“foist: impose an unwelcome or unnecessary thing”
When I was a child I was taught the Christian faith. I’m glad I was. It gave me a basis for my own thinking, a point of reference from which to develop when I grew up. Over the years I weighed what I had been taught against what was proven. In the democratic society of the UK I was able to make up my own mind about what I believed concerning God and life after death – with the added option that I could change my mind at any time.
Moreover, I was not prevented from taking part in ceremonies even if I didn’t subscribe to their basis in faith, nor was I compelled to do so regardless of whether or not they had meaning for me. At no point was I forced, under threat of litigation or torture, to declare something I didn’t believe or to stop practicing something I did. I won’t tell you what my decisions have been, so far, because they are not the subject of this Daily Paradox. At no time has anyone tried to foist a religious belief on me. Fire and brimstone sermons apart, of course! But I quite enjoyed them.
Religious beliefs have their outcomes in behaviour, at least to the extent that humans are able to control themselves or are controlled by law. Certainly there have been, and still are, religions that punish those they regard as infidels. I don’t regard their beliefs as wrong. They are free to believe what they like. I do regard their treatment of unbelievers as unacceptable. If faith is a gift, as we are frequently reminded, it cannot be compelled. You either have the gift or you don’t.
It is therefore little short of incredible that, in the democratic United States, you are permitted to believe what you like but compelled – now by legislation – to behave as though you have a specific religious faith. Nobody likes the concepts of abortion, euthanasia or suicide. Whatever else we believe, we tend to think that life is a wonderful experience and that most of us would rather be alive than dead. But an unborn child’s rights depend on the existence of faith. That faith would be the child’s but for the fact that the foetus has no intellectual or emotional exposure to the subject so far. The parents therefore stand in for the child.
They are absolutely at liberty not to indulge in abortion. Hopefully whatever their decision, it is made in order to provide the best environment for a new baby. If the expected environment is thought to be unsatisfactory it is conceivable that not being born is the best possible outcome. That decision is the parents and nobody else’s. Those who don’t have the gift of faith are entitled to take a view that considers their own interests and the interests of their family and friends as well as those of the infant. It is understandable that this sounds brutal to many people. Life is a fairly brutal business since survival is its fundamental core motivation.
While parents are the people who should decide the issue of a potential abortion, in practice this decision often depends mostly or solely on the mother who is to give birth. The privilege of giving birth is something all women understand. With easy attitudes towards casual sex and often restricted availability to contraception there will inevitably be many occasions when sexual encounter results in pregnancy. As Mother Teresa said ‘there are no unwanted children in the world but there are many unwanted pregnancies’.
The conundrum of the United States is that the world’s No 1 supporter of freedom and choice is making what many will regard as a regressive step to remove these essentials of democracy. Justice is not well served by short-term changes of law on issues as fundamental as these.
And alongside this vitriolic attempt to preserve the assumed interests of the foetus there is an apparent widespread acceptance of the right to allow unstable people to be armed with weapons that blow out the lives of children and adults. Is the right to kill the living more important than the right to prevent a life that might be unsatisfactory?
For those who believe that abortion is wrong, I have every sympathy. There is no simple answer to the rights of an unborn child. Let the anti-abortionists practice their beliefs.
For those who would foist their faith on others, I have no sympathy at all.