Thursday, June 4, 2009

Using Tiller's Murder to Attack the Pro-life Movement

The fears of many that the Tiller murder would be used as a way of attacking the pro-life movement have indeed materialized.

Pro-Legalized Abortion Groups Attack the Pro-Life Movement

Not wishing to "waste a good crisis," and sensing an opening, the pro-legalized abortion forces have launched an attack on the pro-life movement by trying to blame it for the murder of George Tiller last Sunday. (See, for example, Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail). But their effectiveness has been blunted by the speed, clarity and eloquence of the condemnation of the killing by all pro-life groups, including Operation Rescue. One of the first, best and clearest statements came for Dr. Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. It has been quoted and endorsed widely on the web since Sunday.

"Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller's life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life. Let our "weapons" in the fight to defend the lives of abortion's tiny victims, be chaste weapons of the spirit."

This statement is clear, unequivocal and biblical; it represents what the mainstream pro-life movement believes and I endorse it heartily. Even fair-minded outsiders to the pro-life movement think likewise. For example, an article by James Kirchick in the Washington Post refutes the liberal slander that the Religious Right is responsible for the murder of Tiller and is just as dangerous as Muslim terrorists. As he says, the largely Christian pro-life movement does not glorify, revel in or call for violence against abortionists. Instead, it condemns it. Murderous acts like the shooting of Tiller are the work of a tiny, fringe group or isolated individuals. This is the plain truth, as uncomfortable as it might be for those wishing to utilize every opportunity to demonize and marginalize the pro-life movement.

A Pacifist Criticism of the Pro-life Movement

Sadly, certain pacifists who themselves claim to be pro-life, but who take advantage of every opportunity to distance themselves from the pro-life movement, have put forward arguments that give aid and comfort to those who are attempting to blame the pro-life movement for Tiller's murder. For example, this post argues that:

"As such, I submit that there is no consistent way to be pro-life and at the same time condemn the murder of abortionists — unless one is a pacifist. Only if you truly believe that violent action cannot be morally used in the service of life and peace does it make sense for pro-lifers to condemn murdering abortionists. And to my knowledge and experience, the majority of pro-lifers, at least in America, are quite hawkish and would never be caught dabbling in pacifism. This majority brand of the pro-life position is rightly caught in a moral conundrum. They have no consistent moral ground to oppose violence against abortionists so long as they affirm the morality of any and all defensive violence. As such, you can’t be a consistent as a pro-life condemner of actions like Roeder’s unless you are a pacifist."

So here is the argument:

Major Premise: Some pro-lifers believe in justifiable killing such as just war.
Minor Premise: Individuals shooting abortionists is a form of killing
Conclusion: Pro-lifers are self-contradictory and logically should support murdering abortionists.

The argument is, of course, obviously invalid because, while shooting abortionists is a form of killing, it is not a form of justifiable killing. All, or nearly all, pro-lifers, (along with just about everybody else in the world), distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable killing.

The hidden premise in this argument is a belief that all killing is unjustifiable. Such a belief may be rooted in a form of anarchism that views all killing and all violence as morally the same, whether it is carried out by deranged individuals or through the judicial process of the State. But this radical political philosophy is rejected by everybody except a few pacifists who also happen to be arnachists. Therefore they bear the burden of proof in demonstrating that all killing is unjustifiable. Sheer assertion is insufficient here.

Pacifism, however, need not be anarchist. Yoder's Christological Pacifism acknowledges that the State becomes God's instrument for punishing evil-doers through His providence, according to Romans 13, and holds that this is true even though the Church is called to refuse to be involved in killing, even State-sanctioned killing.

God may (and does) order the violence of the State to enforce an imperfect form of justice in this fallen world, but Christians ought to allow the state to exercise its monopoly on violence and refuse to take matters into their own hands. This is why Christian Christological Pacifists reject violent revolution (while still striving for justice using all available non-violent means). The murder of Tiller would be similar to violent revolution precisely in its lawless - the individual taking into his own hands the state's perorogative to punish evil. Christians must not do this: not with an isolated case of a noterious late-term abortionist, not in a violent revolution, and not in the use of violence in any way to advance justice. The Christian response to abortion, which is consistent with Christological Pacifism, is to use all available non-violent means to change the laws and save lives.

As far as non-pacifist pro-lifers are concerned, there is no inconsistency in them opposing the murder of an abortionist. Even if a non-pacifist pro-lifer were to think that violent revolution (eg. in Hitler's Germany) was morally licit in theory, it would not be licit in just-war terms today unless all possible alternatives were exhausted. But this is certainly not the case in 21st century America.

