Monday, January 23, 2006

Letting Go of Roe V Wade

Scary Sam

I promised a few posts ago to take on certain left leaning bloggers.

I’m no particular fan of the left, though I have such reservations about the current religiously-fortified political and cultural right that I’m sure I appear a leftist to some.

My real sympathies go to an historical Anabaptist Christian approach.

After reading a lot of “Emerging Church” literature I realize I’ve been an "emerging Christian" for 30 years. Post-modern Christians like to take the best from every Christian tradition and try to create a new and more relevant practice out of the best chunks of the past. As naïve as that approach may turn out to be, I’m pretty sympathetic. But even the most sympathetic of us have to emphasize some of the old fragments over others.

Those of us who identify with Anabaptist thinking and feeling are “Christian Anarchists” who believe that political parties and movements almost always claim way too much for themselves.

People influenced by the Anabaptist tradition are concerned for humility and practical service to others and are deeply suspicious of overconfident ideologies and concentrations of power.

In the first three centuries Christian Anarchy was simply “The Way,” but after the ‘conversion’ of the Roman Emperor Constantine the leaders of the Christian church for the most part became cheerleaders and enablers for the latest worldly powers and ideologies.

I’ve found myself—on this blog and on some others--pushing positions identified with the left because about 80% of American evangelicals identify themselves with right wing political and economic ideology. A friend said to me during a phone call a few days ago, “Seems like you need a Republican National Committee membership and a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times to qualify for church membership these days.” From my point of view she’s honest and has her eyes open

The actual Christian church—not the invisible and authentic thing so beloved by serious theologians--always finds a way to enthusiastically support whoever is currently in power and whatever the current “cutting edge” cultural thinking happens to be.

War lords, kings, dictators, democrats, socialism, communism, capitalism, slave owners, synthetic diapers and supply side economics—no matter. The actual church has embraced them all and passionately supported them with biblical arguments as long as they represented the powerful or the cutting edge.

I’m trying to encourage alternative thinking among those who seem to have confused current American conservatism with biblical faith. Out of my frustration with some people who should know better I’ve gone overboard a time or two.

But I’m always game to question goofiness of any stripe. Including, sometimes, my own :^)

Sam Alito and the Supreme Court

Some of the leftist blogs I’ve been reading lead you to believe that Sam Alito’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court will usher in a “dark age” when we all get screwed and lose most of our cherished civil rights.

I don’t think so. Might be time to calm down.

I agree that Alito appears to be a constitutional "fundamentalist" along with Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

These guys tend to want to interpret the Constitution like religious fundamentalists interpret the Bible. Go back to the original intent of the original authors at the original time they wrote it. Stick with that take and all else being equal you’ll probably do ok.

Personally I think that’s an unrealistic way to interpret documents. Even mainstream American evangelicals recognize that “original intent” can only play a key but limited role in interpreting and applying biblical texts.

And in the case of Christian fundamentalists, at least those folks believe the texts they’re interpreting came directly from God with little human or cultural mediation. It makes their misguided if well meaning approach to interpreting the Bible understandable.

I’m not among those who think the US Constitution came directly from God to the mostly Enlightenment informed and deistic founders of the United States.

So I’m not a fan of constitutional fundamentalism on the Supreme Court. Particularly when it’s usually little more than an unconvincing ideological covering for simple conservative politics and culture.

In any case, in spite of my misgivings about Alito, confirming him isn’t going to end the world as we know it. My leftist friends should take a deep breath.

He’ll probably take the court a little more to the right. Ho hum.

The court has sometimes leaned to the left then leaned to the right.

Mostly the court stays around the middle which is what it will probably do with Alito on board. He and Scalia and Roberts clearly respect precedent. Only Thomas has so far shown himself unable or unwilling to get beyond judicial fundamentalism.

The Left Versus Roe Versus Wade

If “Scalito” scares a lot of leftist bloggers, the reversal of Roe V Wade makes em crazy.

I honestly don’t get the panic.

To begin with, a true reversal on Roe V Wade is pretty unlikely. The Supremes--other than maybe Thomas--respect precedent in varying degrees. And they know the decisive majority of Americans favor abortion rights even after 30 years of the "culture wars." So it’s hard to imagine the Court over-ruling that decision. They may make small and incremental changes to Roe V Wade but probably nothing more.

