Thursday, March 24, 2005

The "fetishization" of life

Andrew Sullivan has a good post on the religious right's promotion of what they're now calling a "culture of life". I've been reluctant to write on this as I am not religious and therefore not really in a position to critique how religions define themselves and apply their beliefs to the world -- but Andrew is religious, so he's well qualified. I think he really nails it when he calls the absolutist stance on Terry Schiavo -- and I would add the absolutist stance on abortion -- as not respect for life but a "fetishization" of it.

It's terribly banal to point out that activist religious groups could be activists for other political issues, like health care or poverty issues, but I do think it's reasonable to ask why the activist religious right is so obsessed with influencing the political system with regard to these two issues, and framing them as defining a culture of life, while they show little interest in exerting their influence regarding issues that could affect life as it is actually lived by most people. It's not that these are unworthy issues, or even that the right's positions are completely unreasonable -- for example, I can respect that religiously-motivated people may think it's their duty to defend the interests of those who cannot defend themselves -- but I do find them strangely unable to see what I think are the obvious gray areas that abortion and the Schiavo case present. On abortion, for example, I think most people understand intuitively that a 1-month old fetus is not really quite as compellingly a baby as an 8-month old fetus (or unborn baby). Indeed, I think the right did implicitly acknowledge this in their arguments for banning late-term abortion. Frequently you would hear right-wing supporters of this legislation say, well, even abortion activists should realize that late-term abortions are repugnant. Why would they argue this, unless we can understand somehow that, while a 1-month fetus is not nothing, it isn't really as clearly a baby as an 8-month old fetus. But their absolutist stance, that clearly a 1-month old fetus has rights that are identical to that of the fully-developed mother, suggests a emphasis on defining life as simply a fact of existence, and nothing more.

Couple this with their notable lack of involvement in political issues that affect many more people's lives, and the lives of actual living people, not one-month old undeveloped fetuses, and it's hard not to conclude that they've fetishized life to mean literally, the existence of a living human form, and that this strikes them as the most compelling aspect of a "culture of life".

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