A Few Thoughts On Roe v. Wade: Seinfeld, Moral Attitudes and Giving Moral Praise

A Few Thoughts On Roe v. Wade: Seinfeld, Moral Attitudes and Giving Moral Praise June 27, 2022
There is a scene from an old Seinfeld episode, one of the few Seinfeld episodes I remember, that is now quite striking given Friday’s SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Seinfeld was not a show I really got into (unlike Everybody Loves Raymond and Frazier), so I have only seen a few episodes. Of course these three shows are also the last TV shows I ever watched. This tells you how much TV I have consumed over the last 20 years (with the rare exception of some sporting events, almost always boxing). Nevertheless, in the episode I recall, Elaine is having an argument with “Poppi,” an immigrant restaurant owner and friend of Kramer, about abortion.
This episode stuck in my memory because it explicitly mentioned abortion. I have always been pro-life, even as a younger man, so I must have taken special notice of this scene. I’m sure I found myself rooting for Poppi at the time, who was taking the pro-life side. Although, if I recall correctly, in typical propagandistic style Poppi was made to look ignorant and foolish in all other aspects of his character. This shows how the producers used the character to promote their own political agenda.
In this particular scene, again as I recall, the argument starts between Elaine and Poppi over who has the right to say what a pizza is, and who has the authority to confer the right to choose the toppings that go on pizzas. This, in turn, leads to a conversation about abortion, where Poppi presses Elaine to say what gives her the right to have an abortion. Elaine (played by typical Hollywood liberal, Julia Dreyfus) responds resoundingly with “The Supreme Court gives me the right!” Then, again as I remember it, the scene quickly moves back into comedy mode and ends. But the dialogue culminates with Elaine basically triumphant in her appeal to the authority of the Supreme Court as the decisive factor in what makes a baby a baby and abortion either moral or immoral. By analogy, it is the Supreme Court that grants the right as to who can do what with a human baby just as each individual can grant him or herself the right to decide what goes on a pizza. There is no higher authority than this human institution.
Well, now that same (but not identical) Supreme Court has said otherwise. We can only imagine how a June 25th, 2022 version of that scene might now look. In fact, perhaps such a scene is no longer possible, given Elaine’s justification for her stance. Poppi, on the other hand, would come off looking much better, in spite of his otherwise unflattering character. The point being, if rights are only ultimately given or taken away by such an institution as SCOTUS (or the Nuremberg judges), then Elaine should have been more precise with her defense. She should have said something like this “for now, the Supreme Court gives me the right!” Her moral stance ultimately being based only in preference, not grounded in truth.

A Word About Moral Attitudes

I relate this account of a popular TV show not to diminish in any way the significance of the monumental, and monumentally good, decision made by the SCOTUS this past week. I am trying to make a point here about ethics. And I am also trying to assuage some concerns that pro-life Evangelicals (also known as serious Christians), might have about whether or not merely overturning laws is sufficient for people to realize the immorality of abortion. I think most Evangelicals and traditional, aka, real, Catholics tend to think that while overturning laws like Roe are obviously good, they nevertheless will not change the hearts and minds of the people. In other words, overturning laws really has no affect on people’s moral attitudes. I think that view is a bit too pessimistic however.
We shouldn’t be too dismissive of how striking down an unjust law may actually change the mindset of many in the culture, especially the next generation. For those who do not have or hold to a transcendent moral law (or moral law Giver), one grounded in revelation or natural law, social contractarianism is usually the default, albeit often implicitly held, position. It is an unfortunate way to develop one’s moral attitude, to be sure, but in the modern era it is probably the way most actually do.
The very popular character “Elaine” on the very popular 90’s Sitcom Seinfeld was voicing what I think is a very common attitude of a very unreflective and very non-biblical culture– a kind of naive contractarianism. Hence, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the end of abortion “rights” in several states could actually mean the end of people believing that abortion is morally okay. Maybe not in this generation, but very possibly in the next. The changing of the law, even by a merely human court, might matter more in the changing of attitudes than many Christians think.

The law of the land, for better or for worse, is often what citizens of that land come to believe as being “moral.” Just look at abortion itself. We went from the legalization of abortion as essentially a capitulation for what was, at the time, an act still seen as a last resort for desperate women. Then it became a cause celebre, controversial yes, but more and more people were able to talk about abortion without shame or guilt. Now what do we have? Abortion is seen by at least half the population as a sacred duty, a moral obligation that must be defended with religious zeal.

