When Does Life Begin?
Updated: Feb 22
By Matt Gordon
When does life begin?
That is not the only question swirling in our country, but it is a pressing one. One’s answer to that could shape their moral positioning on abortion.
Who gets freedom? Choice? Who gets to decide?
How much of this is actually religious? Political?
Are we willing to have a real conversation on equity?
How are we doing at supporting one another and caring for the marginalized?
Questions heaped on questions. Many and more.
The answers are tremendously straight-forward though. Yes, these philosophically-loaded, incredibly nuanced issues, ones that are layered with personal feeling and trauma and bias and complexity and historical weight, are solved simply with a stand-alone Bible verse or a meme or a sardonic slogan or catastrophized hyperbole. Just ask social media.
I’ve been pondering abortion. By saying even that, some who share some of my religious beliefs would dismiss me. For one isn’t allowed to ponder such things. I recall a good-natured debate I had with a former boss about being a one-issue voter or not. Every time I tried to bring up other issues that could impact human flourishing and even impact his one-issue, he’d just take our conversation back to a slogan or a single verse. He said I’d understand when I was older, when I had kids of my own.
Now I’m older and I have kids of my own. I feel no closer to understanding.
I’ve been pondering abortion. By saying even that, some who have disdain for my religious beliefs would dismiss me. I’d become the caricature of the Crusades for them—the historical smoking gun that many cite and few people actually know about. Somehow by pausing and trying to work through the myriad coatings of worldview, I am hateful—privileged and bigoted and anti-women. Even though I come from women, support women, love women. I do bad things, pretty much daily. And I am privileged, just count the meals I will have today.
My pondering such issues certainly is not willfully evil, and, most times, it is earnestly hoping to ascend from evil to good altogether. Yet I'm pensive, and in not readily declaring quite enough, quite stridently enough, I’ve done enough to show myself for every single thing I am and every single thing I am not; I’m the man in the box.
I think about the slaughter of a living thing, with no voice, no power, no control, no choice. It is oppressive. I think about rape or incest, poverty and fear, loneliness, and a different stage of living thing, with no voice, no power, no control, no choice. It is oppressive. I think and I think and I think. Maybe I’ll understand when I’m older?
But as I am now, with see-sawing thoughts and half-baked opinions, sure about some things and wrestling with others, I seek understanding from elsewhere—from where does my help come from? And like most, I foolishly wander to the internet. There I find opinions-made-fact.
Everyone is more sure about everything than I am. They are sure through sarcasm. They are sure through personal attacks and the delirious burning of straw-man effigies, dancing on even when the effigies are traded out for real people. They are sure enough to yell. And they do so in odd conversations, ones that always begin in certainty, gathering up the absolutes of unknown personas they call “friends,” and, like a rolling snowball, they grow faster and larger and louder and more destructive as they careen downhill. Those who try to pause and consider or question get demolished by their plummeting ferocity. Everyone else knows everything, understands everything, and says everything all the time. We all shout, shout, SHOUT at once. No one is left to listen because there is nothing left to understand; we all know everything already. About abortion. About gender. About God. About race. About religion. About truth. About war. About everything. Always.
I hope one day I’ll get it too. But it is more likely I’ll choose instead to log-on to the tribe of my choosing and signal that I do, shortcutting any true effort at understanding, for understanding takes far too long. These things are complicated. Better get on with it. Join one madding crowd or another, for there are new battles to wage, enemies to decimate, and, always, words, words, words to shout, shout, SHOUT.
And still there, the questions remain. Each answer one gives, opens a dozen new doors. The possibilities seem truly endless, as one navigates longingly toward some modicum of hopeful truth, toward flourishing and love. All those doors, all these questions, all this nuance, and more and more possibilities with each new day. There are too many places to look into, too many opinions to sort through. Too much history to unpack and too much future to determine. It is almost as if we weren’t supposed to explore all of this alone, that teaming up, across some differences, and fanning out, would allow us to determine more dead ends and identify more possible pathways for potential truth, for collective good, for communal flourishing. That more answers are available to us than there ever could be for just me (and my belief clones) alone. But as I look on at our news and our world and our discourse about such things, no answers come. Just more shouts and just more questions in the dark, widening empty room.
When does life begin?
Doesn’t seem like we’re on a path to finding out.