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Tom Nichols’ False Neutrality on Abortion

by James Silberman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Of all the pro-choice foolishness, the idea that the anti-abortion argument is invalid because it comes from a Christian perspective is the most foolish. Once abortion supporters have argued that opposition to abortion is religious and therefore supposedly legally null, they claim the “neutral” position of supporting abortion’s legality.

Another horrific argument is the idea that abolishing abortion would be a big government or statist policy. Here’s author and journalist Tom Nichols making both.

Regarding the statism point, Nichols either isn’t thinking very hard or isn’t able to think very hard when it comes to abortion and the law. He’s making Tomi Lahren’s case against abortion, not a philosophical bedfellow whom Nichols, a defender of the “experts” and “elites,” will much like. Nichols and Lahren’s is a juvenile argument that fails to grasp the foundations of the positions.

There are only two possible sources of our rights. They come either from the generosity of our government, in which case the government can rightfully confiscate them, or they’re assigned to each of us by “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” as our nation’s founding document puts it.

It should be obvious that it’s the former worldview where government is the dispenser of rights in which expansion of government power and statism are features. In the latter worldview, government’s obligation is to protect rights which have been assigned to us by an authority higher than government itself. This is the opposite of statism, and it’s within this worldview that abortion is viewed as murder.

Regarding religiosity making the anti-abortion position invalid, if Christ is to be left out of our moral and legal disputes, someone forgot to tell William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, John Wesley, Josiah Wedgewood, Harriet Tubman, Lewis Tappan, Arthur Tappan, Charles Finney, Anthony Benezet, George Bourne, Samuel Cornish, Isaac Knapp, Peter Williams, Henry Garnett, Austin Willey, David Thurston, Charles Spurgeon, Elizabeth Heyrick, William Wilberforce, John Newton, William Allen, and virtually every influential abolitionist. These were Bible-wielding, Christ-honoring evangelists all.

University of Florida History Professor Bertram Wyatt-Brown records the sentiments of anti-Abolitionists regarding the abolitionist movement uniting Christ with societal reform and political action.

“The very appearance of this [abolitionist] movement with its religious ideology alarmed newsmen, politicians, and ordinary citizens. They angrily predicted the endangerment of secular democracy, the mongrelization, as it was called, of white society, and the destruction of the federal union. Speakers at huge rallies and editors of conservative papers in the North denounced these newcomers to radical reform as the same old ‘church-and-state’ zealots, who tried to shut down post offices, taverns, carriage companies, shops, and other public places on Sundays.”

The abolitionists were aggressively Christian. Everything they did flowed from their consistently Biblical worldview. Garrison’s founding statement for The Liberator sums up the motivations and objectives of abolitionism.

“[U]niversal emancipation…from the dominion of man, from the thraldom of self, from the government of brute force, from the bondage of sin—and bringing [people] under the dominion of God, the control of an inward spirit, the government of the law of love, and into the obedience and liberty of Christ.”

Speaking to an audience at an American Anti-Slavery Society gathering, Garrison made clear who the leader of the abolitionist movement was. It wasn’t himself, it wasn’t Douglas, it wasn’t Stowe, and it wasn’t Tubman. “Christ is our Redeemer,” Garrison proclaimed. “I believe in him. He leads the Anti-Slavery cause, and always has led it.”

In an article for The Liberator, Garrison explained the standard by which slavery was condemned as sinful:

“My religious sentiments are as rigid and uncompromising as those promulgated by Christ himself. The standard which Christ has erected is one that I reverence and advocate: in a true estimate of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, no one can go beyond me; they are my text-book, and worth all other books in the universe. My trust is in God, my aim to walk in the footsteps of his Son, and my rejoicing to be crucified to the world, and the world to me; my fanaticism is to make Christianity the enemy of all that is sinful.”

Reverend George Cheever authored a book entitled God Against Slavery in which he spoke of slavery in terms of being a sin on par with the worst of them. “The crime of murder, considered simply as the killing of a man, is no more a sin per se than slavery.”

