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December 28, 2005

God's Will?

Via John Cole, this stuff never ceases to amaze me:
God sees embryos as “full and complete” humans, Pope Benedict said on Wednesday in an address that firmly underlined the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against abortion and scientific research on embryos.

“The loving eyes of God look on the human being, considered full and complete at its beginning,” Benedict said in his weekly address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Quoting Psalm 139, Benedict said the Bible teaches that God already recognises the embryo as a complete human. That view is the basis for the Church teaching that aborting or manipulating these embryos amounts to murder.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist says to God: “Thou didst see my limbs unformed in the womb, and in thy book they are all recorded.”

“It is extremely powerful, the idea in this psalm, that in this ‘unformed’ embryo God already sees the whole future,” Benedict said.

And sometimes, kills it off. Between 15 and 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means Benedict's God looks upon around one fifth of those futures and decides to choke them off in the womb. This, of course, earns the Big Guy no opprobrium among Catholics or vilification among evangelicals. In fact, it doesn't even make them hesitate before asserting that the full maturation of each and every fetus is unquestionably God's will and those who'd dare disrupt the process are committing a vile crime against the natural order. A natural order which naturally destroys 15 to 20 percent of the world's potential infants.

To be clear, it's not that I think abortions are good or God bad, but the gaping inconsistencies fundamentalists blithely accept simply astonishes me.

December 28, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Benedict's God looks upon around one fifth of those futures and decides to choke them off in the womb. This, of course, earns the Big Guy no opprobrium...

Well. He takes the little children up to Heaven AFTER they're born, too. In fact, ultimately he kills everybody. That doesn't make it OK for humans. Unless they're heathens. Or colored folks. Or commies. Or people who look at us funny. Or we're getting paid.

Not that I agree with these loons. Just, it's not all that inconsistent.

Posted by: tatere | Dec 28, 2005 3:03:51 PM

No, that's exactly it -- he does kill everybody! Disease, famine, natural disaster, and simple old age. It's not clear that He values life in the way we ascribe to him and it's even less clear why He's allowed the amount of mindless, senseless, death and destruction into the world. Yet, after the tsunami, you keep hearing people thank god for their survival but not rage at him for their losses -- I just don't get it.

This, of course, is why I can't believe in an engaged, sentient, compassionate God.

Posted by: Ezra | Dec 28, 2005 3:09:29 PM

Even fewer fertilized eggs make it to the deilvery room. Something like only 25% of fertilized eggs end up as babies, the rest don't survive until birth. Many of them last so short a time that they are simply re-absorbed into the body and the Mother doesn't even know she's pregnant.

Posted by: Andrew | Dec 28, 2005 3:22:26 PM

Actually, some fertility experts put the percentage of fertilizing eggs that would naturally be born as live infants at about half. (Had a friend go through the horrible infertility round of getting her period a week after a positive pregnancy test, month after month.)

The Catholic Church held that the beginning of life was the "quickening" (first detectable movement of the fetus) until the 1860s.

Posted by: NotThatMo | Dec 28, 2005 3:25:53 PM

Ezra, you're going a bridge too far citing disaster victims as bad Christians for not cursing God.

There's a prayer we say at the Lutheran church that I have adopted as my home since moving to Wisconsin. "We ask you to bless that which you have first given us -- our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love." It seems goofy to thank God for making me richer than almost everyone in every other country on the planet (and I ain't exactly swimming in it), but at the same time we are acknowledging that we only have these things by the grace of God. And that is why the people who lost everything don't curse the God that made them: because the Lord didn't take back anything He hadn't already given.

I think you'd find a certain subset of Christians who would look upon an uncompleted pregnancy the same way: as a blessing lent temporarily. And this is where I get off the bus with your characterization. You may think that a good God is not arbitrary like that with his denial of blessings. I prefer to think of all the things He has already given and not fret about the ones that got away, no matter how sad they be. There is a difference between a miscarriage and an abortion, and it's damn foolish to deny that a lot of people see it very clearly.

Posted by: diddy | Dec 28, 2005 3:48:47 PM

The pope seems to be reaching: quoting Psalms (poetry) as theological backing seems very weak indeed. Is the roman catholic church slipping into biblical literalism, like the protestant christian fundamentalists?

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Dec 28, 2005 3:55:43 PM

Ezra, there's always the "mysterious ways" copout. Try and explain why a position a Christian takes on something nebulous like this is insane or cruel or illogical, and they'll just go to that.

Posted by: Sara | Dec 28, 2005 4:32:31 PM

It's not clear that He values life in the way we ascribe to him

I don't think the idea is that God is supposed to value life in the sense that we are. I think it's that ONLY God is allowed to take life, not us. That's why God ain't a murderer for the flood, e.g., but someone who kills a three-celled proto-organism is. I guess.

God is free to kill whoever he wants. We are not - that's 'playing God'.

Oh, except if the people are foreigners.

Posted by: Dadahead | Dec 28, 2005 4:43:09 PM

(Without clicking thru the link...)

Does this have anything to do with the Vatican finally burying the non-doctrine of Limbo? Because that position actually complicates the religious abortion debate. That is, if unbaptized babies are automatically taken to heaven (I gather that discarding Limbo does not consign unsaved innocents to hell), then abortion docs are doing them a favor!

If we wanted to reduce this (i.e. salvation) to absurdity.

Posted by: Grumpy | Dec 28, 2005 5:31:32 PM

P.S. Some other interesting excerpts from Psalm 139 (KJV):

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

Implying that human speech is predestined by God. So much for free will.

