So I made the mistake of thinking that everybody knows what the bible has to say about when life begins and when life ends. Because it's pretty clear. It's so clear that we have thousands of years of poetry from christian communities reinforcing the point of view. It's part of funeral liturgy. It's part of song, and story, and even pop culture. It's laid out just as clear as anything could be.
But no, apparently it is not widely known that the bible does not ever state that life begins at conception. In fact, it states that life enters and leaves the body through the breath. In with your very first breath, out with your very last.
I thought everyone knew that fundamentalists were not just wrong about science, but also about the bible and theology, as well. But apparently, this isn't common knowledge. So here it is, a full breakdown on how the bible very clearly states that life begins at breath, not at conception.
Okay, first off, this is so important a theological question to an ancient society (When does life enter the body?) that it's laid out right there in Genesis:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
So breath is life, and when life is breathed into the earthen vessel that is a human body, it comes alive. "A living soul" as the King James Version gives it. Talking about souls here can be problematic, so lets just talk about life.
There's a lot of earthen vessel allusions in the bible, calling god the potter, that forms clay vessels (our bodies) into which god places our souls. This was always meant to be a metaphor. Indeed, this is rather problematic if you take it literally, because it means that god is a shoddy potter. How many people are born with defects or serious medical conditions? And what about the transgender person? If you take this stuff literally, it means that god intentionally formed a female body, and put a male soul into that body, or vice versa. This is yet another reason why God itself says in the bible (see below) that you shouldn't take scripture literally. But back to more scripture about how everything fundamentalists believe is theologically wrong.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
Gods breath makes everything live, because life is by definition the breath of god within living things.
9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army...
13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.
Ezekiel 37 9-10, 13-14
Once again, the breath of god is life itself, and in this vision from Ezekiel, life is placed back into bodies which were dead, and they come back to life. It's all some kind of vision though, the bible doesn't actually claim that Ezekiel brought an army back from the dead. But it does lay out that life is breath.
If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.
Job 34: 14-15
Once again, breath is life, and without breath, human bodies would "return to dust."
And then, as an aside because "Everybody Knows" that breath is life, Ezekiel introduces the words of god by saying:
Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:
Breath IS life. That first breath is when the soul enters the body, when an earthen vessel becomes alive.
So we know, pretty clearly, that life is breath. From dust ye came, to dust ye shall return, as it is breath and the presence of spirit of god within breath that makes us live.
And something that most people don't know is that the bible contains an abortion ritual.
Yes, you read that right. The bible contains an ancient ritual designed to cause abortion. It's in Numbers 5:11-31, and it involves forcing a woman accused of adultery to drink "bitter water" designed to cause a miscarriage. Her belly will swell, and her "thigh" will rot. Thigh of course being a priestly euphemism for ones reproductive organs. It's known as the ordeal of the bitter water or the trial of jealousy, so named because it is initiated not by the woman, but by her jealous husband.
Furthermore, the bible lays out a clear punishment for those who cause an abortion outside of this ritual:
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
The fine for causing an abortion is a fine of property damage, to be paid to the woman's husband
. Why property damage? Because a fetus isn't alive until it has breathed, according to the bible. But if the woman is injured, or dies in the process, then the guy who hit her will be injured or killed in equal measure, an eye for an eye, according to the ancient law.
It can be said with absolute certainty that ancient scripture does not consider a zygote or a fetus even to be alive, because it has not yet drawn breath.
The counterargument is very, very weak, in comparison. It's all semantics. They cannot lay out a consistent theme within the bible on this topic. Instead, they pick a bunch of random verses, throw them together, and hope that no one notices that none of them really make sense in their context. But here, as I have laid out, there is a consistent theme that breath is life. A thing without breath is not alive. A fetus does not have breath, therefor it is not life according to the bible.
On a final note, I know this community well enough to know that someone must be asking "So do you really believe that it's acceptable for the intentional or accidental death of a fetus to be considered property damage and a fine paid to the FATHER?"
No, I absolutely do not think that's acceptable. I find the idea that a woman could have been made to drink poison because her husband was jealous absolutely repulsive. Nor do I think we should try to impose rules for a 5000 year old theocracy on modern people. The only reason to study this scripture is to understand the context of the ancient Jewish people whose religion inspired and laid the foundation for ours. Further than that, I am of the opinion that Christians should be in communication with Rabbinical Judaism, because there are centuries of writings kept by that community that could enrich our understanding of ancient scripture.
That being said: I do not believe that scripture is holy. I don't believe that it is perfect. I do not believe that it is free from errors. I believe, in the words of the founder of my particular sect of Christianity, John Wesley, that scripture is "Sufficient."
