Using the Bible to Support ‘Pro-Life’ Arguments

Bob Cargill shared an interesting verse this morning from Genesis 6, which portrays a frustrated god that so regretted his creation (man) that he sent a flood across the world that swallowed all life–all life, except a remnant that could fit on a relatively small ship comparatively (based on the measurements in Genesis, it would translate to roughly 500 feet long; smaller than the Titanic).  But I think that Bob’s apt point is that if God is ‘pro-life’ then why would he wipe it clean?  It is important to recognize that  those who take the genesis account seriously, those who take the biblical narratives literally, must believe that we’re not just talking about grown men and women with exceptional cognitive abilities to choose right from wrong, we’re talking about infants and disabled individuals who can not always make decisions on their own due to their limitations (you know, since babies really can’t decide where they are born or who their parents are, let alone make any sort of vital cognitive decision beyond whether or not to poop themselves).  Not to mention the perhaps thousands of women who might have been pregnant at that exact moment god decided to wash away the sins of the world (by quite literally washing away everything that had the potential to sin).

“Seriously, you’re all going to die.”

I know some may seek to justify this by making the argument that Jesus’ death had changed everything.  His coming signified the change in god’s personality, or so goes the argument.  God no longer orders the taking of women and children as war plunder, the dashing of children on rocks, or giant she-bears to go terrorizing and mauling mischievous children who don’t believe in resurrections.  It’s like god spent a few months at rehab and emerged a changed deity; he’s a gentler, kinder god on a 12-step plan to happiness.  While this is pleasant enough for me (I’m grateful we’re not still stoning people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, don’t get me wrong), the idea that ‘all life is sacred’ is not really a big part of the biblical narrative.  How can it be?

Bob says it best:

People of faith must put their faith – and the claims made about their faith – in a real, modern context. Rather than rushing to regurgitate some worn out apologetic claiming, “God cannot tolerate evil,” or “It’s not genocide if God does it,” people of faith must consider that the one they consider to be the “objective moral foundation” for all things ethical at one point in history killed everyone on earth because he regretted creating them! Imagine this same death sentence on the world’s population today. It is nothing less than genocide.

Dude has ninja angels.

Taken in broader sweeps, the Hebrew Bible is far from being ‘pro-life’; indeed it is quite the opposite, portraying god as a sort of vengeful, wrathful warlord who demands the ultimate tribulation while single-handedly destroying his enemies.  At some points he even permits (and actually participates in) the massacre of a whole family of his loyalist servant (Job), and while he may have given Job back twice what he had, he still killed dozens of people who did not deserve to die (that little fact often gets glossed over in Sunday School).  Imagine your wife and children slain before you; don’t worry, you’ll get a whole new wife and more children.  Does that make it better?  Does that justify it?  No sane human being could find any justification in such atrocious (and needless) acts of violence.   And I would seek to remind everyone that Matthew is pretty clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10.24)–nor did he come to abolish the law (Matt 5.17; that is, the Torah, and not one iota is to be removed).  The argument commonly made that none of that matters because he fulfilled the law is a non sequitur; he is specifically portrayed to say he did not come to abolish it, and clearly Matthew believed this was true, as he does all he can to situate Jesus as a priestly Moses figure who makes this very claim!

The fact remains, at the end of the day, that using the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament to justify pro-life positions are doomed to fail.  After the bible portrays god as ordering the slaughtering of the first born children of Egypt, any attempt to portray him as someone who cares a great deal about human suffering and human life falls flat on its face.   I’m sorry, but there is no ‘human value’ that god holds dear–only subservience matters to him.  Those who believe are saved (most of the time) and those who do not god deigns them to misery and destruction and torture and death: whether man, woman, child, or those unborn.  It is horrid and obscene.

Anyone who attempts to use the bible to validate their pro-life position is wrong.  Simply put, they need to find a different argument.  I’m not saying I am all for abortion; I’m pro-choice, but I don’t think abortion would be a decision I would support.  But I’m not everyone and I’m not in everyone’s shoes; I’m only in my own.  Objectively, pro-life is unjustified for that very reason, at least that is my opinion.

10 Responses

  1. I’ll admit it was fun to read this, Tom, but I think I could have put it more simply. It’s always a bad idea to take ancient teaching stories literally. The ones used in other religions aren’t usually taught that way. Up to the past 150 years, the Old Testament was not presented that way to anyone. It’s just a historically recent form of poor scholarship. Judaism balances the words of the Torah against what is considered of equal importance, thousands of years worth of recorded commentary and discussion upon its meanings conducted by those considered the wisest of the tribe. Symbolic stories can offer many levels of useful meaning, none of which will surface if all you do is focus on “this happened, and then that happened, and GOD SAYS SO, so shut up and get back in line”.

  2. Very good, Tom. And if the OT god is a vengeful, malicious ogre, the NT god is far worse. In the OT, he merely kills you if you don’t lick his boots, so to speak. In the NT, he tortures you for eternity.

