When Neighbors Begin

Rachel Held Evans recently wrote a number of things about our public debates about contraception, and it is not my purpose to get into all that, not even to defend the admirable epithet Uncle Sugar. But she did say something near the end of her piece that I wanted to comment on because I think it is an example of how easy it is to take our increased scientific knowledge about human reproduction and apply it in precisely the wrong direction. She said this:

“The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects hundreds of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises some questions in my mind about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those ‘natural abortions’ as deaths? Did those zygotes have souls? Will I meet them in heaven? Honestly, the more I learn about the reproductive system, the harder it becomes for me to adamantly insist that I know for sure the exact moment when life begins. And it’s even harder for me to insist that everyone else agree.”

But I don’t think this is the right conclusion to draw from our increased knowledge of the human reproductive system. It delights me that God brings all the great questions of life and death down to the razor thin issues. It delights me that there are human beings created in the image of the most high God who could fit on the head of a pin and not fall off. From the vantage point of the Almighty, the rest of us are not that much bigger. So every fertilized human egg will live forever, and every unfertilized egg won’t.

Put another way, a poet, one of your own, has said, “a person’s a person no matter how small.” The size of these tiny people only affects the clarity of the situation if we define the humanity of others on the basis of our limited eyesight. But why is the question of a soul connected to size, as though the naked eye were in charge of these things? Once the DNA strand is established, we can say any number of things about this person that we cannot say at all before that point, whether we are talking about about sperm or eggs. We can now say, for example, “it’s a girl,” or “blue eyes,” or “black skin.”

So yes, we count natural abortions as deaths. Yes, zygotes have souls. Yes, we will meet them in Heaven, provided we get there.

We live in a fallen world, and consequently there are natural abortions as a result. We also live in a world where children in the third trimester die. We live in a world where newborn children die. We all die because we are sons of Adam. Nature is not the standard because nature suffers under this bondage to decay, and will continue to do so until the sons of God are manifested to the world.

We have a world full of human beings here, and we are commanded to respect the image of God in them. God — in accordance with His good pleasure — decided to assemble each one of these human beings out of materials that did not used to be human beings. He made Adam out of dirt. He made Eve out of a rib that used to be dirt. He made Cain and Abel out of pears that grew on the trees to the east of Eden.
What this means is that we have to trust God, and do so while we are loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This means we have to trust the will of God.

We have human beings here now, and we honor the image of God in them. These human beings are called, in biblical terminology, our neighbor.

So let’s walk it back. “Who is my neighbor?” — that’s a question that lawyers love to ask, and which Jesus answered for us. When did they become our neighbor? Yesterday? How about last week? Jump to the other end of this thought experiment, where we can also answer the question confidently. My neighbor is thirty years old, and I am thirty. Was that person my neighbor fifty years ago? How about a week later than that? Moving in from both directions, there is only one plausible moment for us to identify the creation of my neighbor.

He became my neighbor the very instant his father became his father. He became my neighbor the moment his mother conceived him. He became my neighbor when his God became his God. Let us honor him as such.

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Matthew N. Petersen
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Matthew N. Petersen

I agree with you, but the following question has been bugging me for a while: What do you think of chimeras? Did one of the children “eat” as it were, the other? And which one survives? Or should we just say “I don’t and can’t know, God will sort it out.”

J
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J

“He made Cain and Abel out pears that grew on the trees to the east of Eden.” Am I missing part of the Bible?

Matthew N. Petersen
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Matthew N. Petersen

He means the matter that constituted their bodies originally came from plants.

Moor
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Moor

Doug, RHE can’t very well headline a GLBT gathering and then turn around take a stand on what the media considers a right-wing political issue.  Her base would turn on her, and her next book, “The Year of Living Rhythmically: Biblical Dance in the Public Square” wouldn’t make the best-seller list.

Dan Glover
Guest

Also, when natural abortions occur in a fallen world that are not a result of a poor lifestyle choice (drugs, alchohol, etc.) or any conscious action on the part of the mother or anyone else, in other words, when they just happen, that’s up to God.  It is part of his inscrutable, secret sovereign will.  We may or may not know why one day.  But this is very different from someone aborting a tiny zygote on purpose through the use of known abortifacients or through an operation.  In those cases, the person is transgressing God’s revealed moral will.  The term “natural abortion” kind… Read more »

Dan Glover
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Forgot to mention, “…a poet, one of your own, has said, “a person’s a person no matter how small.””  Best line in the post.

