Legalizing Morality: Where is the Line?
Recently, I overheard a conversation in a restaurant between two angry conservatives who were apparently church-goers from things they said during their conversation. One of them, to the total agreement of the other, said that the government should stop trying to bend over backwards so far to help the poor. He wasn’t talking about that distinct class of “poor” who a lot of conservatives like to to talk about, those who are poor because they choose to be through laziness or a lack of ambition; he was talking about the sincerely poor who, for a variety of reasons, are just unable to get out from under.
To hear this guy talk, he seemed not to see his position as heartless by any means. In fact, church, believe it or not, was at the center of his argument!
His point was that taking care of the poor is the church’s job.
It’s hard to argue that point. Jesus Christ Himself told his disciples that they were to look out for the less-fortunate in this famous and often-quoted passage from Matthew 25:
“The Son of Man will put the sheep (good people) on his right and the goats (bad people) on his left. Then the king will say to those good people on his right, ‘Come. My Father has given you great blessings. Come and get the kingdom God promised you. That kingdom has been prepared for you since the world was made. You can have this kingdom, because I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your home. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’
“Then the good people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you alone and away from home and invite you into our home? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’
“Then the king will answer, ‘I tell you the truth. Anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.’”
The gripe he has with the government trying to do all this rather than leaving it to the church is that this is, in his mind, an attempt to legalize morality.
My response is that while I essentially agree completely that it is and should be the church’s job to take care of the needy, and that we as Christians are specifically called to do so, there’s nothing wrong with our government helping, too. If it’s God’s desire that we do it, then we all ought to be, and since the government is really the people, the government should mirror our desire to help.
Especially when some people who feel the way my friend does simultaneously expect the government to prohibit the funding of abortion because that doesn’t match their religious views. In essence, when it comes to abortion, they want the government to make sure it never happens. And abortion is one of the biggest moral questions of our age.
So why is it so easy to demand that the government not legalize morality to help the poor, but to demand that it legalize morality to stop abortion?
Rational thinkers immediately know the answer: it’s a double standard.
Recently, an 11th-hour compromise in the ongoing debate about restricting federal funding for abortion was reached. In their compromise, federal funds would be allowed to cover abortions only in cases of rape or incest and in cases in which a woman’s life is in danger.
This, to me, is the best-case scenario for an abortion compromise, because there will never, ever be complete agreement.
And part of the reason for this is the careful wording abortion opponents choose when talking about what others believe. It’s calculated language designed to make themselves look like merciful heroes and everyone else like vicious monsters.
They talk about people who “support” abortion, as if they believe — and I’m sure they do — anyone who doesn’t agree with them is out to prevent every pregnancy that might ever happen. They call themselves “pro-life,” as if they believe — and I’m sure they do — that anyone who sees things differently is “pro-death.”
It’s dishonesty at such a blatant level that it ought to be a lot more obvious to a lot more people than it seems to be. It ought to be viewed as an insult to the intelligence of every person with even half a brain.
The fact is that there are plenty of people, even Christians, who wouldn’t identify themselves with the rabid “pro-life” crowd.
Not because they want to go around killing all the fetuses they can, but because they believe, like my friend, that the abortion issue ought to be the church’s problem, not Washington’s.
Part of the church’s function, after all, is to teach why the fact that we have free will means that we have to be very careful to live within God’s ideals, not our own. Family planning, like everything else, ought to have a place here. But there are a lot of churches whose members seem far more interested in having their way than in acting like a church body. And they’re not helping anybody.
I think it’s abhorrent in today’s society to have sex indiscriminately without any protection, then turn to abortion as a way to “fix” things. It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s wreckless. Abortion should never be that kind of birth control.
At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to subject a woman who has been raped to a forced pregnancy. That kind of conception goes against, I would think, what every religion would teach about why babies should be made.
Some argue that if a baby is conceived, then God meant for that baby to be born. Yet these same people who make such a statement would certainly go to a doctor if they had a symptom that might be serious, and it wouldn’t enter their head that their illness might be an indication that God means for them to die from it. I’m sure there are plenty of Christians who take cancer treatments, because they believe that even the Big C isn’t really a sign of what God means.
And just to be clear: to answer any right-wing nutjob talking point that would suggest that I’m trying to somehow compare a baby to a tumor, I’m not. I’m trying to compare one medical circumstance — an unintended pregnancy that occurs because of a sexual assault — to another — a serious illness that could be fatal without treatment.
Which brings me to another situation with pregnancy: let’s suppose that a loving, God-fearing couple face the situation of having a baby that threatens the life of the mother. Is that a test from God? Does He mean for the mother to die? Does He mean for the couple to be brave and take the risk? Does He mean to test the doctor’s dedication to his fellow man? Short of knowing for sure, we have to act on our own faith from what He tells us. And if a Christian believes that they’ve heard from God a message that someone else doesn’t think God would say, who is really to say which one is reading the Almighty correctly?
I think there’s nothing wrong with adoption. I think it’s a noble concept and one that should always be considered anytime an “unwanted pregnancy” happens.
But this takes us back to where we started: the idea that there are folks who are adamant that the government should step in to keep abortions from ever happening, yet they also think the government shouldn’t step in to help the needy.
It seems to me that these people are missing a serious point: you can’t really value a life if you only show genuine concern for it before it’s born.