I saw two things on television this weekend that confirm for me just how surreal and unnerving life in 21st century America has become. Both also revealed how the honeymoon is over for President Obama.The first was a commercial for the Chia Obama product, in which a terra cotta bust of the Prez’s head grows green Chia Hair. (And no, this was not a joke commercial, or a Saturday Night Live parody meant to expose our juvenile preference for silly kitsch. It’s a real “commemorative” product, complete with Barack’s “Yes We Can” slogan on the pedestal… Look it up. My secondary concern, besides the product’s mere existence, is this: what’s going to happen when Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Obama’s green hair starts growing out to a Jimi Hendrix-style Afro? Will all the centrist middle class white support for the Prez begin to evaporate if he (or his politics) starts looking too much like those Black Power advocates that white America was taught to fear in the Sixties and Seventies? Will people stop watering their Chia Obamas, just to slow the Afro and prevent the dread… or the dreads? (heh-heh)
Of course, the other more serious appearances of Obama on tv this weekend involved his delivery of the commencement address at Notre Dame. And since I know a certain type of reader is wondering by now where I stand (and therefore whether or not to tune me out), I’ll say right up front that I am not in favor of abortion-on-demand. I have my reasons– religious philosphical and political– but I don’t expect universal agreement, just healthy dialogue.
Which is not to say I’m either pro-life or pro-choice. For each of these are philosophically and politically loaded, misused, propagandist terms that one side mostly uses just to bludgeon the other side, all to avoid discussing other equally legitimate problems (with sexuality and education, parenting, poverty reduction, political discourse, the law itself, separation of church and state, historical and current mysogyny, honoring the churches’ work, adoption support, and a whole host of related issues.)
So while I recognize the free speech rights of the protesters who attempted to shout down the Prez, I don’t agree with them. I don’t think they are helping their own cause one bit. I also recognize that their conscience compels them to do something. But I believe they’re demonizing the wrong people.
For one, they’re focusing , somewhat faithlessly, only on the identifying the problem –with little concern for finding and supporting alternative solutions. They’ll talk about the symptoms, but not the causes, of unwanted pregnancies. Not to mention, they show little awareness of the demographic facts, which indicate that U.S. abortion rates have been going down overall. The stats also imply that more and more, the women who still abort are often doing so because the church has somewhat abandoned them to their ignorance and poverty, and these mothers presumably don’t wish to bring a child into that same harsh existence.
As an educator, I’ve got recent, very direct experience with sexually active, somewhat poor and confused young men and women… so I’m not speaking from some megachurch’s ivory tower here. The view from the front lines is pretty scary, actually. But that’s why I put some stock in the opinion I saw recently on a bumper sticker: “If you don’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?” So there are no easy answers here.
Mostly, I’m concerned that those in the religious camp (and I’m not denying this is a temptation for me as well) don’t want to be bothered with thinking. Yet soul work is also brain work. So for example, the piece of this puzzle that involves embryonic stem-cell research and potential scientific breakthroughs is an especially tough one for me, personally (having dealt with some fertility issues in the past). So is the typical conservative stance on capital punishment. When a person with an angry or sentimental feeling of concern for an unborn child’s life can then so easily and unthinkingly turn around and devalue a convict they want put to death, I think they’ve got Jesus all wrong.
Jesus was hung on a cross like a criminal, and did not condemn the criminals that he was crucified with, instead saying (about ALL of us), “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” His compassion, and his awareness that we all bear guilt and need God, led him to a nonviolent consistent life ethic that attempted to restore the human dignity we all receive as a gift –as beings created in God’s image– a gift that was granted to us before we were even born, and that no human has the right to take away.
But unfortunately Pandora is already out of the box (in post-Christian America and much of the West) on the legal/political question of whether to allow abortion as a right, or to criminalize it. It is a choice with complex economic and political implications, worldwide. To un-legalize it now would be so much “blame-the-victim” thinking, it would be equally cruel –a return to pre-twentieth century style injustices against women and children that would cut off our noses just to not spite that adorable infant face.
Finally, I’m a bit concerned that some economically conservative pro-lifers are unwilling to use some of their hard-earned tax money to actually try saving some of these unborn babies. Not many of the conservatives will bring money into this discussion, but since it’s an established fact by now that they’re opposed to high taxes and “liberal” social programs, therefore the connection is there to be made if we have the guts to make it. They don’t want blood on their hands, but they’re also not willing to get their hands dirty with the real problems of the poor in America.
If the church isn’t doing its “take care of the orphans” job as laid out by Jesus and St. Paul, by compassionately enabling a better quality of life for the undesired babies and their mostly unwed mothers, then the government probably HAS to step in. But this is irrelevant, most political conservatives say.
Instead, the monolithic, well-organized pro-lifers just want to emotionally react and rant against the opposing “unbelievers”. They want to throw their support behind unqualified, dirty-behind-the-ears people like Sarah Palin, just because she says she’s pro-life without qualification. (By the way, Palin’s “teenage pregancy”object lesson, her recently-graduated daughter , has “mutually” broken off the engagement with her fiancee. This was back in March, and some reports are implying Grandma Sarah is limiting the dad Levi’s rights to see his son. So now where’s all that unquestioning support for Sarah, for Bristol Palin, and most importantly for Bristol’s new “fatherless” son, now that some real challenges are headed their way?)
But the spirit behind most pro-choice thinking isn’t any wiser or more compassionate, …don’t get me wrong. There is a veneration of individual “freedoms”, with little concern for responsibility and biblical morality, that ran rampant in the liberal shift taken by Europe and America in the twentieth century. Sexual license (or liberation… if you need to call it that) is only one aspect of how selfish we are becoming. But sin –that unwieldy, out-of-control force that has been de-valuing life and human dignity since well before America existed– is the real root of the problem. We cannot restore grace through the judicial, legislative, or executive branches of our government. That is God’s job, through his body, the church.
Meanwhile, we’re doing such a lousy job, putting the cart before the horse, that it’s no wonder some people find it so easy to engage in shouting matches instead of dealing with the real issues, or funding the work a brave few are doing to control the problem.
As you can see, I have mixed feelings. But mostly I’m okay with living in this place of tension. For instance, I am both proud and ashamed to be a Roman Catholic Christian today. On the other hand, I am mostly just proud of President Obama and the sensitive, responsive way he handled this tricky religious and political issue at Notre Dame.