Kamilla
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Kamilla

Doug,   I’ll confess I was about to claim credit, but you went in a different direction. I’m more concerned about the medical impossibility if her claim in the first part of the paragraph. Namely, the “fact” that, “a woman’s body naturally rejects hundreds of fertilized eggs in her lifetime …”   Just run the numbers on that real quick.  I’m taking “hundreds” to mean more than 200, which might more commonly be referred to as “a couple hundred”. Let’s say it’s 300 according to her claim. This would require that a woman be having sex during her fertile time… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

I have heard variations on Rachel’s argument from all my pro-abort acquaintances, and the lack of logic drives me crazy.  I appreciated Kamilla’s calculation which I would not have thought of on my own, but even if we granted that there are huge number of spontaneous abortions in the first trimester, so what?  Presumably we are all going to die.  If it is all right to terminate a pregnancy because God does that, why isn’t it equally all right to kill one another?   Can you imagine a serial killer telling the court:  Well, God has killed a whole bunch more… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Rachel Held Evans wrote: “Honestly, the more I learn about the reproductive system, the harder it becomes for me to adamantly insist that I know for sure the exact moment when life begins.” This statement has an initial suggestion of humility, but it evaporates when we see the conclusion Evans wants to draw from it.  If we are genuinely unsure of the exact moment that human life begins, on what basis do we conclude that it is not human life, and destroy it?  Isn’t that careless and arbitrary?  Doesn’t prudence dictate that if we are unsure, we must presume human… Read more »

Arthur Sido
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As with most of her inane arguments, this one makes little sense (but probably helps to sell books) By her logic, since all people die anyway who are we to question the killing of old people? Or disabled people? Or the long term unemployed? When we devalue human life because it ends in death anyway we open the door to all manner of insanity.

bethyada
Member

I have now read the article and the rabbit trail it linked to. I agree that much of Evan’s piece was poor, yet the very issue that you pulled her up on I have some sympathy for. I think that science does raise questions and the one she raised is worth consideration, even if it turns out she is incorrect.   //   I agree that intentional causing death does not get a pass because unintentional death has higher numbers, something many people fail to see. This may indeed relate to the fallen world. Yet can we be so certain that fertilisation… Read more »

bethyada
Member

Just to throw another spanner in. I now think that the combined contraceptive pill does not prevent implantation. Happy to expand why if necessary. If this is the case then it is an acceptable option for Christians. Post coitus hormonal methods are less clear.

Thursday
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Thursday

I realize that Evans’ comments were a good jumping off point for this post, but I look with great relief toward far fewer posts on her from Evangelical bloggers since  her deliberate self-distancing from an Evangelical identity and her explicit endorsement of (monogamous) gay sexual relationships.  Repentance would have been better certainly, but this was the next best thing.  Now that she’s Just Another Liberal Christian, I hope we will have the good sense to more or less ignore her.

Michael Duenes
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Concur with Thursday wholeheartedly!

Amanda Wells
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Amanda Wells

Amen, Thursday. Ignore her more. Pearls before swine, etc. 

Robert
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Robert

About fifteen years ago, I learned that about fifty percent of all pregnancies miscarry in the first twenty four hours.

Jane
Member

In addition to all the other problems others are pointing out, that line of thought is just so time-bound. Only in the 20th-21st century would the point that “a lot of X age people die” seem remotely reasonable as an argument for why we shouldn’t have much concern over the death age of X age people. Two hundred years ago, lots and lots of kids didn’t make it to their 5th birthdays, but no one of good will argued that it didn’t much matter if a three-year-old was smothered by an unhappy parent. Only in a modern world where we… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Side question: Why must “natural” abortions be seen as part of the curse?  Or death by old age, for that matter?  What’s “cursish” about sleeping and waking up in heaven?

Katecho
Member

Awhile back I learned that 8 out of 7 people don’t use statistics correctly.

