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Why Obama Should Shun the Pope's Views on Abortion

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Duluth, MN October 10, 2009 -- During President Barack Obama's July visit to Rome, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI gave President Obama a copy of his recent encyclical in which he discusses abortion, among other things, and a copy of a Vatican document in which abortion is discussed, among other things. However, with all due charity for the pope and his encyclical and for the Vatican officials who produced the other document, their reasoning about abortion is based on a serious philosophic mistake -- the mistake that the infrahuman zygote and then the infrahuman embryo and then the infrahuman fetus somehow represent a supposed human person. But this way of thinking is a misguided way of thinking based on a serious philosophic mistake. For the infrahuman zygote and the the infrahuman embryo and then the infrahuman fetus do not represent the essence of a human person, but represent infrahuman lifeforms. In Aristotle's way of thinking, a lifeform has a soul (Greek, "psuche" or "psyche"). For Aristotle, vegetative life represents a vegetative soul. Animal life represents an animal soul. And human life represents a specifically human soul, which is the source of human rationality. When life ceases, death occurs. Death means that the soul or lifeform has left the body of the lifeform in question, which then becomes a dead body (i.e., no life) or corpse. But in infrahuman animals and in human animals,the brain remains in the corpse after the soul has left the corpse. Thus Aristotle works with the body (corpse)/soul distinction, and so do I in the present essay. Now, for Aristotle, the human being is a rational animal, as distinct from an infrahuman animal. The specifically human soul provides the rational part of the human soul that differentiates human being from infrahuman lifeforms. The infrahuman lifeform known as the fetus becomes a full-fledged human person only at the moment of ensoulment with the specifically human soul, the essence, as it were, of specifically human life and of a human person.

Thomas Aquinas, who is arguably a greater Aristotelian philosopher not only than Avicenna and Averroes but also than Mortimer J. Adler and Martha C. Nussbaum, thought that the moment of ensoulment with the specifically human soul occurs at the moment of birth (assuming live birth). Moreover, in the revolutionary 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the United States, the Supreme Court of the United States established viability (i.e., the ability of the human fetus to live independently outside the mother's womb) as the legal standard. For all practical purposes, viability can be understood to be consistent with Aquinas's reasoning regarding live birth. Consequently, legal abortion in the first trimester does not involve "murder," a term that is used somewhat indiscriminately by some Christian antiabortion subversives. For no specifically human soul = no human life = no murder (i.e., the deliberate taking of an innocent human life). Opponents of legalized abortion in the United States today want to impose their mistaken and misguided moral values on other people instead of allowing those people to make their own moral choices. But render unto God what is God's due in churches and synagogues and mosques and other places of religious worship. But keep religious views out of the public square because of the doctrine of the separation of church and state.

Now, because of serious mistakes in philosophic reasoning, recent popes and yeasty Christian antiabortion subversives in the United States have stirred up strong irrational passions in the United States about abortion. However, the orthodox Christian religion as such is based on false and irrational claims, so perhaps it is not surprising that yeasty conservative Christians have been fomenting with such irrational passions about abortion, because oftentimes irrationality in one part of one's psyche can lead to irrationality in another part of one's psyche. We need to get clear about the irrationality of Christianity. As is well known, the historical Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew. Moreover, the historical Jesus was not God, but an ordinary human being. He had a human nature, but he did not also have a divine nature -- that's an irrational absurdity. In addition, the supposed virgin birth of Jesus is an absurdity based on the translation of the Hebrew word for "young woman" (alma) into Greek in the Septuagint translation of ancient Hebrew scriptures that the various followers of Jesus read. It is another irrational absurdity for orthodox Christianity to claim that the historical Jesus was somehow born to a virgin. Furthermore, the supposed resurrection of Jesus from the dead involved grief-driven apparitions or hallucinations. Such apparitions or hallucinations involved the use of the psychological process that is involved when we dream when we are asleep, except that apparition experiences occur when we are awake. When we are awake and able to activate the psychological process that is involved in dreaming when we are asleep, C. G. Jung refers to such activation as active imagination -- see Jung on Active Imagination, edited by Joan Chodorow (Princeton University Press, 1997). As we will note momentarily, we can put active imagination to good use in the kind of prayer known in the Christian tradition as meditation. But the claim that Jesus somehow underwent resurrection is another irrational absurdity of orthodox Christianity. Finally, the idea of the divine trinity is another irrational absurdity. Because of all the irrational claims that many orthodox conservative Christians today believe, it is not surprising that yeasty conservative Christian antiabortion subversives have strong irrational passions about legalized abortion.

