Anti-choice advocates claim the ethical high ground. They continually use language such as “pro-life,” call a fetus a “baby,” and proclaim their devotion to the well-being of the unborn.  They contrast this with the heartlessness of ‘choice.’ Even when we disagree it is tempting to treat them as acting in good faith.

Some are, I think particularly among Catholics. Some have a record of caring for the less fortunate that mirrors their opposition to abortion as they understand it.

But the anti-choice movement is not dominated by Catholics.  Something else is going on, the opposite of what most of us would call a moral position.

Clues to that “something else”

Anti-choice  ‘pregnancy centers’ in Virginia and Ohio routinely lie to the women visiting them, even over issues unconnected to abortion, such as birth control.   If they truly cared about ending abortion this record of lies is strange. Contraception “dramatically”reduces abortion rates. 

Every study of which I am aware indicates states whose citizens most accept 
anti-choice positions and so would presumably be concerned about the health of defenseless
‘human beings’ within a woman, spend far less
providing prenatal care for mothers as do
other states.

  Think Progress reports the Texas Senate drafted a budget restructuring the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program to prevent Planned Parenthood from participating. Abortion opponents have been pushing for the change. Planned Parenthood officials report they serve about 10 percent of the low-income patients participating in this program. They are women disproportionately in the most remote parts  of the state. Planned Parenthood reports more than 3,000 Texas women relied on their clinics for cancer screenings last year alone.

Anti-choice states across the country lack of concern with fetal well-being is accompanied by a similar lack of concern for children’s health and nutrition, as well as lack of concern for women’s health in general, Even before their attack on their cancer screening, Texas’ anti-choice advocates sacrificed the health of many poor women to fulfill their agenda. 

They call this “pro-life?” 

Enlarging the context

Anti-choice leaders clearly do not care much about new borns nor are they particularly “pro-life.”   Their behavior fits a different pattern.  To understand this pattern we need to see the anti-choice movement in a larger context.

  • That part of the country with the most opposition to women’s right to determine whether they give birth is also the highest in its support for torture. Torture was designed to get confessions, regardless of whether they were true or not; a point consistently ignored by its advocates. Torture also violates Jesus’s explicit teachings, and yet most of these people claim to be Christians.

  Pro-life or pro-something else?

          • A few years back many of these same people raised objections to giving girls the HPV vaccine despite the fact it would protect them from cervical cancers acquired through intercourse, and so save their lives. Opponents argued mistakenly the vaccine would promote premarital sex.  Preventing sex between teens was more important than saving lives.

Pro-life or pro-something else?

How do we make sense of this and much similar behavior?  Here is a clue.

Southern Democrat-turned-Republican Zell Miller, when speaking at a recent Republican presidential convention, charged  abortion with contributing to our military’s ‘manpower shortage’. More babies are needed to grow up to become soldiers.  Miller added more Americans  would also exist to do the minimally paid jobs Mexicans now seek, solving the immigration problem. More soldiers and cheaper labor.  Both subordinate people to power, the first to the power of the gun and the second to the power of money.

Miller’s argument was essentially identical to those of totalitarian states who outlawed abortion.  For example, Nicolae Ceausescu, Communist Romania’s late dictator, outlawed abortion in order to increase the country’s population. Like Miller the issue was not the well being of a fetus, but rather service to power. Romania needed more bodies to be ‘great,’ a position and logic identical to conservatives like Miller.

But let’s look deeper still. 

The monster at the surface

            Miller, Texas, and the core of anti-choice culture are in or from the South a region  poisoned and shaped far more than the North by slavery.  The North abolished slavery peacefully, as a result of the gradual penetration into its society of the logic behind our Declaration of Independence.  As Founding Father John Jay of New York explained:  

Prior to the great Revolution. . . . our people had been so long accustomed to the convenience and practice of having slaves, that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it.  Some liberal and conscientious men had indeed by their conduct and writings, drawn the lawfulness of slavery into question. . . . Their doctrines prevailed by almost insensible degrees, and was like the little lump of leaven which was put into three measures of meal.

The South traveled the opposite path.  Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s Vice-President, argued 

The prevailing view entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen of the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature, that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically.  It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. . . . These ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong.  They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races….

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.

Thus our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Most anti-choice culture has its roots in the culture of slavery, a culture so committed to the domination and use of some by others it even made it a part of its religion. As Stephens explained, those opposed to slavery, “were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.” That is why today we have religions such as the Southern Baptists, who split from Northern Baptists over the issue. The same kind of split  happened with Methodist churches.

Southern slavery ultimately had deeper roots than race.  Great numbers of the Irish had once been sold in the New World as slaves. Slavery was one expression of something that lay at the heart of agricultural civilization before the coming of the American Revolution. I explore this in detail in Faultlines,   and will describe it briefly here.

The monster under the surface

The modern world inherited institutions and ways of thinking rooted in a very different world.   Agriculture gave birth to civilization, but at a high price.  Women may have discovered agriculture, but it ultimately subjugated them and developed the militaristic values needed to enforce domination of not only women, but most everyone else. This was universally the case in long established agricultural civilizations. This suffering and domination was legitimated by dominator Gods, reaching its most extreme expression in monopolistic monotheism. 

