AS193: Abortion and Christian Terrorism

I’m back to my Tommentarying ways with some thoughts on the abortion clinic shooting. Is it Christian terrorism? Is Christianity just as responsible for the shooting as Islam is for Islamic terrorism? Find out my thoughts and be sure to share yours if you disagree. Or maybe if you agree!

11 thoughts on “AS193: Abortion and Christian Terrorism”

  1. I think trying to look at things from the other perspective and form a coherent point of view was definitely an interesting take on things. I’d agree that if someone saw it as murder, and the doctors are therefore murderers, then they’d presumably cheer for his actions (even if they also regret the loss of life).

    The only arguments I’d make for why someone wouldn’t have to ‘cheer’ his actions would be that: 1) he targeted people in Planned Parenthood where many aren’t there for an abortion, 2) he shot police officers who weren’t “murdering” any babies, and 3) even if the doctors are murderers, why attempt to murder women going in for abortions? That means you’ll kill two lives, making you worse than the abortion doctors.

    On the issue of pro-lifers making exceptions for rape or incest: I agree that it appears to be inconsistent but I don’t think it necessarily is. It all depends on what reasoning they’re basing their pro-life position on. If it’s a deontological code like “Do not murder” then yeah, there’s a possible inconsistency there (but we make exceptions for that anyway, like with self-defence, so they might have an exception they find important there like the idea that incest is wrong therefore the resulting child doesn’t have a soul so it’s not really murder). However, many could simply be basing their position on a consequentialist position – so they oppose abortion because the “murder” results in more harmful outcomes, but believe that in the case of rape or incest the weight of the harm changes and so it’s more harmful to force the woman to keep it.

    On the “equivocation”: Firstly, you mention a few times that it doesn’t work because the shooter is “insane” whereas the Islamic terrorists aren’t. I can’t actually find any evidence of mental health problems with the guy (except a neighbour interviewed after the fact saying that he’d ramble a bit and didn’t make eye contact). The problem is that this is a common narrative in the media, brown shooters are described as terrorists and white shooters are described as mentally ill. Most of the time though there isn’t actually any evidence of mental illness, most mass murderers have no sign of mental illness and from what I can find this seems to be generally true of people who attack abortion clinics. That isn’t to say that this specific guy isn’t mentally ill, I just don’t think the evidence is there yet and even if it is, it isn’t a necessary condition for someone shooting up an abortion clinic.

    You’re right that Islamic terrorists are (according to the research) generally not mentally ill but I think you go a little far in implying that they are just normal guys with families. People who are recruited into these organisations are usually isolated individuals who lack purpose or direction, and have no social support network. They aren’t mentally ill but they aren’t average guys either.

    You also mentioned that you found it unlikely (or at least less likely) that the current form of Christianity could lead someone to terrorist actions (or “to make sane people do insane things”), yet up until about 15 years ago, Christian terrorism was pretty much the major form of terrorism. The IRA killed thousands and thousands of people during their time, and even if combine the current Islamic terrorist group actions together they still have some catching up to do.

    The difference doesn’t seem to be the religious beliefs, but rather just the
    specific political climates in the areas affected. That’s why I’ve always found it strange when people talk about the “Muslim world” or “Islamic countries” – that’s a pretty diverse range of countries included in those terms. Many are currently underdeveloped nations so obviously they still practice things we consider barbaric but it seems odd to pinpoint religion as a cause of this, as if getting rid of religion would somehow change their social and cultural attitudes to spring them forward into accepting our values.

    It’s true that Christianity doesn’t have the same rule about drawing pictures of Jesus but it has other things which are viewed as sacred. If you polled Christians on whether Southpark creators should have been punished for their portrayal of the Virgin Mary a few years ago then I think you’d find a high number saying “yes”. I’m not sure which poll you saw suggesting Muslims wanted “violent” punishment though, the closest I could find with a quick google search was a high number agreeing with some kind of punishment. Even if it was violence though I don’t think it’s limited to anything specifically in the Quran, since caring about anything enough will lead to similar reactions. If you burn the American flag and publicise it then you’ll likely get a few death threats and people taking swings at you. Criticise free speech or any part of the constitution and you’ll get a similar response from some people, but it’d be a mistake to suggest the constitution is responsible for that reaction.

