Abortion politics and the corrosive sin of pride

Abortion politics and the corrosive sin of pride January 24, 2012

Franciscan brother Daniel Horan explains why he does not support the annual “March for Life” against legal abortion (via).

Horan discusses three reasons for his stance against the march:

… (a) the event’s moniker is incomplete at best and disingenuous at worst, (b) the mode of protest has proven ineffective, and, following the second point, (c) the ‘march’ and its related events is a self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding and disinterest in the most pressing matters of human rights and dignity in our world today.

These three points are inter-related, but let me repeat that last one, since on that point Horan’s message for his Catholic community is precisely the same as the message I want to convey to my evangelical community. I believe this is true not just for the January protest march, but for the entire anti-abortion movement and for nearly every expression of anti-abortion politics in America today.

The anti-abortion political movement in America overall is “a self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding and disinterest in the most pressing matters of human rights and dignity in our world today.”

It is not only that, but it is pervasively that. Self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding and disinterest in the most pressing matters are what this movement is for. They are a feature, not a bug. They are not an unfortunate side-effect threatening the original purpose of the movement, but rather they are and have always been central as cause and motive, as driving force, as raison d’etre.

Brother Horan laments the long record of futility and ineffectiveness associated with the “March for Life.” “For nearly 40 years people have been doing the exact same thing with no progress of which to speak,” he writes.

But that’s not really true. For nearly 40 years, these marchers have been extraordinarily successful. Year after year they have accomplished their goals, achieving just what they set out to do. Year after year they have savored their self-righteousness, congratulated themselves, grandstanded and distracted themselves from the most pressing matters of human rights and dignity. Year after year after year the march has been a great success.

I am certain that Brother Horan would disagree with me about such a sweeping application of his criticisms of this one event, but he dwells among the Franciscans and I dwell among the evangelicals and I can only bear witness to what I have seen.

And what I have seen is that the anti-abortion political movement in the evangelical church arises from and feeds into a self-righteous pride that corrodes everything and everyone it touches. It is the indignant self-deception of the anti-kitten burning coalition writ large. It is the never-ending quest for Satanic baby-killers to provide a foil for our relative righteousness.

The anti-abortion political movement, in other words, is a sin from which American evangelicalism needs to repent. It is a toxin that is poisoning the church.

Here is more from Brother Horan. Again, his comments are narrowly directed at the annual ritual of the “March for Life,” but I think they apply much more broadly to religious anti-abortion politics as a whole:

While the presenting focus of the (so-called) “March for Life” is the abortion legislation of the United States, what actually takes place seems far less issue-focused and far more an exercise in self-congratulatory fanfare.

… What strikes me as most egregious in this whole extravaganza is the simplistic distillation of an incredibly complex moral and political issue into the binary “good vs. evil” construction. It is not that simple.

… It is sad that a boutique, albeit legitimate, issue in the Catholic moral tradition has been made to be the singular and defining catholicity litmus test for so many. Who is in and who is out is rarely determined by one’s profession of faith and baptism (that is, by the way, what makes someone a Christian), but where they fall in the pseudo-reality of binary moral categories: “pro-life or not?” which always really means: “anti-abortion.”

 

"My theory is that they are worried that information will come out that doesn’t rise ..."

So come away, starting today
"It also wasn't easy to come up with reasons why Trump shouldn't have been elected ..."

So come away, starting today
"Yeah, it’s going to be hard to come up with other reasons why Trump shouldn’t ..."

So come away, starting today
"note that it is in the supernatural cop thriller, but hey you started with Godzilla, ..."

Herrenvolk ‘democracy’ and Herrenvolk religion

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • “For nearly 40 years people have been doing the exact same thing with no progress of which to speak,” he writes.

    Let’s see, the so-called partial-birth abortion ban, the vicious murder of one of the only three doctors in the country who would perform medically necessary late-term abortions, and a whole slew of state laws imposing ever-more cumbersome and ridiculous hoops for women to jump through, all increasingly upheld by the courts. Just off of the top of my head.

    And he says there’s no progress? (From his perspective, I mean – regress is what I call it.) The anti-choice movement has been *incredibly* successful, and not just in the way Fred is talking about.

