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Dec 22nd
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Hess: Murder, blasphemy and the quest for a truly pro-life ethic

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The politicking began – not surprisingly – as soon as the sirens faded in Newtown.

Ardent appeals for stricter control on assault rifles were met by equally strident calls to arm classroom teachers.  

Some claims were preposterous, such as that of Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America, who said that “gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”

Speaking for Focus on the Family, James Dobson’s proclamation was simply obscene, suggesting as he did that the murder of the Sandy Hook students and teachers was God’s just judgment upon our apostate nation (see ).

Mike Huckabee opined that the tragedy was caused in part by our permitting gay and lesbian people to be parents, and by schools teaching about human evolution. The shooting reminds us that “one day we will stand before a holy God in judgment; if we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.” (See .)

It is of course blasphemous for a finite, fallible human to claim any sort of definitive knowledge about the divine views on complex theological questions such as sexual orientation, prayer in school, or the relationship between sin and judgment.

Even worse, it is both blasphemous and obscene to insinuate that a “holy God” employed a heinous massacre of innocent first grade children and their teachers to call a sinful nation to repentance.

The complex and delicate question of gun control is inextricably bound up with a deeper moral question: what it means to espouse and live a genuinely pro-life ethic.

In the course of the 2012 presidential campaign, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., declared that “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” (See .)

Naturally he was referring to supporting gay marriage and abortion, directly implying that voting for Democratic candidate Barack Obama places the eternal salvation of one’s soul in serious jeopardy. B

ut if Paprocki’s pulpit rhetoric were applied with logical consistency, he would have to conclude that supporting a politician who has a record of opposing control of assault weapons   ̶ the only purpose of which is mass murder – “makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

To be sure, some people on the religious right who pride themselves on being pro-life ironically also approve of capital punishment. They finesse this inconsistency with the morally specious stratagem of arguing that a human being convicted of a capital crime has forfeited his inalienable right to life. In itself this is a rather feeble argument.

But even less coherent is the claim that one can be pro-life and at the same time vote for a candidate who supports the National Rifle Association and its tireless defense of semi-automatic assault rifles. Some churchmen and politicians seem to blow the pro-life trumpet in the market square only when it suits their political agenda.

A necessary first step towards a resolution of our systemic problem of gun violence is to put an end to malicious rhetoric and small-minded arguments.

A televangelist who sees in a school massacre the deserved wrath of an angry God makes a mockery of his own pro-life position. The voice of a bishop rings hollowly if he threatens excommunication of those who support abortion rights without also threatening excommunication of those who support assault weapon ownership.

Such baseless and narrow proclamations are hurtful and destructive of community at the very time when a community is most in need of healing.

Simplistic ascriptions of blame distract our national community from focusing on addressing the factors behind mass murder. They vitiate the power of responsible religious voices precisely when religion and ethics could be making necessary and substantive contributions to public debate.

Pope Benedict XVI takes a different tack in Blessed are the Peacemakers, his 2013 message for the World Day of Peace (Part 4): “Every offense against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace and the environment. Indeed how could one claim to bring about peace, the integral development of peoples or even the protection of the environment without defending the life of those who are weakest, beginning with the unborn?” (See .)

Although his argument that the campaign for gay marriage “causes irreparable damage to justice and peace” reads like an odd side note in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Blessed are the Peacemakers is a promising contribution to our urgent national dialogue about how we can identify and address the roots of our American addiction to bloodshed.

Pope Benedict offers an overview of the factors contributing to violence, including social, psychological, economic, structural and political factors.

As a society we need to examine a wide range of questions from the very immediate to the long-term. These include – but are not restricted to – outright banning or severely limiting access to assault weapons, fully funding psychological screening and treatment of persons at risk, studying destructive patterns of social interaction, and researching the evolutionary origins of violence for possible clues about how to address it.

We need clear, honest and vigorous contributions from all stakeholders in society in our quest for a consistent and thoroughgoing pro-life ethic.

Peter M. J. Hess, Ph.D., is director of religious community outreach with the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization in Oakland, Calif., that defends and promotes the teaching of evolution and climate science. He is from Cobb, Calif. and lives in Berkeley, Calif.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
I do not believe...
written by ca215, January 16, 2013
...that Mr Obama is "pro life." I believe that he feels females have no choice over what happens to their own bodies. Big difference. I wonder what he would say if he had to decide what to do if a pregnant woman AND her coming child would both die if the woman were forced by the religious wrong to continue her pregnancy? The Rel Wrong would likely come up with a BS statement about "Well, sometime between now and the time the child is born something might be discovered that would save mother and child or perhaps just one or the other of the two."
Or "I'm sure that if the woman had, up to now, lived a righteous life God would allow her and/or the child to survive. Poor thing, she just believed the doctors or others who said she should not attempt to carry the child to term. Isn't it a shame she put the doctors' statements ahead of the rules spouted by some church leaders?"

