Move on, America.
Women’s rights protesters during 2012.
Broken Promises: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics
By: Jonathan Dudley
Crown Publishing, 204 pages, 2011, $22.99
America began as a series of issues that were highly controversial and volatile, and America continues to have problems that lead to controversy; maybe even more so than originally. It is because of this that throughout the history of the American judicial system, some decisions have been reached without problems, but many other cases have caused issues and grievances in the lives of average Americans. These cases changed the way America and Americans functioned; Brown vs. The Board of Education required schools to be integrated, Roe vs. Wade allowed for legal abortions, as well as Miranda vs. Arizona which gave us our Miranda rights and the right to plead the fifth. These are seen as the three most controversial court decisions (Webley). Each impacted America and Americans in their own way, however, many of these cases’ impacts are no longer felt and people don’t feel as strongly about them anymore as was felt when the cases were first enacted. Rather, Americans feel that these court decisions were for the best in the long run. However, this is not true about Roe vs. Wade; this ruling still causes anger to the religious right who is against the 1973 ruling.
Abortion is a topic that some Americans still feel fiercely about; their voices can be heard above the din of other complaining voices. Evangelical Protestants are the main reason behind today’s negative view of abortion. If you were to log onto almost any form of social media, you would be able to find all sorts of things that claim that abortion is murder and morally wrong. These claims are backed up with false and misleading images which are used to spark a purely emotional response. They are used to show the religious point of view rather than the actual scientific information behind the images. These images may be something like what a fetus is said to look like after so many days and how the mother is an awful person because she aborted her baby, which is considered to be murder in their eyes, no matter what her reason was. Social media is not just the only source to spread around the religious claims of the immorality of abortion, but religious websites do as well. This was something that was blatantly obvious when looking for sources about any sort religious view on abortion. Many of these religious websites only gave information about other religions when their views agreed, but even then they were not necessarily true. Not just religious websites hold their bias, but even news corporations and online newspapers hold to these biases too, but in a less obvious way unless you know what to look for. These claims and images help reinforce the evangelical ideals against abortion to religious groups and otherwise without someone really even noticing that the information is skewed.
The religious radicals have attempted to shape the way Americans thought and continue to think about abortion, but the amount of radical religious groups’ and individuals’ voices have lessened and these religions have been shaped by their followers dramatically, leaving only the main group of evangelicals to fight abortion. At first, there were many religions that fought openly and vehemently against legal abortion, but over time, that voice has weakened as abortion has become a generally accepted practice when necessary and not as illegal in any and all cases. This change in public opinion has been noted by a shift in pop culture. Movies and television shows that would have once been considered to embody the counterculture when Roe vs. Wade was first enacted are now just seen as pop culture. Specific examples include movies about teen pregnancy like Juno and no longer subtle mentions abortion or homosexuality on television. Due to this, there has also been a shift in religious perspectives on abortion.
Religions such as Judaism set the mother’s life above the life of the fetus, because it is the belief that the life of the mother is ranked higher than the life of the fetus until the point of birth, then both mother and child are equal (Dudley 32). This view is the opposite of the evangelical Christians who believed for many years and still believe that life begins at conception.
In comparison to the amount of individuals in the evangelical church, few people outside of that community believe in the negatives of abortion as firmly as the outspoken portion of the evangelist church. In fact, many of the scholars in the evangelical community don’t agree with the staunch disapproval of abortion. “There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars,” (Dudley 19). Some evangelicals believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, but more evangelicals believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases (Ro. Jones 5). People outside of this minority don’t believe that abortion should be outlawed, but should rather be an option for women because each case is different and every woman should have the right to choose.
Abortion levels are said to be on the rise, this is simply not true. Even with abortion being legal, 2011 had the lowest abortion levels since 1973, when the Roe vs. Wade decision was reached (Wind, Ra. Jones).This study shows that while abortion may be legal, today it is no longer seen as a birth control method, but rather as a last resort because of the increase in better and more reliable forms of birth control out in the market. Abortion being a birth control method was one of the biggest concerns for the religious right, but as time continued on and the boom in the abortion rate went back to normal, more religious groups have seemingly become more open about allowing abortions should the need arise.
The younger generations believe that being pro-choice is more acceptable in a social setting than being pro-life, or anti-abortion (Ro. Jones 6). Younger people in the United States are now less dependent on their religion to tell them right from wrong because they are more educated, liberal and have a larger emphasis on personal rights (Ro. Jones 6). This isn’t just people in the United States where people believe in the right to an abortion, but rather in almost all developed countries in Europe and Asia (Pregnant Pause). In fact, even when abortion is preached about negatively in the evangelical community, the women of that faith are still getting abortions; granted it’s at a lower rate than other religiously affiliated women, but there are still women having abortions done even when it’s viewed as being a moral crisis and a sin.
