John Brown’s Body lies a-mouldering in the Grave

Eric Rudolph got life in prison yesterday, after pleading guilty to blowing up an Alabama abortion clinic, killing a policeman and gravely injuring eleven other people.

Facing the court, Rudolph declared: “I did not target them for who they were but for what they did. My actions that day were motivated by my recognition that abortion is murder. And because it is murder, I believe that deadly force is indeed justified in an attempt to stop it.”

Rudolph fancies himself a 21st century John Brown, the abolitionist zealot whose murderous rampages helped to inflame the American Civil War. Eric Rudolph is no John Brown. Brown would never cop a plea with a government he considered to be supporting a great evil. He went to the gallows. Rudolph is going to the penitentiary, where he will live at the expense of the taxpayers of evil America. He is one more sorry example of religious devotion gone wild, one more terrorist who kills innocent people to show how righteous he is, one more cultist promoting a culture of death-as-justice.

The dangerous mix of martyrdom and murder that motivated Rudolph is the “Christian” flipside to the “Islamic” suicide bombers that murder people everyday in their war against the Great Satan, America. But Eric Rudolph no more proves that Christianity is itself a religion of hate than the London Tube bombings prove the same about Islam. The problem lies not in religion itself, but in the twisting of religion into its sinister twin: the belief that one is right and must kill “infidels” or “apostates” whose beliefs differ from one’s own.

Rudolph has performed one valuable service for us—thrusting the abortion debate back onto the consciousness of Americans. And we must think about this issue, because it is not going away. The American Left offers only knee-jerk demands that “a woman’s right to choose must never be violated” and the Right screams that “abortion is murder.” But in our heart of hearts, all of us know that abortion is a moral and ethical issue with no easy answers. I have sat and cried with many young people who made this tragic choice—and it is always a tragedy—but felt they had no real alternative.

My father used to have a picture of his favorite aunt, a beautiful young woman who died after piercing the wall of her uterus with a coat hanger in an attempt to abort her pregnancy. In the 1930’s, there were no “family planning clinics,” there was no reliable birth control, there was only shame for young women like my great-aunt. My father died several years ago, a committed “pro-choicer.” It is in the crucible of our experience that we determine our response to moral issues. Dad was a committed family man, father of four children. He and Mom lost at least one child in a miscarried pregnancy. He knew the tragedy of the death of an unborn child and the tragedy of the death of a beloved woman afraid to carry a child to term. He did not want my daughter or anyone else’s to face that awful precipice. He taught us moral values, the sanctity of marriage, the holiness of child-bearing. But, beneath it all was that picture, and the young life cut prematurely short.

The reason ethics is hard is that it requires real thought, real wrestling with real issues. You can’t solve ethical problems with bumper sticker sized philosophical arguments.

I consider myself pro-life, but that does not mean that I want Roe v. Wade completely overturned. I am squeamish about abortion, just as I am about war, or even killing in self-defense. The taking of another life—even that of a fetus—must never be done thoughtlessly. Abortion as a birth control method is a moral wrong. But sometimes, the tragic choice must be made. We need to face up to what it is.

Progressives and moderates need to accept the fact that abortion somehow involves the taking of a life, and then develop a coherent theological and philosophical framework to, as Al Gore once said, “keep abortion safe, legal and rare.”

Eric Rudolph is no John Brown and the modern “culture wars” are not the moral equivalent of the abolition of human slave trading. But we must never let the wickedness of terrorists blind us to the injustices that give rise to their terrorism. That’s the only way we can gain the victory over them.

One thought on “

  1. “Eric Rudolph is no John Brown and the modern “culture wars” are not the moral equivalent of the abolition of human slave trading.”I wonder about this. I thought people like Rudolph believe they are, in fact, involved in the moral equivalent of abolishing slavery. I am not persuaded that you have given a good enough argument otherwise.So, for example, all the issues the religious right has been concerned about have been issues they get from their reading of the christian literature. To them, the ideas they get there have more validity than whatever they may think themselves.Isn’t the troubling thing about Mr. Rudolph that his own moral insights were irrelevant to the plans he made about his bombings? Yes, he might have thought, there will be great pain and suffering from the bombs I’m planting, but,there is no act too severe in the pursuit of christian righteousness! I find this troubling because it seems christians should be damned if they listen to their readings of the bible, as Mr. Rudolph may be, and damned if they do not, as Mr. Rudolph may argue that people are damned who allow a great evil to persist despite God’s warnings.


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