America was a slave nation for 80 years and has been an abortion nation for 40 years. In the last election, the Republicans were leading in the polls in early October and if the economic crisis had come three months later than it did we might very well have President McCain about to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court with a 5th anti-Roe vote. If there had been a 4% vote swing in the last election the same scenario could be in place. This means that the pro-life movement is very close to making giant strides toward the reducing of abortion through non-violent means and that eventual victory is not unforseeable. So no conditions exist that would justify a resort to violence, even for those with a just war position.

Conclusion
I draw three conclusions.

1. Christological pacifist pro-lifers can condemn the murder of Tiller as wrong because only the State, and not individuals, has the right to punish injustice in this age.
2. Just-war pro-lifers can condemn the murder of Tiller because individuals do not have the right to take justice into their own hands except in extreme situations that do not currently exist.
3. It is not the case that the pro-life movement, as an alliance of pacifist and just-war Christians, is inconsistent in condemning the murder of Tiller and to say so is to criticize unfairly the one movement in the Western world that stands up for the protection of the most vulnerable among us.

16 comments:

Nathan Smith said...

Do you honestly believe that Halden gave "aid and comfort to those who are attempting to blame the pro-life movement for Tiller's murder." Really? Honestly?

Also, with regard to your second conclusion: how do you know when the "extreme situations" come into existence? Is it a matter of how many abortions per year, or the total number, or the composition of the supreme court, or public opinion, or what? Because if you don't have a concrete criterion, it seems the just war crowd are practical pacifists. The threshold of justifiable violence is like the end of the rainbow - you never get there.

I am, of course, not arguing for violence. What I am saying is that it seems that the pacifist ethic may be informing the moral reasoning of Christians more than we realize.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
What do you call an argument that pro-lifers are inconsistent to condemn the murder of abortionists because their position logically entails such an act? That makes them complicit in murder. That is exactly what the pro-abortion left is claiming in an attempt to shut the pro-life movement up. Naturally, I'm going to object to that every time; it is untrue and unfair.

By their own premises and doctrine, pro-life just war Christians are not inconsistent to condemn the murder of an abortion doctor. You don't have to be a pacifist to condemn murder. Murdering little people, murdering big people. Both are wrong.

As for your question. This is just basic just war theory. First, all other means have to be exhausted. Second, there would need to be a reasonable chance of success. Third, what we are talking about here is not the random murder of individual abortionists, but the overthrow of the US government by force. That would need to be led by someone with political authority (eg. some leading Senators or State Governors or whatever. Think about the American Revolution. Just because England treated the colonies unfairly on taxes, that did not give individuals the right to just go around murdering British government officials randomly. The revolution was led by the political leaders of the colonies and was done by just war means (ie. an army with uniforms, open declarations, military discipline etc.) All that would need to be in place. It is an extremely unlikely and hypothetical scenario that no one I know of sees as a likely possibility any time in the foreseeable future. That is why it is unfair to claim that all pro-lifers who believe in just war are complicit in the Tiller murder.

Peter Dunn said...

Craig:

Thanks again for another perceptive post and a defense of pro-life, pro-just war people like myself.

I did not originally see Halden as giving aid and comfort, but I have to agree with your explanation to Nathan. I just saw his position as dumb. But it is far more insidious than that.

The reason it is wrong to kill Tiller is explained in the Lord of Rings by Gandalf to Frodo. Frodo learns that Gollum has gone to Mordor and will reveal the location of the one ring; Frodo exclaims:

"'What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy not to strike without need.' [snip]
... said Frodo, 'I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.'

[Gandalf]'Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.'"

Craig Carter said...

Peter,
Excellent quote!

Nathan Smith said...

"What do you call an argument that pro-lifers are inconsistent to condemn the murder of abortionists because their position logically entails such an act? That makes them complicit in murder."

Honestly, that thought never occurred to me. To say that we pro-lifers are complicit in Tiller's murder was the furthest thing from my intent, and I believe that to be the case with Halden as well. The purpose in pointing out the alleged inconsistency is to foster a dialogue about Christian ethics.

"This is just basic just war theory. First, all other means have to be exhausted. Second, there would need to be a reasonable chance of success. Third, what we are talking about here is not the random murder of individual abortionists, but the overthrow of the US government by force. That would need to be led by someone with political authority (eg. some leading Senators or State Governors or whatever. Think about the American Revolution. . ."

Ask any pro-lifer which they think is worse: taxation-without-representation or abortion. I hazard to guess that the answer would emphatically be "abortion!" In this we have encountered an ironic feature of just war theory: Violence in defense of a lesser cause (to stop taxation without representation) can be justified while violence in defense of a supremely worthy cause (to stop a genocide) cannot be justified. Add this to the fact that the particulars of just war theory have a dubious foundation in scripture and you have cause to question its propriety (but I digress).

