My friend Byron brought to my attention the article to which I linked yesterday concerning George Tiller's murder. Concerned that readers may get the misimpression that he agreed with the writer of the piece, he sent me an email unambiguously stating his position. It's a very good summary of what has been the overwhelming pro-life response to this episode, and I want to post it here so that everyone will see it.
As always, you have a knack for getting at important things in ways to make us think. The philosophy teacher in you helps us think through arguments and claims and consequences. Thanks.
Since my name was mentioned as the one who sent you the piece about the ethics of the murder of Tiller, I thought I should say--for the record, since it is such a controversial and weighty matter--that I do not believe that those who follow Jesus should ever take up violence since he plainly taught his followers to be non-violent. Of course I realize that this is in the minority view in church history and although I am not anabaptist, I think the Mennonites and others of that sort get it right on this one. Christians must "overcome evil with good" and so therefore I think this author is dead wrong.
I wouldn't want anyone to think that I sent it to you because I agreed with it, although it is witty and thoughtful. And, if one thinks that killing is a legitimate thing to do to try to stop killing, then this is the quandary you are in. (The author does not advocate vigilante violence,but not because violence is wrong, but because it seems to be declaring war upon the state, violates the just war doctrine, and because it would only create more persecution.) I admire your honesty to face it, although I pray that this author, you and your readers don't take your ponderings too seriously. This is no time for more violence or armchair speculations in favor of violence. This is a time to be consistently pro-life.
Let us speak with one clear voice. Let us, as the Bible instructs, avoid even the appearance of evil. The murder of Mr. Tiller, no matter how horrendous the deeds of the doctor were, was wrong. Period.
I want to say this so clearly because it needs said, and I am glad that most pro-life organizations have been unqualified and clear in condemning this brutal assassination. Yet, the pro-choice community and some in the media have suggested otherwise. Let's not give them anything to wonder about: those who oppose abortion intend to turn around our culture through the long hard work of persuasion, cultural reformation, religious revival, innovative legislation and any other peaceful and legitimate means, but never, ever, by murder.
Surely Byron is correct if the resort to violence is always and absolutely wrong, as those in the pacifist tradition maintain it to be.
My difficulty is in understanding claims such as By makes in the last sentence of his penultimate paragraph when they're made by non-pacifists. If one does not believe that violence is always wrong then what are the justifications for its use? It seems to me that those in the pro-life camp (in which I place myself) are very vague about this. I think Byron would argue that this is one reason we should all be pacifists, but many if not most pro-lifers are not pacifists and would probably reject the suggestion that they should be. In any event, pacifism leads to conundrums of its own which are equally as perplexing and intractable.
If the pro-lifer, then, declines to embrace an absolute abjuration of violence, under what circumstances does he/she think it proper? If it's wrong to employ it to defend the lives of children about to be born then when would it ever be right?
It seems to me that pro-lifers who decline the pacifist option are on the horns of a dilemma: Either killing late-term fetuses, contrary to what many pro-lifers insist, is not really tantamount to murder, or it is tantamount to murdering innocent children, and those who are willing to risk all to prevent this atrocity are justified in their resort to violence.
I really don't like any of these alternatives myself and would welcome insight from our readers, particularly those who consider themselves pro-life. What do you think? Should all pro-lifers embrace an absolute pacifism? Should they back off from their claim that a late-term fetus is ontologically and morally indistinguishable from a new-born? Or should pro-lifers acknowledge that though violence may not be a prudent tactic in the struggle to end the abortion regime in this country, it is nevertheless neither an immoral nor evil one?
Blaise Pascal advised us that our first moral obligation is to think clearly. There are no issues concerning which it is more important that we fulfill that obligation than those issues dealing with human life.RLC