    Finally, as for why people aren’t questioning whether this guy is a “real” Christian whereas they do it for Islamic terrorists, I’d say one of the major differences is that people don’t have access to the scientific research on this guy that they do for Islamic terrorists showing that their actions have no real relation to Islam (i.e. when these people are demonstrated to have never read the Quran, it makes no sense to blame Islam and verses from the Quran for their actions).

    Interestingly though, notice that nobody is actually blaming Christianity. They’re blaming fundamentalism, or his extreme views, but not talking about how Christianity is toxic and leads to this because [insert really naive and cherry-picked out of context quote from the bible like they do with the Quran]. I can’t actually even find many sources tackling it from the angle of Christianity in any form, most seem to be basing it on his anti-abortion views and some comments on him being right wing.

    Looking forward to the Eli episode, especially if he’s generally supportive of things like trigger warnings. They’re such uncontroversial things that I’ve never understood how anyone could be against them. There have been a few major articles written against them by people like Coyne and Haidt, but they seem to understand them so poorly that by the end of the article they’re arguing for trigger warnings without realising.

    1. You make a lot of good points about terrorism. But I think the excessive amount of concern over ‘Islamic terrorism’ is somewhat warranted. The terrorism most common around the world now is more religiously motivated than it has been in recent years. As I understand it groups like the IRA were more concerned with making a political statement than promoting religion. These more religious groups use methods that maximize violence while more political groups use targeted assassination. I believe we need cultural change to address this issue of terrorism motivated by Islam, but it troubles me how much involvement religion plays in these conflicts.

      I’m interested in that episode with Eli as well. I’m a college student right now but have little personal experience with this trend of PC culture on campus. Most of the stuff that outrages people are outliers and not something I worry about but I do see the trend existing in a small way. My exposure to trigger warnings in school has only been for my Women and Gender Studies courses, and I wasn’t bothered by it. I guess it has become a meme to characterize trigger warnings as useless because on the internet people tend to take things to the extreme. Like a blog that uses a trigger warning before talking about dieting and needs to employ bold faced red letters for a trigger warning before talking about eating disorders. That stuff has made it lose its original meaning for some people.

      1. Thanks for the reply, La Tonya. You make some interesting points. If you don’t mind, I’ll address some of your points out of order.

        “As I understand it groups like the IRA were more concerned with making a political statement than promoting religion.”

        I mean, arguably sure. But that’s why it’s such a good comparison to Islamic terrorists because the same debate over whether it’s caused by religion or politics (or whether their goals are religious or political) was had over the conflict in Ireland and for groups like the IRA.

        The conflict in Ireland resulted in people being attacked, kidnapped, and murdered for simply having a Protestant or Catholic sounding name – even kids. They justified their actions on religious grounds and quoted the bible to support them. As much as we can argue Islamic terrorism is caused by religion, we can do the same for the IRA.

        “These more religious groups use methods that maximize violence while more political groups use targeted assassination.”

        This would surely count the IRA as religious violence then, since their main method of terrorism was to blow up cars or set up pipe bombs in public places. They’d even often call the bomb squad before they set it up so that it would cause maximum panic and fear.

        “But I think the excessive amount of concern over ‘Islamic terrorism’ is somewhat warranted.”

        I absolutely agree, they are a major threat. The point of disagreement seems to be that I’m not yet convinced that it’s an example of religiously caused terrorism, and that we need to look to research on the topic to determine what the actual cause is. If we simply rush into it assuming it’s religious, then we spend all this time fighting religion and the best case scenario would be that we rid the world of religion but the terrorism still occurs because it’s political.