Mark B. Hanson
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Mark B. Hanson

A Back in 2001 my old friend Michael West testified before the Senate that it was OK to experiment on embryos before they were (I believe) 14 days old, because until that time they could split into twins, and thus could not define a unique individual.  This date of demarcation was to him the difference between “human cellular life” and “human life”. Of course, maybe it was a coincidence that that time period was optimal for producing embryonic stem cells and doing nuclear transfers, which was his business…

mekt75
Member

Eric. the final enemy is death

melody
Member
melody

Aren’t you glad that we can put our trust in what a scientist says? It is so wonderful to know that all scientists (except “Creation” scientists) are so morally pure that they would never lie; never stretch the truth; never make something up; and never tell us anything we would not want to hear.  And it is especially comforting to know that when they claim ‘peer review’ that we can experience absolute truth.  Okay, sarcasm done!  RHE is the perfect liberal and this is why she is so popular in Christian circles.  She exudes an air of authority because A)… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Lazarus did not die.  He slept,  as do all God’s saints.  Including the aborted ones.  This kind of death is not due to the curse.  Would we have expected Adam to stay in the garden forever?

Jane
Member

Eric, why not? He had perfect communion with God and regular access to His special presence, in an uncorrupted body. What could bodily death “add” to that?

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Hi Jane!  Will you be better off in heaven than Adam was in the garden?  Any chance you’ll be deceived up there, and get a hankering for an apple?

Michael Hutton
Guest

As well say, “The longer I work in aged care the more people I see just stop breathing.  There’s so many that I can’t see the difference between that and me ghosting through the corridors at night with a pillow making this their last breath.”   An unrelated issue.  I had never heard of RHE until evangelicals reacted against her in blogs and things.  It seems to me most of her press and her “street cred” comes from this evangelical reaction.  I don’t see much that would stand on its own. I wonder when it would be good for evangelicals… Read more »

HHH
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HHH

bethyada- I’m not sure where you researched your information on the combination birth control pill not preventing implantation, but the best scientific evidence that I have in my research as a physician shows that the estrogen component of the combination pill prevents ovulation except for about 10 % of the time.  This is where other mechanisms of action come into play.  Progesterone thins the endometrial lining, therefore making it less fertile soil shall we say.  Also cervical mucus is thickened, this is proposed to inhibit sperm transport, but really does not do so.  Because the rate of birth controls efficacy… Read more »

bethyada
Member

From Endotext.com

Progestational effects:
• Inhibition of ovulation by suppressing luteinizing hormone (LH);
• Thickening of cervical mucus, thus hampering the transport of sperm;
• Possible inhibition of sperm capacitation;
• Hampered implantation by the production of decidualized endometrium with exhausted and atrophic glands.

Estrogenic effects include:
• Partial inhibition of ovulation in part by the suppression of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), depending on dose;
• Alteration of secretions and cellular structures of the endometrium within the uterus.

bethyada
Member

HHH, I understand the theory or the combined pill stopping implantation (and used to hold that position) ubt on further reading and consideration I am not so certain. The combined pill has both oestrogen and a progestins. See above for claimed effects which includes alteration in the endometrium as you say. The main effect however is almost certainly related to the alteration of the FSH and LH at the level of the pituitary. This prevents the formation of a follicle thus no egg.    //    When a woman gets pregnant on the contraceptive pill it means she has produced an egg,… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

One hallmark of the devil is his lack of creativity and imagination. The christian sees a million frozen embryos and says, “How do we give these people a start?”; the secular mind merely seeks to dispose of them.

Bernard
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Bernard

typo: “about about”

Jane
Member

Eric, obviously the resurrected state of our hope is better in that respect than Adam’s pre-fallen state. However, there seems to be absolutely no reason to think that the separation of body from soul and the decay of Adam’s good body into refuse would have been the path to incorruptibility, absent the Fall. Adam was created as body and soul and the separation of his two parts for no discernibly necessary purpose hardly seems “good.”

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Hi Jane.  So I’m hearing your position as = Adam’s pre-fall condition was NOT the final condition he expected have (at least, if he knew all the particulars).  You describe his final state as incorruptibility.   But you say the path there has now, sadly, had to change, given his sin.  He & we now have to endure the bad & unnecessary consequence of the decomposition of our bodies (their “decay into refuse”), plus the bad & unnecessary separation of our souls from our bodies.  Am I doing your position justice?

