Monday, January 24, 2011

I Am Not an Athiest

I am not an athiest. I don't usually write much about my personal beliefs, but I want everyone to understand what shaped my opinions in my subsequent posts. I was very religious in my youth. In fact, as an adolescent, I thought I might be called to the clergy. My pastor, however, was dismissive of my questions about theology and biblical scholarship, and he did not encourage my interest, despite the fact that our church had ordained women for years.

I began looking into other denominations, hoping to find one that seemed right. I wanted to reconcile my understanding of Christ's teaching and the historical contexts in which the books of the Bible were written with church doctrine.  I came to realize that the vast majority of organized religions are just as concerned with preserving the authority and prerogatives of the clergy as they are with bringing the truth and spiritual comfort to their flock. I could not in good conscience promote any of them.  I became a "sole practitioner" -- a description more common among neo-pagans than Christians (who are very big on that "whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name" thing).

I respect sincerely held religious beliefs, even when I vehemently disagree with them.  I oppose any attempt by someone else to force me to live by their religious beliefs, however. Any laws passed by our government must serve a secular purpose to promote the general welfare and/or public safety. The ten commandments are not the basis of our legal system. Our legal system is rooted in English Common Law, which evolved from pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon traditions. There are many areas of overlap, just as there are areas of overlap with Solon's law code and other ancient legal texts. Every civilization has an interest in promoting the personal safety and property rights of its citizens.

Something that most American Christians do not understand is that ancient prohibitions against abortion were not about saving the lives of innocent babies (most of those cultures did not recognize the humanity of a child until after it was named, since so many died at birth). Those prohibitions were about protecting the father's property. In many ancient cultures, a man had the legal right to kill a child born to his wife or concubine. If the child had a birth defect or was suspected to be another man's bastard, it could be left to die outside of town. The decision was always the legal father's, not the mother's. A woman who killed her child or aborted her pregnancy was thwarting her husband's property rights. It was seen as an attack on her husband (just as Medea killed her children to punish Jason for abandoning her).

Many in the pro-choice movement believe that those old patriarchal property rights still motivate large segments of the pro-life movement.  That Brazilian bishop who excommunicated a mother and doctor for providing a life-saving abortion for an eight-year-old girl but did not excommunicate the stepfather who raped and impregnated the girl demonstrated that those attitudes still exist within parts of the Catholic Church hierarchy. The pro-life activists who picket clinics with signs saying "Don't punish a rapist by killing his child" also demonstrate that old attitude. They seem to believe that a woman's body only exists to be a vessel for a man's seed, and that decisions about pregnancy should always be made by a man.

My next post will explain my take on the "life begins at conception" argument.  Please read it before commenting on this one (your comment may be more relevant if you attach it to the other post).

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