Early America’s situation was uniquely different. Indian populations had been vastly reduced by diseases followed by theft of their land and sometimes genocide.  New settlers found unoccupied land.  Particularly in the North these circumstances created a society of many independent small farmers with no mass of poverty stricken peasants. They were also accustomed to considerable self-governance, a reality the American Revolution strengthened. The world’s first liberal democracy arose, and with it the first big challenge to a set of values thousands of years old. The men who led this found their philosophical and moral foundations in the Pagan past, although the popular culture was more Christian.

Had the traditional course of events unfolded, increasing population would have gradually decreased the size of most farms while farmers’ debts led to the increasing consolidation of land holdings.  Descendents of small independent farmers would have become a large peasant class ruled by an oligarchy or aristocracy of landowners.  Jefferson was so worried about this eventual fate that it was one reason he sought the Louisiana Purchase. It would provide enough farm land to put that inevitable outcome off for generations.

But this time it did not happen, for two reasons: the rise of science and the rise of a modern economy increasingly not rooted in land ownership.

             Starting first in England. (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations first appeared in 1776!) the modern economy soon spread to the US and elsewhere, breaking the agricultural dynamic of prosperity leading to peonage. At the same time,  as Jefferson observed,   “the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god.”

Modern societies and their ideals of equality transformed the human world as deeply as had the earlier transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. But the new order inherited ways of thought and customs rooted in the old, and in many ways still suffers from this disconnect.

Compared to the South, the North was able to free itself from many agriculturally rooted hierarchical values, (though some resurfaced in modern guise in industrial employment relations). But the South chose another path, ultimately turning its back on modernity, embracing values that could never have produced the modern world. It is their hatred of liberal modernity and desire to preserve this old order that is the root motivation for what we suffer today.

Degenerating into nihilism

As a force for anything positive, the agricultural hierarchical way of life has reached its end. I believe this explains why the most extreme advocates for subordinating women and honoring hierarchy are so lacking in intellectual honesty, moral decency, or concern for rational argument. Their tradition has run dry intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Their own program being ultimately sterile, they define it by opposing what ever the new society favors. We are seeing this today when Obama and moderns argue we should enforce vaccinations to prevent terrible childhood diseases, they are now often adopting the position that there is a genuine scientific ‘debate’ over vaccinations.  People should not be forced to have their children take them.  If Obama and the Democrats had opted for choice, they would have opted for enforcing vaccinations.

We saw this a few months ago in their reaction to ebola, where only two Americans died in the US, and the rest recovered.  Yet in this case medical science was ignored while wild rumors and fears were spread by the right wing media and politicians.

This is also why they reject so much of the rest of science, as in their espousal of creationism  and denial of ecological and climate science.  Small wonder that a 2009 Pew Research Center report  found only 6% of scientists identified as Republicans and 9% called themselves ‘conservatives.’

This is also why they seek the continued militarization of the police  despite their contradictory claim government cannot be trusted. In truth, like their different responses to ebola and vaccination, their reactions make no sense except as opposing whatever those they hate are favoring.

This is also why they support making higher education out of reach of most young Americans, reversing the realities of the last decades of the twentieth century. The GI Bill gave enormous support to our then growing middle class and enriched the lives of millions.  Republican governors today are attacking their states’ institutions of higher learning almost across the board.  Darling of the anti-choice crowd, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the latest, seeking to cut higher education in his state by $300 million.  Education flattens hierarchy. 

But most fundamentally they attack the feminine values that undermine the pathological masculinity they seek to perpetuate and strengthen.  This is the deepest reason they attack every late twentieth century development that empowered women. Subordinating women to their biology provides a firm support for a society of hierarchy and domination.  In addition, those beneath the elite but not at the very bottom will always have someone they can dominate.  This strategy worked with poor white men in Dixie who, no matter how exploited they felt, they in turn could dominate Blacks and women.

The magickal dimension

Thousands of years of making domination and hierarchy something divinely ordained has generated an enormous concentration of psychic energy, a Power grown strong through centuries of domination. It is now fighting against its greatest earthly challenge. I would not call it a deity. It is a powerful thought form  of our collective creation.  I think the energies that fed so sumptuously off thousands of years of domination, and most recently flourished on that generated by totalitarian states, are seeking new human hosts. Their ideal would live in the strongest nation and already see the world in terms of domination and subordination, and worship a deity because it was “all powerful” not because it was good. When power is the defining divine quality, Power is what they truly worship.  This division between the human heart and worship of Power is the root of the struggle being waged today for America’s soul.

We Pagans also stand at a crossroads.  We can look backwards and model our practices on those of agricultural societies which practiced slavery, honored the warrior above those who produced, were hierarchical, and in most cases while still honoring Goddesses, had already dramatically reduced the status of women from what they had been in horticultural and hunter gatherer times. Back then those societies were the leading edge of human potential, and so created much of great value. Back then.

We can also look forward, taking inspiration from what those societies achieved and learning from their wisdom, but integrating those lessons into modernity.  The modern world’s appreciation of equality, love of nature for its own sake, and the rise of feminism in society and religion point us in that direction.  

It is symbolically appropriate that the Church of All Worlds  was inspired in part by a science fiction novel. It is a sign of how well we fit into the modern world that many Pagans are deeply engaged in information technology and the sciences.  The promise of NeoPaganism is its opportunity to bring the best of the Pagan past forward to enrich the modern world and hopefully heal its relationship with Nature while affirming and strengthening the rise of the feminine to equal or perhaps more than equal status with the masculine.

As we do our strongest and most committed opponents will be those looking backwards and seeking to re-establish societies of hierarchy and domination with their war on the feminine and women their most committed target.