Jane
Member

That seems a fair summary. Also given that scripture calls death and enemy and never calls it good, and that both “death” language and “fallen asleep” language are both applied to the physical death of believers in the New Testament, it just does not seem that there is any room to call death anything other than an evil, although obviously, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, for believers it is an evil that has been turned into the pathway to the glorified state.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Bodily decomposition does not have to carry those negative associations, if caretaking is done well.  Besides — it’s by God’s design.   And separation of soul from body is such a wild and inscrutable concept that I can’t understand it enough to see the evil in it.  I assume for the separate-ee, it is a fleeting if at all perceptible state.  What I hear you saying is that it all just feels yucky.  I get that, what with all how we’ve been taught and with all the sinful caretaking going on.  I propose you see anteaters in the garden.  And so… Read more »

Jane
Member

Separating a man into parts contrary to his created nature doesn’t just “feel” yucky to me, it IS yucky, as I see it. And when I talk about decomposition, I’m not talking about the “yuck” factor of breaking down, I’m talking about the body being created to be a part of a living man, not something else. It doesn’t matter whether I perceive the process to be yucky, it’s that it defies the way God made man for a man’s body to become a piece of a plant, rather than continuing to be a constituent of a man. My argument… Read more »

Emily
Guest

I wish you would respond to some of the other points she raised in the article, Mr. Wilson, namely about privilege and poverty.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

So are we talking design flaw?  Surely the Big Man came up with this separate parts capability — but only a curse measure?  You think maybe that “from dust you were created” originally also meant “and from dust you can’t be separated”?

Jane
Member

No, I’m thinking NOT design flaw. Never intended to be “two things,” really, just one thing with two parts. But then the curse comes, and splits us. Kind of like divorce — it’s always the case that a husband and wife CAN be yanked apart, and that’s not a “flaw” in marriage, nor was the separability of man from woman put there so that down the road there could be divorces; rather, man and woman being separable is there for wholly other reasons. Man is body and soul for wholly other reasons than the the possibility of yanking us apart.… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

The natural loss of a child in the womb is called a miscarriage, not an abortion.  Let’s not start using the two interchangeably b/c they are not synonymous. A miscarriage is calculated into God’s plan and is an unfortunate result of the Fall of Man.  An abortion is the willful destruction of a human life in the womb, and is in fact sin. Thankfully for us, Jesus Christ died for all sins and will forgive any sinners who have done that or any other sin if they will leave their life of sin; cease to let their mind be bent… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

So your saying the soil part was God’s preplanning for obsolescence that would come into play once His curse took hold?  Soil = potential corruptibility?  So in heaven, no soil basis needed since no curse will be in our future.  But to answer your questions: I wouldn’t put it as “reunited with a physical body” but rather united with an ultraphysical body.  So I suppose his resurrected self would have looked exactly like it looks now — not disembodied.  So why “junk” a perfectly good body?  For something better, more bodiful, more capable, more beautiful, not so limited.  Example: in heaven,… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Of His world, including our soilish selves, He never reneged the given goodness.  He cursed us by holding back the earth’s giving nature, making it yield thorn with the berry, cancer with sweetness.

Kamilla
Guest
Kamilla

The proper medical term for a miscarriage is a spontaneous abortion.  There are at least half a dozen different terms modifying aborton in the medical literature. 

cg
Guest
cg

“..Honestly, the more I learn about the reproductive system, the harder it becomes for me to adamantly insist that I know for sure the exact moment when life begins. And it’s even harder for me to insist that everyone else agree.”
If she/we can’t know for sure the exact moment life begins, would we not have a responsibility to default to the first and earliest possibility? The being conception…… If we can’t know, then we can’t logically apply an acceptable start date to life other than conception. She makes your point for you.

Erik H.
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Erik H.

Eric S., 1) What about Lazarus’ seconds death? 2) What do you do with Gen. 2:17, 3:19 & 22, and 5:5? I agree that death is different for believers. Not just in how we view it (with hope & faith like Paul) and where it leads to (intermediate state of “Heaven” then eternity in the new Heavens & new Earth), but also in how we experience it the moment it comes. I don’t know that I understand it, but I take Jesus’ words from John 6:48-51 very seriously. Though he may only be talking about “the second death” I think… Read more »

Sam
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Sam

Let me preface this by saying that I am very willing to be proven wrong. As pro-life Christians were are very comfortable with the idea that life begins at conception. Where do we actually get this notion though? Can anyone point me to scripture that definitively proves that idea? (There’s “formed in the womb language, but where’s the “at the instant my mother’s egg was fertilized” language?) Why are we so convinced that life begins at conception at not at implantation? To me, as much as it pains me to agree with RHE, the idea that life begins at implantation… Read more »