  • Lori

     
    Brother Horan laments the long record of futility and ineffectiveness associated with the “March for Life.” “For nearly 40 years people have been doing the exact same thing with no progress of which to speak,” he writes.  

    While I definitely agree that the ill-named “March for Life” is mostly and intentionally an exercise in self-righteous anti-kitten burning, I wonder where Horan has been the last few years if he thinks that the anti-choice movement hasn’t made any progress on their agenda. 

    2011 was a very bad year for women’s right to control their own bodies. 

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/the-state-of-roe-v-wade-in-9-charts/2012/01/23/gIQAXo6XLQ_gallery.html?hpid=z3#photo=1

    Apparently Brother Horan either doesn’t know about all the legal restrictions on access to safe abortions that have been enacted recently or he doesn’t think they matter. In either case I’m not inclined to applaud him or to trust his judgement. A man who thinks that the “March for Life” is bad because it’s not successful enough is not my ally. 

  • [/spittake

    A Franciscan speaking out against the “March For Life?”

    I am genuinely surprised, not because the guy has salient points, but because I have rarely seen any Franciscan, much less those Franciscan-educated take so bold a statement against the conservative Catholic viewpoint. Most Franciscans and Franciscan-educated I’ve ever dealt with have been the self-assured, “good” Catholics who don’t seek to challenge or question the Catholic Church and then turn on other orders for not acting like they do. Kudos for him.

  • There used to be this funny as hell writeup over on Rack Jite’s website, but he pulled it off. Basically it was written in 1996 or 1997 when the Republicans had their annual convention and he hilariously pointed out how all the major players fulminated about partial birth abortion in addition to the usual Clinton bashing.

    So the anti-abortion crowd has been more than a little successful at slipping their version of events into the dialog of at least one major political party in the USA.

  • Anonymous

    Catholic schools do give kids the day off to come to DC and participate in this march, so I sympathize with Mr. Horan’s disgust because along with being an exercise in self-aggrandizement, it is also an exercise in brainwashing children. I work in DC so I see year after year how the children are always provided with signs to carry with bloody fetuses on them. And since kids see most things in black and white, it is easy to indoctrinate them into the “good v. evil – kill the satanic devil worshipers” cult that is the anti-abortion movement.

    And I agree with the first two people who commented — yes abortion is still legal, but you can’t help but wonder for how much longer considering how much that right has been eroded in the past 20 years.

  • Lori

     
    And I agree with the first two people who commented — yes abortion is still legal, but you can’t help but wonder for how much longer considering how much that right has been eroded in the past 20 years.  

     

    Even if they’re never able to overturn Roe v Wade it won’t matter if they succeed through a combination of legal restrictions and terrorism in making it all but impossible for most women to actually get a safe, legal abortion. A de jure right isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if de facto you can’t exercise it.

  • Guest-again

    ‘I am certain that Brother Horan would disagree with me about such a sweeping application of his criticisms of this one event’
    Yes, he would. Just like the Missionhurst priests of the parish I grew up in, who were also dealing with things like this while the whole march for life thing was getting organized (our parish sent money to Gautemala, and members of the order did visit) –
    ‘The CICM group has a very difficult time between 1980 and 1983. Walter
    Voordeckers is murdered at Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa on 12 May 1980,
    while Comradeo de la Cruz mysteriously disappears on the first of May
    1980; he has probably been murdered. Serge Berten is arrested in the
    capital on 19 January 1982, never to be seen again. About nine other
    CICM priests, under threat of death, are obliged to leave Guatemala. ‘

    This passage – ‘Year after year they have savored their self-righteousness,
    congratulated themselves, grandstanded and distracted themselves from
    the most pressing matters of human rights and dignity.’  – does not accurately describe those priests or their involvement in the marches of that time (that it may be accurate now, in the age of Benedict, is impossible for me to dispute).

    ‘I am genuinely surprised, not because the guy has salient points, but
    because I have rarely seen any Franciscan, much less those
    Franciscan-educated take so bold a statement against the conservative
    Catholic viewpoint.’
    Don’t worry – Benedict and his fellow co-conspirators will figure out some way to kick out the Franciscans as being insufficiently good Catholics. And I’m sure that Benedicit will insist he was only following orders if it happens.

