Thursday, March 30, 2006

Abortion, Crime Rates, and Truth

Truth and relevance in a controversial debate.

Like many, I was intrigued and a little shocked to read Economist Stephen D. Levitt’s assertion that crime rates have been lowered as a direct result of legalized abortion. I have my own opinions on abortion, yet I think people on all sides of the issue find Levitt’s theory unsettling. Understandably, some have posted rebuttals questioning Levitt’s data and statistical methods. The purpose of these refutations appears to be to further the agenda of the author by finding flaws in Levitt’s theory. From all contributors, including Levitt, we find some arguments that are compelling and others that are weak. This leaves the passer-by in somewhat of a conundrum when attempting to discern truth from error in a veritable haystack of opinion and analysis.

I am a computer programmer by trade. Often times, I am involved in design meetings to intently discuss the best way to solve a certain problem. Competing algorithms are proposed and debated. Sometimes these debates become heated. As we discuss the issue, we start defending our own ideas and diverging from a unified solution. It is not uncommon at this point for someone to jump into the discussion and ask an obvious, yet overlooked, question: Why are we even trying to solve this problem at all? For, indeed, the passion of the debate has arisen from the fact that we are working on the wrong problem. There is no apparent solution because both sides are arguing something meaningless. Once we discover all of our haranguing came from two sides of the same coin, so to speak, the debate evaporates and we go on to something more productive.

The abortion debate in general, and this debate about crime rates in particular, is an example of this two-sides, same-coin problem. Almost all of us feel very strongly about abortion one way or another, and when we see a dichotomy, we believe that we can take one side or the other and therefore be “right” or “wrong”. The truth, as it turns out, is that we have been duped. Does abortion lower crime? Is a fetus alive? Does a woman have a right to control her body? All of these questions are phantasms, luring unsuspecting minds into an apparently moral debate where the participants contentedly and self-righteously establish and defend their viewpoints. The fervor and the emotion then blind the mind to the stark reality that it has fallen into an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual pit where the only hope of escape is to climb out and leave it alone. The American mind is stuck in the depths of a pit of this type.

We Americans are divided on so many fronts that it would be outright laughable if the problem weren’t so deadly serious. Pro-Life/Pro-Choice, Pro-War/Pro-Peace, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative, the list goes on. This list seems to get the longest during an election year, where the modern debate and the 15 second campaign ad have brought reductionism to an art form. I think almost all of us detect the absurdity of the situation otherwise the comedians would not get so much mileage on the jokes about it. But as John Stewart boldly said to the Co-Hosts of CNN’s Crossfire, “it’s hurting America”.

How is this happening? Americans (and I am sure others) love the thought that there is a “good” side and an “evil” side to conflict and conflicting ideas. We love it so much that seek it out and immerse ourselves in images and media that promote this viewpoint. This is not to say that there is no good and evil. I happen to believe there are forces for good and evil in the world that are absolute and discoverable. The problem is that the evil side understands our desire to separate right from wrong and plays a very clever deception by creating the appearance of a battlefront, which attracts us. We, as evil’s enemies, then spend our time fighting each other, each convinced that we are in the right, but essentially distracted from the real battlefront where there are precious few for a defence.

We spend such a great deal of effort to locate and eliminate the evil that is coming at us from the outside that, ironically, we neglect what is on the inside; for it is this internal struggle that is the “real” fight here. We can garner all the notoriety, wealth, status, and accolades the world has to offer, but we have lost utterly if we have lost the battle over self. If we are ever to gain ground in the battle against the social ills of this country, we must understand that questions and debates thrown around us by the media are largely irrelevant.

To illustrate what I am talking about, let’s take this popular subject of debate: When is a fetus ‘alive’? For many, this is the crucial point of contention that governs their opinion on the legalization of abortion. Brilliant minds on both sides of the issue have written eloquent arguments to one end or the other. Sometimes even God is invoked, complete with biblical citations. This is all a very interesting thought exercise, but even a casual observer can take a step back and see what everyone (including God) really wants. And that is this: We want to not have worry about abortion at all. That is to say: in a world patterned after godliness, there would be no rape, no incest, no unwed mothers, no unwanted babie; instead there would be chastity, self-discipline, patience, kindness, and courage. Therefore, there would be no band-aid called “abortion” invented to clean up after the lost battles of self that litter the country. When is a fetus alive? It’s irrelevant. Don’t let the question distract you from the real battle- the inside battle for your own self.

In several instances, Jesus Christ talked about these false outer battles and the true inner battles. I will bring up a three mentions in particular:

  • Matthew 15:8-9 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
  • Matthew 16:12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.*
  • Matthew 23: 27-28 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

To paraphrase, there is a lot of self-righteous rhetoric fueling the liberal and conservatives agendas. While all of this rhetoric sounds pretty and makes the speaker look like they are on high moral ground, in reality the speakers are simply pushing their own opinions and ideas which they have invented themselves in favor of their “cause”, whatever that may be. Worse, the speakers often do not live up to the ideals they espouse, nor do their cutting words do much to help anyone else to live up to those ideals.

In the mean time, the object that God desires is largely neglected in these public battles. That object is also given by Jesus:

Matthew 23:26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (emphasis added)

If we can take a moment to really believe this- if we can be momentarily convinced it is the inner battle that is so important, then we will begin to understand something momentous: Personal moral purity is cure we seek for the ills, heartache, and suffering of society. There is real power that comes from morals written in the heart; more power than a picket line, a gun, public ranting, torture, or anything else that people can contrive to force their man-made ideas upon others.

If we seek resolution in the abortion debate, we must seek not to support abortion, nor to eradicate abortion. We must seek instead to eliminate the very need for abortion, for as long as that need, or even the perception of that need exists, we will lose the battle no matter what side we have chosen. And worse, that battle will work against humankind and will only serve the side of evil.

* To understand this reference, it is important to know that the Pharisees and Sadducees were the conservatives and liberals of their time, respectively. Therefore Jesus was warning the apostles to avoid the traditional dogmatic battles between liberals and conservatives, as both of them were spiritually dangerous.

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