The idea that “life begins at conception” is a Biblical view younger than the Happy Meal

In fact, it’s really only been considered Biblically “true” since 1979 — before that, Evangelicals held widely varying positions, and even some of the most vocal “life begins at conception” voices today didn’t think that zygote life was the equivalent of born-human life in the 1960s and 70s. But political necessities change, and with them Bible interpretations. Read that whole piece; it’s fascinating. Also worth considering the role played by the new Right, and the need to replace full-throated support for segregation with other issues that could rally racist whites, particularly in the South.

Thanks, Lauren, for the link!

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20 comments for “The idea that “life begins at conception” is a Biblical view younger than the Happy Meal

  1. chris
    January 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    I met a charming and friendly chap in a Bangkok hostel once, who mentioned without fanfare in the middle of a sentence that he was a Southern Baptist. I was in town for an awesome conference on safe abortion, but decided to have a little search before letting this on.

    You can imagine the process of pleasant surprise followed by crestfallen disappointment on reading the following:

    • January 29, 2013 at 7:58 am

      Clark’s allusions to 1984 weren’t wrong, were they!

  2. Faradn
    January 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    The idea may be new for Evangelicals, but I’m pretty sure that in the Early Modern Period the Catholic church started believing that zygotes were really tiny but fully-formed humans called homonculi–because science at the time said so. Science changed, but not the church.

    • EG
      January 29, 2013 at 1:07 am

      But I think that they didn’t believe that the homunculus was ensouled until quickening, so abortion before that was not murder. In fact, the Church didn’t really consolidate its position on abortion until 1869, if I’m remembering correctly.

  3. Foxy
    January 28, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Christianity today published an article supporting abortion in 60s

  4. BabyRaptor
    January 28, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    I highly recommend Fred Clark’s blog. I’ve been reading it for over 5 years. It’s a refreshing bit of sanity, the community is fantastic, and I often learn things.

    • January 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      I agree, I think his Slacktivist blog is required reading for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how right wing Christianity is impacting politics and culture in the U.S. (and beyond).

  5. tlfk
    January 29, 2013 at 8:28 am

    I came across this short article (via Feminist Law Professors) that gave some background on what it said was the first U.S. abortion law (in CT, 1821). It sounded like it was in response to a very specific court case involving a popular local minister, the woman he (maybe) impregnated, and the “noxious substance” he may or may not have given her to induce miscarriage. (the write up is short, so I don’t think its examining the merits of the case; I think it was just written as background to the law, which looks to have been written very specifically to further punish this minister).

    A few years ago, I took a women’s studies class that provided an overview of the history of women’s health in the U.S., and the readings assigned indicated that some of the issues with the morality of abortion came from physicians. Around the mid-19th century, physicians in the U.S. were competing with a lot of community health practitioners, including midwives and abortionists, many of whom were women. Physicians made a push that abortion was immoral and should be illegal, unless it was a needed medical procedure and done under a physician’s care. Then, apparently, it was a-okay morally. This push, though, would eliminate the abortionists as competition. I don’t remember all the details of that history, but that was the gist of it. Not sure how much that really may have contributed to the abortion debate in this country, but it is an interesting aspect.

    • January 29, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Not sure how the dates align (or not – I’m not well-versed in US history) but that second anecdote immediately reminded me of a popular interpretation of many of the ‘witch-hunts/trials’ whereby middle-class men hijacked a predominantly working-class female ‘healthcare service’. History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, in any case…

  6. Sarah
    January 29, 2013 at 8:53 am

    That’s one of #378 reasons “because the bible says so” should be completely ignored as an “argument”.

    In actual demonstrable fact, what the bible is claimed to say, changes over time. This is pretty bullet-proof indication that people just manage to find support for whatever they wish to find making the statement equivalent to “because I say so”.

    And that’s no argument at all.

    • January 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      D’you know,I have no idea when a cluster of cells becomes ‘alive’, perhaps no one does – though I’ve hears several pregnant women talk about ‘the moment’ they realized they were carrying – but is that the issue? Nobody wants to cause unnecessary suffering, there is no definitive ‘moment’ when life begins and the woman haters are never going to concede their position: if the need to control the business of another person’s life overcomes you, seek help; you obviously need it.

      There’s a choice to be made here: the fact of fertility does not equal the need to reproduce. If the imperative to do so wasn’t so ‘normalized’ would so many people – m & f – make such a big deal of it? It’s a potential, not a mission……….

  7. Brian Fritts
    January 29, 2013 at 9:44 am

    EG is 100% correct on the issue. Aquinas explicitly stated the position that “ensoulment” occurred around quickening. It was a consequence of his Aristotelian background and the belief that the matter (zygote) took its identity or form at that time during gestation.

    • matlun
      January 29, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Interestingly, it is not clear what the Catholic Church’s position on ensoulment is today. They seem to manage to be against abortion without taking an official position on that question.

      • Drahill
        January 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

        The Catholic Church has never taken a definitive position on ensoulment, which is actually part of WHY they oppose almost all abortions. The Church rationale is “We cannot know when ensoulment takes place. It might take place at quickening, it might take place at conception.” Because they cannot know, they took the position that abortion is a moral wrong because there is a CHANCE that an ensouled being may be terminated. Basically, they played “better safe than sorry.”

  8. TomSims
    January 29, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    The Bible is pure fiction.

  9. Bacopa
    January 29, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Exodus 21:22-25 clearly states that an assault on a pregnant woman that results in miscarriage is a property crime, not a murder. The penalty was a payment to the father of the woman’s fetus. Kinda disappointing, but not unexpected, that there’s no mention of gnarly punishments for the initial assault. But at least there was no mention of trying to determine the sex of the fetus in order to assess a higher fine for a male fetus.

    Someone above mentioned Slacktivist. I second that recommendation. Great perspective on Evangelical culture. Fred mentioned there that some are trying to change the translation of this Bible passage from “cause to miscarry” to “make her give birth prematurely”.

    • Henry
      January 30, 2013 at 1:10 am

      yes and considering one of the take home topics in Exodus is thou shalt not kill, if abortion were considered murder by the author(s) of the Bible one would think it would have been mentioned in there someplace, and not done away with as a fine (and then only when done without consent), especially if you believe that the author is a supreme omnipotent all-knowing being who never makes mistakes.

      • LeftWingPharisee
        January 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        The 8th Commandment is “Don’t Murder”, not “Don’t kill”.

        The Torah viewpoint is that the fetus becomes a person after s/he breathes; up until that time, if the woman’s life is in danger, there is no choice–one must abort.

  10. January 30, 2013 at 1:51 am

    Further, the bible does advocate ending unwanted pregnancies…as long as you also kill the mother in the process.

  11. January 30, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Genesis 38 seems to describe an order for immediate execution of a pregnant woman, no mention of waiting until after she gives birth, or of the unborn–

    24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

    25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

    26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

    27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

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