Friday, November 16, 2007

That old-time religion

~Remember Garry Wills' op/ed piece a couple of weeks ago claiming that abortion isn't a religious issue? He managed to embarrass himself. Here's Gregory Popcack's answer:
Wills cites the tired, old progressive trope that Aquinas argued abortion wasn't murder. It is true that during the time of Aquinas, theologians debated whether abortion was the same sin as murder, but no one doubted it was still a sin. Ultimately, because the argument that abortion was the same as murder had both Christian tradition and science on its side, it was reasserted as the accepted teaching after a period of thoughtful debate.

In any case, stating "Aquinas said" is not the same as saying "Christendom said" or even "the Catholic Church said." The church did not accept his arguments wholesale. For instance, the church ultimately rejected Aquinas' arguments against the immaculate conception of the blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed, Wills' own championing of Aquinas would be a touch more credible if he were equally enthusiastic of Aquinas' arguments that both contraception and homosexual sex are gravely sinful and that only men can be ordained to the priesthood.

If Wills' arguments from Scripture and tradition are patently ignorant, his butchering of science and philosophy is simply embarrassing. Wills states that the fetus is human life "just like" a piece of hair is human life. That's like saying a seat cover is a mode of transportation "just like" a car is a mode of transportation because it decorates the car and moves when the car does. Hair is part of a living organism, but it is not alive in the same sense that a person is. Something that is merely part of the whole does not share the same essence as the whole.

All the way back in the 2nd century, the great Christian teacher Tertullian wrote, "Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does" Aquinas decided to revisit this issue in light of the best 13th century embryology, but we've learned a little since then. Catholicism clearly and consistently states that both ensoulment and personhood begin at conception. Christianity unwaveringly asserts that personhood is not the product of human intellect, reason or function, as Wills argues. Rather, Christians believe that personhood is an essential part of having been created human in the image and likeness of God.

Wills, confident that he has torn down the crucifix, attempts to place a statue of the Goddess of Reason in its place, but even there he fails. He argues the woman needs to be given the choice to decide when and whether she is carrying a fetus or a person. So, by some amazing act of cognitive voodoo, it is the woman's choice that decides when human personhood begins? Why then, restrict the woman's choice to the womb? Some philosophers, like Princeton's Peter Singer, have the courage of Wills' convictions, extending a woman's choice to end a life all the way through birth and infancy. Using his own argument, there is no logical reason Wills should deny a woman's right to infanticide. After all, qualified people disagree here too. In addition to Singer, no less a personage than James Watson, Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of DNA, has advocated infanticide in cases of neonatal imperfection or retardation.
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