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James Martin, S.J.May 04, 2009

Many in the pro-life movement seem to agree that we need not only new strategies (since public opinion seems more or less fixed) but also a new language.  Well, here's something new.  Now, I'm not suggesting that we move away from anything in the Catholic tradition, but if you're looking for a novel approach for the hard-to-convince from an unlikely source, Matt Weiner, the head of the Interfaith Center in New York, notes that for Buddhism, too, the fetus is human.  I'm not an expert, so I'll let Matt explain it.  This is taken from his piece on the Huffpost

"In the west this Buddhist principle is wielded by social justice liberals when arguing against war, capital punishment, and torture. It tends to be twinned with meditation, the Buddhist activity for reaching a peaceful state of mind, which makes one less violent, and therefore less likely to produce bad karma.

But here is where liberals take what they want from a tradition, and leave out the over arching logic. According to Buddhism, a fetus is a human. There is no distinction either in definition or in karmic punishment. In this way Buddhism is far more confident about when life begins than say Catholicism, which leaves this answer as a mystery.

Buddhism is deadly serious about non violence, because karma has serious consequences. Morality is never about a person's right to choose, but about understanding the consequences of ones actions. Or put another way, moral action is entirely about what one chooses to do -- and one must suffer the consequences. The rules in Buddhism are really vows, not set up to please God, but to protect people from being reborn into unseemly realms....

...Accepting a moral principle, though and following it through does seem to take courage. The day after 9/11 the Dalai Lama wrote to President Bush, his most important political ally, warning him about the danger of responding to violence with violence. He also defended the Pope's view on abortion. Religious principles can unexpectedly alienate. The unexpected is rarely easy. But then moral choices never were."

James Martin, SJ

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15 years ago
I can see where Buddhism would conclude that abortion is violence, especially after the embryo has become a fetus.  That is no more relevant to the public policy debate than canon law, however.  The question that must be addressed is whether the violence of governmental action is either effective or simply begets further violence.  Debating the moral character of the fetus may be emotionally satisfying for members of the pro-life movement - however it does not bring the movement any closer to an effective strategy to limit abortion through either economic means or use of the power of state violence.
15 years ago
I buy into the alliance with Buddist thought.. They seem sincere and better allies than the more 'pro-Republican than prolife' leaders who have dominated the strategy up to now.. I see seamless garment in the Buddist approach.. so much more so than the Evangelical 'allies'  
15 years ago
It's not because their worldview has gotten stale that those women who choose abortion choose abortion.  It might be invigorating to those who have become tired of the seemingly unending debate on the subject to look at it from a different philosophical perspective, but it does absolutely nothing to address the issues that drive the actual choice.  People who are pro-choice usually believe that given the choice, they would choose life, whereas people who are pro-life believe that no one should be allowed a choice.  The impasse has very little to do with anyone's understanding of the cosmic significance of birth and death.  It has to do with what people define as personal boundaries for themselves and others.  My feeling is that each individual is responsible for behaving in a God-pleasing way with regard to their sexuality.  I do not believe it is up to me or my government to force people to behave in God-pleasing ways.  However, it is my obligation to God to be an example of God-pleasing behavior even if I would prefer that it go unnoticed.  Therefore, I accept that I might become the object of people's ridicule or criticism.
15 years ago
Are you sure about the Dalai Lama claiming that an embryo is an human being? I'm not an expert, but is it possible that the Dalai Lama would have opposed abortion in the same manner that he opposes eating the meat of animals... that is: you're taking a life of a living being? I know that the present Dalai Lama had the following to say about abortion: 'There might be situations in which, if the child will be so severely handicapped that it will undergo great suffering, abortion is permissible. In general, however, abortion is the taking of life and is not appropriate. The main factor is motivation.' Although I suppose if this arguing strategy works for promoting pro-life, it is still good then. God Bless,
15 years ago
"i pretty much think we have settled that personhood begins at conception ..." Caution, here. Conception does not produce a unique human being. It is possible for twins or multiples to result from a single act of conception, or for multiples to later fuse into one person. If we define "person" as unique, then we can't say personhood begins at conception. No problem with phrasing it this way: human existence begins at conception.
15 years ago
Personhood beins at the creation of the unique human creature. Conception is usually the case, however the moment of twinning would also be the creaion of the second child, no? In cases where one embryo absorbs another, one unfortunatly dies. Pretty much any situation can be accounted for, lets not go through the whole list, rather just apply the basic Catholic principles to the concrete situation. The point is the unborn child has full natural rights equal to those of everyone else.
15 years ago
I am not sure that Catholicism isn't sure about when life begins. i pretty much think we have settled that personhood begins at conception; speaking scholasticly, when the form of a human is present. We see the ensoulment and the whole situation of husband and wife being co-creators with God a profound mystery, but I doubt any Catholic who knows his faith well and actually belives it would say that the Church has disagreement over the beginning of life. There may be individuals who dissent, but luckily the Church is not a debating club or a buffet line, we have an authoritative teaching body led by the sucessor of Peter himself! We are in good shape when it comes to truth. That said, I would be willing to look at other people's articulations of the truths we hold (since, as we know from Vatican II, whatever truth they have incompletely we have the fullness of, but might not be utilizing as best we could). However, I would be leary of importing doctrinal elements such as kharma which are, from the Catholic perspective, incomplete at best fictional at worst. That aside, if Bhuddists can articulate a defence of life based on true principles, especially if it spans all life and creates a consistent ethic (no torture, NOR execution, NOR war, NOR abortion, NOR etc.) better than we have been doing, then we shoudl adopt what is true in their arguement, complete what is deficient in their principles, and discard what is false in their doctrine.
15 years ago
Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side." [Luke 9:49-50]  
15 years ago
Professor/Reverend Keith Ward has an interesting lecture online about Buddhism and abortion - http://www.gresham.ac.uk/event.asp?PageId=45&EventId=498
15 years ago
Thank you for this reflection, Father! It's wonderful to learn how another tradition's spiritual concerns intersect with our own. Like Brian Thompson, I am concerned about a possible danger of the karmic philosophy which is behind the Buddhist reasoning here, a philosophy which -- if I understand correctly -- reposes mainly on the negative energies that the mother will have to bear if she kills her own child in the womb. Under a philosophy that doesn't balance this self-interest carefully enough with an altruistic, loving concern for the life of the child, could an argument be made for too lenient an interpretation of the notoriously ambiguous "health of the mother" exception? The Dalai Lama is one of the last people I would want to criticize (and I myself have certainly said a million things I've regretted deeply later on!), but I have to take issue with this comment attributed to him in a 1993 interview with the New York Times: "Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance." The implication that the death of a handicapped or retarded or otherwise "difficult" or "inconvenient" child is less likely or able to wound us than the death of a "normal" child is vicious...so I think that arguments centered on the idea of karma should be rejected if they rely solely on an appeal to a woman's isolated spiritual self-interest... Peace, Nicholas

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