But even if a new Supreme Court decided to overthrow Roe V Wade, I’m not sure that would be such a bad thing for the left or for abortion rights activists.

Here’s why:

1. I think Roe V Wade was a pretty shaky legal decision in the first place. Liberals might want to make their stand on more solid ground.

2. Roe V Wade energized conservatives more than almost anything I can think of. Traditional conservatism in America has always been about the belief that godless elites are using centralized federal power to force the average and the good to bow the knee.

It goes back at least as far as Southern succession from the Union. The concept of states rights came out of a very American insistence on individual rights and a suspicion of large concentrations of power. The current conservative movement has focused on the Supreme Court as the battleground between traditional religious and local freedom versus what they consider to be arrogant and secular federal power. And because a lot of them are very religious, the whole debate takes on an apocalyptic tenor. That tenor and tone are great for turning out voters but maybe not so great for thoughtful and life giving solutions.

3. Overturning Roe V Wade would slow and dissipate the current conservative political movement. Some of the religious conservatives would no longer have a strong reason to support the secular libertarians and the secular business community in their tenuous alliance of convenience. A number of people I know who voted conservative in the last two elections simply would not have done so if not for the Supreme Court/abortion issue.

4. If the debate about abortion was returned to the states, the conservatives would have to be more responsible in their approach to that issue. At this point they can make irresponsible arguments about abortion because they don’t have to face their fellow citizens in a real local election. Ironically, Roe V Wade has given conservatives shelter and allowed them the traditional advantage of the “romantic outsider.”

5. If the issue of abortion rights returned to the states, most of the citizens of the country would have pretty much the same abortion rights as they do right now. In some places they would probably have even more extensive rights and in other places more restricted rights. Various states would probably enjoy and suffer the consequences of their collective decisions. I would guess the states with more restrictive abortion laws might find themselves at an economic disadvantage. The free market conservatives and the religious conservatives in those places might even find themselves in conflict.

6. The best result of overturning Roe V Wade might be the chance that evangelical Christians would stop fixating on abortion and turn their attention to other equally important issues.

We might even return to a time when evangelicals felt free to think in diverse ways about culture and politics. I'd welcome that change with open arms. Younger evangelicals probably don't remember that kind of intellectual and social freedom. Some of us do. It wasn't that long ago.

Any or all of the outcomes I've mentioned would likely advance the interests of the moderates and the left. It might even advance the interests of the authentic church.

Is anybody talking about this kind of scenario on leftist blogs? So far, from what I've seen, it's a lot of "the end is near" stuff. Maybe the liberals are more religious and apocalyptic then they think. Sometimes you become what you hate in spite of yourself.

I'm pretty sure "the end" isn't near. But even if it is, I guess the most relevant question might be, "the end of what?"


Blogger anhomily said...

Good points... the abortion thing has become such a symbolic issue that it is hard to reason about anything with people - the single issue clouds peoples' reason. When I first had the chance to vote my Christian friends led me to believe that abortion was the issue on which I was voting, rather than a Republican and a Democrat candidate. Single-issue voting is just not an informed way to go about choosing a president. Deep down I think I identify with the anabaptist perspective, but I got so angry and disgusted at seeing the ignorance and apathy that had characterized me and most of the Christians that I knew, that I became increasingly sympathetic to progressive anti-establishment politics. Though I am not sure that the green party will ever have too much of a shot presidentially, at least my conscious is [relatively] clean[er] voting for Ralph Nader. At least the air might be :)
On the issue of Sam Alito, I have to admit I haven't followed it terribly closely (and I have heard people on both sides saying that he would be terrible for their side - i.e. conservatives saying he is not conservative enough, in addition to the liberal outcry). However one thing I perceive is that the left leaning side is starting to get a little bit desperate because the traditional checks within the government seem to be toppling like dominoes, and leading to a chaos in which the government is no longer representing it's citizens as a whole, and is particularly disenfranchising the voices of the left, the poor, and minorities. The delicate balance that allows democracies to work is falling apart in their view - it is like a see-saw that has become heavily overweighted on one side. Many people (including yourself probably) would say, well there is the ground there to stop them from going to far at least. But I think many on the left fear that there is no ground beneath the see-saw, and they will either get catapulted off, or the board will just fall right off. I think because of the unique superpower status of the US right now, maybe there is some truth to the idea that we are not able to be "checked" by the ground (which in this analogy may represent other countries...). In any case, I am not sure if it is Alito who threatens to tip the see-saw too far, but I am very sympathetic to the leftist concern that With all three branches of the government leaning heavily to the right at the same time, any movement further right is dangerous.
I think you may be right about Roe V. Wade - it may be in the best interests of the left to give up on that symbolic issue because it means so much more to conservative religious fundamentalists than it does to the left. They can give up the symbolic pieces, the trophy of Roe v. Wade, if you will, without giving up on the issue. (Not that I am for abortion, but I think the most important thing in terms of this issue is Christians putting their actions where their words are, and adopting and fostering children who might otherwise be aborted).
A related issue, I have wondered about, is how absolute the correlation is between those in favor of same-sex marriages and abortion. I think I have only met a few people who don't have the same view on both, and only one who was against same-sex marriage and for abortion...

