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Religious Tolerance logo

Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 15:

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

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Is a fetus human?:

Incoming E-mail: There are studies that have shown that the level of adrenaline in a fetus' body and its heart rate increase during an abortion. This shows that they can feel fear quite early in gestation. Does this not prove that they are human?

Our response: No matter what the stage of pregnancy, a fetus half emerged from her or his mother's body, a fetus in the womb, , an embryo or a pre-embryo are definitely all human life because:

  • Their cells contain human DNA.

  • Unlike viruses, ova, and spermatozoa, they meet all of the scientific requirements to be classified as a form of life.

So they are definitely human life. However, the real question is whether, in addition to being human life, it is a human person.

The question underlying many of the abortion debates is when human life, in the form of a just-fertilized ovum becomes a human being. People have a great diversity of belief on this critical matter. Some people feel that the transition happens:

  • At conception;

  • When the embryonic heart starts beating;

  • When the fetus loses its gill slits and tail;

  • When its face looks vaguely human;

  • When its higher brain functions start working so that it can sense the environment, think, be conscious, etc. -- at least to some degree;

  • When it is half emerged from the woman's body; or

  • When its umbilical cord is severed and it is functioning separate from its mother and breathing on its own.

People have made cases for all of these as being the appropriate time to define the transition from human life to human personhood. It is a matter of opinion. It cannot be established scientifically.

There have been reports of an increase in adrenaline and an increase in heartbeat rate by a fetus in early gestation during invasive procedures. But researchers -- at least those who are not pro-lifers -- generally attribute these to automatic processes within the fetus. The fetus only becomes conscious at about 26 weeks gestation. That is when the higher brain functions first turn on, so that the fetus can become genuinely aware of its surroundings, and might be able to feel fear, pain, etc.

Only about 1% of all abortions are done in the third trimester -- usually in cases of severe genetic malformation of the fetus or in a crisis situation where the woman's life is threatened. Common medical practice is to anesthetize the fetus so that it cannot feel pain, if there is any chance that it's higher brain functions are functioning at the time.

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Compulsory or ethically bound parenthood:

Incoming E-mail: When does a couple choose to have a child? Contraception methods occasionally fail. When they engage in protected sexual intercourse, they both know that there is a remote possibility that a conception will occur. Haven't they already made the choice to possibly have a baby at that time?

Our response: Let's take an example. Imagine a couple whose relationship has developed to the point where they want to engage in sexual activity, but haven't yet decided to make a lifetime commitment to each other. Or suppose that they are committed to each other, they are not in a situation where they cannot afford the time, the effort and/or money to have a child at this time. They engage in intercourse. Having no desire to have a child together, the woman takes birth control pills, the man uses a condom and they use a spermicide. But somehow, in spite of the incredible odds, conception occurs. The woman discusses the situation with her boyfriend, with her physician, and perhaps her spiritual adviser. She might decide that the least worse option is to have an early abortion.

We can ask whether the couple is ethically bound to continue the pregnancy. Alternatively, we can ask whether the state should step in and prevent the woman from terminating the pregnancy and forcing her to continue the pregnancy until childbirth.

As in so many abortion-related questions, the answers depend on when one feels that human life, in the form of a just-fertilized ovum becomes a human person.

  • If you believe that this happens at conception, then all abortion is murder -- no matter what the stage of gestation. A case can be made the couple to continue the pregnancy or for the state to intrude and make childbirth compulsory for the couple. They may not have intended to create a baby. But due to contraceptive failure, they did. And so they should continue the pregnancy, unless the continuing pregnancy will be a threat to the mother's life or health.

  • If you believe that personhood is achieved later in pregnancy, then a case can be made that an abortion up to that time is an ethical option for the couple. Such an abortion does kill a human life. But it does not murder a person; it only kills a potential person. They did not intend to create a baby and thus should not be ethically bound -- or forced by the state -- to continue the pregnancy.

Thus, as always, it all comes back to the question of when human life transitions to become a human person. That is an irresolvable dilemma over which a consensus appears impossible.

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Opposed to the CE/BCE notation:

Incoming E-mail: Removing A.D. from the date is just another example of 1st John 4.3: the spirit of the anti-Christ. The anti-Christ will put himself above God and claim himself to be god.

Our response: That is certainly one way of looking at it. But there is a funny thing about matters like this. One can choose a different starting point and end up with an entirely different conclusion.

Consider Jesus' prime directive: to love each other and to love God. Couple this with the Good Samaritan parable, and it is clear that "each other" means every human on earth.

Consider also the Golden Rule which commands people to treat others in a decent manner. For a Christian, that includes other Christians, as well as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, Zoroastrians , Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, and followers of a few hundred other religions.

To better judge what this implies, imagine being a member of one of these non-Christian religions, and being faced with the notations AD (which is an abbreviation of Anno Domine; Latin for "Year of the Lord"), and BC (which is an abbreviation for "Before Christ"). The use of these notations forces one to acknowledge that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus) is God, Christ, and the Messiah. Imagine how you would feel. It can cause a member of one of these religions as much pain to be forced to acknowledge that Yeshua is God and the Messiah as it can for a Christian to deny that Yeshua is God and the Messiah.

Then go back and read the prime directives, the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Golden Rule and see if you really want to use AD and BC in the future.

I would hope that you would not.

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Beliefs that cannot be compromised:

Incoming E-mail: The seminary that I want to attend has a special admission requirement: Applicants must write an essay describing three theological beliefs about which they will never compromise. Do you have any suggestions?

Our response: It seems to me that an honorable person must be willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. This means that they have to be prepared to abandon a particular theological belief if new evidence emerges that shows it to be false.

Asking you to declare certain theological beliefs as being off limits to change is, in essence, asking you to be willing to be prepared to lie some time in the future.

To close off the possibility of future change is to die intellectually. It means that there is no possibility that the Holy Spirit will make new revelations available to humanity. But the past history of the Christian Church has shown that change is continual. The Church reversed its stand on human slavery. It started to reverse its stance on special privileges for males in the 20th century. Its liberal and mainline wings are now starting to reverse its stance on equal rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community. I have no doubt but that this process will continue.

Take God for example. If one reads the Old Testament without preconceptions, one concludes that the ancient Hebrews looked upon Yahweh as a male super-human with a body -- feet, eyes, hands, voice, legs, backside, ears, etc. The New Testament writers changed God into a bodiless spirit. Now, some Christian theologians are talking about a God who is not a personal God.

Tell this to the seminary admission folks would be the honorable decision. However, it would probably wipe out your chances of ever being admitted.

Yet I cannot honorably suggest that you lie in order to be accepted.

So I guess that I have no suggestions to offer you. Sorry. You might have to decide whether to take the honorable path and abandon hope for admission, or to lie and gain admission.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Copyright © 2005 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-AUG-27
Latest update: 2014-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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