    And good Catholics – like such publicly sainted Catholics as Santorum or Gingrich – are all about following orders involving torture, invasion, and executions.

  • mmy


    if they’re never able to overturn Roe v Wade it won’t matter if they succeed through a combination of legal restrictions and terrorism in making it all but impossible for most women to actually get a safe, legal abortion. 

    Don’t forget the stealth methods of removing access to health care. If the only hospital that a woman has access to (either geographically or because it is the only one that takes her health insurance) is Catholic and if health care providers (including pharmacists) are allowed to not provide medical care “that violates their consciences”) then unless the woman is wealthy enough to be able to fly elsewhere — she won’t have access to health care.

    And it isn’t “just” access to abortions that is becoming more and more difficult. People are finding it hard to get Plan B, clinics that offer basic health care to women are being shut down. Women are dying from illnesses that should be caught early or prevented.

    The health of all woman in the United States in under attack. Or at least, all women who are not married to / the mistresses of extremely wealthy and powerful men.

  • Guest-again

    Forgot a line –
    Of course, the people that call themselves the good Catholics are exactly the sort that other Catholics are no longer able to ignore, since what those self-proclaimed Catholics represent is wrong. (There is a now quite old theory that Benedict is acting this way on purpose, to drive out those who still believe, or at least still desperately cling to the belief, that the Catholic Church has the potential to live up to the promise of something like Vatican II – and only by driving out such people can the Catholic Church regain the strength that once marked its presence in the secular world.)

  • Anonymous

    Even if they’re never able to overturn Roe v Wade it won’t matter if they succeed through a combination of legal restrictions and terrorism in making it all but impossible for most women to actually get a safe, legal abortion.

    Suddenly I’m reminded of the KKK.

  • Lori

     
    Suddenly I’m reminded of the KKK.  

     

    With good reason. 

    I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see Operation Rescue justly meet the same fate as the Klan—acknowledged as a terrorist group, completely beyond the pale for all decent people, and with membership seen as the mark of hate and bigotry? 

  • Yup.  If nothing else anti-choicers have succesfully prevented abortion from becoming normalized forty years after Roe v. Wade.  They have cultivated the perception that abortion is ‘dirty’, so that women who dare to have sex for fun will forgo not just that option but other forms of contraception as well; and the accidental children that result will both force these dirty slaterns to shape up and ensure that they are forever kept in their proper place (especially if they’re lower class and/or brown.)

    There’s another angle that I’ve noticed here, coming from a rural blue-collar family and environment.  There’s a sense here that while waiting until one is married with a steady paycheck before having children may be ideal, a woman is nonetheless always supposed to be happy with the prospect of pregnancy and children no matter the circumstances.  (Recall the ruckus over Obama’s ‘punished with a baby’ line in the last election) It’s no secret that fear of losing power within the family and home is a big factor in opposing Roe v. Wade, and while this is largely a fear of men losing power over women; husbands over wives,  it is also about wanting to maintain a general paternal power; the perceived entitlement of both mothers and fathers to have their children provide them with grandchildren, by hook or crook.  I have younger cousins with out-of-wedlock children who are not-to-subtly treated as more ‘adult’ than my own childless, college degree holding self.  Not that I’m bitter :) There is also a desire for isolated social groups, who have no one but each other for entertainment, to maintain standards of heteronormality that are deliberately so narrow as to be impossible for anyone with a pulse to adhere to.  So that they have a constant supply of deviants to gossip and sneer about. 

    I don’t mention all of this to downplay the misogyny of the anti-choice movement.  This of course is front and center.  And of course it’s the women who receive the most pressure to ‘settle down’ within families and ‘the sluts’ who receive the most grief from the town gossips.  And certainly I don’t want to deflect attention away from acts of murder and terrorism done in the name of ‘the babies’ that  may be intimidating women out of seeking their legal rights.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, while opposition to choice is every bit as intense and as viscious as it appears to be, it isn’t neccessarily based upon the religious fanaticism, or ‘backwardness’ one sees at the surface.  Invocations of God and family are what you see on the surface; the official, polite, public face.  But behind the grandiose moralism of bourgeois activists lies this sort of folk conservatism/libertarianism/patriarchy in which the real power of chauvinistic attitudes lie.  Those who seek to confront those attitudes and change our politics should focus more on gradually chipping away at that culture and perhaps a bit less on the drama queens who organize these ‘Walks for Life.”

