In my town we have what the religious right love to call an “abortion clinic”, but which in reality is actually self designated as a woman’s reproductive health clinic. It provides gynecological and reproductive health services to women in the surrounding counties, and as part of those services, provides abortions. It’s a real magnet for the bible thumpers and sidewalk kneelers, who, if I remember correctly, used to actually picket the place and harass women who went in, until a restraining order was entered which restricted them to demonstrating on the sidewalk at the front of the property. Now they can be seen picketing and thumping and kneeling, albeit at a slight distance from the front door. They were there today, about 50 strong, silently facing the building with a few signs, and some with rosaries in their hands, presumably praying for the souls of the recently deceased fetuses, and to supplicate their god into performing a miracle for them by staying the hands of the doctors performing the abominable medical procedure they love to hate.
The clinic is located on the main thoroughfare into town, and since my office is on the same street, I must pass by it every day on the way to work. Often, the demonstrators are standing on both sides of the road armed with huge poster photographs of the results of an abortion. Far bigger than life size, by a factor of a hundred, at least. The graphics are disgustingly gruesome, which, I guess, is the point, though I really don’t think little children should be exposed to them, and I feel the exhibition coupled with the catcalling is a distraction to passing motorists. I can see the day when someone faints, has a heart attack, or vomits, loses control of the vehicle, and plows into the sanctimonious crowd. But I digress.
As I said, I passed them this morning, and for some reason it struck me as funny. All those people, silently praying to their god to stop the abortions, and I started to laugh. In fact, I laughed and found myself saying to no one in my car, “Nobody’s listening!”. “Nobody’s fucking listening!” (I can be ironic too, sometime.) There they all were, praying to something that didn’t exist, asking him to do something he hasn’t done for anyone, ever, and shows no sign of doing at anytime in the future, and that seemed funny to me. But the humor was short-lived.
Being a bit introspective, I began to question myself why that would be funny, and came to the ultimate conclusion that it wasn’t. In fact, it was the opposite. It was sad. It was pathetic. it was downright idiotic, and those people were idiots. And it was delusional on their part to believe that they were doing something constructive. Perhaps it made them feel better, and perhaps they enjoyed the company of each other and perhaps the prayer session in front the the abortion clinic brought them together for a common purpose, in the process of which they all bonded with each other, maybe even forming new friendships. Nothing wrong with that. But the cause that brought them together was based on a non-existent premise – that there was a god who was listening to them. They would be better off forming a bowling league, for all the good they were doing.
In fact, to the contrary, it can be argued that they accomplished more harm than good. First, it pissed me off (at least when I stopped laughing), and that’s no small consideration. Second, their mere presence still harassed the women that have to enter the premises and see those people with their moral indignation and supercilious expressions on their faces, and as a result, those woman may feel guilty about having their abortions. They probably feel confused enough about their decision, no matter how much good sense it makes in their particular lives, so they don’t need a layer of religious opprobrium added to the mix. The mental stress placed on the woman at that time is more than enough for them to handle, yet these do-gooders ironically don’t care about the health of the women entering the woman’s health clinic. So in that sense, their recrimination is not only misplaced, it’s counter-productive.
Aside from all that, though, what really bothers me is the truth value of the premise behind the prayer. As an atheist, I find no evidence for the existence of any kind of god, not even the deistic sort, and certainly not the sort these folks believe in – the one who will listen to their prayers, and grant them, by interfering in the natural course of events. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. (In fact, this January 22 will be the thirty-fifth anniversary.) The religious nut cases have been praying ever since. I’ve been watching these people on my way to work since 1979. Literally millions of fetuses have been aborted since then, yet their god has not seen fit to interfere in one single abortion. That alone speaks volumes to me.
A lot of effort has been invested into organizing, and leafleting, and canvassing, and picketing and praying to stop abortions. If only these people would recognize, and eventually shed, the delusional aspect of their belief systems, maybe they could actually do something productive to reduce and eliminate abortion in a manner that does not depend on a magical disruption of reality. There are many, many babies who make it past the potential abortion stage, and are born into a world that doesn’t want them. There are many teenage boys and girls, and young men and women, creating babies as we speak, albeit unintentionally, who, with proper, realistic reproductive information and resources, could prevent much of that. There are millions of loving couples who will adopt. Why don’t these people stop chasing their delusional beliefs, accept the truth, and spend their time having a real effect on what they consider a scourge on humanity? They would still be working for the same cause – the reduction and elimination of abortions.
They would have the added bonus of actually seeing results.