Cheever goes on to say that the supporters of legal slavery would be without excuse before God because they actively suppressed the truth about the humanity of their African brothers and sisters in order to continue in their sinful dehumanization of them. “[S]ome men succeed in putting their own judgement and conscience at sea, and sinking their moral discernment in the sea, of sophistry and falsehood. Can They imagine that God will excuse them, when they stand at his bar, and plead as their reason for not opposing the wickedness of slavery, that they could not accept the doctrine of its being a sin per se?”

David Walker famously wrote, “Are we MEN! !—I ask you, O my brethren, are we MEN? Did our Creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves?” Slavery was evil because it was not God’s prescriptive will that men be enslaved to other men.

In one of his many letters to his slave-owning brother, Presbyterian Minister John Rankin warned him of the sin he was committing against both God and man.

“Slavery is often clothed with such scenes of cruelty and blood, and often sports with everything that is dear to man!—it breaks the most tender relations of life. Tell me not that the Africans are destitute of the fine feelings of tenderness, awards their wives and children, which are manifested by the rest of mankind. The flood of grief that rolls over the sable and wo-worn cheek, when a wife or a child is snatched from the embraces of the fond husband or parent, speaks the passions of the soul in a language too strong to be resisted by anything less than implacable prejudice! Slavery interferes with all the social and relative duties, and what is still a more serious evil, it interferes with the divine prerogative over man, and robs the Almighty of the service which is due to him from the creatures of his power.”

University of Colorado Religious Studies Professor Ira Chernus explains the Abolitionists’ motivations thusly:

“The Abolitionists were certainly moved by sympathy for the slaves’ plight. But their overriding motive was to answer the question of authority. Though some might take slavery to be a political question, the Abolitionists addressed it in religious terms. For them, political analysis and true theology were inseparable. Politics and religion were simply two ways of talking about the same reality. Slavery was wrong and had to be abolished, they insisted, because no human being can be lord of another. The only permissible lord of any person is the divine Lord. All of the Abolitionists’ words and ideas were based on this foundation.”

Both in terms of the methods by which they grew and the people who led them, Wyatt-Brown makes the connection between the abolitionist movement and the Second Great Awakening.

“The mode of conversion to abolitionism was identical with the revival style of worship. The process began with the penitent’s initial conviction of personal sin of having been proslavery, followed by expressions of heartfelt repentance, and pledges to follow the divine command that all human kind were equal in God’s sight. In 1835, the Tappan brothers recruited Charles Grandison Finney, the leading revivalist of the Second Great Awakening (1800–35), to head the antislavery faculty at their newly founded Ohio college, Oberlin. That institution was later to supply scores of missionary educators into the South after the Civil War. The Tappans also befriended and funded the brilliant Theodore Dwight Weld, whose team of young itinerant disciples from Lane Seminary at Cincinnati braved hostile receptions and won many converts throughout western New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.”

Secular humanism and the arguments which flow from it are ultimately arbitrary and do not have the power to end monstrous societal evils. Without an objective standard of good, evil cannot be adequately rebuked. That the 18th century reformers understood this is worth praising God for.

The late Greg Bahnsen, one of the greatest Christian apologists, said, referring to non-Christians, “They aren’t neutral and you shouldn’t be.” There is no neutral position on abortion. Nichols’ tweets, and all pro-choice arguments, make an affirmative claim that the law should reflect the arbitrary humanist presupposition that human beings are not inherently valuable and that those humans who don’t fit an arbitrary definition of personhood can be murdered. Christians make the other affirmative claim; that the law should reflect the Truth of God’s word and the worth of his image-bearers. There are slight variations of these two positions, but there is no neutral position.

Thus, Christians need to stop arguing from neutral presuppositions. Without Christ, your case is arbitrary. They know that scientifically, a baby in the womb is a human being. They just don’t care. Speak from the Biblical presupposition that all humans are in the image of God and to intentionally end the life of an innocent human being at any stage of life is murder. Remember – they aren’t neutral and you shouldn’t be.

Nichols is right that we are theologically grounded in our presuppositions, but he is not on neutral ground. He is opposed to God and to justice, not to mention sanity. Outside of a darkened mind (Romans 1:21-22, Ephesians 4:18), the ideas that one would purposefully kill their own son or daughter or support the legality of such a practice are insane. To Nichols and anyone who holds this position, repent and become an abolitionist.


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