Alabama’s Abortion Bill

2000

My questions, unanswered, hang in the heat. I want to know why change comes hard in the Deep South, why generation after generation accept the religious precepts they are handed as if each day were not studded with evidence that their god is neither just nor caring. I want to understand why making continual excuses for a cruel and capricious deity is easier than living without one, and why a skewed omnibus written thousands of years ago is considered an instruction manual today.

At this point, humanity appears to be a failed experiment. We have not learned to co-exist or curb our numbers, and the scale of our pollution has tipped the balance of life on earth. If there were enough of us committed to saving our species, we certainly could. Our brains are up to the challenge. Scientists could develop the means and the rest of us would only have to be decent human beings. Without the wedge of religion, we might achieve this. With minds to better our world and hearts to better ourselves, what do we need with deities and dogma that only drive us apart?

Alabama legislators just passed a bill that makes abortion a Class A felony. Women in this state have been stripped of the rights to their own bodies regardless of their situation. This legislation was approved by 25 white males and one female, the state’s governor Kaye Ivey. In contrast to her Christian rhetoric on the sanctity of life, Ivey opposes gun law reform, believing that Alabamians have the right to own assault weapons.

250,000 children live in poverty in Alabama, and the state ranks 49th in infant mortality. Meanwhile, firearm mortality rates put Alabama in the country’s top percentile.

If this bill becomes law, the consequences are obvious. Welfare programs will be forced to expand. More children will become victims of abuse. Impoverished women or those fearing exposure will have babies they don’t want and are not equipped to raise. Others will seek abortions out of state, adding to the risk and cost. Reputable doctors will discontinue their services while those with more dubious skills will set up facilities in unsafe locations and charge high prices. People across the state will exist in a miasma of secrecy and dread. All because 25 men and one woman decided that a woman’s body does not belong to her.

I don’t know how Governor Ivy reconciles her religious speak with her views on private ownership of semi-automatic weapons. I don’t know how she can allow adoption agencies to discriminate against the LGBT community. And what I really don’t understand is how a woman can take away the rights of other women and consider herself a beacon of virtue.

From her desk in the state’s capitol, Governor Ivy signed a bill—much easier than looking into the face of a frightened, desperate woman and telling her that what she wants does not matter, that you have eliminated her options. If you’re going to play God you need to keep a safe distance, as far as possible from reason and accountability.

What is Religion?

When I was in college I took a class called “What is Religion?” Initially I brushed it off as a filler course, something I could snooze my way through. I wound up enthralled with the topics we discussed, and I can’t recall a class that impacted me more.

As the name indicates, we were attempting to define religion, and what we came up with was this: Religion is any means toward ultimate transformation. Given this definition, one can find religion via any number of routes, from the strictures of Roman Catholicism to the ecstasies of hallucinogens; even mind-blowing sex can be considered a kind of worship. What we bring our full attention to, what we immerse ourselves in, becomes our religion, our means of transcending stress and achieving bliss. A paleontologist might find his rapture digging for dinosaur bones; a painter becomes lost in her canvas; a rock star gets his glory on the stage. If you are deeply and actively interested in at least one thing, you can consider yourself religious (as long as this activity brings no harm to others—in defining religion I think we must make that distinction).

What I find most interesting here is the implication that transformation is necessary, that without religion we are unfinished, unsatisfied beings. When we are not engaged in our particular transcendent activity, where are we? What are we? Why do we not feel whole all the time, and why can’t we bring some of that passion into the rest of our lives?

Happiness, of course, is not sustainable. It touches us and moves on. Religion is more about awe, something we tend to lose as we grow into adults. Awe is surrender, total compliance—the apprehension of an overriding power. It is what I feel when I see a herd of horses run across a field or a single osprey dive for fish. Animals are my religion. When I behold them or think of them, my heart opens. I am wondering if this reverence can be summoned, if it can be worked like a muscle. To respect life in its entirety—that would be something.

So I have been trying. As often as I can remember, I slow down. This seems to be the key, the natural starting point. Walking, folding clothes, doing the dishes, I slow way down. I pick up a glass and consider its shape, or I fold a shirt with extra care, my fingers learning the fabric. I try to offer nothing more than admiration, and soon, like magic, I become calm. “Resist nothing,” Eckhart Tolle teaches. How peaceful this land is, this world stripped of me.

Maybe that’s the ultimate transformation, not so much a glorious ascent as a stepping aside. Maybe religion is nothing more than making way for wonder.

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