If I lived near there, me being the smartass I am, I would get two women friends to walk with me past the demonstrators to the clinic, with each woman wearing some kind of prosthetic to make them look very pregnant. An hour later, I would walk out of the clinic with them sans the prosthetics, walk past the demonstrators, and shout out “I guess I won’t have to pay thousands in child support after all!”
These people are seemingly very fortunate. They have a lot of something I seem to be short of (besides money) and that’s time. I’m RETIRED and don’t have the time to hang around making a nuisance of myself. Well…my wife might not agee…
A lot of these same “pro life” people were also against the anesthetizing of women in labor at one point, too. Women were to experience agony or their god was mocked.
I have never understood why these people insist on minding other people’s business to such an extent, how they have arrogated the right to put their hand on someone’s life with no consequense to themselves or real concern over what the result is for others.
Here’s my theory that ties together two things Sarge said, these people’s lives suck tremendously so they pleasure themselves by picketing these clinics.
Sarge mentioned time, namely, that these people have a lot of time on their hands. That comes by the fact that they aren’t working, and that is indicative of one of two things, either they don’t have to or are unable to. If they don’t have to, then that means they’re well off financially. Anyone there look like they’re well off? No. So we’re left with unable to work. Why? I don’t know, but options are they can’t find work, are physically unable to work, or are encumbered with offspring. All of those options = life sucks.
So pleasure? Ok, well this can be anything from enjoying making others miserable, making yourself feel good about yourself by being a “good christian” and condemning sinners and warning others of such sins, or maybe just being so wrapped up in hoping Jesus is going to solve your problems that you feel you have to do this shit to earn brownie points for that salvation. I don’t know, take your pick. There’s no shortage of reasons, sadly.
I love your idea, Tommy. 🙂
“Why don’t these people stop chasing their delusional beliefs, accept the truth, and spend their time having a real effect on what they consider a scourge on humanity?”
Rant hat on.
Because for most of them, it isn’t actually abortion that they care about.
Look at the exception made, by most anti-abortion activists, for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. If you believed an embryo was a human being, why would the consensuality or non-consensuality of its conception matter? Would you feel okay killing a two-year-old because they were conceived by rape or incest? Or for that matter, a twenty-year-old?
They think women who have non-marital sex should be punished. That’s why so many of them oppose, not just abortion, but birth control and sex education as well. As you point out, if they really cared about abortion, they’d be working their asses off to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to make sure women who wanted children got help taking care of them.
Let’s hear it for babies born to women who think of them as punishment. What a great life they’re going to have.
Oh, and P.S.: God not only doesn’t stop abortions — he causes them. They’re called miscarriages.
Rant hat off. I like the new logo.
Delusion. Great post. Seems to be the word of the day. I just watched and reviewed “Hard As Nails” which suffers from the same problem: a lot of abuse and wasted effort and all to get kids to sign on to engaging in and promoting still more wasted effort.
Delusion–it’s not a victimless crime.
Great post. Scary, but great.
My take on this is that the ones actually doing the protesting are tools in the hands of their political masters. In the late 60s and early 70s (before my time, but I read) a backlash among conservatives really got moving. Unfortunately for conservatives, there were two kinds of conservatives – economic and religious. So the religious and economic conservatives joined hands in what my wife calls and unholy alliance.
It made sense (in terms of political power) for both sides: economic conservatives needed to get large numbers of people to vote against their better interest, and religious conservatives needed a veneer of respectability. If fit in with Nixon’s southern strategy, Goldwaters new conservatism, and a chauvinistic nationalism. Unfortunately for the economic conservatives, it was difficult getting the religious conservatives on board partly because the views of the religious conservatives were all over the board. Until Roe v. Wade.
Suddenly, there was one banner to rally around. The political leadership of the Republican Party chose to embrace denying a woman’s right to choose specifically to rally the religious right. Prior to the 1976 election, abortion was rarely mentioned in speeches. After 1976, it has been in as many speeches as tax policy. It became an issue with which to force religious conservatives to vote against their economic interest.
But abortion could not be allowed to fade away. Luckily (or it was planned, I don’t know yet (but I have my suspicions)) groups like the Moral Majority (which was neither) and later Operation Rescue have kept the issue front and center. Of course, this requires brainwashing millions of children (no problem for christianists), breaking the law (no problem there, after all, if you’re doing ‘god’s’ work, what do the laws of man matter?) and raising millions upon millions of dollars (no problem there, the prosperity gospel says the more you give to preachers (’cause they need their Caddies and Bentleys) the richer the giver becomes (but only if they have sufficient faith).
