Saturday, July 15, 2017

Quote of the Day (35)

Photo: Adam Jacobs, under license
I’ve been promising to transcribe this and fisk it since I first came across it a few weeks ago, so here we go.

Jordan Peterson (for the three remaining people who haven’t heard of him) is a U of T professor who took a lot of flack late last year for adamantly refusing to use the made-up gender pronouns of the transgendered Left with his students. Since then, he’s been all over YouTube, and I’m not surprised. The number of Canadians willing to take a public stand in front of the daunting combo of the State, the State-owned media and the Progressivist lobby for things like morality, tradition or (God forbid) anything even remotely resembling Christian values is, well, microscopic.

The following exchange occurred in the question period after Peterson’s fourth lecture in his Old Testament series, which was NOT about abortion. Not at all.

The question landed with the sort of resounding thud you might expect:
Q: I’m hoping to get your views on the consciousness or lack thereof of a human fetus and how that’s impacted your views on abortion, whatever they are.

A: [snort] Thank you, thank you.

Okay, so the first question is, do I have an answer for that that’s a good enough answer to actually reveal?

No, I don’t, but I can flail about a little bit around it.
Okay. The consciousness of the human fetus does not come up, but kudos to Peterson for tackling the subject of abortion in front of a theatre full of university students and liberals. Would I? I’m not entirely sure.
Abortion is clearly wrong. I don’t think anybody debates that. You wouldn’t recommend that someone that you love have one.
See, now that’s a good start. You could have heard a pin drop. There was no raging from the feminists present. No chaos ensued. And he got away with using the words “clearly wrong”. I like to think that’s something.

In fact, I DO think people debate the morality of abortion. Not often ingenuously or with integrity. But they definitely debate it.
Okay, now, having clarified that, that mere statement doesn’t eliminate the complexity of the situation. The first question is should everything wrong be illegal? That’s a tough question. Everything that’s wrong isn’t illegal. Then there’s the additional complication of the difference, let’s say, in gravity regarding the problem in relationship to men and women. We don’t know how to deal with that.
Eh, I’m a little torn here. I actually agree that not everything wrong should be illegal. We’re not living in a theocracy, after all. We cannot reasonably expect the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai to govern the actions of Canadians today. It would almost surely make for a better society in every respect, but it ain’t realistic. The early Christians we read about in our New Testaments had no expectation that their faith would magically transform the societies in which they lived into a heaven on earth, and it didn’t.

That said, if a fetus is a human life (and I believe it is), he or she has a non-trivial value, both to God and (whether we recognize it or not) to society. That’s not an issue you can handwave away; the proof being that we’re well over 40 years down the road from Roe v. Wade, and the number of people who believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances was actually higher in 2009 than when the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its original decision.

Opposition to legalized and tax-funded abortion is not going away, and it’s not going away because a State that assumes the moral authority to judge murderers for their actions (however feebly it may do so) doesn’t get to take a pass on the question of whether a fetus is a human being. Sorry.

In one sense abortion is not precisely a Christian problem: nobody is currently compelling believers to have abortions in violation of their consciences. In another sense it is very much our problem because it is treated as a universal right and funded by Canadian tax dollars, which gives us a legitimate claim to a voice in the debate. At the same time, I struggle with the concept of a Christian minority making laws for the unsaved when the unsaved don’t understand them, can’t keep them, and will die in their sins even if they do — as the apostle Paul says, “What have I to do with judging outsiders?” It’s also hard to ignore the fact that in democracies, as the whole marijuana debate showed, laws that don’t reflect the majority-will of the governed simply do not get enforced. 

That said, I agree with Peterson that there’s more to the abortion question than legality, and until our society does something about the things that cause the demand for abortion in the first place, there’s virtually no chance that merely changing the law will do much to solve the problem. Still, so long as abortion is treated as a healthcare issue and paid for through taxation, I and most other Christians would happily cast our votes for any politician with the courage to outlaw it — if such a rare bird existed.

But of course there’s more:
Having said that, I would say that it’s actually the wrong question. There’s something Leonard Cohen said once. He said that in a massacre there’s no decent place to stand. And what he meant by that is sometimes you’re where there is no good decision left. No matter what you do, it’s wrong.
Story of my life. Been there, done that, sent the postcard.
So then the question is how did you get there? Let’s say you are in a position where you are inclined to seek an abortion. The question is how did you get there? Now, we have a lot to straighten out about the sexual relationships between men and women in the modern world. They’re bent and warped and demented out of shape.
This is good, especially since most people won’t dare say it. “Bent, warped and demented out of shape” precisely describes the sexual atmosphere to which my kids were exposed in high school.
One of the things that I see with young people, for instance, is that they will engage in sexual acts with one another that they would not talk about with one another. I mean, couples will do that, for that matter — I mean married couples will do that — but they’re married; that’s a different story. It seems to me that if you are willing to engage in a sexual act with someone with whom you would not discuss that act, you probably put the cart before the horse.
Transcribed, that comes across as equivocation, but the tone is typical Petersonian understatement. The cart was definitely before the horse.
So the discussion regarding the legality of abortion is nested inside a larger discussion about the morality of abortion, and that’s nested inside a larger discussion about the proper place of sexuality in human behaviour, and to me, that’s the level at which the problem needs to be addressed.
Probably there are some Christians who would find an answer like this both insufficient and frustrating. On the other hand, given the level of dialogue about abortion in Canada in the last 40 years and the current political atmosphere, I find it refreshingly blunt and borderline dangerous. Let’s take our allies where we can find them.
Now, I don’t have the answer to that. Because the old answer was, “Get married.” That was a good answer, and it’s an answer that people should still listen to.
It WAS a good answer. It still is, though then we need to talk about divorce too, I guess. But our society has created a situation in which almost nobody is either financially or emotionally ready to be married until their late twenties or early thirties. Which brings up the next objection:
You can’t just say to people in the modern world, “Well, no sex until you’re married,” unless you’re going to get married when you’re very young, and perhaps you should; I don’t know about that.
Perhaps you should indeed. I’m not saying it’s easy, but that other thing just isn’t working.
But I don’t think that we’re mature enough as a culture to have a serious discussion about sexual propriety, especially in the aftermath of the birth control pill. And we seriously need to do that, and we haven’t. And so I think the eternal debate about abortion, horrible as it is, is the surface manifestation of a much deeper problem.
Yes, yes and yes.
Now, I talked a little bit today about the utility of marriage — like, the spiritual utility of marriage — and that’s something that I think ... we’re so immaturely cynical as a culture. We’re not wise enough to look at an institution like marriage and really think about what it means and what it signifies. It signifies a place that people can tie the ropes of their lives together so that they’re stronger. It signifies a place where people can tell the truth to one another. It signifies a place where sexuality can properly be integrated into life. That’s no easy task. It’s a place where children, at least in principle, can be put first and foremost as they should be once they exist.

And so there’s a much broader discussion that has to happen, I think, before any concentration on the legality of abortion is likely to get anywhere at all.

That’s what it looks like to me. So that’s the best I can do with that question.
And it’s the best I’ve heard in the public sphere in a long time, frankly. It’s not perfect, but it gives me some kind of crazy hope that there’s still something about the abortion question that might be open to being publicly discussed, given the right circumstances.

Because what we’ve got going on right now as a society does not work at all.


  1. And by taking one step back, it's interesting or at least worthy of reflection how this voice and these ideas are NOT coming from the "believing" in Jesus as Saviour/Son of God community. Our voices on this perplexing and deeply affecting question tend to be much more wooden and immature, given our degree of revelation and confession.

    1. I think that's right on, Russell. One thing I like about Peterson a lot is that he stops and reflects, and he admits when he isn't sure about something. I can learn from that.