        The problem with people like Sam Harris is that they’re convinced that religion is the cause but he never really supports it in any way. He notes that the terrorists are Muslim (or at least identify as such), that they sometimes yell their god’s name, and that verses from the Quran could be interpreted as justifying their actions, but that doesn’t help us figure out whether it’s the cause or just a correlative factor (or a mixture). Given his views on free will, he should understand that the reported reasons people give for their actions often don’t actually align with the actual causes of their actions – so even if we have every terrorist saying they’re doing it for religious reasons, Harris’ own beliefs and arguments tell us that that shouldn’t be taken as evidence for religion being a cause.

        He also suggests that religion must be the cause because nothing but religious dogmatism could cause someone to commit acts of terrorism (e.g. the idea that you need a promise of an afterlife) but this is obviously untrue. The Kamikaze pilots in WWII weren’t doing it for religious reasons, it was political. Of course Harris often redefines “religion” as any kind of ideological dogma, including nationalism but this makes no sense as he’s just defining everything he doesn’t like as ‘religion’ then saying ‘religion’ is the cause.

        Interestingly, some of Harris’ own arguments refute him here as well. We can easily show that dogmatism of any form is unnecessary to justify terrorist actions or suicide bombings by slightly adjusting his ‘torture’ argument. For example, suppose that there is a killer out there who has targeted your family. He will kill them unless you, and only you, can stop them. Unfortunately he’s incredibly smart, calculated, and well-protected, so there’s no chance of calling in armed support, or hitting him with a sniper, or shooting him from a distance. The only possible way to kill him is to get close to him in a public place and blow yourself up, along with any innocent bystanders.

        Of course, this doesn’t *really* justify suicide bombings because Harris’ argument is nonsensical, it can be used to justify literally anything just by replacing the specifics. But it does present a serious problem for Harris when his own logic contradicts himself.

        “Like a blog that uses a trigger warning before talking about dieting and needs to employ bold faced red letters for a trigger warning before talking about eating disorders. That stuff has made it lose its original meaning for some people.”

        I’m a bit confused by this bit – surely that’d be a great example of how useful trigger warnings can be? People with eating disorders have reported for years (even before the creation of “trigger warnings” as a thing) how reading about things like dieting can cause them to relapse, or cause their negative self-image to reemerge, etc, so helping them with a quick note seems like a perfect use of a trigger warning.

        I think if it’s a dieting blog called something like “DIETS 4 U” and they include a trigger warning on every post, then yeah, that’d be going overboard as the name of the blog should be enough warning. But then again, I don’t understand why that would cause such outrage in people. I’d rather people go overboard in protecting other people’s mental health rather than callously ignoring their needs and yelling “Free speech!” at them.

        1. My example of using trigger warnings for dieting is that its being used too broadly. For anyone, eating disorders is a clearly disturbing topic. A lot of things can bother someone so with things like dieting I don’t think trigger warnings are as useful. In most situations people will have to establish for themselves what is offensive, but it would be a nice courtesy I suppose. If trigger warnings are implemented more broadly I don’t think its realistic to except many people to be so sensitive. This is what the backlash is about; most people aren’t that courteous or are conditioned to get themselves away from offending situations.

          Maybe this depends on what the article actually says though. I think good dieting advice promotes a healthy relationship with food. But fad diets are a different thing and can be quite harmful.

          1. ” A lot of things can bother someone so with things like dieting I don’t think trigger warnings are as useful. In most situations people will have to establish for themselves what is offensive, but it would be a nice courtesy I suppose.”

            But I don’t think that’s a problem. The fact that there are many things that can bother someone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give a heads up on the things we know to bother some people. Describing it as a courtesy is pretty accurate – that’s all it is. It’s just a way of saying be careful if you have issues with these topics. If you don’t cover every possible trigger then that’s fine, it’s impossible to do that but we should still try.