Of course we should not be surprised that men or women would want to celebrate and defend child sacrifice. It has been done for thousands of years in various cultures. The Spartans, Aztecs and Canaanites were especially adept at it. In the past, it was merely dressed up in more ritualistic garb and polytheistic dress (albeit some of the more flamboyant pro-abortion advocates almost look like ancient Aztecs). Thus, on this issue at least, it is hard to say what really distinguishes an ancient worshipper of Molech from an American celebrity like Megan Rapinoe. But if the law of the land changes for a people group, be they ancient Canaanite or modern American, there often times can follow a change of moral attitude. Again, perhaps not in this generation, but maybe the next. We can only hope.

Idolatry and The Battle Within and Without

One final word on moral attitudes before I end on a positive note. Christians and people of good faith should brace for violence from those on the Left in the wake of this ruling. There is no reason to think that people who relish in defending the right to slaughter babies will not seek other outlets for their cruelty if that “right” is taken away from them. People who actually want babies dead (and here I am not talking about the pregnant woman in distress, but those men and women who treat Roe v. Wade like a sacred text), will obviously find ways to exercise that violence in the world. This, barring some dramatic change of heart, is inevitable. We dare not fall into the malaise of post-modernity and think that this is not an actual battle between true light and real darkness.

For a significant number of people in this culture, the act of murdering children just is a religious act of worship. If we were living in Old Testament Israel, we might receive a divine command to tear down their Asherah poles by force. We have heard of a small handful of people in the recent past who have tried to do just this, either attacking abortion clinics or murdering abortion doctors.
Of course, the Christian response to those who live in darkness is to confront that darkness with the light of Christ. This is not a physically violent confrontation, but it is a spiritually violent one. It is an encounter between two ultimately opposed powers. In prayer, with God’s grace, and, if necessary, with loving self-sacrifice to the point of death, the spiritual battle will also be won. Even if new laws banning abortion change moral attitudes over time, or even right away, there is still a spiritual work to be done vis-à-vis those who cling to their false gods. Which gods these people worship is another question, but that they are worshipping them is, in my mind, beyond a shadow of a doubt. And so they need our help to be rescued from the darkness.

Giving Praise Where Praise is Due

June 24th was certainly a monumental day for all who love life and truth. Every defender of life, lover of God (Christian, Jew, Muslim) and seeker of truth (religious or not) should take time not only to thank God but to thank those men and women who for the last several decades have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement. These are the true “social justice warriors.”
We should commemorate, therefore, those who have spent hours upon hours praying in front of abortion clinics, who have faithfully attended pro-life marches in Washington D.C. year after year, who have formulated cogent arguments for the sanctity of the unborn, who have given speeches and lectures at numerous churches and seminaries and on the floor of government institutions. We must thank those who have written books and endless journal articles, and most importantly those who have faithfully run pregnancy crisis centers for women and babies in distress. I also commend those Christian scholars who have actually taken a stand on abortion, and who have not wavered in their commitment to life, regardless of what their academic peers around them say. They have displayed true courage in the face of real cultural pressure.
We might name a few of these heroes here: Alveda C. King, Joe Scheidler, Majorie Dannenfelser, Frank Beckwith, Robbie George, Bernard Nathanson, Abby Johnson, David Deleiden, Henry Hyde, Archbishops Charles Chaput and Jose Gomez, Mildred Jefferson, Nellie Gray, Seth Gruber, Scott Klusendorf and, of course, Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II. This list does not do the pro-life movement justice, these are but a few representatives of a large body of courageous and faithful men and women, many whose names we will never really know.
As for me, I say thank you to my own parents, who have been fighting the fight for life since Roe was made law. They have been unwavering in their commitment to the unborn and their efforts have finally seen some reward. I personally have never been a front-lines fighter on this issue, my support has always existed in the realm of theory and in taking personal moral stances, most of them hidden from public view. And so I think it appropriate for me to give moral praise to those men and women who have done the hard work of advocacy. Especially those who have been beaten, fined, put in prison and publicly shamed for the sake of the most defenseless among us. They deserve what is, in the end, the proper reward for their righteous actions– enabled of course by the sheer grace of our good and holy God.
About Anthony Costello
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago to a devout and loving Roman Catholic family, I fell away from my childhood faith as a young man. For years I lived a life of my own design-- a life of sin. But, at the age of 34, while serving in the United States Army, I set foot in my first Evangelical church. Hearing the Gospel preached, as if for the first time, I had a powerful, reality-altering experience of Jesus Christ. That day, He called me to Himself and to His service, and I have walked with Him ever since. You can read more about the author here.
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