I would advise this guy to lay off the psychedelics.
I don’t mean to be flippant about such a touchy subject, but sometimes that feels like the one position I can take when the only alternatives I am presented with are so drastic. We have a problem in this country of trying to deal with issues as black and white when the real answer is certainly in the grey.
If we are to take either of these sides at their word — which would be profoundly stupid — we would have a stark choice between Jesus and genocide, on the one hand, or between freedom and tyranny on the other. What if I don’t like Jesus or genocide? What if I like freedom but only up to a certain point? And there we have a perfect representation of the lost American moderate.
Like any person who adheres to even the most basic of moral structures, I am uncomfortable with the idea of abortion. The simple fact is that abortion snuffs out a potential life, a fact that ardent pro-choicers would find hard to argue against. And yet I am also uncomfortable with the prospect of denying this option to desperate women who may otherwise seek out seedier alternatives. I am confident that I share this opinion with most Americans.
My main problem with the pro-life faction, besides the notion that abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape or incest, is their insistence on placing Christianity at the front and center of their whole movement. There are plenty of convincing moral arguments that can be made against abortion without mentioning Jesus or the Bible. Unless, of course, you believe that there can be no morality in the absence of religion, which seems to be the position of many on the Christian right.
A couple of years ago I went to see Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee turned pro-life crusader, speak at the student center. This veritable messiah of the movement, judging by the response of the rabid crowd, made a lot of good points.
And then she tossed out this line: “I know this isn’t a religious talk, and I appreciate people here who are atheist… or whatever,” she said, giving off a patronizing chuckle. “I work with the national Atheists for Life group. The problem is that they’re all becoming Christians, so the group just keeps getting smaller and smaller.”
The obvious implication is that being a good person and being a Christian are one and the same, an idea that rational people should immediately toss out. Maybe the people who stand outside of Planned Parenthood, ostensibly praying for lost souls but in reality simply making a nuisance of themselves, would gain a greater foothold among the secular populace if they would lay off the Bible quotes and broaden their appeal.
In her speech Johnson said, “My mom used to say, ‘If you’re a Christian and somebody’s not mad at you, you’re not a very good Christian.’” I feel the same way about writing a column. Here’s to hoping that both sides in this debate can unite in their hatred for this despicable moderate.
Zane Womeldorph will kill you at bowling. Send angry repudiations to firstname.lastname@example.org.