  • mmy


    umstances.  (Recall the ruckus over Obama’s ‘punished with a baby’ line in the last election) It’s no secret that fear of losing power within the family and home is a big factor in opposing Roe v. Wade, and while this is largely a fear of men losing power over women; husbands over wives,  it is also about wanting to maintain a general paternal power; the perceived entitlement of both mothers and fathers to have their children provide them with grandchildren, by hook or crook.  

    I am wondering if the fear of disrupting this power is part of why “socialized medicine”* is so demonized among some groups in the US. One of the things that the single-payer “you get a health card at birth model of health” system of payment is that you are not dependent on your parents or your spouse or your family for health care. You can quit work — doesn’t affect your health care. You go to the doctor, no description of “what was done” ever gets sent to your home. No one sees the cancelled check. No one wonders why you ran through your grocery money so quickly this week. No one has the right to ask you questions about your health care decisions except your health care providers (that is nurses and doctors not insurance clerks) and no one has a right to look at your records except you and the people you designate.

    It really does undermine a lot of parental/spousal authority. 

    *No, we don’t have socialized medicine in Canada. We have a single-payer system. There are big differences between the two. No, I am not bitter that I had to explain that at least once a week for the entire time I lived in the US. Often to the same person who having listened to Fox News over the weekend returned on Monday to tell me that unlike them (with their list of approved Doctors issued by their HMO) I as a Canadian had some bureaucrat telling me what doctor I could see. Which is wrong. And a lie. Head bang. What would I know I was just a Canadian.

  • “And what I have seen is that the anti-abortion political movement in
    the evangelical church arises from and feeds into a self-righteous pride
    that corrodes everything and everyone it touches. It is the indignant
    self-deception of the anti-kitten burning coalition writ large. It is the never-ending quest for Satanic baby-killers to provide a foil for our relative righteousness.
    “The
    anti-abortion political movement, in other words, is a sin from which
    American evangelicalism needs to repent. It is a toxin that is poisoning
    the church.”WHOA! I’m very, very anti-abortion, but in substance, I think you might be right!

  • Even if they’re never able to overturn Roe v Wade it won’t matter if
    they succeed through a combination of legal restrictions and terrorism
    in making it all but impossible for most women to actually get a safe,
    legal abortion. A de jure right isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if
    de facto you can’t exercise it.

    I suspect they’d prefer that even. It lets them keep their wedge issue/rhetorical hammer/fundraising rally. There’s way too much money and power in opposing abortion for them to say “Okay, we’ve definitively ended it. Time to go home.”  Much better to use threats, intimidation, restrictions and slut shaming to impose a de facto ban while keeping the base motivated with a war on terror that will never be won.

  • Even if they’re never able to overturn Roe v Wade it won’t matter if
    they succeed through a combination of legal restrictions and terrorism
    in making it all but impossible for most women to actually get a safe,
    legal abortion. A de jure right isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if
    de facto you can’t exercise it.

    I suspect they’d prefer that even. It lets them keep their wedge issue/rhetorical hammer/fundraising rally. There’s way too much money and power in opposing abortion for them to say “Okay, we’ve definitively ended it. Time to go home.”  Much better to use threats, intimidation, restrictions and slut shaming to impose a de facto ban while keeping the base motivated with a war on terror that will never be won.

  • Anonymous

    If that is his plan, it’s a very stupid plan, and one that betrays a profound lack of self-awareness.  The secular power of the Vatican is gone forever, and good riddance.  Any attempts at encouraging Catholic fundamentalism will only result in compounding its perception as a backwards institution.

  • Anonymous

     “pro-life or not?” which always really means: “anti-abortion.”
    Or, I think more accurately, anti-legal abortion.  As far as I can tell, most of these activists have little or no concern or awareness about the rampant illegal abortions that occurred before Roe, continue around the world, and would return if abortion were made illegal.  

