mother/woman/human

As usual, controversial moral issues such as abortion are discussed as mere differences of political opinion. Scratch the surface, though, and you see that they expose fundamentally opposed ideas about the nature of reality and the human being.

Woman is both blessed and burdened by her peculiar role as the bearer of children. The biological necessity of Man’s physical proximity to his child ends at conception, while Woman must remain physically close at least until the child is weaned, if the child is to survive. In fact, Woman must literally house her child within herself for nine months, the two bodies as close together as two bodies can be, the two lives inextricably intertwined. Man’s responsibility for his offspring is largely a moral, social one. Woman’s responsibility is necessitated by biology and resides in the very make-up of her body. Add to this the fact that biology also enables Man to initiate and even force the conception of children on Woman, with little risk to his own future and with great risk to hers. This results in a greatly unequal responsibility for children between the sexes.

Humans have typically interpreted this natural inequality by keeping Woman confined within the sphere of child-bearing and child-rearing. This is understandable, especially in rustic settings, since the survival of children is dependent on the attention given to them by Woman and since biology makes this non-negotiable. Also not surprising is that fact that, due to humanity’s ability and tendency to see meaning everywhere, we have abstractly considered “bearer of children” as essential to defining “Woman.” Thus we have traditionally understood womanhood and motherhood as nearly synonymous. If you will suspend your modern, First World assumptions for a moment, this will probably become obvious.

(Though granted much more freedom of movement, Man is not therefore unbound by biology and free to seek his own welfare exclusively. During pregnancy and nursing, children depend directly on the Woman for sustenance, keeping her close to them. This makes Woman herself dependent on the labor of Man, placing the responsibility for her survival largely on his shoulders. Again, we have therefore usually imagined “provider of food” as essential to defining “Man,” making manhood and bread-winner nearly synonymous. Genesis 3:16-19 succinctly summarizes these facts about the human condition.)

But, then. Our society experienced an industrial revolution which has enriched us beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams, creating less rustic environments in which we have unprecedented control over our surroundings and over our bodies. For the first time, less worried about survival and with lots more free time, people suddenly possessed the luxury of questioning our assumptions about Man and Woman. For a female to be “fully a woman” (abstractly, of course), must she always be a mother? Is there something pernicious in taking the two things as synonyms, thereby limiting Woman forever to the realm of home and children? With millions of women now able to prevent pregnancy and able to live comfortably with fewer children or no children, what is Woman after all? For that matter, what is Man, if Woman is equally capable of the non-physical labor that makes up most of the modern industrialized economy? Modern affluence disrupted our ancient lifestyle patterns based on gender. This in turn caused us to lose our footing in how we conceive of the archetypal categories “Man” and “Woman.”

The implications of these historical developments can and should be investigated in regards to all our modern problems of (trans-)gender, sexuality, marriage, parenting, family, masculinity, and femininity. For now, let’s consider the original topic of abortion. Here is where we find the conflict between fundamental beliefs about reality.

For the secular person unconcerned with transcendence, there need be no inherent connection between womanhood and motherhood. Equal parts Gnostic and Darwinist, the contemporary secular worldview is free to utterly divide one’s biological identity (“bearer of children”) from one’s abstract identity (“woman”). The abstract identity is meaningful only insomuch as human minds assign meaning to it, anyway. Add to this no reason to believe in the inherent value of human existence (even apart from human personality) and the prizing of unrestrained personal freedom as the key to happiness, and you have created the pro-choice person. A purposeless natural world enables us to separate meaning from biology, motherhood from womanhood, and thus the human body inside the womb from the human body around it.

What about the Christian who believes in transcendence and cares about God’s will for the world? The Christian worldview cannot so easily disentangle biology, or what God has created, from what it means abstractly, or the meaning the divine mind has assigned to it. A woman’s pregnancy is no mere physical accident divorced from the way she conceptualizes her personal identity. Put another way, she is not an enlightened mind inside an animal body. Rather, she is soul and body, made by God. Her capacity for pregnancy, and her pregnancy itself, say something about who she is.

