Overview:

A slavish conservative devotion to ancient religious and political texts contorts contemporary U.S. public policy on abortion and gun rights.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

American conservatives have a problem with documents, specifically the Bible and the U.S. Constitution.

It’s an interpretive problem because conservatives believe those docs are sacred or sacrosanct, which neither is (due to the fact that a god doesn’t appear to exist to sanctify them).

And because these documents are mischaracterized by conservatives as “holy” in some sense, using objective reason to protest or initiate change is considered by Christian Right Americans as blasphemous and, thus, taboo. Because of this divine belief, any even well-considered change on either issue is always politically fraught.

… the U.S. is an outlier, continuing intransigently to refuse to institute practical, rational federal laws pertaining to both firearms and abortion because the former is believed a sacrosanct right beyond consensus opinion, while a supposed sacred duty to prohibit attends the latter.

This is one reason, for example, that the nation is now being routinely traumatized by mass gun murders like the one recently visited on a blameless elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In that awful event, a newly minted 18-year-old with murky grievances and motivations shot to death 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers. The Second Amendment, without common-sense safety guardrails to protect society, virtually guarantees other deeply aggrieved people, perhaps with mental illness, will acquire weapons of war in the future to inflict their vengeful rage on innocents.

The holy aura of dusty texts

The holy aura through which conservatives view these dusty texts is also why, for instance, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision as anticipated next month, 15 states (including my own, South Dakota) will ban all abortions after conception (whenever that is), another 8 before viability, and five in either the first or second trimester, according to the New York Times.

That’s half the states.

The spate of planned new anti-abortion laws in numerous states often even disallows humane exceptions for rape, incest, and medical danger to the mother.

Why are these states being so heartless and draconian to mothers and, I should also point out, so un-Christian? Because who knows at what sanctified moment a fertilized human egg acquires a soul, right—whether a soul exists in the first place isn’t even being considered—and exactly when does terminating a pregnancy suddenly, presumably, become a profound legal and moral issue? So, the only choice, of course, insist conservatives, is to ban all abortions no matter what.

It’s “Pascal’s Wager” in a modern context: When in spiritual doubt, cover your ass. In other words, even if you truly doubt a “soul” is a real, God-sanctified thing but risk grave consequences if you’re wrong, by all means act as though it’s real.

“Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is, wrote Pasqual, a 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher, “Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”

Render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s

The Bible also ostensibly directs believers to honor government authority—“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” as Jesus reportedly said, according to Mark 12-17 in the Bible. Which, in the case of the recent Texas mass-shooting atrocity, means to Christian conservatives, falsely, that through the Constitution’s Second Amendment the government grants citizens an absolute, even sacrosanct, authorization to bear arms no matter the cost in human destruction and misery.

This is how devotion to ancient, hidebound documents that do not naturally change over time contribute to contemporary cultural norms and laws that ignore organically evolving societal shifts—like greater tolerance of abortion under certain reasonable restrictions in the West and greater intolerance of the presence of death-dealing weapons of war in civic contexts.

More abortions, mass murders

Two net results of this slavish devotion to antiquated texts are abject refusals by conservative, largely Christian, Republican federal lawmakers to entertain common-sense abortion and gun ownership laws in the United States.

This refusal to consider reality over fantasy translates into more abortions and gun-related deaths in the country, not fewer. Credible scientific studies have shown that legalized abortion since 1973 resulted in sharply fewer abortions, and the history of various advanced countries that have instituted stiff gun laws after horrendous mass shootings (i.e., Australia and New Zealand) strongly suggests that fewer and more regulated guns result in far fewer firearms-related fatalities and injuries.

Yet, the U.S. is an outlier, continuing intransigently to refuse to institute practical, rational federal laws pertaining to both firearms and abortion because the former is believed a sacrosanct right beyond consensus opinion, while a supposed sacred duty to prohibit attends the latter.

In fact, nothing is sacred or sacrosanct, in a humanist view, because deities don’t exist in that context (or any other). So non-religious people believe practical interventions should be based on facts and material reality, not faith and other spiritual imaginings.

For some nations, only one mass shooting suffices

Keep in mind that a number of Western nations instituted tough new firearms laws following only a single mass-shooting event, whereas the U.S. has chosen to endure hundreds of such atrocities for decades without passing any significant federal gun-control legislation. And the ubiquity of guns in American, not mental illness, is the most accommodating force in these terrible tragedies.

The 15 worst such American attacks from 1999-2017 killed 368 people and injured another 1,137, and more than 200 mass shootings have occurred in the country so far just in 2022, killing hundreds of adults and children. General gun violence in America has erased about 17,300 people thus far in 2022, more than half by suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

After Roe v. Wade, abortions plummeted

Meanwhile, abortions, deemed constitutionally legal since 1973 in the U.S., dropped sharply in the many decades since that decision. According to the respected Guttmacher Institute’s findings, abortions per 1,000 women in the U.S. fell from 16.3 in 1973 to 14.6 in 2014, according to a 2018 report by Checkyourfact.com. The report notes that the number of abortions has dropped every year since 1990 due in part to greater access to contraception, including longer-term birth control options like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs).

So, how exactly is clinging to obsolete texts making America better or safer. In fact, it appears to be accomplishing the opposite.

Not that many Americans seem to be noticing enough to realistically do anything about it.

Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...