Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How Wide is the Human Community?: Why Roe v. Wade Was Wrongly Decided

That is the title of a talk I am giving tomorrow at 7 pm in the Memorial Drawing Room (in the Memorial Residence Hall) on the campus of Baylor University. It is sponsored by Bears for Life. What follows is the poster for the event.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Evangelicals and Abortion in the 20th Century: A Hidden History?

I recently came across a post by one of my fellow Patheos bloggers, Fred Clark.  In it, he offers this analysis of American Evangelicals and their changing views on abortion:
White American evangelicals are “pro-life.” This is the single most important political aspect of American
evangelicalism. It is the single most important theological aspect of American evangelicalism. And it is the paramount factor in evangelical identity for evangelicals themselves.

It’s also a very recent development. Thirty years ago, this was not the case. Fifty years ago, it was unimaginable.

Only remember what you’re supposed to remember. Or else.

People like Lewis Smedes and Carl F.H. Henry remain revered figures in evangelical history, but if they were saying publicly today what they said publicly about abortion in their lifetimes, they would be excommunicated and shunned as heretics.

The speed and totality of evangelicals’ sea-change on abortion is remarkable. But what’s really astonishing is that such a huge theological, political and cultural change occurred within evangelical Protestantism and no one talks about it. No one acknowledges that this huge change was, in fact, a huge change.

Mr. Clark is certainly correct about the change among Evangelicals. In fact, it is so widely known, and such an uncontroversial reading of American religious history, I had no idea that anyone was keeping it hidden. Evangelicals, of course,  have  shifted on other issues and questions as well. Take, for example, their view of Catholics. A generation ago, your typical Evangelical pastor would wonder out loud whether "Roman Catholics are truly Christians." One rarely hears that today. The influence of charismatic and Pentecostal spirituality as well as more liturgical traditions, such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and High Church Anglicanism, have shaped the contemporary Evangelical world in ways that would have been unimaginable in 1947 at the founding of Fuller Theological Seminary.

Of course, most every weekly church goer is unaware that these changes have occurred, and have happened over a relatively short period of time. For most rank and file Evangelicals, what they know of Evangelicalism is what they were born into or grew up in, and much of it is not close to what they would have found in Pasadena in the mid-1940s. That does not mean that there is some grand conspiracy to keep these things hidden. It  just means that once things change, what results in the present consciousness is what some have dubbed "the new normal." Because we live in an age that is ahistorical to a fault---requiring that inherited traditions make their case at the bar of detached "reason" or be rejected without remainder---the absence of historical consciousness is endemic to the nature of the modern mind regardless if it finds itself on Sunday morning at Saddleback Valley Church or St. Peter's Basilica, or on the beach at Santa Monica marinated in weed pouring over the works of Henry David Thoreau. (This, by the way, is why it is an insult and not a compliment to be called "old fashioned," since it is dogmatically believed, without any critical reflection, that present fashion is always superior to, or a greater example of progress than, old fashion. But why believe that's true? After all, most intellectuals have been modernists for hundreds of years, which makes the condemnation of the old fashioned itself an old fashion. Perhaps, then, the most hip thing we can do is to embrace ancient truths.)

But as to the issue at hand---Evangelicals and their changing understanding of abortion---many of us who have written on this issue have not hesitated to document this change, and some of us have in fact engaged some of the older Evangelicals who held a moderately prochoice position on abortion. Consider these examples, which are easily accessible online.  In a 2003 special issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Russell D. Moore published an article documenting the very changes that Mr. Clark claims have been secretly hidden from the public's view: "The Gospel According to Jane Roe: Abortion Rights and the Shaping of Evangelical Theology." At the time that Dr. Moore published this piece, he was executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he presently serves as the dean of the School of Theology. Henry, as you can see above, was one of the figures mentioned by Clark in his post, and he is somebody whose views Moore mentions in his article. In fact, just yesterday, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the president of Dr. Moore's seminary, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, published an essay on one of the Washington Post's blogs. Entitled "Roe v. Wade anniversary: How abortion became an Evangelical issue," Dr. Mohler acknowledges the same history that Dr. Moore presents in greater detail in his article. This is how Dr. Mohler begins his piece:
Were America’s evangelical Christians always stalwartly pro-life and opposed to abortion? Sadly, we were not, and the story behind that delay should be on our minds as we ponder the dark anniversary of Roe v. Wade. To our shame, when Roe came evangelicals were part of the problem.

