Thursday, June 11, 2009



The ‘Boston Phoenix’ – that city’s historically alternative newspaper, that nowadays is going a lot better than the others up there – runs an article by Adam Reilly entitled, nicely, “The Blessing of Abortion”.

It concerns the upcoming installation of a lesbian priestess as president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, a neo-medieval enclave ensconced in the bosky precincts just across Cambridge Common from the Harvard Yard.

It catches my attention primarily because it is an indicator of a) the still-kicking vitality of a radical and ideological feminism that is seeking to define itself as ‘established’ by spinning its radicality as ‘old news’ and b) the actual extent of the demand for abortion, hell-and-gone beyond the limited parameters espoused by much of the public that doesn’t simply oppose it outright. And c) because it just raises a bunch of interesting questions on its own.

The ‘blessing’ first. The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, a local resident, is the priestess in question.

Her position is that abortion is itself “a blessing”, the solution and not at all the problem. Which, for someone with an unwanted-pregnancy problem, is quite possibly true.

Her take on it, in a semi-poetic liturgical incantation that is too long to reproduce here but is embodied in the article, is itself revealing. “When a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence …” OK, that’s within the general parameters of where things are at.

“When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies that are incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion …” Well, sort of within the parameters, but then quite possibly far beyond them. “Incompatible with life” does not actually equal “it will not live”; depending on how you define “compatible with life” it may be that the fetus is somehow limited, but not necessarily bound to die or to threaten the life of the mother. (Am I over the line by using the term “mother”? I haven’t necessarily gotten all the memos.) And given the continuous improvements in genetic diagnostics and fetal examination, perhaps a fetus that will be prone to ‘depression’ – however that is defined by whomever is doing the defining – will also be “incompatible” with life, or at least the “mother’s” conception of a good life, for the child or for herself or – even – for both.

“When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one …” This would be due, the incantation goes on, to lack of education or a good job or access to health-care or day-care or “the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice …” – which pretty much locate the source of the problem ‘out there somewhere’. But if you can’t afford a child, why are you pregnant (presuming that you haven't been genuinely raped, of course)?

This of course leads directly to the point I noted in recent Posts, that the objective of the lobby is to achieve for ‘women’ (and I am not saying that all females in this country want this) the same walk-away freedom in matters conceptional that males enjoy: the male, We recall, gets his jollies by impregnation, but can then walk away since the female is stuck – by the decree of evolution – with the gestation and carrying to term and – though the lobbies don’t want to deal with it – the profound bio-neuro-psychological attunements by which the female is bonded to her ‘nurturee’, even to the point that the experiences of gestation and maternity are actually irreplaceably healthful for the female on the deepest levels.

“And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her, decides that she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion …” Well, this is about as ‘elective’ and ‘on-demand’ a concept of abortion as Iraq was an elective war. And the absence of the word ‘marriage’ sort of stands out by not being included in the incantation.

In all these cases, the incantation, repeats, “abortion is a blessing”. The ‘tragedy’ is not the abortion but rather the “need for an abortion”. But the abortion itself is the “blessing” in the whole thing.

Well, perhaps. My own thoughts run along the lines of post-Weimar Germany thinking not that the problem was its wars, but rather that victory in those wars would be “the blessing”.

Something of a self-serving spin, and a conceptualizing of the overall situation that so profoundly diverged from actuality that it left the post-Weimar German government in something of a fairy-tale land of delusion, until that point when its delusory conceptualizations and the profound actualities it had unleashed diverged irretrievably. The profound actuality, as so often happens, won. And the Bubble burst, and not for the last time in world affairs, as We have recently been seeing.

Which is not the way so much of the ‘revolutionary progressive’ worldview likes to imagine things. It prefers to imagine that reality is subjective and that the imagination conquers all.

Which, come to think of it, is how children think – or how the childish mind works. And when the childish mind is in control of a body capable – in the male or the female mode – of completing the sex act, then you can see where things might very well go. Look where childish minds in control of organizations capable of the ‘war act’ have gotten Us. Funny, but the Boomers in their salad days of the Sixties went after the ‘Establishment’ for lascivious misuse of the ‘war act’ – and rightly so, but simultaneously wrote themselves a hall-pass to engage in the ‘sex act’ with gay (in the old sense) abandon. Wheeee! Oof.

The article’s author gamely tries to keep the ball of ‘balance’ in play: “That is a provocative line of thinking” … well, yes, yes it is, at the very least. And from a someone that a mainstream organization like the American Episcopal Church has placed in a position of no little authority.

