Thursday, April 26, 2007


American Fascists, The Silent Scream, & Bernard Nathanson

I finished reading Chris Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America a couple of weeks ago (read an earlier Hedges essay by the same title here). It's a quick and interesting read but Hedges mainly fails to adequately address possible remedies to the social ills that promote religious fundamentalisms. His invocation of Karl Popper's warning against too much tolerance, i.e. Hedges' advocacy of more intolerance by the state for 'bad' people with 'bad' ideas--in this case Christian dominionists--is truly frightening. As Bryan Magee, who wrote Karl Popper and was a long time friend of the philosopher, noted: " 'The totalitarian liberal' was one of [Popper's] nicknames at the London School of Economics, and it was a perceptive one" (Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 183).

You don't secure freedom by restricting it. You have to give people a real stake in freedom, so that it is something they understand, value, and will struggle to keep. To do that you have to actually trust people with freedom. People are turning to fundamentalisms in America, in part, because in so many ways what passes for freedom in this country is a sham that has failed to deliver a fulfilling life. In the end, consumerism can never satisfy human needs for connection, value, and meaning. The increasing economic marginality of many Americans only hastens the spiritual crisis.

Hedges book tackles an important subject although his book can't really hold a candle to Sara Diamond's four books and fifteen years of research on the same subject matter. Then again, she hasn't written anything on the subject for nine years and doesn't bring the Christian perspective of Hedges. Richard A. Horsley while not delving much into the nuts and bolts of the Christian Right has continued to publish and has a more progressive and thoroughgoing political analysis than Hedges. I recommend his Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit as a short, inexpensive, and fascinating intro to his work.

In any event, what prompted me to start this post was Hedges' mention of the anti-abortion propaganda film, The Silent Scream. I decided to watch it for the first time. The film consists of a multimedia presentation by Bernard N. Nathanson, MD in which he narrates an ultrasound video of the abortion of a 12-week-old fetus and later shows graphic photos of the dismembered parts of aborted fetuses. Although I agree with Planned Parenthood's critique, The Facts Speak Louder, I think their title is dubious. The graphic images in the film may not speak more truthfully but they arguably speak louder and I can now understand why the film has been such a boon for anti-abortion activists.

With his two conversions, Nathanson is an interesting figure in his own right. His first conversion was from an abortion practitioner who had "presided over 75,000 abortions" and a founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League to high-profile anti-abortion activist. His second conversion--abandoning Judaism and converting to Roman Catholicism--happened in 1996 with the guidance of John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest, and is, apparently, related to his conversion on abortion. Here's an excerpt from "Bernard Nathanson's Conversion" by Julia Duin:
There may be a deeper reason to Nathanson's disenchantment, [Orthodox rabbi, David Lapin] guesses, which has to do with the high level of Jews involved in the abortion business. Nathanson has written of the high percentage of Jewish abortionists. The new national leader of Planned Parenthood, who comes on board in June, is Gloria Feldt, a Jew.

"I believe that Bernard Nathanson's conversion to Catholicism is spurred not by theological deficiencies in a Judaism I don't believe he knew but by a deep compelling desire to distance himself from a faith whose secular wing has embraced abortion with a fervor," Lapin says.

"And there's no question about it. Boston Herald columnist Don Feder points out nearly half of the religious organizations endorsing abortion are Jewish in spite of Jews being 2.3 percent of the U.S. population, not 50 percent. The Jewish community is disproportionately represented in the pro-abortion movement. This taking up the cudgels for abortion is not by any means an expression of Judaism. It is a rejection of God and a rejection of the religious core of Judaism, and in those terms I understand why Bernard Nathanson had to seek another faith."
Lapin's opinion that pro-abortion activity is "a rejection of God and a rejection of the religious core of Judaism" finds support in the work of rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg. Until his death last year, Waldenberg was a leading Orthodox authority on Halacha, i.e. Jewish religious law, and he specialized in medical questions. He was a judge on the Israeli government sponsored High Rabbinical Court and rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Jewish Medical Law (Jerusalem: Gefen, 1980) is a condensed version of his 21-volume Tzitz Eliezer; it was edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. and personally approved by Waldenberg.

In Part IV, Chapter 2 of Jewish Medical Law we find that abortion is permissible--provided, it is carried out within the first three months--when the pregnancy is life-threatening or just detrimental to the health of the Jewish mother, or if the Jewish mother is still nursing another child. Certain eugenic abortions, however, are permitted for Jewish women "up to the seventh month of pregnancy." The only permissible reason for a "gentile woman" to have an abortion is if "there is a life-threatening danger to the mother." In all instances, the "consent of the husband" should be "procure[d]" and a "Jewish physician is preferable to a gentile physician." Mordechai Halperin, M.D., of the above-mentioned Shaare Zedek Medical Center, suggests that the penalty, under Noahide law, for gentiles who perform abortions is death.

See also
: Gems from "Jewish Medical Law"

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Very interesting post. Since I was raised in a predominantly Catholic country, I am inclined to support any advocacy campaign that is against abortion. However, I understand that there are circumstances where abortion is the mother's only chance of surviving a failed pregnancy.
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