This fact would be shocking to many Americans today, who naturally associate evangelical Christians with the pro-life cause. But, prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, evangelicals were, with a few notable exceptions, confused and uncertain about the question of abortion.

The leading Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, just months ago (October 31, 2012) published an online commentary about this history in which the author speaks candidly of it while adding the appropriate nuance absent from Mr. Clark's post.

In December 1990, at the tender age of 30, I published a piece in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS): "Brave New Bible: A Response to the Moderate Evangelical Position on Abortion." It was in response to an article published in JETS earlier that year (June 1990): "Evangelicals and Abortion." That article was authored by Dolores E. Dunnett, principal of The Christian Grammar School in Roseville, Minnesota and wife of Walter Dunnett, the 1987 president of the Evangelical Theological Society.  In 1991 I published an article in Bibliotheca Sacra, "A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights," in which I address some of the arguments offered by Dunnett as well as those offered by other scholars including some Evangelicals.

There is, of course, much more that has been written about this issue than I can possibly cite here in this blog post. But I think you get the point. For a history that Mr. Clark claims"no one talks about," it manages somehow to actually get talked about.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Two Part Series on Roe v. Wade, and an extensive critique of Roe

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (22 January 2013), this month I have published a two-part series over at The Catholic Thing. You can find each part at the following links:

Even though many citizens reject  Roe v. Wade, not many know why it is so flawed. The above pieces present very brief summaries of some of those flaws. However, for those looking for a more extensive critique, in chapter 2 of my 2007 book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press), I offer a detailed analysis of Roe and some subsequent Supreme Court opinions on abortion. An earlier version of that chapter was published in 2006 (1.1, pp. 37-72) in the inaugural issue of the Liberty University Law Review under the title The Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and Abortion Law. Here’s how it begins:
It is no exaggeration to say that no U.S. Supreme Court opinion has been more misunderstood and has had its arguments more misrepresented in the public square than Roe v. Wade (1973).1 There seems to be a widespread perception that Roe was a moderate opinion that does not support abortion on demand, i.e., unrestricted abortion for all nine months for virtually any reason. Even aphilosopher of such erudity as Mortimer Adler did not seem to fully understand the legal implications of Roe: “Mr. Justice Blackmun’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade invokes the right of privacy, which is nothing but the freedom of an adult woman to do as she pleases with her own body in the first trimester of pregnancy.”

In order to fully grasp the reasoning of Roe, its paucity as a piece of constitutional jurisprudence, and the current state of abortion law, this article looks at three different but interrelated topics: (1) what the Court actually concluded in Roe; (2) the Court’s reasoning in Roe; and (3) how subsequent Court opinions, including Casey v. Planned Parenthood, have shaped the jurisprudence of abortion law.

You can read, and download, the whole thing here.


Roe at Forty, part 2: The Court’s Two Unwarranted Stipulations

Two weeks ago, I published over at The Catholic Thing part 1 of my two part series to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe. v. Wade (22 January 2013): "Roe at Forty, part 1: The Court’s Failure to Address the Question of the Unborn’s Moral Status." Part 2 was published today. Entitled, "Roe at Forty, part 2: The Court’s Two Unwarranted Stipulations," here's how it begins:
Not only did Roe v. Wade’s majority opinion fail to address the question of whether the unborn human being is a moral subject  (as I showed earlier in part 1). Its reluctance to engage that question
directly undermined two other arguments central to the Court’s holding:  (1) the argument from the claim that the fetus is protectable under the Fourteenth Amendment if it is in fact a person, and (2) the argument to state interest in prenatal life from fetal viability.

According Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the Court’s opinion, “If the suggestion of personhood [of the unborn] is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth Amendment].” That amendment asserts: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So, if the defendant in this case – the state of Texas – could have shown that the unborn child is a person under the Fourteenth Amendment, then there would be no right to abortion.

>>>continue reading

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Best Books I Read in 2012

The Catholic World Report just published my summary of Best Books of 2012. I am one of 34 contributors to CWR's three part best books extravaganza. (See part 1, part 2, and part 3).  Here's how my entry begins:
As an academic whose interests overlap so many fields, I often find myself overwhelmed by the number of important books that I ought to be reading. So, given the impossibility of completing that task, I try to select those books that I believe will help my intellectual development and spiritual formation, and that includes books with which I may, on occasion or nearly always, find myself in disagreement.

In 2012, there are several books I read that stood out as exceptional. I’ll begin with the one I think is the most important: Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Harvard University Press, 2012). The product of a profoundly learned mind, it is elegantly written. Gregory, a Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame, traces the ascendancy of secularism to the influence of certain strains of thought that have their roots in the metaphysics of John Dun Scotus 1266-1308). According to Gregory, Scotus’ univocal conception of being led to the eventual domestication of God’s transcendence once it was radicalized by late medieval nominalists such as William of Occam (1285-1348). This is why in today’s world, for example, on issues concerning science and theology, both theists and atheists tend to think of God as a being whose presence is needed in order to account for natural phenomena that science cannot explain. But on the classical understanding of God—St. Thomas Aquinas being its most articulate expositor—God and science are not explanations in competition with each other. This is because God is the ground of being—the First Cause of all contingent reality—and not one cause among many.

How does Gregory move from Scotus’ univocity through the Reformation to modern secularism? Read the book. It’s a fascinating and illuminating journey.

Speaking of the relationship of science and theology, Catholics and other Christians often find it difficult to think clearly about this issue, largely because we have inherited a cultural understanding of this relationship from a caricatured account of the history of the interaction between theology and science as well as the cultural and legal debates over Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Neo-Darwinism. (This, by the way, is another reason you should read Gregory’s book: he explains why these debates are often the result of mistaken metaphysics, and have virtually nothing to do with science or theology, properly understood.)

What is often missing in these debates are clear and careful philosophical distinctions. Fortunately, two of America’s finest analytic philosophers, Alvin Plantinga (a Reformed Protestant and Professor Emeritus at Notre Dame) and Thomas Nagel (an Atheist and Professor at New York University), have published outstanding books that offer just the sort of clarity and rigor that this topic requires. In December 2011, Plantinga published Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford University Press). And in Fall 2012, Nagel released Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press)

>>>continue reading (You'll have scroll down a bit).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Roe at Forty, part 1: The Court’s Failure to Address the Question of the Unborn’s Moral Status

That is the title of my most recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. It is the first of two parts, the second of which will appear at The Catholic Thing on January 18, 2013. Here's how today's entry begins:
Later this month on January 22, many will commemorate, in sadness, the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that declared virtually all restrictions on abortion unconstitutional.

Although prolifers reject this opinion because of its exclusion of the unborn from the class of protectable human beings, most prolifers, like most Americans, rarely understand why many scholars, including abortion-choice supporters, consider Roe to be a badly reasoned opinion. (For an extensive analysis, see my 2006 Liberty University Law Review article).

The 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut set the stage. In that decision, the Supreme Court discovered a right to contraceptive use by married couples (later by the unmarried in Eisenstadt v. Baird [1972]), based on the “right of privacy.” Although that right is not found in the Constitution, the Court opined, in a plurality opinion, that it could be inferred from the “penumbras and emanations” of several amendments in the Bill of Rights.

For supporters of abortion choice, the application of this was obvious: because abortion is an exercise of the reproductive rights discovered in Griswold, the right of privacy must be extended to include a right to abortion. However, it was not that simple. For, unlike contraceptive use, abortion required the destruction of what appeared to be a third party, the unborn child.

>>>continue reading