So I basically see the protesters as tools in the hands of economic and religious conservative politicians. They are a way to raise money and a way to keep the controversy (teach the controversy? interesting parallel) in the public eye. But most of all, they are a way to keep the conservative elite rich and happy.
Sorry for the long rant (my wife says I apologize too much. Sorry). And sorry if I sound bitter.
This is an excellent post.
The abortion issue puts a lot of religious and social dynamics into play for conservative Christians. Many of the same dynamics are involved in their opposition to homosexuality, pornography, sex education, etc. Many conservative Christians have difficulty dealing with sex in healthy ways. They have and enjoy sex with their spouses, but the relationship must remain within whatever boundaries they believe God has set around it. They would never consider the idea that boundaries can, and sometimes should, be negotiated. Add that to Christ’s “Great Commission” to spread their gospel around the world, and you’ve got a recipe for lots of busybodies (either repressed for living within their constraints or guilty for breaking their rules) going around and sharing their misery with others. To the dismay of many of their neighbors, they do a good job of it too.
BTW – your banner is great.
Great post and many thoughtful comments as well. There’s just so many ways to look at the problems surrounding this issue.
Sarge said: I have never understood why these people insist on minding other people’s business to such an extent, how they have arrogated the right to put their hand on someone’s life with no consequense to themselves or real concern over what the result is for others.
You know what SI’s post and Sarge’s comment reminded me of? The points made by Dawkins, Harris, and others about so-called “mainstream” religious people giving cover to the fanatics. See, the amusing and sad reality is that these people we are discussing are actually closer to mainstream religion than to hard-core fundamentalism. Most moderate Christians will pass by such groups and silently cheer them on (or, at the very least, will not react with the revulsion felt by the Inquisitor).
So what we have is, a large percentage on the population who are “moderately” religious, and yet are still a danger to greater good of society… even BEFORE consideration of the fact that their very existence gives cover to more radicalized members.
There are a couple of congregations in this area which require a woman to be “churched” before she is permitted to rejoin the congregation after her period.
Sitting quietly and listening to others in various places, I have heard this discussed as a “good idea”. This is a method by which women (and their conduct) can have tabs kept on them, and two of the peakers (men…I use the term merely to define gender) felt that this would be good for the churches THEY attended as they had some concern over the moral standing of certain of their fellow congregants.
In the slums of Dublin (I read a great oral history of the Dublin Tenements while at fires in CA, OR and ID this summer) during the late 1800s and into the 1960s, many priests required a woman to go through a special ceremony before entering a church after childbirth. One of the women interviewed for the oral history said that until she had be ‘churched’ (Roman Catholic, but using the same term as the (I would assume) protestant churches in Sarge’s region (and I am assuming where you are from based on your living history experiences at Gettysburg)) the priest would not allow any of the sacraments. That struck me as needlessly cruel to a believer — the most dangerous time for a woman in the Dublin tenements was when she was giving birth in a one room flat with no heat, no running water, and only a small pot-bellied peat-fired stove to provide hot water.
Also on the subject of something Sarge brought up, I too have been astounded by how much religious and authoritarian people are interested in what other people do behind closed doors and which does not affect them in the least. My conclusion is that it is all about power. The ability to tell someone else what they can and cannot do is the ultimate power. Whether it is exercised within the house (christian domestic domination (CDD)), within the church (liquor, tobacco, sex) or toward society in general (gay marriage, homosexuality in general, abortion, birth control) it is all about naked and unabashed power. For a male, religion can be the ultimate power trip.
Billy, I’m in central Pennsylvania. In fact, about thirty miles drom the actual geographical center of the state.
It was quite interesting, the one conversation. A man was talking about the recent birth of a grandnephew. It was a marvel and miracle, the baby was premature, born seven months after the wedding, but weighed a tad over eight pounds. It was GOOD that the kid was a preemie, otherwise if he’d gone full term, it would have caused the mother problems.
Do you laugh or cry when you hear something like that? Was the guy even fooling himself?
Since a lot of these fundie types seem to believe that their god sends hurricanes and other natural disasters on them because of the sins of their families and neighbors, maybe they feel the need to keep tabs on each other’s private lives so that god doesn’t have an excuse to rain down his wrath on them.
A lot of effort has been invested into organizing, and leafleting, and canvassing, and picketing and praying to stop abortions.
Nice “moral” smokescreen to keep the gullible occupied while the church picks their pockets.
Sometimes I think that they have to keep tabs on everyone else’s life, just to make sure that god isn’t treating everyone else better than them. How else would they know?
That’s mighty true, SI. The more conservatice xians that I know seem to be mightily irked if someone pays less than they did, or gets something free that they paid for.
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