Abortion, the bible and the neccesity of moral imagination


Christian fundamentalism teaches that the Bible has the solutions to our moral dilemmas. Its silence on abortion suggests otherwise

Abortion has emerged as one of the central concerns of politically engaged Christians around the world.

Given this you might reasonably assume that this is a topic on which the Bible would say a lot. You’d be wrong. You might also imagine that it would be clear on this subject. But you’d also be wrong about that.

No less a source than a Papal encyclical states that the “Sacred Scripture never address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it.” Now to be fair this is less of an issue for Catholics who draw authority not only from the Bible but also their own tradition.

However, for pro-life evangelicals this matter is (or at least should be) critical. So what results is a hunt through the Bible for evidence that a foetus is alive and therefore covered by the prohibition on killing. And the results are some of the most contrived readings of biblical texts imaginable. So for example, the fact that the personal pronoun ‘you’ is used to refer to a foetus in Jeremiah 1:5. This not make a whole lot of sense. The passage reads “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” So the the subject of the sentence is called ‘you’ even before he was formed in the womb. So if we were to apply this approach consistently then that would imply life began before conception. That is not to say that there is an incompatibility between being Christian and pro-life. It’s just that you have to make that decision based on things outside the Bible.

Which begs the question: if the Bible can’t answer a contemporary moral problem as widespread and important as abortion then doesn’t that make fundamentalism inadequate. It’s central conceit is that one ‘should just read the bible.’ But the question of abortion demonstrates at the very least the Bible needs considerable interpretation. And on some important questions it may be silent. Thus going beyond the Bible and deploying your reason and your instincts is essential for Christians. The Bible must be the launch pad for our moral imagination, not it’s boundary fence. The Bible should be the centre of our moral imagination rather than it’s outer limit.

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