What the people who attempt to dictate how a human being should or should not lead her life do not say is anything like "Of course I'd bring the child into my home after it was born provided the mother did not get an abortion. I'd raise, educate, and sustain it. Of course I understand how a woman might not be able to do those things for child number whatever in a family."

Mr Dobson's words above sound eerily similar to those spouted by oddities who claimed that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was the reaction of some version of a god who disapproved of people who are not heterosexual.

Other odd sorts claim that the earthquake/deaths in Haiti were the actions of an angry ruler, as well.

IF we believe that people's attitudes, actions, beliefs bring on death and destruction, why hasn't this world been reduced to a cinder by now? I daresay there have been enough fervent "Believe What I Believe! Do As I Do!" shouters to cause the entire population to be wiped out and the entire earth replaced by ashes and dead coals by now. When's that going to happen?

Too many people including the mega-rich "religious" leader who claimed that if "his" church, "his" people did not hand him a now-forgotten sum of money by a certain date his god would kill him actually seemed to believe such dreck.
What use would a god have for money? The minister to the deluded people already had money enough to use for wallpaper if his appearance was any indicator of his wealth; if "Pastor I'm Going To Die Unless..." would have been willing to support and sustain the children brought to term despite the health or monetary troubles of the prospective mother and if such support could be proved to be true perhaps I would take back my scorn for such a "religious" leader.

Giving my belief to such a person even if I saw him handing over stacks of large-denomination bills to those in need would be difficult; sorry but I would wonder if the people to whom the cash was given were not actors, if the money was not counterfeit, and several other reasons for my large amount of disbelief.

About those who claim that the teaching of evolution in schools supposedly bringing on the murders of teachers and children...WHAT? How ridiculous. I'm surprised that no one so far has written a post along the lines of "Well if humans descended from apes why are there still apes?"
Such geniuses seem to not get it that apes are not doomed to totally die out just because one branch of the evolutionary "tree" turned out to produce humans.

to both of you
written by jmadison, January 09, 2013
Nothing wrong with splattering the guts of someone breaking in to your house and attempting to kill your family...BUT...Aluchsinger, couldn't that be done with a shotgun or handgun just as well? Niether of those guns could ever bring down so many people so quickly. I know, you don't want your rights infringed on but I'm perfectly happy with the government taking away my god given right to own a nuclear bomb. (sarcasm) but you can't tell even tell my why a responsible person or community should NOT be allowed to own one and until you can, you will only see in black and white with no shades of grey.
Shane Lee
written by guywithanopinion, January 03, 2013
No, that would not be "pro life" as you put it. "Pro" = in favor of, in support of, and wanting to maintain/promote something. You are muddying the waters with your scenarios.... move on and argue for your rights to defend your family but not about being "pro life" and gun usage. A gun has only one purpose and it is not "pro life", my gun is just the opposite.
think harder
written by aluchsinger, January 03, 2013
So if my family's lives were at risk, and I were to save our lives by using a gun, is that not pro life?

Although I could still defend my comments if the weapon were used to harm the assailant, don't forget that many fatalities are prevented by just the presence of powerful weapons. The problem is that it's hard to quantify a number of lives saved since it's a non event.
Shane Lee
written by guywithanopinion, January 02, 2013
If we really need to answer your q then you are part of the problem. "Pro Life" = in favor of life, not hurting/killing others. Trying hard not to just type "DUH" in this case.
written by a guest, December 29, 2012
...that's a 'defense rifle' in your case. But you really need something that'll take down a drone.... Churches just want to control your government.
written by aluchsinger, December 27, 2012
How is an assault rifle in my possession that I use to protect myself and my family from harm not considered pro life?
written by a guest, December 26, 2012
...that's religious thinking for you. These 'blasphemers' use the same logic as your pope. Benedict may be the richest CEO on the planet, so when he speaks, all I hear is more 'austerity' babble from the '1%'. Does Benedict lead a simple life?...Just look at his hat and know otherwise. How does this papal opulence justify itself in the face if Benedict's largely poor and ignorant following? Got to keep gas in that popemobile, I guess. Do you fail to see the irony in your church's pro-life stance? Wishing more children on slum dwellers worldwide is the same logic Wayne LaPierre used in his 'guns in schools' argument. 'More' is definitely NOT better.

I understand how difficult it is justifying one's personal mythology with current events, but clear thinking starts at home.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 December 2012 05:10 )