    Most seem like they couldn’t care less if women have abortions, so long as those abortions are dangerous and illegal.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding brainwashing children…

    One of my earliest memories is getting back into the car after one of these things. I can vividly recall the posters displaying bloody fetuses, especially one, which I will not describe because it’s a really horrific image and one I really wish I’d never seen. I’m not sure how old I was – I think I can’t have been more than three or four – but I’ve never been comfortable enough bringing it up with my mother to get an exact date. I grew up in an extreme, anti-abortion household, and wrote papers on how partial-birth abortion was evil when I was a(n extremely annoying) RTC teenager.

    Then I started to learn about what abortion actually did, not what I had always been told. And my views began to evolve and expand, so I included an exception for incest, rape, and/or the health of the mother. Then I learned about why women and other persons with uteri actually get late-term abortions, and my views changed still further. And for these and so many other reasons, my memory of the pictures of dead babies is part of why I am vehemently pro-choice, and to the best of my knowledge, three or four out of the five women in my family who have reached eighteen are also pro-choice, if not as vocal. (I’m not completely certain on one, and the fifth still has a more progressive take on abortion than our parents do.)

    There’s hope.

  • FangsFirst

    As far as I can tell, most of these activists have little or no concern
    or awareness about the rampant illegal abortions that occurred before
    Roe, continue around the world, and would return if abortion were made
    illegal. 

    Everybody knows that making something illegal makes it stop happening. I, for one, am glad there is no more murder or theft, since they were made illegal.

    Can’t figure out why they repealed prohibition, though. I guess everyone just really wanted to have a drink and were getting antsy, since it was illegal?

  • mmy


     As far as I can tell, most of these activists have little or no concern or awareness about the rampant illegal abortions that occurred before Roe, continue around the world, and would return if abortion were made illegal.  

    Most seem like they couldn’t care less if women have abortions, so long as those abortions are dangerous and illegal.
    I think they care a lot.

    I think the fact that illegal abortions were often (usually) dangerous and life-threatening was for them a feature not a bug.

    Remember that these are the people who are quite willing to throw women’s health care into the ditch in order to prevent legal abortions. 

    They want women to suffer and therefore rather than hoping for a world in which abortion is legal, safe and infrequent are working for a world in which it is illegal and dangerous. 

  • Anonymous

    Most Franciscans and Franciscan-educated I’ve ever dealt with have been
    the self-assured, “good” Catholics who don’t seek to challenge or
    question the Catholic Church and then turn on other orders for not
    acting like they do.

    Is that so? Francis must be revolving in his grave fast enough to power the town of Assissi.

  • Anonymous

    His point, though, is mostly that the “pro-life” marchers are defining the phrase solely in terms of “I hate abortions!!” instead of being about all matters of human life and dignity.

    Also, as a rallying point for the Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition (AKBC?), banning abortion outright is something that can’t happen, or there won’t be something to rally angry Religious Right types around anymore.

  • Anonymous

    He still seems to be anti-abortion.  The difference is, he honestly believes that there are more important issues out there.

  • Anonymous

    Of course!  Sex out of wedlock is a filthy, dirty, HORRIBLE thing–THE WORST THING EVER!!– and therefore if you do it, you should be punished by being forced to bear a child.  And if you won’t do that, then you deserve to get a nasty infection in your nether regions and die from it for daring to go against God’s Will.

    Naturally, sex within marriage is a wonderful, holy gift from God, and if a married couple has a child, it is automatically the BEST THING EVER, whether they were prepared for that child at the time or not.

    …I feel absolutely filthy for even thinking those two paragraphs.  Excuse me while I go shower until I’ve scraped off half my skin.

  • Anonymous

    That’s my story, exactly.

  • Si

    Fred, I just found an example of anti-kitten-burning that, I think, is really special: a bill that bans foods which contain aborted fetuses as one of their ingredients.

    This, is, of course, not actually a problem, as aborted fetuses are not actually used in food (the FDA is good for something.) Some have suggested this is canny attempt a back-door attempt to ban stem-cell research, since some stem cell lines are used in research by food companies. But I think it sounds like some very confused and deeply ignorant legislator doesn’t realize the difference between research and manufacturing.

    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/bill-ban-aborted-fetuses-food-155009642–abc-news.html

  • Si

    *…a canny back-door attempt to …

  • Si

    *…a canny back-door attempt to …