The bible is sufficient.
According to scripture, even GOD HIMSELF points out that "You can't take this stuff literally."
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Add that to the quotes from Job about how it's really difficult to understand all this stuff. The bible repeatedly implies in the old and new testaments that it is a metaphorical and esoteric work, and then the voice of God outright says so in the new testament.
As far as scripture's go, the bible suffices. It's pretty okay. It has some pretty major problems if you take it literally, because it describes a code of laws designed to hold a society together in absolutely barbaric conditions, but if we're being honest here, my proto-celtic ancestors probably weren't any better 5000 years ago. As far as the rest of the stuff in the book, it's got some problems here in there with internal errors and inconsistencies, where it disagrees with itself, especially about women, but overall, it suffices.
It's very, very important to note that the bible is not meant to be the center of the Christian faith. Jesus, and his teachings, are meant to be the center of the Christian faith. So if you run into one of these fundamentalsts who talk about how the bible is the foundation for their faith (rather than Christ) you're dealing with someone that ancient Christians would have considered an idolatrous heretic (read: dangerous moron.)
The bible is a very difficult book to understand and to use because it is not internally consistent, it does not claim to be perfect, and it is mistranslated. So we Methodists have a Method (that's how we got our name) for understanding the world:
So lets use that, what we call the Weslyan Quadrilateral, to think about, oh, the Age of Planet Earth, shall we?
Reason and Experience (through TESTABLE BLEEPING MEASUREMENTS) tell us that the world was not made in seven days, and is in fact, billions of years old.
Tradition tells me that for hundreds of years, human society has been developing wonderful and terrible new technologies using the same methods we use to examine the age of the earth. Tradition tells me that those methods work. The tradition of my denomination of Christianity has been to build schools, to value knowledge, and to support science, to the degree that a Methodist named George Washington Rappalyea was so incensed by a law against the teaching of evolution, that he encouraged his friend John Scopes to challenge the law in that whole monkey trial.
And finally, on the age of the earth, scripture tells me, simply, "I TEACH IN METAPHOR, DUMMY. I'm USEFUL, not PERFECT OR LITERAL."
So on the question of the Age of the Earth, the Weslyan Quadrilateral lays out pretty clearly and pretty easily that A) Science is real and does not teach in esoteric metaphor, and B) the Age of the Earth is whatever science tells us it is, because there can be no logical conflict between a book of esoteric metaphor, and a treatise of testable fact. I mean that. It is mathematically impossible for esoteric metaphor to conflict with testable fact. It's like adding matter and antimatter together. You'll just make a great big damn mess.
A literal reading of the bible is logically inconsistent, both because God says "I teach in metaphor," and because the strongest claim that scripture makes about itself is that it is A) God Breathed, and B) Useful.
And the thing is, if you were paying attention to the first verse we quoted, ADAM was also god-breathed. And look at what happened to him.
Anyone who thinks that the bible is anything more than "useful" needs to go reexamine their life, their beliefs, and the very scriptures they read (which by the way do not even claim to be inerrant, much less perfect.)
To teach creationism in schools therefor is not only a debasement of science, but a violation of MY faith. But fundies find modern mainline Christians to be extremely inconvenient for precisely this reason (we read.)
And we can follow that logical quadrilateral method for theological understanding of nearly any issue. It tells us that women should be treated equally as men in law, in church teachings and hierarchy, and in society. It tells us that LGBT folks should have exactly the same rights as the rest of humanity. It tells us that nuclear weapons are abhorrent, even though there is no mention of nuclear weapons in the bible. It tells us that torture is wrong, even though the bible documents great evils being done to civilians captured in warfare. It tells us that human sexuality is not sinful unless it violates consent. And it tells us that scripture is neither perfect, nor literal.
And while there are people who might dispute my methods and my beliefs within Christianity, and even within Methodism, I'll remind you that the Methodist church is (albiet in the most wishy-washy way possible) committed to guaranteeing that abortions are safe and legal. That's why two official arms of the Methodist church, the GBCS, and the United Methodist Women, are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Also the Methodist Federation for Social Action, which is an unofficial group within the Methodist church that does awesome work.
So that's the scriptural evidence on abortion, and how fundamentalists are wrong from a theological perspective.
Stay tuned for next Wednesday, when I'll write about how the anti-choice viewpoint is completely morally abhorrent from any perspective.
3:21 PM PT: I seriously did not expect a diary on arcane bits of scripture to make it to the reclist, even though I think this point is important, and illuminates an important fact:
The anti-choice movement is uninterested in scripture or ethics, they are interested in controlling women through a series of unamerican, theocractic laws.
Thank you, DailyKos.