Dishonest debate

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on November 4, 2007

Garry Wills, author of "Head and Heart: American Christianities," wrote this woefully inaccurate and misinformed op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times.

I'll let Ramesh Ponnuru have the first word on this:

He has a long, confused op-ed on abortion in the L. A. Times. His focus on evangelicals is a little odd—if all you had to go on was this op-ed, you might think they were the only people who oppose abortion.

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear.

What is Wills talking about? Evangelical (and other) pro-lifers are perfectly willing to turn to embryologists, regardless of those embryologists' position on abortion policy, for confirmation of the thesis that human embryos are living organisms of the human species. There are pro-life philosophers, too, and plenty of pro-lifers cite them.

If Wills had consulted one of them, he might have avoided some of the wrong turns he takes when he tries to commit philosophy. "Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre." Okay, that's just embarrassing, so let's move on.

It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder. . . .

The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life — it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.

Wills's skin cells and sperm cells are human, and alive, but they're part of an organism (him). They're not living human organisms, as a human fetus is. As for the notion that semen has the potential to become a person: Wills needs a refresher course in biology. Perhaps he should ask an evangelical for a referral to an embryologist?

I love Ponnuru's little dig: "commit philosophy."

Wills piece is an embarassment. It's not just his woefully inaccurate strawman/caricature of pro-life Christians and his misplaced appeals to authorities who would certainly correct him had they been consulted. No, Wills argument is a danger to him and his ideological allies.

It's true that the Bible says nothing about purposeful, medical abortion (as opposed to striking a pregnant woman resulting in the death of the unborn), but the Bible says even less about government-purchased health insurance for children, government-provided child care, job-training for people in the inner-cities ... all of those things that the Christian left accuses conservative Christians being not-Christlike about when it comes time for a vote.

If we're somehow to be shamed or restricted from applying Christ's teachings to love our neighbor and the value fo human life when it comes to abortion policy, then beware when that same stick is used to the detriment of whatever social policy the left is advocating on that particular day.

Wills is not engaging in an honest debate -- and the fashion in which he approaches the debate is certainly not doing anything to bridge the divide between the Christian left and right.

0 comments on “Dishonest debate”

  1. I agree. Grarry Wills' article in the LA Times today was disgusting to me. I also believe that the LA Times should not have printed the article by Mr. Wills because of its offensive nature. He uses specific individuals such as one random pope and suggests that because some pope from long ago did not oppose abortion on religious grounds, nobody can. Not everyone follows Roman Catholicism. And instead of telling Catholics what they really believe on abortion, this arrogant and intellectually corrupt Garry Wills ought to ask the Catholic Church.

    In reference to whether or not abortion is murder, Wills gave one of his typical gross over-generalizations of his piece of garbage opinion piece: "... a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution." In Wills typical fashion, he grouped the entire evangelical population together and said that the evangelical "community" had one shared opinion on this point of order like evangelicals represent one monolithic mindset. I can guarantee to you that there are at least a few evangelicals out there who would disagree with his point and believe that elective abortion should be considered a capital crime for the woman and any medical staff involved. Whether this is the majority opinion is not the point, my point is that Wills wants to speak in one voice for a group that he obviously detests. Wills also automatically assumes that every evangelical in the world supports the death penalty. That is far from true. Many evangelicals are against the whole idea of "an eye for an eye." And even with the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion, the Catholic position on capital punishment is well documented. So, opposing abortion on religious grounds that Mr. Wills argues cannot exist in the first place does not force a person to demand the death penalty to a participant in this sick act.

    Garry Wills is an obvious religious bigot. He detests Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. Much in the same way he detests anti-Abortion Jews or other Christian sects like Mormons who might even claim that they oppose abortion because of their claims of divine revelation. Wills also seems to forget that there are countless other religious persuasions such as Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or whatever else which might also agree that abortion is wrong due to their moral and religious teachings. Wills oversimplifies his entire argument. But that is probably just because he has a very simple mind. Lucky for him, with his lack of brains, his mother cannot use that as an excuse to abort him today!

  2. I'd offer a correction. It's a monologue, not a debate.

    Since I was unable to come up with any reason to waste even a small portion of my life on Mr Wills, I ignored him. Judging by newspaper circulation figures released recently, Mr Wills and many others are losing their soapbox. Life's too short to waste on haters.


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