We all see the danger in too closely associating “woman” with “mother.” Childless women have been shamed and even despised for millennia. Civilization has suffered from the historical exclusion of women from public spheres. Great injustice has been done to untold numbers of women who could not bear children or who would have been greatly useful outside the domestic realm if given the opportunity. We know very well, then, that a woman is a Woman (and first, a human being) whether she bears a child or not. For the Christian, that is basic imago Dei doctrine.

But do we see the danger in separating “woman” from “mother” entirely? Are women in the first stage of motherhood–i.e. pregnant women–still not truly mothers in any sense, such that their children are mere bundles of disposable tissue and not children at all? Is the biological fact of their pregnancy totally unrelated to their femininity or to their personal identity? (Furthermore, can a male really be called a woman if he is without the remotest capacity of ever bearing or nursing a child and if his body does not every month prepare for the possibility?)

For me, as a woman, as a believer in transcendence, and as a person deeply interested in the well-being of all women, abortion denigrates women by utterly severing the tie between body and soul, between biology and identity.

These topics deserve further discussion, within the Church and within broader society. I would love to hear from you.

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Politics Of Symbols

You’ve got your politics of symbols, I’ve got my ideology,

but I’d like to know you laughing, unanalytically amused.

Remember how it was as kids? Before we knew how bad it was.

We’re wealthy children, grown up too slow.

Ever think what it would be like to be old?

 

You’ve got your social justice campaign, I’ve got my spirit-poverty,

but I wish you knew me boldly, unashamedly in love.

Just like you, I camp out, safe, behind my honesty and insight.

We’re spoiled little kids, ready to impress,

still terrified no one’s gonna call us back.

 

You’ve got your righteous indignation, I’ve got my hard-earned inner peace.

You’ve got your hardened skepticism, I’ve got my battle-won belief.

How strong is my faith in the choir loft?

How strong is your doubt in the fox-hole?

I’ll come downstairs,

if you come outside.

 

the answer to life, the universe, and everything (pt. 2)

In our day of materialistic secularism, we are taught to believe that the physical world is the only reality. There is no spiritual world, no God, and there are no souls in humans. Evolutionary science says that humans are nothing special – just animals. Materialism says that the physical world is all that exists – human consciousness results from nothing more than complex chemical reactions in the brain. The American Dream says whoever dies with the biggest bank account, the most successful kids, the most comfortable lifestyle, “wins.” 

Yet at the same time:

  • Everyone who lives knows fundamentally, with conviction, that something is wrong with the world. Why do we believe that? If “this” is all there is, why do we suppose things ought to be any different? Why do we humans, uniquely among the organisms on the planet, refuse to accept as natural the “natural order” of cruelty and unjustness and “might makes right” that exists in the world? If nature is all that exists, how can we describe anything, ever, as being “unnatural” or “unfair”?
  • Human societies universally express belief in a spiritual world. Why is the human race so doggedly convinced there is something else to reality beyond what we see and experience? Why is the search for God, for something higher, so deeply ingrained in the human mind?
  • Every person instinctively attempts to ascribe meaning to their life, both to what they do and to what happens to them. Why is this? What lamb ever asked the lion why it was devouring her, or pondered the purpose of eating grass? Why do we suppose anything has any meaning or purpose at all, if “this” is all there is?
  • Secular humanism – a world without God – has no answer.

C.S. Lewis said it this way: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. ‘Dark’ would be without meaning.”

Christianity says, yes: there is an objective purpose for the universe and for your life. You are invited to reach out to it and know it for yourself. The answer is not “in” you, nor can you create it for yourself, for it is far bigger and more real than you. Certainly it is nowhere to be found in a materialistic universe. Rather, it is found in a Person – a King, if you will – who exclusively claims your life as belonging to him. He declares for all the world to hear, “You are mine!” How, then, will you answer him? “Yes Lord, I am yours. Glory to God, all glory to him, praise to him forever and ever, because I am yours.” Or, “No, thank you. I belong to myself, I live for myself, I decide my own destiny. Leave me be, for I am just fine deciding the purpose of my life on my own.”

By nature we look for meaning. We seek it out with zeal. The gospel alone gives a meaning, an answer, which satisfies. You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore know the infinite God – live before him forever – glorify him by being satisfied in him. Truly, there is nothing better, there can be nothing greater, than this.