But then again, you might imagine that ‘mainstream Protestantism’ is no longer much of an authoritative source of thought, let alone religious thought, any longer. The Episcopal Divinity School itself, built with large dormitory spaces that look like the wings of one of Henry VIII’s larger palaces, and with a large, modish Library complex, now has a student body of just one hundred.

I’m going to imagine that instead of being a central powerhouse of serious religious education and thought, the School is well on its way to becoming, at best, a radicalized fringe of student and professorial cadres, under the gimlet eye of its Chief Cadre, the priestess Ragsdale.

That, unsurprisingly, is not how she or her backers see the situation. They are the cutting edge of a progressivism (as it prefers to be called) which the churches have been spear-heading since “the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement”. Which sort of shows you where her priorities are: religion, politely, don’t enter into it. Of course, when your theology is basically that the Roman Catholics were right in everything except that the Crown wanted to replace the Pope so as to collect the offerings and can’t we all just ‘move on’ and ‘get along’? … when that’s basically your theological starting-point, it’s hardly surprising to see interests other than the theological and the religious capture the energies of your elites. And while Martin Luther King certainly imparted a religious dimension to his own first-phase civil-rights movement, to which many Protestant and Catholic and Jewish religious figures rallied after a while, that religious element ‘went away’ in the ‘revolutionary’ post-King phases of the thing, starting in the mid-Sixties.

Of course, back in the late-Sixties and since, just about all American religious activity has been tinged with less of an interest in ‘God’ and more of an immersion in the things-of-this-world. Even in the matter of ‘social justice’, as it was cautiously supported in the Catholics’ Second Vatican Council and much more robustly and urgently embodied in Liberation Theology – itself tinged with a Marxist analysis and a revolutionary penchant for immediate change at any price … even then the Catholic Church, though caught up in the powerful winds and storms of ‘change’, had more keel in the water with its sheer size, more rudder biting the water in its governance, more deadweight in the water with its admittedly hefty load of traditions and rules, and more institutional experience (about 1,500 years more) than the various Protestant entities, which fared less well in that great typhoon.

So now, though the typhoon has passed, the Catholic convoy remains more intact and on-course than the numerous Protestant flotillas, now scattered about a vast swath of trackless sea, lost even in the clearing skies.

But that’s not how the former mainstream Protestants see themselves. They are the elite who are forging new paths, progressive paths.

And – wait for it – they are opposed! Not by doubters or skeptics or hesitant thinkers, or by those who aren’t certain that all this is ‘progress’. No, they are opposed – as they see it – by “extremists”, though – amazingly but perhaps also shrewdly – extremists “from outside the [Episcopal] Church”. In other words, all the opposition – and the article faithfully limns the depth and extent of it – comes from ‘outside’, outside agitators, as it were.

And, marvelously, they are right-wing agitators. This from the lefty, ‘liberal’ (not at all the term for the revolutionary cadres of the Sixties and since) element that pretty much introduced Leninist and Maoist agitprop into American politics 35 and 40 years ago. The hot ironies.

And of course, Ragsdale represents precisely that identification of ‘religion’ with that misnamed ‘liberal’ but certainly Left agenda of the Sixties and early Seventies. Indeed, especially in the unballasted Protestant traditions, it was a submersion of religious concerns and realities, a sinking of them, into the socio-political agenda of that era.

Worse, she embodies the identification of feminism (in itself a worthy thing) with the most outré elements of Ideological Feminism’s concepts and methods, and also with feminism’s highly fraught and perhaps dubious embrace of ‘abortion on demand’ (or ‘choice’, or ‘reproductive rights’, or ‘full equality’ or ‘gender equality’ or whatever coded buzzword you might otherwise prefer from the broad and varied menu on offer).

She sees herself as leading the leading source of the American Episcopalian cutting-edge support of racial equality, which she now sees as enhanced by gender-equality and for which utter flexibility as to abortion is just another civil-right waiting to be fully acknowledged after, of course, a tooooo-long history of ‘oppression’.

I have written just recently* about the many difficulties engendered by the politically strategic decision to cast feminism’s cause as legally a ‘civil rights’ matter, in order to surf the large waves that had already been churned up politically and legislatively by the assorted phases of the black civil-rights movement.

Nobody can be simply dismissed as ‘evil’ for having doubts about the wisdom of a general abortion ‘right’, or even about abortion in general.