However, as I just intimated in passing, imaginative Christians today can still use the resources of their imaginations to engage in what Jung refers to as active imagination by doing the so-called spiritual exercises in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the religious order in the Roman Catholic Church known as the Society of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuit order). In this way, imaginative Christians today can learn to draw on the energies of the archetypes of maturity at the archetypal level of the human psyche, as Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette have described these in five books, most notably in the revised and expanded edition of The King Within: Accessing the King [Archetype] in the Male Psyche (Exploration Press, 2007). Even though Moore and Gillette happen to center their attention on the masculine forms of the archetypes of maturity in the male psyche, there are corresponding feminine forms of the archetypes of maturity in the female psyche.

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But Roman Catholics around the world today who are loyal to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's misguided and mistaken views on abortion are in effect allowing him to carry the King archetype for them, instead of thinking for themselves about abortion, as I myself have in the present essay. As a result, I see their loyalty to the pope as a form of idolatry -- papalolatry. Because the pope is the head of a state, I think that Roman Catholics in the United States should not be allowed to advance the pope's views on abortion or any other moral issues in the public square, because were they to do so, they would thereby be acting as agents of a foreign power. As Paul Blanshard famously pointed out in the 1940s and 1950s, the loyalty of Roman Catholics in the United States makes them suspect American citizens, just as in the 1940s and 1950s card-carrying members of the communist party were suspect American citizens. We in the United States should honor the American tradition of the separation of church and state. Let Christians and Jews and Muslims and people in other religious faiths render unto God what they believe is God's due in their churches and synagogues and mosques and other places of worship, but not in the public square. In the public square in the United States today, we should aspire to live in the age of reason as Aristotle and Plato did. All people in the world today should go up to Athens for instruction from Plato and Aristotle, not up to Jerusalem for instruction -- or up to Rome and the Vatican for instruction, or up to Mecca and Medina for instruction. To avoid a certain misunderstanding here, I want to spell out explicitly that I am a theistic humanist, not a secular humanist. Moreover, Kant to the contrary not withstanding, I have no problem with the idea of metaphysics as a legitimate part of philosophy -- neither did Plato and Aristotle.

In the present essay, I do not claim to have developed an argument from authority, but to have articulated a view of abortion that has not previously been articulated in exactly this by anyone else, as far as I know. However, ensoulment has been widely discussed -- the Wikipedia entry about ensoulment.

Finally, a personal note is in order. I was born because my mother deliberately declined to have an abortion when the medical doctor who told her that she was pregnant with me also told her that he could arrange for her to have an abortion, even though abortion was illegal at the time in the United States. As a result of the circumstances of my own birth, I want all women in the United States today to have the choice that my mother had when she learned that she was pregnant with me, as women in the United States have had since the revolutionary ruling in 1973 by the Supreme Court of the United States that legalized abortion in the United States. For the moral merit and the moral demerit (i.e., culpability) of our choices in life are proportionate to the degree of freedom that we have at the time when we make our choices. When the laws of the United States prohibited abortion, then compliance with those laws arguably reduced the degree of freedom involved, thereby moving the decision not to have an abortion into the domain of a pre-moral act. In Healing the Shame That Binds You (Health Communications, 2005), John Bradshaw has suggested that the domain of pre-moral acts is probably very large as a result of the inner psychological conditions such as the toxic shame that he discusses that limit the degree to which we are truly free to act.

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In any event, President Obama and members of Congress should shun the pope's views on abortion and shun the Catholic bishops' objections based on the pope's views of abortion to the health-care bill before Congress.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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