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Your arguments raise many great points to consider. Having abortion rights move out of the top issue for voters to think about would be great. Given the other issues our country faces it seems vital that people start voting without abortion as the guiding light. I don't think abortion rights will ever be taken away and it seems a futile effort to try and over throw Roe v Wade. I would like to see all the energy that is spent trying to ban abortion go into preventing the need for abortions in the first place. A lot of money goes into these campaigns that could be spent on creative programs to change the behavior of people that produces so many unwanted pregnacies in the first place.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Avoiding partisan and self-righteous politics is difficult, anhomily. Most of us like to "throw the high hard one" and defeat an opponent. We all like to identify with the team currently in the lead. It's hard to think in a truly Christian way.

I like your practical take, anonymous. I'm all for money and effort spent on real efforts to get at the roots of abortion rather than more money electing partisan and wordly elites.

9:55 PM  
Blogger jon said...

When I stopped voting Democrat it was because of abortion rights. It wasn't enough to make me Republican, but the manner in which Kerry approached that single issue (and the manner in which he talked about his church alongside it) made me ditch democrats for good. It's weird for me to think of those times when I was rabidly supporting Lieberman, then Clark, then Edwards, hoping to get somebody to overthrow Bush. Then we ended up with Kerry, and I was at least relieved that it wasn't Dean, and then he started talking and I slowly slipped away...

I'm independent for a lot of other reasons now too, and I really don't see myself identifying with either party ever again, so perhaps I'm wandering into your neck of the woods.

Anyway, I agree that overthrowing Roe v. Wade would be very good. I think that a few more states would be more restrictive than you imply, but it wouldn't look significantly different from right now, except that the specter of a Supreme Court decision in support of abortion would no longer be dominating.

I have the same view of same-sex marriage and abortion - that they should be left up to the states for now, unless the general populace finds such a good reason to ban them from society that they come together and pass a federal amendment. I would never condone any individual act of either myself, but I would understand it. (and believe it or not, within the last six months I have been personally approached for advice by those making decisions in both arenas.)

I think that repealing Roe v Wade in itself would be very good, but I share my views of the best side effect with you - it would significantly decrease political hackishness among Christians. Some only support the right because of abortion and realize it, but even more of them are so blind in their abortion-based support that they haven't taken the time out to look at everything else. Once they did, they might start going moderate themselves, and perhaps some independence would even spring up. And once the Christians on the right started going moderate, there'd be far-leftists who would have less to reflexively rebel against, and they might learn a little something too.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Cool you've had a chance to have some influence with some friends making tough decisions, Jon. A lot of people find it hard to talk to Christians about both topics. You must have built up some good trust with them. Our son Andrew is adopted and his birth mom had to decide not to have an abortion--she's had a very hard life and when she decided to go ahead with the pregnancy she said, "Maybe I've finally done something right with my life." Indeed.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Bay Area Gal said...

"Sigh" that's the sound coming from my mouth because it's nice to have a Christian pull out the textures of the issues and the non-issues and just look at the thing. I am calling it thing because it helps prove the point of it's unnecesary and unhelpful abstration. Well, at least i think so. I promise to have more thoughful comments in the future :)

1:58 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

good to hear your thoughts Bay Area Gal. I'm an East Bay Boy (Castro Valley) myself :^)

9:15 PM  

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