Child sacrifice, human rights, and being a voice for the voiceless

Several centuries ago, a child enters this world kicking and screaming, his mother lying breathless, exhausted in a clay hut. The sun has just risen over their civilization, as it has for weeks, without a cloud in sight. Not a drop of rain.

The child screams as if he knows his future. Drought means discontent gods. Discontent gods require sacrifices. Tlaloc, the water god, requires the tears of children. And death.

Travel back in time anywhere on the globe and you will find a human society that sacrificed children, infants, to please sadistic, malevolent gods. Today, we skim over those sections of our ancient history books — or ignore them altogether — because it disgusts us. How could humanity be this vile, this depraved? We would never do such a thing.

Really?

Maybe our rituals are a little different, our altars are ideological rather than physical, our gods aren’t distant tyrants in the sky, but child sacrifice is more common now than it was before. Since 1973, more than 53 million children have been sacrificed on the altars of self-advancement. And, yes, I’m talking about abortion.

Set aside the politics. Set aside the uproar around Planned Parenthood and its likely illegal harvesting of infant body parts (a practice that represents a serious conflict of interest for an organization that is supposed to be concerned with meeting the needs of the women who step through its doors). Set aside any talk of so-called women’s reproductive rights. This isn’t about that. This is about the sanctity of life and deciding that we will protect life no matter how young and helpless and seemingly insignificant.

It is alarming how easily we shrug off abortion and the use of fetal tissue in medical research. We talk about the women in crisis pregnancy situations, we talk about their needs, their concerns, their rights. “They didn’t choose this,” we say and, sure, that’s probably true.

But the fetus, the little human, did not choose to be conceived.

If you have to stamp something out to keep it from growing, it’s alive. If, when left in the womb to develop, it grows up to be a human child, that must be what it is from the very beginning.

The arguments about when human life begins are, to me, preposterous. People want to say the fetus isn’t a full human until it’s at 23 weeks gestation; others say not until the lungs breathe air; still others propose that, since the distinguishing character trait of humanity is the ability to reason, a child shouldn’t be considered human life until it develops that ability.

As a big sister to eight younger siblings, I’ve had the privilege of seeing four brothers and four sisters grow from infancy to their current age. Each of them was different from the rest before they spoke their first words. David was quiet and shy (still is), Elise was stubborn and a bit temperamental (still is), Matthias relished every ounce of attention he could get (still does). Personhood was there immediately. And my mother, I’m sure, would attest to their distinct personalities before birth.

We can bang our heads against a wall, trying to decide when human life begins for as long as we want, but it’s not going to get us anywhere, because we don’t decide when it begins. Just like we don’t decide whether or not it begins — the formation of a new life requires an act of God.

A good friend of mine recently posted a rant toward the possibility of the government defunding Planned Parenthood. I wasn’t surprised to find her on the opposite side of the issue — I’m hardly ever surprised when my friends share opinions radically different from mine. Sometimes I comment, sometimes I don’t. This time, I did.

I said, quite simply, that whether or not they’re defunded, they should be investigated and held to the law.

Another person responded to my comment with a link to a piece (on a NY Times site) that’s about the Planned Parenthood controversy but focuses primarily on the issue of fetal tissue research. Please notice that the first bolded question is not about Planned Parenthood or the ethical issues around “tissue procurement”, but about the importance of fetal tissue for medical research:

Unsurprisingly, researchers use fetal tissue to study fetal development and abnormalities. But fetal tissue has many other applications. It has contributed to vaccines against several illnesses—including polio, rubella, and chicken pox—and has the potential to help cure severe diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

I’ll be frank: vaccines are great, but developing them with the aid of fetal tissue does not — cannot — justify unwarranted death. My quality of life is not more important than the life of an unborn human being. Let me raise that a level: my life, my very existence, is not more important than the life of an unborn human being. My value is exactly the same as the fetus at 26 weeks, 15 weeks, or one minute from conception.

Why? Because we are both created in the image of God. His price tag is on us and it reads, “Infinite.” He decided to breathe life into both of us, so how can I hijack the power of my life to pull the plug on the unborn? The Gospel is all about the powerful caring for and giving themselves to the powerless, the strong providing for the weak. How can I take my power, my responsibility, and use it to undo a human being? To do so would be to join the ranks of those in past centuries who tore infant hearts from their chests, sliced newborn heads from newborn bodies, broke femurs and incinerated living children in the name of this idol or that idol, to benefit self, for the fulfillment of their desires and attempted quelling of their gnawing emptiness.

To quote John Piper:

We kill children, because they cut across our desires, they stand in the way of our unencumbered self-enhancement — and self-enhancement, you know, is god in America today. Self-enhancement and self-advancement is god. Therefore, this God at work knitting personhood in my womb is not god. And to intrude upon His sanctuary and work and destroy what He is knitting together into personhood is not ignominy, is not sacrilege. It is obedience to the god of self, who reigns in American culture. That is the fundamental root of the wave of abortion-on-demand in this country.

Child sacrifice is nothing new. It’s a human tradition stretching back thousands of years. But Scripture provides a remarkable illustration of a better reality:

In Genesis, God tells Abraham to take his only son Isaac up to the mountaintop and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham goes, kisses his wife goodbye, gives his son the wood to carry, and bears the knife. On their way up the mountainside, Isaac asks, “Where’s the lamb?” Abraham answers, I imagine in monotone, his external emotions frozen as his inside is a mess,

God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.

That’s exactly what happens. On the mountaintop, Abraham binds his son and lays him on the altar and, when he’s about to slay his son with the knife, God stops him and provides a ram of His own.

Ann Voskamp wrote back in August about the multi-faceted problem of abortion and made this point:

Every abortion is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero.

That women seek out abortions, that abortions are provided as a best solution to a problem, is a failure of humanity in not caring for the children and not caring for their mothers. If we would take our proper places in this world and decide to “do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17), realizing we are not alone in the battle for human life — in fact, God is on our side — we would see progress in both of these areas.

All humanity — the unborn, those who are physically or mentally disabled, the pregnant teen, the abortion provider, the people on the other side of issues — all humanity, regardless of wrongdoing and failure, is made in the image of God and should be shown love and compassion. God is all about setting aside His own rights to raise up the downtrodden, and we should follow His lead.

My rights do not trump yours; yours do not trump mine. And, ultimately, it’s not our rights that matter — it’s how we wield them for those who can’t yet wield their own.

I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s piece.

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