While abortion is seen as a moral conflict in the eyes of the religious right, more nonaffiliated people have begun to believe that the rights of a woman should be higher than the life of an unborn fetus, especially in difficult cases such as rape and incest. These cases are not seen as grounds for abortion in the eyes of the evangelical or Catholic Church, in fact, there are few grounds for abortion in either religious community because all abortions are seen as murder and as a major sin. The only condition in which abortion is permitted is when the mother would suffer physical, mental or emotional harm (Dudley 42-45). There are some cases where abortion is not condoned, for any reason.
Throughout the fight for women’s rights to their own bodies, many books have come out that offer the religious community’s point of view over the negatives of abortion and the negative view of those who perform the procedures; a majority of those mostly offer nothing more substantial. But there are few books, like Broken Words by Jonathan Dudley, that show more than just a religious point of view. Rather that expands on the evangelical group’s ideals while comparing it to other religions, such as Roman Catholicism, Judaism and branches of Protestantism. It is because of this broad view of religion as a whole and a comparison between them that helps set Dudley’s book apart from the crowd.
Dudley gives his background in his family’s evangelical life and shows that everything taught to him by the church is not always what the scholars think (Dudley 19). It’s not just abortion that is mentioned in depth, but also the other big ideas in the evangelical church, or Big Four as they are called; homosexuality, evolution and environmentalism as well as abortion.
Broken Words is about more than what one would think when picking up the book; it sits heavily on you after reading, because it doesn’t spend the whole time preaching at you about what you’re doing wrong and relying on emotion to make point. It opens your eyes to what’s really going on in the mind of many evangelicals and what things mean in their view. To them, this is more than just a religion, it’s their lifestyle; a lifestyle that is falling out of fashion slowly but surely as more and more people become unaffiliated with the habit of religion (Maygers). Dudley uses just enough detail to show what his life was like growing up without making the whole book a memoir, such as when he mentions how his mother wasn’t able to get a position with their new church even though she was more qualified than the other applicant (Dudley 16).
Dudley takes a position that is seemingly unbiased as he gives background to the evidence used to prove the four ideals of evangelicalism, using the specific Bible verses that were and are used to justify the points against abortion, homosexuality, evolution and environmentalism. He used these verses of the Bible to track the evolution of change that occurred in the radical shift of the religious community to a farther right position on the political spectrum. This is shown in “Psalm 139:13, 16says, “For it was you who formed me in my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none existed.”” (Dudley 29). The significance of this verse is that it shows how much importance is placed on the life of a fetus.
While the book is strong in the sense that it uses more than the Bible to prove points and refute the Big Four, there are some weaker aspects as a whole. A strong book cannot make up for the fact that Dudley did not specialize in something religiously related, but grew up in an evangelical household, but rather in medicine. This weakness could also be seen as a strong point. It means that he had been introduced to ideas that were foreign when growing up as he did, ideas like evolution and modern sciences that are widely accepted throughout the world.
America was built on ideas of religious freedoms, but as religion becomes a less integral part of our society, our laws should reflect such and not lean towards the small minority of the religious right, instead religion should keep to the church where it can be discussed there by people of a like mind. There is a fewer number of these religiously right people, and laws should reflect what others think now, not just what was thought about abortion before. At one time, the minority that is the religious right was the majority, and the laws of things considered immoral were, but today’s society views topics like abortion in a different light, one more favorable. It is because of this new approach to once taboo topics that laws should reflect what modern Americans are looking for in their life.
The evangelical community should focus on something that would be able to help all people, no matter what their situations are, instead of just sitting on a pedestal and shunning those against their views. New issues should be put at the forefront and abortion should be put on the backburner because it is too controversial for anything useful to be done about it without making someone somewhere angry. Eventually, the anger from Roe vs. Wade will dissipate and Roe vs. Wade will just be another Supreme Court decision that can be added to the list of once controversial decisions.
Dudley, Jonathan. Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. New York: Crown, 2011. Print.
Jones, Rachel. “Characteristics of US Abortion Patients, 2008.” Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, 2008. Web.
Jones, Robert P. “Committed to Availability; Conflicted about Morality.” Public Religion. Public Religion Research Institute, 6 June 2011. Web.
Maygers, Bryan. “Evangelical Churches Still Growing, Mainline Protestantism In Decline.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Feb. 2011. Web.
“Summary of Abortion Laws Around the World.” Summary of Abortion Laws Around the World. Pregnant Pause, n.d. Web.
Webley, Kayla. “Top 10 Controversial Supreme Court Cases.” Time. Time Inc., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Wind, Rebecca. “U.S. ABORTION RATE HITS LOWEST LEVEL SINCE 1973.” U.S. Abortion Rate Hits Lowest Level Since 1973. Guttmacher Institute, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014