An Analysis on Abortion and US Christian Fundamentalism

Feb 3, 2010

Not once is the word “abortion ” mentioned in the entirety of the Christian Bible, yet Christian fundamentalists in the United States fight tooth and nail to seek its abolition. Very commonly, a connection is established between Christian beliefs and the pro-life view, that to be a Christian is to be against abortion as a practice. Not every Christian, surely, fits this connection. Some are either neutral on the matter or have their own take on abortion while remaining to their Christian beliefs. A more pressing concern entails those Christians who embed themselves in such a connection that they actively pursue a common goal of diminishing abortion in favor of life. Amid all of their efforts, what must be ascertained is whether there is an underlying impetus of their stance which provides the substance in all of their actions.

As mentioned in the beginning, the Christian Bible makes no mention of the word “abortion” or of any direct reference to it. What can underlie the Christian fundamentalist’s stand against abortion is the sixth commandment in Old Testament, known famously as “Thou shalt not kill.” Plainly, this moral imperative decrees that human beings cannot take the life of another, which the Christian fundamentalist would claim is the case with abortion. In short, abortion equates to murder. What this presupposes, however, is that the formation of the embryo in the mother’s womb already constitutes as human life. This is among the primary disputes in the pro-life versus pro-choice debate: when does life really begin? Though it is yet to be clarified fully, what is certain is that Christian fundamentalism deserves merit for opening significant grounds for discussion on the subject of life.

Still, how the US Christian fundamentalist holds his ground against abortion remains to be seen. The essence of Christian fundamentalism itself entails a strict adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible, its laws, provisions, and narratives contained therein. It was founded as a response to the historical movements within Christian theology that attempted to accommodate and integrate the upcoming advancements in technology, society, and culture at the time. With abortion as a fairly recent societal practice and only the sixth commandment in their disposal, the Christian fundamentalists do not seem to hold much ground on the subject of abortion. What can, perhaps, be done is to expand on this single item, to distinguish the many ways with which it can be utilized.

On this, the response of Christian fundamentalists is multifarious. On one hand, the US has seen the birth of many organizations that actively attempt to preach and endorse the literal interpretation of the Bible as the norm of the Christian life. Currently, one of the most controversial Christian groups in the US is the “Westboro Baptist Church” - WBC for short. Among its most prominent characteristics is that its members believe that God “personally chose them.” They perform acts of activism through picketing, and though they primarily target locations where homosexuality is present, they are a prime example of Christianity taken too far, for the lack of a better word; too far that it borders on hate crime.

When abortion becomes the main focus, the organizations that come into play are the “Pro-life Action League” and the “Army of God.” The mission of the Pro-life Action League is to attempt to diminish the prevalence of abortion as a currently accepted practice. Their methodology to the Westboro Baptist Church is similar: protest at a venue where abortion usually takes place, such as an abortion clinic. In a way, the Pro-life Action League is quite tame, at least in comparison to the “Army of God.” It is an organization that focuses much of its efforts on vandalising abortion clinics and physically harming - and even killing - abortion doctors. While different in magnitude from the WBC when it comes to activism, it is similar with WBC by way of being “hate groups” - those who the underlying roots of their stance against all things “un-Christian”: because the Bible says so literally. 

It is necessary, at this point, to acknowledge the distinction between “fundamentalism” and “extremism.” The latter, from its etymology alone, suggests something extreme being done in relation to a religious belief. This is done in two ways, whether both done together or not: by belief, where a certain religious idea out of a whole belief system is blown out of proportion, and; by action, where proponents of the extremist notion exceed socially acceptable limits of exercising a religious belief. Some fundamentalists can be extremists, and some extremists can be fundamentalists. However, it is not always the case that all fundamentalists are extremists and vice versa. Nevertheless, there is a delicate line between the two, and they are often overlapping. The primary component of extremism is the incessant emphasis on a particular belief, while Christian fundamentalism is grounded in the constant return to the literal interpretation of the Bible. The key similarity here is centrality.

There is nothing inherently negative with the idea of centrality, so long as it is concerned with only ideas, and not misguided convictions. Unfortunately, it has touched upon the members who attempt to uphold the centrality of their religious beliefs; they have become the centrality. By exerting much efforts to adhere closely to their beliefs, they identify themselves with what they believe. The result is that Christian fundamentalists in the US who try to speak against abortion, do so not from the ideas that they are upholding but from themselves whom they hold highly. When they say “I hold this because the Bible says so literally,” unconsciously they mean “I hold this because I say so.”

This becomes further aggravated when it is recalled that the debate on abortion is essentially a debate on a woman’s control over her own body. Conducive to the discussion on abortion is an understood exchange of ideas with hopes that a synthesized resolution is made to satisfyingly address abortion. Christian fundamentalism poses a danger to this notion. It is no longer an exchange of ideas that takes place but an imposition of will. The irony is that Christian fundamentalists firmly believe that they are speaking for their idea, when they are actually betraying what it is they stand for. The Westboro Baptist Church staunchly believe that they are the chosen people and yet are also Christians who commit hate speeches. The Army of God think themselves as deliverers of God’s Will, which they themselves think as an enactment of violence upon others who go against their beliefs. The Pro-life Action League attempts to supersede the practice of abortion by an imposition of their own presence, as if to intimidate or discourage its practitioners

Fundamentalism and extremism, on paper and by themselves, are not inherently detrimental. It is those who attempt to uphold that have the burden of doing so with justice to what their beliefs stand for. As it is, however, US Christian fundamentalism poses a threat to the subject of abortion, not only to pro-choice but also pro-life, the very stance that they assume to uphold. If their concern is to impose themselves, more than their own beliefs, they pose a threat to the debate itself and the subject of abortion. What should be done, henceforth, is a reminder that members of any organization, be it fundamentalist, extremist, or otherwise, to uphold the values that they stood for, and not to hold themselves higher than anyone else simply because of a belief they hold. A human being who holds a belief is not a superior human being; he is only just a human being with a belief. The case of abortion and US Christian fundamentalism exemplifies the notion that “beliefs do not kill people, but people with beliefs kill people.”

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