The dangers of “concordance theology”

One of the problems of private interpretation of Scripture, along with the idea that the Holy Spirit alone is enough to keep us from error (compounded with the temptation to arrogantly assume that all the other people in the world who come to differing conclusions than us simply aren’t listening to God) is that our methods of interpretation can sometimes become truly odd indeed. This is especially the case if we aren’t learned scholars, knowledgeable in the Biblical languages, educated in the history and culture of the human authors, and well studied in theology and doctrine. The wheel we re-invent in our unwillingness to rely on the wisdom of the ages is all too often prone to be a rickety, even dangerous wheel.

Enter what I’ve dubbed “concordance theology”. This is when someone, attempting to plumb the depth of meaning in a particular verse or passage, seizes on a key word, looks it up in their trusty concordance or Bible app search function and, after hopscotching around the Bible, comes up with some way of stringing a bunch of verses together to arrive at some all too often novel meaning.

Let me demonstrate.

John 10:7 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep.

Hhhhmmm… What does this mean? Jesus couldn’t be saying that He is a literal door! I know — let Scripture interpret Scripture! Let’s see where the concept of “door” first appears in the Bible.

Genesis 4:7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”

Uh oh. That makes it sound like the door is a place where sin crouches. But wait — if that’s true, there needs to be at least one other verse to confirm that.

Proverbs 5:8 Keep yourself far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,

Oh, wow. Doors are associated in Scripture with sin, and we are warned not to go near them. Is Jesus warning us to stay away from Him? Apparently He is the door for sheep, but doors are not for people trying to avoid sin.

John 10:2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

Now I get it! Shepherds are leaders, and only they are strong enough to actually get near enough to enter the door where sin is crouching. When Jesus said He is the door for sheep, He really meant that only shepherds should get close to Him. Got it.

I admit that it took me very little time to make this all up, and I made it as ridiculous as possible, but I’ve heard examples of “concordance theology” almost as absurd. Unfortunately, the people espousing their interpretations were serious, and were insisting their conclusions were obvious, sometimes to the point of exclaiming, “I can’t understand why no one else has ever seen this before!”

Exactly.

I thank God that He did not abandon me to living as an orphan with a Book, left to muddle my way through it on my own. Thank God for His Church, and for a glorious tradition of Saints far more learned and holy than I can ever hope to be!

Unintended consequences?

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women with Downs Syndrome talk about what it’s like to grow up in a society where the vast majority of babies like them are aborted? Have you ever listened to these women talk about how they deal with societal messages that it would be best for them if they didn’t exist, that their lives are not worth living? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who were conceived during rape and/or incest, sometimes when their mothers were really young? Have you listened to them describe what it is like to hear people say that their mothers, by not aborting them, did not make what is the “best choice, 100% of the time”? or what it’s like for them to hear that no one could possibly love a child conceived by rape? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who have survived their mothers’ attempts to abort them? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who grew up in the foster system describe what it’s like to hear that it would have been better for them not to have been born at all, that no one should have to live their life? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who regret their abortions? Have you held women in your arms as they wept over abortions from years, even decades, before? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to pro-life women? Or have you bought into the idea that all pro-life people are men who want to control women’s sexuality? Have you listened, really listened, to women who are falsely accused of not adopting, not fostering, not supporting single mothers, etc.? Have you visited your local crisis pregnancy center and politely asked the women there why they volunteer and what services they provide? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to black pro-life women talk about the ugly racist legacy of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood? Have you listened to why some black women say that abortion is black genocide? I have.

Do you know what it’s like to have a doctor, mistakenly thinking that your medical condition is genetic, suggest your baby be immediately tested in utero because, “of course you won’t want to bring a child like that into the world”. What?! “Of course I don’t want to bring a child like me into the world?” Did you just seriously say that to my face?

Do you know what it’s like to have a miscarriage in our culture, to wake every morning with a grief so intense that it’s like a sledge hammer blow to the heart, and to carry that grief in a culture and society full of laws, politicians, and abortion advocates loudly insisting that it was not a child that I lost, but a product of conception, a clump of cells, a part of my body no more significant than an appendix, perhaps even somewhat of a parasitical creature — but certainly less than human because it had not lived long enough to take a breath. Do you know what it’s like to experience agonizing grief in a society that doesn’t think I lost anything worth grieving? I do. The only people who wept with me, who carried my sorrow with me, who were there for me, were the pro-lifers who supposedly don’t care about women.

My dear, sweet, beautiful daughter has lost babies in the womb. She buried four sons. Sons — not clumps of cells or potential humans. I lost grandsons.

Do you know what it’s like to hear the stories I’ve heard, wipe the tears I’ve wiped, weep with the women I’ve wept with, grieve the losses I grieve — and have to ask myself over and over again: Do abortion advocates realize how much pain they cause with their rhetoric? Do they even care about women? Or do they only care about women who want abortions?

This morning’s Gospel reading at Mass jumped out at me:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a child has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you. When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions.’ (John 16:20-23)

NOTE: I will not be approving any comments advocating or defending abortion. You have the entire rest of the Internet to do that. Not here.

Echo chambers of white privilege? | Responding to memes

I recently encountered the following on social media:

Protestor with sign expressing a false accusation, unless the word “you” is singular and addressed to a specific person who believes that only white, healthy, non-impoverished babies have a right to life.