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell [Sheol], behold, thou art there.

Which frustrates one common conception of hell as being a place (indeed, *the* place) where souls have no access to God.

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

BTW, here's the KJV rendering of the "unformed in the womb" verse:

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

There's also a bit about how God owns my kidneys. It's a beautiful psalm.

Posted by: Grumpy | Dec 28, 2005 5:44:11 PM

A natural order which naturally destroys 15 to 20 percent of the world's potential infants.

The percentage of actual infants that died after childbirth was at least this amount, as well, before the modern age. That doesn't mean that infanticide was considered acceptable.

It strikes me that you're not arguing against the anti-abortion position. You're arguing against the religious concept that human life is sacred and that God cares about human life. Fair enough-- but your argument extends way beyond abortion.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 28, 2005 5:57:58 PM

Pretty funny to see Ezra and other self-professed atheists discussing what God wants and what he doesn't want.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 28, 2005 6:09:41 PM

Why is that funny? If the Jesus freaks are right, then God's will is there for us all to see, in the Bible. Atheists should be able to discern it just as easily as believers; the difference would be whether or not the agree with/believe in it.

Posted by: Dadahead | Dec 28, 2005 6:45:15 PM

Like everything else, Biblical quotations have context. There are many "books" from different sources and the old parts are from oral histories and legends. The official histories of the Jews are in there too, but I have a limited interest in swallowing everything whole.
For Christians, the Bible provides resource material for understanding some of the background to the stories of Jesus - in the Old Testament - and accounts of his life from different sources in the new.
I won't even get into accuracy of the Bible as a historical record (though it has been used as an archeological tool with some success). Think of it as a historical record of belief systems taken over a period of eons.
Dogma ? Sorry, I think theologians have a few screws loose.
Allegory is a teaching tool meant to illustrate a point. The stories of Jesus are done up in red print in the King James version. Not much else is considered as given by all Christians.

Posted by: opit | Dec 28, 2005 9:05:14 PM

Well, since I'm not an atheist, here goes:

Exodus and Leviticus both state a fetus isn't a full person and removing it isn't murder (though still possibly a sin). Therefore, anyone who says that "abortion is murder" is expressly opposing God's view, since He has made it abundently clear He doesn't think a fetus is a person, and therefore able to be murdered.

Or simplified for Fred: Science is agnostic at this point upon the beginning of personhood, and God says it is when the fetus is actually born; so, if you say abortion is murder, you're doing it for you're own jollies, not because God or Science says so.

Posted by: Phalamir | Dec 28, 2005 9:13:12 PM

Should have clarified. Resource material - Old Testament.Stories of Jesus - New.

Posted by: opit | Dec 28, 2005 9:38:02 PM

I think what's more telling is not that they don't blame god (mysterious ways, etc. gets them off the hook there), but that they don't have funerals for blood clots and tampons. When an actual human being dies, we bury them and have a funeral. Considering that it's estimated that up to half of fertilized eggs don't even implant, which means that the woman was never pregnant and we'll never know there was Sperm Magic going on, if anti-choicers really believed a fertilized egg was the same damn thing as a college graduate, you'd think they'd have funerals for every tampon, just to be on the safe side and get right with god.

Of course, as I've observed into infinity, anti-choice is about female sexuality and punishing women for having it, not about "babies". I've known people who would go into a cold faint if you told them you had an abortion, especially if you didn't have an elaborate excuse, but if you told them you miscarried, would comfort you by saying that it wasn't a real baby yet anyway and that you'll have another chance. It's pretty consistent--it's only a "baby" if that can be used to control a pregnant woman.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Dec 29, 2005 9:39:36 AM

Your miscarriage number leaves out the fertilized eggs that don't even make it to the stage that they can miscarry. The number of failed fertilization events (eggs being fertilized but failing to make it to birth) total are close to 50%. So, god recognizes the work of humping humans as crap, tossing out fully half of the results.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates | Dec 29, 2005 10:06:40 AM

This, of course, is why I can't believe in an engaged, sentient, compassionate God.

It's a helluva lot easier to have faith in a deity if you add a really sick and twisted sense of humor to his/her/its attributes.

Posted by: sglover | Dec 29, 2005 10:19:58 AM

The gaping inconsistencies fundamentalists blithely accept simply astonishes me.

I suppose, although I don't necessarily have a problem with people chalking it up as 'God's will that they don't understand.' However, what confuses me most, is that if there is 'God's will that we don't understand,' it behooves me why some people assume that they CAN assume some things about God's will. All this makes the Agnostic worldview all that more acceptable to me.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 29, 2005 10:41:57 AM

It goes to 'unintelligent' design- if god cared about all fertilized eggs we would not be designed to lose 50% before birth( and how many after). Obviously the omnipotent god doesn't care.

Posted by: k | Dec 29, 2005 2:39:58 PM

I sure hope the Pope reads Numbers 5:11-31 which basically describes an abortion procedure for a woman who had sex out of wedlock. Perhaps it's one of those contradictions in the Bible that I'm supposed to ignore O O

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Dec 30, 2005 4:17:47 AM

I don't think arguing about God's will is the best idea here (even though it's our opponents who claim to know it, not us). I'm rather curious, however, why they don't insist on on massive medical spending on saving these 25% of pregnancies. If you believe a miscarriage is as bad as infant mortality, then the marginal value of another dollar spent on research to prevent it is HUGE.

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