8.27.2008

the false dichotomy

A dichotomy is a division or contrast between two things are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different according to my dictionary widget. (I love the dictionary widget. Everyone should have a dictionary widget.)

My mind has been rolling the concept of dichotomy around for the last few days, in particular what characterizes a true dichotomy and what characterizes a false dichotomy. I've been thinking about it so much that I've probably used the word dichotomy in every conversation I've had in the last week. Or I've thought about using it and decided against it because NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT at a bar, a barbecue, or the queue at Target.

I'm going with the inflammatory sanctity of life subject to illustrate some of my thoughts because all other illustrations I've brainstormed this evening are slightly dull and less obnoxious.

When I read Genesis, I see the creation of humanity as a sort of capstone of creation, the thesis, the final project. It was important enough to merit a reexamination in Genesis chapter two. Human life is precious, amazing, and miraculous. You don't have to know an adorable little baby to be amazed by the people around us and the complexities of who we are.

Even those in our society who operate from a rational humanist perspective, have a high respect for humanity. Clearly something is different about the functionality of humanity. Mercy to the needy, caring for the poor, punishing those who have taken life are unique trademarks of humanity. Perhaps I am naive in my understanding of rational humanism, but with the exception of the outlying extremes, I find a respect for human life.

It seems that respecting human life is essential to our humanity. Regardless of your understanding of the origins of humanity, you know that there is something special going on between the ears of a human being.

And yet, as a human race in our wildly varying differences, we express our respect for life in all the colors of a rainbow. We label our "types of respect" with such things as pro-life and pro-choice, but these labels falsely dichotomize the issue of the sanctity of life. Bear with me.

I find a disturbing incongruousness in the support of expanding the death penalty availabilities and an avid stance against laws allowing the availability of abortion. Similarly, I find a disturbing incongruousness in an avid stance against laws allowing the availability of abortion and a lack of support for policies that would eliminate the need for abortion.

You see, I consider myself to be staunchly pro-life. But I cannot simply define it on one issue and one policy, I must see it as protecting the children, the widows, the poor, the unheard, and the unseen. If I am willing to set legal limits on the practice of abortion, I must also legally seek limits to things that harm human life in other ways.

I find a plea in the voices of those labeled pro-choice to protect the lives of those already born. I hear a plea in the voices of those labeled pro-life to protect the lives of those yet born. Their plea is to protect life. And while I understand it to be highly idealistic to imagine we can fully eradicate the need for abortion, I think our time would be better spent on that eradication than arguing about the intricacies of a legal issue that Clarence Thomas once told a roomful of people (in which I was present) is only going to get worse.

If in the pro-life community, we can shed the need to label pro-choice proponents as "baby killers," we might see them as advocates for social programs that support at-risk women, families, and neighborhoods suffering from economic depravity. We might see them as proponents of different forms of life.

We might find that there is a false dichotomy in this issue, that all anyone wants is to care for humankind.

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Please be gracious in the comments. Don't be falsely dichotomous.

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