In an attempt to be charitable to the protestor, I will assume he or she truly believes what the sign says. That can only be possible for someone who lives in a bubble of white privilege, an echo chamber in which one does not actually encounter many (if any) people with divergent views, or people of other races, with disabilities, etc.

There is thinly viewed racism in what the protestor may have meant to be an accusation of racism against white pro-life advocates. The racist assumption is that no blacks and no Mexicans are pro-life. This could not be further from the truth.

I live in an area where I am increasingly at a disadvantage because I don’t speak Spanish. According to the 2020 census figures, the nearby city is 77% Hispanic, and the majority are from Mexico. At least one of the local pro-life groups is headed up by a Hispanic woman. At one of the local parishes, Mexican women gather often to pray for an end to abortion — for all babies. Obviously the white protestor holding the sign doesn’t live in a community like mine, or he/she would know of the strong pro-life and pro-family ethos among many Mexican women.

It is through conversations with Black women that I learned of Planned Parenthood’s racist origins (as far as I know, the organization has never repudiated their racist founder, Margaret Sanger) and what some view as a racist ethos that continues to this day.

To ignore the pro-life voices coming from the Mexican and Black communities is, at best, ignorance born from the privilege of living in a bubble populated only by people of similar beliefs and ethnicity. I would suggest that the protestor needs to venture out of his/her safe zone and actually engage with people before making assumptions about them.

Equally offensive, if not more so, is the accusation that people who hold the pro-life position only believe that some babies have a right to life. Those who truly believe in the sanctity of life do not believe that it only applies to their particular demographic, and only if the baby is healthy. As for the latter assumption, some of the most passionately outspoken pro-life advocates I’ve ever met or heard speak are people who were born with disabilities (the very disabilities or conditions that are often targeted for abortion).

I know many people who have worked tirelessly for the pro-life cause for decades. I have never encountered any who would suggest that a poor woman of another race, pregnant with a disabled child, consider an abortion. Instead, I know people who provide a myriad of services to support women with unplanned pregnancies, and who continue supporting them in many practical ways after the child is born. I know people who have adopted ill, disabled, and abandoned infants. I could go on and on.

The absurdity of this sign is even more apparent because the protestor felt a need to include “gay” and “transgender”, as if future sexual preferences and future gender dysphoria could somehow be diagnosed in babies. One would think the author of this sign viewed supposed pro-lifers as all being white racists who believe that only certain privileged babies have a right to life. If the protestor was pro-life, he or she would know that nothing is further than the truth. But it seems that the protestor believes that either no babies have a right to life — or only babies privileged enough not to be selected for abortion. Otherwise the sign would read, “All babies have a right to life, even if the baby is poor…” etc.

Pro-lifers believe that every baby, including the most inconvenient, unwanted, unloved baby — the very life too many in our society would deem as unworthy and disposable — is a human being created in the image of God, and thus is a life worthy of protection.

The protestor’s own privilege is showing.

Why I believe in informed consent and medical choice

Doesn’t everyone? Not really, it seems. Some people seem to think that there are any number of valid reasons that should override an individual’s right to consent or decline medical treatments. I’m neither a legal scholar nor an expert in ethics (to understate things to the extreme!) but I would like to explain why this issue is important to me personally. Here are my main reasons:

  1. I was raised by a survivor of Nazi Germany. In addition, one of our dear family friends was a concentration camp survivor. I grew up hearing about the horrors of the medical experiments carried out by Nazi doctors. Unless you or one of your parents suffered under totalitarianism, you probably have no idea how that shaped my thinking about freedom, the role of government, the rights of citizens, etc.
  2. When I was in high school, the horrifying Tuskogee medical experiments were in the news. I was both frightened and ashamed of my country.
  3. In the 1980’s, I became active in an organization that was seeking to stop the alarming high rate of medically unnecessary cesarean sections. What was troubling was how poorly mothers and babies in the U.S. fared compared to other countries with lower c-section rates and different obstetric practices. I became appalled at what I learned of the history of obstetric care in this country, the misinformation being given to mothers, and how mothers of not just my generation but pervious ones had to fight for better care and better hospital practices. We had science on our side, but it seemed like we were fighting a losing battle. We were no match for the medical industry.
  4. During that time, I also discovered that most doctors learned almost nothing about breastfeeding or nutrition, and were often the source of misinformation that many of my peers began jokingly referring to as “old doctors’ tales”. Again, we had science on our side… but that wasn’t enough. We couldn’t reach every mother, and we couldn’t fight the medical system. (Although, years later, I was excited about the strides made in changing many hospital policies that undermined breastfeeding.)
  5. I also learned, through bitter experience, that our medical system often withholds information from patients. It may not always be deliberate — medical professionals cannot inform us of something they themselves do not know — but our system does not always welcome questions, provide information regarding other treatment options, or disclose all of the potential side effects of treatments and medications. (Think of all the things we’ve been assured were “safe and effective” that turned out to be neither for far too many people.)

In short, I simply don’t like the idea of allowing either my government or medical professionals to make medical decisions for me. Ultimately, it’s not just a matter of wanting the freedom to make my own decisions; it’s also a matter of being the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions.