The Chicago Tribune “reports” in an online op-ed which boldly asks, “Is murder inevitable consequence of abortion debate?,” a question which is as thorough with its history (ignoring that the last time an abortionist was killed prior to Tiller, Monica Lewinsky was still a news item), as it is with its grammar (perhaps it should have been, “the inevitable consequence”?):
“All honor to Dr. Tiller, who joins the list of martyrs for ethical decency and
human rights, killed for healing with compassion,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow of
The Shalom center. “In his case, a religious martyr in the fullest classical
sense, killed in his own church as he arrived to worship, killed for acting in
accord with his religious commitments and his moral and ethical choices … I
recognize that some other religious traditions do claim it is murder, but I both
disagree with their theology and think they have no right to impose it on mine,
by state power or by murder. “
The insanity of this statement is beyond comprehension. First of all, Tiller wasn’t “killed for healing with compassion,” he was killed for cutting the skulls open of tens of thousands (literally) of crying babies, and sucking their brains out. The fact that he was murdered doesn’t make him a martyr or a saint (in fact, his failure to convert prior to death is one of the key things that Pro-Life Action League’s Joseph M. Scheidler and Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry lament most).
Second, to claim that he is “a religious martyr in the fullest classical sense” completely misunderstands what a religious martyr is. If a 19th century slaveowner was a Southern Baptist, and was able to pervert his religion to justify his owning of slaves, he doesn’t become a religious martyr when some crazy John Brown kills him. No, a martyr is someone who dies in the defense of the faith, not someone of a particular faith who operates at the ethical limits of what that faith allows. A Christian who would rather die than turn over the Holy Books is a martyr. The brave souls who allowed themselves to be sent to concentration camps rather than give up the good fight: people like Maximilian Koble; Edith Stein, a.k.a St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; and Martin Niemöller… these people were martyrs. The Nazis who died fighting against them were not, even when they were able to justify their actions based upon perversions of religion (or the creation of a new “Aryan” religion).
Finally, what to make of the good rabbi’s claim that “I recognize that some other religious traditions do claim it is murder, but I both disagree with their theology and think they have no right to impose it on mine, by state power or by murder”? Of course, it’s not just religious traditions which say that it’s murder. Catholic teaching on abortion is based on the natural law, which is available to all, regardless of religion – one need not be Catholic, or even theistic, to believe that murder is wrong (I think there’s an entire school of “moral atheists” who argue just that). You don’t need a specific revelation from God for that one. But besides that, the stance on abortion isn’t theology in anyone’s books. Theo-logy is “the study of God.” Abortion is an affront to God, surely, but the pro-life movement (even at its most religious) is based in love of neighbor and the sanctity of life, a defense of sane ethics, and so forth.
So how does a person with as much learning as I would assume that Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom center must have make such a fundamental mistake, confusing the study of ethics with the study of God? My guess is: he didn’t. There’s a deep-seated idea in modern America that “religion is private,” usually meaning subjective. By reducing abortion from a public policy issue (should we kill our children or not?) to a theological debate (like “does God cooperate with our free will, or perform justification and sanctification on His own?”), Rabbi Waskow is removing abortion from the level of public debate. Now, saying, “you can’t kill your children” becomes equivalent to saying “you must celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday, and not Saturday.” And through this misrepresentation of the debate, Waskow is able to arrive at his conclusion: that those who think killing children is wrong have “no right to impose” that belief on his ‘theology’ (that it’s not), “by state power or by murder.”
The leader commentator on the article sums up my thoughts on this nicely in this ironic invocation of an anti-religion humanist:
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit
atrocities.” – Voltaire