            “If trigger warnings are implemented more broadly I don’t think its realistic to except many people to be so sensitive.”

            I’m not sure I understand what “sensitive” refers to here?

            “This is what the backlash is about; most people aren’t that courteous or are conditioned to get themselves away from offending situations.”

            I think that’s part of it but the problem is that trigger warnings have been a pervasive and fundamental part of social life for years and years and years now (e.g. peanut warnings, content warnings on movies, everyday life where you give friends heads up about disturbing content, etc). Yet the problems only arose when they got specifically identified as “trigger warnings” and used on social media sites.

            To me, it seems like the problem comes from a small group of people intentionally misrepresenting the concept, and then people listening to them and not researching it for themselves. How many articles have you seen against trigger warnings where the author is crying about censorship or how we shouldn’t allow people to avoid difficult topics? What does that have to do with trigger warnings? Obviously nothing but that’s never stopped ignorance.

            I also think part of the problem is that mental health simply isn’t taken seriously. So we have peanut warnings and people don’t bat an eyelid. Nobody gets called oversensitive or criticised for asking for a heads up because physical illnesses are “real” and need to be taken seriously. If you have a mental health problem? You’re fucked, suddenly society shouldn’t have to accommodate you and you’re left to fend for yourself. Then when there’s the next mass shooting those same people will use your mental health issues as a scapegoat to avoid talking about gun control, and ignore the fact that mental health has nothing to do with mass shootings.

            Sorry for the rant there!

  2. I hear people saying we should call this PP shooter a terrorist and that it’s a double standard because he is white. I may be the only one but I feel like terrorism maybe should be redefined as violence being performed by an organized group. A lone gunman may be acting on behalf of what he thinks are the intentions of others, but nobody asked him to shoot up a clinic. That feels different to me than planned attacks by multiple shooters who are being funded by a larger organization. Getting even one other person on board with crazy fanaticism seems difficult in this country. The people shooting up schools, churches, movie theaters are all doing it alone. I don’t think their intention is to keep people from attending movies, school, etc.

    Not all of the details are out yet, but if it turns out there is a Right to Life training camp that this guy attended and learned how to shoot innocent people I’ll call it terrorism. Acting on behalf of ones own thoughts or those of an imaginary being feels like a lunatic with a firearm.

    1. The problem is that the word “terrorism” is a pretty nebulous term. The idea that it should only be applied to groups doesn’t seem to be part of any official definition I’ve ever seen though.

      The main features for something to be considered terrorism seem to be: 1) that it’s designed to cause panic or terror, 2) it targets civilians, and 3) it has some political motivation or agenda.

      Even assuming your understanding though we can still see a double standard with the case of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Canada where he was a lone gunman with no links to terrorist groups and had no political motivations, but shot a soldier and stormed parliament and was classified as a terrorist. All investigations seemed to conclude that the cause was in part his mental illness and a desperation to be locked up, yet that didn’t seem to matter.

      Dylann Roof, on the other hand, wrote an entire manifesto explaining that he performed his actions to cause panic and terror as part of a political agenda, and targeted civilians, yet he wasn’t classified as a terrorist. His just got called a hate crime.

      We can try to find rationalisations and reasons as to why the discrepancy is justified and, in some individual cases, maybe you’d be right – so perhaps the actions of the PP shooter didn’t have a political motivation. But it’d be a bit silly to ignore the fact that there is clear racism in how these events are perceived and reported in general, meaning that even if the claims of double standards are inaccurate for this case, they’re not wrong in the bigger picture. (For me personally, it seems like a pretty standard case of terrorism).