Yes, indeed, it is quite unlikely that a pro-life just war is coming. There are scores of legitimate political leaders who are pro-life, yet none of them are advocating violence. A significant proportion of the individuals in the military are pro-life, but they are not turning their weapons against their Commander in Chief. That is, I do not think a just war is as infeasible as you. Rather, let me propose this thesis: pro-lifers are not considering a just war to end abortion because they have a somewhat pacifist disposition, not because just war is a remote possibility. The criterion of war being the option of last resort allows for a continual delay of war (since one can claim in any situation that there are still options) with the result of practical pacifism.

To bring it back to Halden's point: I don't think that the pro-life just war position is inconsistent; rather I think it might not really be a just war position. Now I am by no means dedicated to this position. My views in this area are up in the air at the moment.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
I can't agree with you that a war over abortion is forseeable at all. I have a pretty high view of American democracy and I think it is quite possible to work through democratic, non-violent means to reduce abortion and save lives. Examples of this are the various parental consent, waiting period, and required counselling laws at the State level. If Roe were overturned, there would be a plethora of opportunities for progressive restrictions. Even for just war pro-lifers no resort to violence could be justified until every other means has been exhausted. That point can come; it certainly came in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. But it had not come in 2003 when the US invaded Iraq. This is not just idle talk; serious arguments can be mounted on both sides of such questions.

On the taxation v. abortion issue. You may be assuming that the War of Independence was not a just war, but it was fought over a significant political principle (no taxation without representation, ie. democracy). I'm not sure it is so easy to compare abortion and this principle in any kind of simple way.

As for many pro-lifers being secretly influenced by pacifism. This may be a terminological confusion. Most Christian just war pro-lifers place a very high value on avoiding war and see it as only a last resort and always to be regretted as the lesser of two evils. But that does not make them pacifist. It just makes them morally sensitive. They still think that war is justifiable under certain, defined conditions. That is what just war theory is about. It differs from wars of national interest, for example, in which war is seen as a good thing because it advances the interests of the nation. Just war people never call war good; just the lesser evil and necessary to defend the weak.

Nathan Smith said...

We have to come to the point where we must agree to disagree (agreeably). And we can of course agree that non-violent means are the best option to ending abortion, though I have little faith that can be achieved through democratic structures while American public opinion is still in favor of abortion on demand.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
Did you see this recent Gallup poll? I usually don't put a lot of stock in polls, but I do think public opinion in the US is much closer to supporting at least stringent restrictions on abortion than you may think.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/118399/More-Americans-Pro-Life-Than-Pro-Choice-First-Time.aspx

The mainstream media is skewed in favor of abortion, but America is more than the media.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
Did you see this recent Gallup poll? I usually don't put a lot of stock in polls, but I do think public opinion in the US is much closer to supporting at least stringent restrictions on abortion than you may think.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/118399/More-Americans-Pro-Life-Than-Pro-Choice-First-Time.aspx

The mainstream media is skewed in favor of abortion, but America is more than the media.

Nathan Smith said...

And did you see the CNN poll which had 68% of Americans supporting Roe?

http://www.pollster.com/blogs/us_national_survey_cnn51415.php

I think what we have seen in these two are outliers. The 538 blog has some good posts on the topic:

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/search/label/abortion

Bobby Grow said...

Craig,

I think your arguments and points make a lot of sense!

From one non-pacifist who condemns the killing of Tiller to another . . . good one!

Would you say that pacifism is a result of an hyper-realized eschatology?

Halden said...

Ha hah! Oh, that was funny, Bobby.

Bobby Grow said...

What, Halden . . . ;-)

Halden said...

It just that Craig has studied Yoder, and proclaimed himself to be a Yoderian pacifist for a long time. Many of the rest of us who have read Yoder in depth feel that his current sentiments are fundamentally a betrayal of Yoder's thought (and the politics of Jesus more generally, broadly speaking).

That you would read his blogs and assume him to be a critic of pacifism just further confirms the fundamentally anti-Yoderian perspective that Criag has embraced in his embracing of a different ethical paradigm. I just found it funny, given all the various and sundry arguments I've had with Craig in the ole blogosphere.

Bobby Grow said...

Halden,

Oh yeah, that is funny. I'm sure Craig thought this was really funny too . . .

Sorry Craig! I've never read you before this, so I guess I just mis-read you; but maybe not.

Craig Carter said...

Bobby,
If you read Yoder one thing you notice right away about his work is how fair and respectful he is to those holding the just war theory position. He even taught ROTC officers just war theory at Notre Dame. So when I defend just war people against calumny, I'm just following Yoder's lead. He would not want just war Christians tarred in that way either. His criticisms of the just war theory were far more nuanced and serious. Most of his energy was devoted to showing how there must be something wrong with JWT because its admirable theories don't seem to get implemented in practice. He wanted JWT people to take JWT more seriously and thought the world would be much better off if they did, assuming the conversion of the world to pacifism is not exactly imminent.