Sunday, August 5, 2007

Eighth Circle of Hell

My church, my ex-church, which I've grown steadily disillusioned and disgusted with, has decided to enter the political arena. I know that the Church, and individual churches, have been involved in politics since the time of Charlemagne, but St. Helen's has been steering clean of controversy. Lately, they've grown more conservative — like a few sermons away from preaching tax cuts for the wealthy, energy deregulation, and expanding Gitmo conservative — and I'm really disappointed that they've gone from peacekeepers to enemy combatants in the culture wars. Not coincidentally, the church's message has also strayed from Jesus's commandments and into a realm of contempt for any challenge to their dogma.

I don't recall St. Helen's ever giving pro-life activists an open forum in its younger days. I'm sure they were pro-life, but they had the decorum not to rub it in your face, and no one got up at the altar talking euphemisms like a "culture of life." No longer. We had a pro-life speaker, and I could tell she was pro-life because her shirt said "PRO-LIFE" on it. Well, thanks for that. Your shirt totally changed my deeply-held beliefs on a complicated, sensitive, and personal subject! They're some group who's walking across America, from the godless activist-judges and hippie-filled West coast to the apostate, gay-marrying East coast, somehow raising pro-life money and awareness.

As and aside, I never understood these fundraisers where people get donations based on how far they walk or how many cheeseburgers they eat or whatever. Can't the donors just give the charity a set amount of money? It just seems like a cruel game for imperious philanthropists: "I want to see a cure for breast cancer, but I also want to see the lower classes perform useless labor. Perfect!"

Thankfully, this pro-lifer's speech was short, but she described the group's agenda and said something that caught my mind, "We believe in the sanctity and dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death." Now, here's the problem with the abortion debate. One side argues that life is sacred and the other side argues that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy, and they're not mutually exclusive because both sides aren't even talking about the same goddamn thing. If you want to watch a pro-lifer equivocate, you need to attack their premise. I guess I was pretty angry after the priest's Dobson-worthy pandering sermon and I have never in my life done this before (although I've always wanted to), but I took this girl's pamphlet and challenged her premise.

"Since you believe in the sanctity of all human life, I suppose you're also against the death penalty." There might have been a little stereotyping on my part, assuming anyone who wore a PRO-LIFE in all caps t-shirt would also be a Bush idolater, but there isn't a ton of subtlety to the pro-life (or pro-choice) movement. "And where does your organization stand on the issue of gun control, or providing health care to children," and yes, I know how to pull the "oh, our children are so precious" card when it comes in handy.

"What's your guys' view on the war in Iraq? Tens of thousands of people have died over there. You all have to be opposed to that." This is a pet peeve of mine, that the whole church will say a prayer for the safety of every American soldier, which is all good, but apparently God doesn't care about the Iraqis being blown up? I call bullshit, right there. (I also call bullshit on our prayer for the victims of the Minneapolis bridge collapse. That's what they call and "act of God," and while I guess you could beg God for mercy, you can't praise him for mitigating a disaster that he himself caused.)

I guess she never expected anyone to examine her views. "Well, we believe in the sanctity of individual life. All individual life." I don't really know what that means — so suicide is bad, but mass suicide is okay?

I have no problem with her believing that every (human) life is sacred. I sincerely hope she believes that. My problem is that she doesn't believe that all life is sacred. There are a lot of shitty people in the world — murderers, rapists, child molesters, terrorists — and when she's at the podium proclaiming that all human life is sacred, she has to be willing to stand in front of the entire church and say that, for example, Osama bin Laden's life has dignity and sanctity. I doubt she's willing to do that (but I seriously applaud her bravery if she is), and I think she's oblivious to how untenable her position really is.

My own opinion is that no life, human or otherwise, is sacred, but that we should (or a moral authority commands us to) strive to minimize suffering. I also believe that death itself involves no suffering, although of course the cause of one's death might. So abortion's cool until the fetus is sentient — I realize it's taboo to be so blasé about a topic like abortion, but if I truly believe that abortion is okay, speaking in gentle euphemisms is cowardly. Euthanasia, what's clearly misnamed "death with dignity," depends on whether the mental anguish of someone taking their own life outweighs the pain the person is suffering. This utilitarianism leads to some weird places that I'm not totally comfortable with (i.e., it's okay to kill somebody as long as they don't suffer and no one else cares about their death) but my point is that until I figure out how to modify my axiomatic premise, I'm stuck conceding these bizarro notions.

Like I said, I really hope she means it when she says all life is sacred, and with only circumstantial evidence to the contrary, I sincerely wished her good luck getting her message heard. The problem with hypocrisy is that you can't satisfy it: I either agree with your words and unwittingly fall into conflict with your beliefs, or I agree with your beliefs and explicitly undercut your words. I can deal with honesty. I may not agree with you, but at least I know where you stand, and we can figure out a way to share a community without repressed (or unrepressed) anger, persecution complexes and paranoia. I believe this is how America is supposed to work, but I'm apparently an unpatriotic blue state liberal, so what do I know?