In this post in my series “God and Man at Yale Divinity,” I discuss the second week of my second semester at Yale. I particularly address the issue of abortion and the Christian left.
Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes
I just completed the second week of my second semester at Yale Divinity School. As it did last semester, things went from zero to one hundred quite quickly. It already feels like I’m in the thick of it.
I discuss the details of my week and my schedule further below. First, however, I want to write about a guest speaker that I heard this week and my encounter with the issue of abortion and the Christian left.
I knew when I came to Yale that many liberal Christian denominations have incorporated abortion rights into their belief systems. Still, this week I heard such advocacy from an unexpected source. This got me thinking more carefully about abortion and the Christian left.
Abortion and the Christian Left
On Wednesdays, my day usually ends with the conclusion of the Roman Law graduate seminar at 11:45.
This week, however, the chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, was on campus. The Divinity School hosted a lunch event for him, and students were allowed to attend and ask him questions.
He was an affable man, and I am glad that I went to hear him speak.
Mental Gymnastics and Abortion
Someone, however, asked him a question about abortion, and I found his response disappointing, shallow, and disingenuous.
He said that he believed women have a constitutional right to abortion, but that he supported life as a Catholic. While I disagree with that legal analysis, I concede that the Supreme Court has held abortion rights to be enshrined in the Constitution, so we are all bound by that.
So far, so good.
He then went on to say, however, that he believed that outlawing abortion will not end it, so the policy debate should be about how to end abortion without making it illegal. He then insisted that, whatever the critics might say, his position did not represent a compromise on the value of life.
Personally Pro-Life, Politically Pro-Choice
He articulated his position very eloquently—and I doubt I’m doing it justice—and he sounded very reasonable. But, of course, whatever he might say, such a position represents a compromise on the value of life. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous.
This is readily evident by the fact that neither he nor any other abortion advocates who say similar things hold the same position about any other forms of life.
No one says that outlawing murder doesn’t stop murders, so we should legalize murder. By making the distinction, he is consequently conceding that the life of an unborn child does not have the same value as the life of any other human being.
Of course, some people make that exact argument, and, while I disagree with it, it is at least much more defensible than the position that an unborn child is a human life but abortion—but no other murders—should nonetheless be legal. That’s just incoherent nonsense.
Admittedly, there is some truth in his statement that banning abortion will not end it. When I prosecuted sex crimes, I saw images of children being raped and exploited in the most horrendous of ways.
I know, therefore, that outlawing child molestation does not stop child molestation. Never, however, did it cross my mind that, on this basis, child rape should be legalized.
Of course, outlawing crime never stops all crime. That is an absurdist argument.
Still, while outlawing abortion may not stop abortion, but it will stop abortions. There would be much fewer were it illegal. Of course, outlawing abortion needs to be combined with other efforts to move toward the goal of zero abortions, just as we seek to take steps beyond merely passing laws to snuff out human trafficking, murders, rapes, and other grave evils.
To say, however, that outlawing an evil practice should not be part of the effort to eliminate that practice is patently absurd. It is here where the issue of abortion and the Christian left drifts into the realm of farce.
To make such an argument is to concede the point that abortion is a private matter affecting only one person—the woman—and not involving an independent life. It concedes that abortion law should be debated in the same way as drug policy or some other issue involving the libertarian exercise of freedom.
It further refuses to engage the pro-life argument, obfuscating by making arguments against no one is arguing. (Very few people care what women do with their own bodies. The argument is whether that baby’s body is part of her body.)
Abortion and the Christian Left
This is a disingenuous way to grapple with the actual issue. I have much more respect for those who concede that abortion is evil but that its outlaw would cause an even greater evil than I do for those who apply logic to the abortion debate they refuse to apply elsewhere.
I may disagree with such pro-choice conclusions, but there’s an honesty in the Clintonian “safe, legal, and rare” position. I find efforts by religious individuals who want to identify with the political left to bend and contort themselves around this issue troubling.
The issue of abortion and the Christian left is a difficult one. And leftism exists within the Catholic Church as well. That a Catholic priest would make this argument is disheartening—though anyone with some familiarity with the broader Catholic culture can probably guess of what order he is a member.
With all due respect to the Holy Father, Clement XIV may have been onto something.
But enough about abortion and the Christian left for now. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was able to finalize my schedule over the weekend before the start of this week. Below is my final schedule.
- Roman Law
- Hellenistic Philosophy, Second Temple Judaism, and Early Christianity
- Systematic Theology
- Theologies of Religious Pluralism
Just like last semester, my final schedule does not look exactly how I anticipated it would on the first day of classes, but everything appears to have shaken out how it should have.