  3. These arguments are hardly ever addressed, and clearly address the issues on your podcast:

    1. Activists deserve extra challenge. If you are not actively working to steal away my rights of body integrity, please try to convince me.
    2. Real anti abortionists support birth control, because birth control is proven to reduce abortion. If you want to argue abortion without recognizing this fact and promoting birth control, you are a hypocrite, and not worthy of engaging.
    3. Bodily autonomy: Focus on the woman, not the fetus. She is the one that matters, the one making the decision and acting on it. It is bigoted to assume the responsibility of decision making for another autonomous human. Never let antis derail the convo by referring to ‘the womb’ or ‘the uterus’. It is patronizing to assume that she is not the decision maker. (This is really hard for them to do.)
    3a. Adults who are the product of rape or incest don’t matter because there is no pregnant woman involved anymore. Women who are pregnant by rape or incest matter because the pregnancy decisions belong to the woman, not the fetus, and not some other decision maker.
    3b. Your big challenge is a big derail. Murdering of doctors or othe violence shows that the antis cannot convince women. Women have considered options, made their choice, and purposfully acted to terminate. Doctors are facilitators only, as are clinic escorts, nurses and receptionists. These others aren’t targeted only because the doctors are the pinch point. If they are so sure that abortion is murder, they should name the women as murderers and go after those who terminate their own pregnancies, 30-40% of the population. But, because they dont recognize the women as equal and full citizens, they have to blame the doctors. We know that women are the motivated actors, because they will self harm to induce miscarriage when abortion is not available.
    4. Shut down straw women arguments: there are no frivolous 7 month abortions. That is insult added to injury for women who are desperate for an abortion which has been denied, and women who are grieving a wanted pregnancy lost to health or birth defects. It characterizes women as idiots or immoral or subcitizens, not self actualized actors making decisions in their own best interest.
    5. Mental health: culture matters. Patriarchy is the cultural mental illness, religion is only a subset. In India, schizophrenics hear voices that tell them to clean house. In the US, voices tell them to commit violence. Yes, call the violence terrorism, because that names the goal: submission. Terroristic patriarchy – sometimes religious, sometimes not, has been the driving force for genocides, wars, domestic assualts and murders, lynchings, rape, violence and abuse of almost every kind. Do not allow the disingenuous shrug of “oh, he’s crazy, nothing we can do here, nothing to see here, move along, next issue!” Naming the patriarchal terrorism allows us to begin to understand how to change instead of dismissing the issue.

    Final challenge: ask why antis have been unable to convince 1/3 of US women not to abort. And … Why don’t they advocate kidnapping doctors and convincing them, instead of killing them? Because they don’t have the better argument.

  4. One thing wrong with your analogy is that you kept saying that this hypothetical murder is “endorsed” by the government and half of the people. I don’t think abortion is “endorsed” by anyone. It is allowed by law in the US and I think there’s a difference.

    What we really need in this country is education—sex education backed up with ready availability of contraceptive options. If people know how the human reproductive system works and have options available to them for PREVENTION of pregnancy, abortion will become a seldom-used last resort.

    It’s weird how the anti-abortion folks are also vehemently anti-all-the-things-that-would-mitigate-the-need-for-abortion.

  5. just had one brief comment, you specifically referred to planned parenthood as an abortion clinic, time stamped 5:52-5:55 “This crazy dude who shot up an abortion clinic”. As I am sure you’re well aware planned parenthood provides a wide variety of services and i think it is wrong to say that it was specifically an abortion clinic, words mean things, and I am sorry for splitting hairs, but these things matter. Love the show, cheers!

  6. The only reason why antichoicers allow an exception for rape, incest, or life of the mother is that these are the only circumstances where the woman is, in their judgement, blameless. Its all about sexual sin, shame, and blame. If she chose sex, she is at fault, so therefore the fetus has priority. Those three situations are the only time antichoicers actually refer to the woman as other than a body part. All the other discussions are about ripping the child out of “the womb”, or referring to “the vessel” as if there is no fully realized person whose body is being depersonalized into just an incubator.

    The woman – the person- her body, her rights, and her choices have to be the primary consideration in any discussion about abortion. Otherwise, her rights will be stolen away from her.

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