Are we blessed creatures, or only a self-impressed residue of the Big Bang? Is life sacred? These questions tend to bring out the worst in us. In Washington D.C. (this nation’s largest and most lushly appointed Executive Lounge), a pious lawmaker will inveigh sonorously and with great moral gravity against the taking of the Life of the ‘unborn’, and then turn on his heel and blandly wave into law a drone strike program that splashes Pakistani viscera around like rainwater. Our apprehension of the numinous is childlike, but does not always express itself as poetry.
It’s been a little less than a year since Mr. Bubble dominated the news cycle. No, not the Mr. Bubble called upon by 1960s parents to hover menacingly over the kids’ baths with his clean-freak chatter and unnerving man-giggle. I’m talking about the ‘Bubble Ordinance’, the court-ordered rule/attorney catnip that tells Christ’s foot soldiers (and others) how to comport themselves when ministering to young ladies on the steps of Planned Parenthood. The Bubble Ordinance (also known by its lighthearted nickname 9.99.010(D) Section 9.99.020) tells sidewalk Right to Life counselors how far away they need to stand from those they would loudly dissuade from seeking abortions at those clinics that offer the service.
The questions are Big Ones, and the intercession of the courts has only served to add a byzantine layer of legal gibberish and towering billables to the eternally unanswered questions, to which have been added one more: “When delicately parsing the metaphysical arguments for and against the existence of an inviolable and eternal human soul, how close may I stand to you and scream like a bug-eyed banshee before my passion for Life becomes legally actionable intrusion?” This Sanctity of Life thing – it gets people riled.
Luckily the Supreme Court has solemnly spoken on the matter, and there are few sights more solemn than that of nine bewildered oldsters wading into a room in billowing black muumuus. As one would expect in a newish country founded by angry runaways tired of being broken on the rack just for saying the wrong thing, the Justices have done their utmost to balance the sacrosanct Right to Free Speech against the more recent constitutional guarantee of the right to an abortion (or ‘privacy’, to recall Roe vs Wade’s 14th Amendment raison d’être).
What sounds Solomonic, though, is in practice moronic, a surreally choreographed minuet that serves no purpose but to ineptly enforce the letter of two very very fundamental human rights – talking and privacy. You can occasionally view the fruits of their wisdom in front of most California family planning clinics on any given day – two opposing mobs yelling like drunks and a terrified woman trying to push her way through and thankfully surrounded by an imaginary, court-ordered protective cordon; 8 whole feet of thin air ringing with the guttural cries of narrowly informed First and Fourteenth Amendment loudmouths on both sides. Constitutional chest thumpers are drawn inordinately to family planning clinics and gun shows. It’s a fact. And whatever happened to that amendment that confers the Right to Ignore ear-splitting Free Speech? Must’ve died in committee.
And so it all comes down to the usual, touchingly human attempts to embrace the Eternal through placard-pumping, fistfights, and endless litigation. In the quietude of a lamplit evening, though, the central, driving questions burn like insistent little flames. What are we for? Is there Something in the middle of all this? One gets misty thinking about the millennia of horror, brutality and bedlam spent simply trying to approach some semblance of an answer to that one. How we achieved our coveted spot at the top of the food chain is anyone’s guess.
The soul-searching provides our sorry-ass “lawmakers” in D.C. much comic opportunity. Many of these well-fed clowns seem to actually believe they can untie this ancient Gordian knot with phony, quiet-talking piety, ministerial press conference singsong and Bible-waving. They are National Defense Hawks and Right to Life Crusaders. In our leaders’ under-furnished bobble heads, these mutually exclusive propositions cohabit like two peas in a cozily impossible pod. Between explosive “collateral damage” missteps (Woops! That was a wedding party!) they have the balls to wave the Bible and preach to us about saving the unborn. Maybe you’re the wrong messenger, dimwit. If there is a special room in Heck for those who cynically leverage scripture, it’s a room that surely needs a huge daily build-out.
True to their on-again off-again desire to end life, certain of these stargazing jackasses on Capitol Hill would put a shield of hope-killing sanctity around the embryonic stem cell, a so-called pluripotent cell whose ability to be teased into becoming any sort of tissue an ailing body requires both promises large scale relief for the ailing, and makes of the scrap of tissue a magnet for the pious empathies of Sanctity of Life poseurs. When a single unconscious cell trumps a hopeful Parkinson’s patient with a family, loving friends and a life force that is struggling to continue, we have donned our thinking caps completely ass-backwards. These “Primacy of the Individual” fakes in the legislature have for decades been telling us how to screw and marry. Now they tremble tearily over the hallowed stem cell, attempting to block its use as a healing agent while lustily blowing up innocents abroad with Conscience-free aplomb. Makes the head swim.
Luckily it isn’t all dour. There are moments of levity from both sides. Take for a start last year’s episode at UCSB, complete with affronted cell phone footage, featuring a Feminist Studies professor angrily grabbing a visiting Pro-Life protester’s sign and smilingly walking off with it. For those of us who struggled as teens to stay awake in 2nd period Civics, it is heartening to know you can have dozed with your head on your desk through the whole Constitution chapter and still go on to earn a doctorate. The herky-jerky cell phone-verité footage of this self-satisfied blockhead professor wandering laughingly away with the protester’s sign is as utterly amazing a video document as a grainy film of Nessie humping out of the icy Scottish waters of her famous loch. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
Is Life sacred? No. Life is Prima Facie not sacred. Through the recorded and unrecorded ages we have been anonymously mown down in our millions by disease, privation, mass murder, hailstones, sinkholes, ungrounded microphones, shipwrecks, faulty brakes, landslides and dogs. Pediatric cancers spring up like wildflowers in the guts of our children. If this is Life as a State of the Sacred, what on Earth is luckless, ordinary life going to look like? Best not to think about it.
I spent my teens and early college as a Born Again Christian, proselytizing, going to Bible study and worshipping barefoot in a terrific and loving hippie church. I can still reel off Galatians 2:20 (it’s a good one). But I slowly came to understand that folks who take the unvarnished view that we should never kill, never go to war, never ever murder, were seen by my Christian mentors as endearing fringe oddballs, these Jains and Mennonites and what have you, these quaint and curious relics whose greatest contribution is the smiling guy on the box of Quaker Oats.
The awkward fact is, the state of The Sacred isn’t a sliding scale, it’s not a spectrum. It’s binary; one or zero. Yes or no. We are all sacred, or not one of us is sacred. Is a fetus sacred? If the answer is yes, than so is the 18 year-old kid about to be blown up in al Bayda Province, so is the skeletal, fly-covered baby in Somalia, and so is the lady on death row. But I guess we can’t save everybody. That’d be like reaching for the stars.
SB Sentinel Vol 4 Issue 6 March 21 – April 4