My schedule is a lot less hectic this semester than last semester because of my dropping out of the Berkeley and Annand Programs. Plus, football season is also over, so I’m not busy officiating football games like I was last semester.
Still, I will be pretty busy, nonetheless.
All of my classes will require a significant amount of writing. In addition, the Hellenistic Philosophy course requires us to translate a passage of Greek philosophical writing before every class. I did my first translation this week, trying to get prepared and ready for class on Monday.
I’ve always done well in my Greek courses. I got all As in my six semesters of Greek in college, and I got an H in Intermediate Greek last semester.
But I struggled with the first translation for my Hellenistic Philosophy class. I was often completely lost as I struggled through it, and I don’t know how it turned out. I guess I’ll see during class on Monday.
I don’t really know why I struggled so much. I couldn’t even find words in the lexicon. Perhaps it was Classical or Attic Greek instead of Koine. Having had no Attic Greek, that could have been the reason I was completely thrown off. I don’t know.
But it was much more difficult than any text I’ve translated in the Bible, even in the Septuagint. Hopefully, however, I will finish this class with a significantly better grasp of and ability with the Greek language, which can only serve me well going forward.
The Systematic Theology class is not exactly what I expected. That is, we’re not going through various theological systems built around specific topics.
So, the course is not broken into a week on soteriology, a week on ecclesiology, and so on.
Instead, we focus on the theologies of different prominent theologians from various faith traditions. Right now, we’re working through Joseph Ratzinger’s—that is, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s—Introduction to Christianity.
He obviously represents the Roman Catholic tradition. I believe we have four additional theologians to work through after him. (Maybe I’ll understand the issue of abortion and the Christian left a little better after working through some other theologians.)
So, I’m looking forward to this class, even if I’m having a bit of a difficult time getting my arms around the professor’s expectations.
Theologies of Religious Pluralism
Theologies of Religious Pluralism discusses the different schools of thought on approaching non-Christian religions from a Christian perspective. This week, we looked at exclusivism, the idea that Christianity is the only true faith, and the goal is that Christianity will subsume and replace other religions.
The professor made an interesting observation about the pluralistic approach. He remarked that those who take a pluralistic approach should grow comfortable with the fact that the next generation of believers will likely not believe as they do because the next generation of believers will be the disciples of those who thought it worthwhile to make disciples.
Those who seek to make disciples tend to make disciples. Those who do not want to make disciples tend to succeed.
The class has given me a lot to think about, even after just a week.
My Schedule in Sum
Overall, I’m satisfied with my schedule this semester. I wish that I had at least one class focusing on the actual New Testament. Roman Law and Hellenistic Philosophy provide vital background information, but neither actually focuses on the New Testament. I hope that this is the only semester where this is the case.
Just like last semester, the reading is extremely heavy. I probably spent three to four hours reading for each class. Those classes that meet only once per week have even more substantial reading. The reading for the Roman Law seminar, for example, is quite heavy, while the reading for the lectures is only slightly less so.
The reading for Hellenistic Philosophy thus far has been extreme. It probably took me five to six hours to get ready for next week’s class.
Also, Theologies of Religious Pluralism, while perhaps not as heavy in the reading, does require the submission of written assignments for each week’s reading. So, that’s time-consuming.
Regardless, however, my schedule is still more manageable than last semester when I was trying to do too much. I’d much rather get comfortable in my chair at home and read for three hours at a time than be running from one event to another, all while trying to cram as much reading in as I can in the library between appointments.
I think it’s going to be a good semester.
William F. Buckley Program
One disappointment with my schedule, however, did arise. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am now a William F. Buckley Fellow at Yale.
The first event this semester is a Firing Line Debate on Syria between Ambassador Robert Ford and Mona Yacoubian. It takes place, however, on a Monday at 4:30, which is during my Hellenistic Philosophy class. So, I won’t be able to make it.
I was looking forward to being able to attend these events, so I’m disappointed that I have to miss the first one.
The next such event is on a Thursday, which is the day I have to watch my children since my wife works Thursday evenings in Manhattan. I may, however, get a babysitter for that one. We’ll see.
Regardless, I’m looking forward to participating in this program and experiencing all that it has to offer.
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Yale is an incredible place. As a new semester gets started, I continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to be here.
Encountering the issue of abortion and the Christian left this week gave me an opportunity to think about what I believe as I encounter points of view with which I passionately disagree. That is what makes a good education.
I love Yale, and I encourage anyone interested in pursuing further theological education to apply to YDS.
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