But the article’s author, is careful to point out, carefully, that Ragsdale’s claim to be open to seeking “common ground” seems a bit odd. If she is now claiming – and under the auspices of religion and theology, in a way – a full-spectrum ‘right’ to abortion if any woman so chooses, then what ‘common ground’ can there ever be? ‘Consensus’ is indeed a necessary element of a democratic politics (for which sidestepping the necessarily long process of achieving such a ‘consensus’ by going ‘to the courts’ and lobbying legislators like any oil company or defense contractor – the Beltway approach, and thereby to enforce rather than achieve ‘consensus’ – was never a wise long-term option). But in some matters there’s hardly a way to achieve ‘common ground’ on the abortion matter, except perhaps within the very limited parameters of genuine life-threat to the mother or genuine rape, which is not at all what Ragsdale is going for.

It isn’t at all an indication of being on “the rabid right” to suggest that to compromise in this might seem uncomfortably close to finding ‘common ground’ or ‘consensus’ with the post-Weimar German initiative of euthanizing the mentally “unfit”, those lives-unworthy-of-life that would obstruct the racial and genetic integrity of the chosen Volk. In this case, the lifestyle choices and convenience of a self-chosen Identity, or at least of its lobbyists and radical cadres.

Nor is it accurate for Ragsdale and her supporters to dismiss their already-demonized opponents as a small fringe (so curiously, meseems, a mirror-image of Ragsdale’s cadres themselves). The ERA and the assorted collection of spin-off decisions from Griswold and Roe have demonstrated beyond doubt that there is a very great opposition indeed among the citizenry, sustained over the course of decades, and not simply by obstructive loonies but by people, male and female, of good will and some substantive thinking capacities.

Nor is it by any means clearly accurate to characterize such sustained opposition as merely the obstructionism of the unenlightened, or those who are so thoroughly deluded or co-opted in their assessment as to the state of affairs or as to the nature of reality itself that they can be dismissed with a truly revolutionary condescension as those who ‘just don’t get it’.

And finally, a note of duplicitiousness is introduced by Ragsdale herself: she claims to have been told by a bishop during her initial theological studies in 1985 that “he didn’t ordain lesbians”. She reports that at the time she didn’t even know she was a lesbian. This seems tactically convenient: she casts herself as the victim, on top of everything else, of an anti-homosexual bias. But I seem to have the clear and distinct impression that among most secure male homosexuals they report ‘knowing’ even before they reached the double-digit age of 10. Does it work differently for female homosexuals, the popularly-termed lesbians?

She says she is a lesbian now. Which raises the curious similarity with the old Roman Catholic situation of celibate priests (whether straight or gay) holding forth authoritatively to parishioners about ‘sex’.

But then, in her view of things, she’s not telling them whether to have sex or not; she’s simply fighting for ‘civil rights’, and in a matter which – much as they don’t like to mention it – the feministical cadres consider even more significant than black civil-rights. Wheeeee.

And of even deeper concern is the entire matter of just to what extent the testosterone-grounded ‘maleness’ – if I may – of lesbian females is sufficient to overcome the evolutionary dependence of the female of the species upon the experience of gestation and birthing and post-natal nurturing. If, as seems possible, lesbians are still quintessentially ‘female’ in the evolutionary scheme, then they may not be sexually attracted to males but are still very much susceptible to the ‘desire’ for the mothering experience.

Which leads toward a male-less conception, if not indeed toward a male-less world (except, in the more outré imaginings, such males as would be required to produce sperm for bank-deposit).

If for no other reason, such a possibility of such a ‘new world order’ might give male citizens pause; and not a few female citizens as well.

Even Hobbes saw the ‘family’ as the essential building block of society, no matter how dark his view of human affairs and the resulting need for a government Leviathan to keep order if human life and any level of civilization were to be preserved at all. Locke had a brighter view of human capacities, including the intelligence of females – and on that last point I very much agree with him, but both Hobbes and Locke were still convinced that government did not occupy the core position in the ordering of human society. And in that regard, the ideological or radical feminist lobbies’ disdain for ‘the family’ and ‘marriage’ may well run counter to some very profound human societal dynamics. Nor can simply ‘getting it’ and re-jiggering your imagination accordingly serve, surely not quickly and simply and without consequence, to override those utterly elemental realities.

So the inappropriately-named ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ agenda of the present era may be a step in a very wrong direction.

And surely so, for any religion – whose purpose is to mediate the Beyond to its faithful, who , being human, not only prefer but seem fundamentally to need, some relationship with that Beyond in order to anchor and shape the profoundly indispensable Meaning and Purpose, the ground and the shape and the boundaries, of their individual and communal life.

Let Us indeed pray.


*See the Post ‘Their Ranters, Our Advocates” of June 3 on this site.

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