  3. I think this completely misses the point as to how the pro-life argument would be constructed, even using Scripture. The pro-life argument is about whether human beings can take the lives of other human beings; or, similarly, whether fetuses or infants are human and so have a right to life equivalent to adults. It is not about God’s rights in regards to human beings, but about whether the state should sponsor or legalize practices like abortion and euthanasia. So, for example, just looking at normal verses used by pro-life advocates, they fall into one of two chief categories; [1] those repudiating murder (eg, Ezekiel 23:36-39, Wisdom 1:12-15), [2] those displaying humans as human before coming out of the womb and so deserving of rights (eg, Jeremiah 1:4-8). People often also quote places like Gen. 1:1-2,26-28 and Gen. 2:7-8,18,21-24, to illustrate that we were made in His image and so have certain rights. So, yes, I think a pro-life message is clearly in Scripture; God clearly forbids taking an innocent human being’s life, including before they are born.
    Further, I think your reading of Scripture is rather out of joint. God’s actions are not, and clearly not, supposed to be patterns for our imitation, strictly speaking. He is the ultimate lawgiver and legislator in the OT, mirroring perfect justice (Deut. 32:4) – we’re not that kind of legislator in regard to the universe and so don’t have His rights. He’s not portrayed as vindictive, but incensed by lack of justice (Isa. 61:8); his wrath is always caused by injustice and, ironically, is usually a form of love for the poor. When God does execute people in the OT, this is not portrayed as “murder” but as the proper rights of a magistrate (Ps. 146:7). Thus, paradoxically, it’s precisely because God punishes wrongdoers in the OT that He is seen as defending rights of the innocent to life. I could discuss this more with your specific cases in mind, but I think the general reading of Scripture you presented is so obviously wrong and contrary to scholarly understanding of the Old Testament that not much needs to be said against it (just read, for example, Walter Bruggemann).

  4. Michael, your delusional attachment to the Bible is showing. You are doing some or all of these things above. I leave it to the reader to choose which one.

    (1) You are pretending that the Bible does not contradict itself.
    (2) You are pretending I gave no direct examples of God taking innocent lives and ordering the taking of innocent lives.
    (3) You are redefining ‘innocent’ in some bizarre apologetic way where it doesn’t mean ‘innocent’ (sure those little bastards making fun of Elisha deserved some choice words, but sending bears to maul them to death is unjustifiable and petty–they didn’t deserve to be mauled by bears and if you think there is any sort of justification for such an act in the chapter presented, then you’re in desperate need of therapy).
    (4) You are presenting verses that suppose man is made in the image of God; if so, then you must admit we are just as atrocious and vengeful and petty as he is. And if that is the case, God has no one to blame but himself…HE supposedly (and you believe) made us. Let me lay it out like this:

    Suppose you have all the powers of god for a moment. You decide to create a Ford truck. But what you really want is a Cadillac. You can’t blame the truck. So then you scrap the truck and make another truck, but this time you give it the ability to change into a Cadillac–but then it doesn’t do that, it stays a truck. Still, it isn’t the truck’s fault! You created the damn thing as a truck! Finally, let’s say you scrap the truck, create another truck with the ability to change into a Cadillac, and then try to show it all the amazing benefits it would have it would just change into a Cadillac–and if it doesn’t change into a Cadillac you’re going to burn it in hell for all eternity. But despite your pettiness and threatening tone, the truck remains a truck and in the end you’ve only proven you are a hopeless megalomaniac with sadistic tendencies. You still cannot blame the truck–if you wanted a Cadillac so badly, you just should have made a Cadillac.

    A child could recognize the problematic concept of you are laying out in your post.

    Finally, what is ‘out of joint’ is your ‘paradoxical’ defense of the slaughtering of innocent people. If you can’t see the complete vulgarity of a god who orders the dashing of children on rocks, then you have no place in society as far as I’m concerned. We need to keep you away and segregated because, so help us, you have no sense of right or wrong.

  5. So what was the authorial intent behind such stories? I doubt they are meant to be read on their literal level; and they’re certainly not ‘historical’; so why the bloodletting? (These are not rhetorical questions; I’m genuinely baffled).

  6. That is a good question. The arguments I am most convinced by are these stories are propaganda in the way that the Merneptah Stele and other ANE inscriptions are about various similar bloodthirsty stories (see the narrative about the destruction of mankind by Hathor as commanded by Ra and you’ll see what I mean.

  7. I’ve just had the pleasure of reading that legend and – taking the work of Thomas L Thompson as a starting point – it appears to reflect the ideology of the Egyptian Royal court (privilege of kings and fealty etc). Now, staying with Prof. Thompson’s work, what sort of god is the Bible promoting? How does the OT god of the texts point to a transcendent god of wisdom?

  8. Welcome to syncretism. :-)

  9. What sort of god were the priests/population imagining when they worshipped at the temple? Was it the text based god (I appreciate the canon wasn’t fixed till decades after the temple was destroyed, but texts were about), or another less bloody, more transcendent god? How exactly did the people of Palestine view God at that time?

  10. […] floods the earth by opening the gates of heaven. Not so different than sending tornadoes towards populated […]

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