Monday, February 8, 2010

Killing Beethoven

You've probably gotten the e-mail before or seen the scenarios used in arguments about abortion:

A teenage girl is pregnant. She is not married. Her fiance is not the father of the baby, and he is very upset. Would you recommend an abortion?

If you did, you just killed Jesus!

Gah! First, there's the fact that the scenarios are often total distortions of the truth or outright lies (particularly the Beethoven one), then there is of course the immediate comeback of "Well, wouldn't we be better off if Hitler's mom had gotten an abortion?" (which I think is terribly oversimplistic, but whatever, it works as a retort since the entire thing is a bit oversimplistic).

I understand that the point of these scenarios is to point out that you should think about what your unborn child might turn out like in the future, his or her personality or gifts, and take more into account than just your bad situation, since plenty of awesome people have come out of bad situations. However, these little "gotcha!" scenarios seem to take as implicit that what the world gains or loses is more important than the individual personal lives concerned.

Does the world really have the right to demand a Jesus or Einstein or Beethoven from a pregnant woman who doesn't think she can handle it? It's not like we as the entire world do or should be permitted to vote about who is able to or required to enter the world and join the human race. Is a Beethoven (or a Tim Tebow...) owed to us? Of course not. If people really thought this way, they'd be mixing and matching eggs and sperm all over the place, trying every combination so that the world could have as many great artists, leaders, and scientists as physically possible. (Who are we missing out on? Somewhere out there there is a combination that will beget the person who will cure cancer—hurry up and find it!) Obviously this is madness. (I suspect their actual thought process is that God has a plan, and if you abort someone, you could be stymieing his great design for us all. If so, then God's plan isn't very thorough.) It just seems terribly selfish for the world at large to say, "But hey, I like [that guy]! You don't have the right to keep [that guy] from existing and enriching my life." Shut up, world. What did you do to help [that guy] out on his path to awesomeness, and what did you do to deserve [that guy's] contributions to society?

I guess it all eventually leads to perhaps my biggest pet peeve of all: thinking genes are destiny. I mean, obviously had Beethoven never been born, the Ninth Symphony would never have been written (and then what would we hum when something dramatic and foreboding was happening??), but who is to say that Beethoven's particular package of genes is necessarily the package of genes best suited for taking the musical world by storm? Other great musicians would have still come along; music would still have developed, though perhaps in different ways; other great music would perhaps have come to the fore, being less obscured by Beethoven; we would have developed different cultural tropes with different works of music.

More importantly, I'm pretty sure the world already contains plenty of children with the capacity to become great humanitarians, political leaders, writers, medical breakthrough-ers, philosophers, artists, and so forth; maybe we should concentrate on giving them the opportunities to develop those talents rather than sit around hoping that some genius will fall into our laps fully formed (which isn't even what happened in probably any of those cases anyway). If the kids who could cure cancer or make the next mind-twisting scientific discoveries are stuck in really bad schools full of science teachers who don't really understand what they're teaching and don't do a very good job at it, they're probably not going to go on to study science in college because they'll think they're not sciency people. Let's take care of the genius that's already in the world before we worry inordinately about that which could possibly come into the world if people made other decisions.

The value of a human life is supposedly sacred regardless of who that person turns out to be or what they end up doing. These scenarios (though perhaps deliberately so as they are aimed to make the heathen reading them think again) seem to be almost utilitarian: the world is better off with these people in it, therefore they must be born. You'd think those who are pro-life would balk at seeming to make such ends-based calculations; isn't it inherent in the sanctity of life that you respect people as people and don't use them as the means to some other end? Whatever happened to valuing all life as life?

For some other date (perhaps): the world had Jesus never been born.

1 comment:

  1. Boring answer to proposed future blog topic: I'd give it even odds that Jesus never was born.