Gram’s Catholic-ness

I’ve been spending far too much time with my grandmother lately.  Here’s the situation: Grandpa can’t drive because he’s in too much pain to walk most of the time from his Rheumatoid Arthritis and other ailments.  Grandma can’t drive because her eyesight blows.  I’m glad neither of them are driving – and you should be, too.  But that means that I have to take Grandma shopping one or two days a week.  And honestly, I have mostly enjoyed the one-on-one time with her.  In a way, we are finally getting to know each other.

Which brings me to the other day.  We’re waiting on Freistadt Road to turn into the post office (because Grandma won’t put checks in her unsecured mailbox in the middle of her very affluent neighborhood for fear of mailbox bandits) to mail a check to pay a bill.  As I begin to make the left-hand turn, Grandma blurts out “I know who I’m voting for” as if she’s a child proud of a new accomplishment and expecting a sticker or something.  I knew where this was going, but how do you just not respond to a statement like that?  So I ask her who the lucky candidate is, to which she replies “John McCain”.  I’m sure you can hear the fractures in my skull.  I continue to bite and ask her why she chose him and she starts blabbing about how he’s the only anti-abortion candidate and how she can’t believe the war is even an issue when every month abortion kills more human life than the war has since it began.  My heart rate is elevated, I can’t see clearly, and I’m in danger of talking back to my grandmother – which I’ve done before, but am unprepared to do while stuck in a Kia Rio with her sitting next to me.  So I contain the boiling blood and nod.  I mutter things like “yeah” and “uh-huh”, because I have nothing intelligent to say to a woman who really believes that crackers and wine are the body and blood of a man who died and rose from the dead more than 2000 years ago.

There is plenty that bothers me about this interaction.  I guess the biggest thing should be my grandmother’s ignorance about the world and her own granddaughter.  But then there’s the one-issue voting thing, too.  There is no reason that one issue should determine who a person votes for.  Why?  Because the candidate who supports that one issue holds a lot of other values and it all comes as part of the package.  So while you might think you are voting to save lives by picking a candidate who wants to repeal a 30+ year old supreme court decision, you are also picking a candidate who advocates keeping American troops in Iraq indefinitely.  This really does lack consistency.  (I also think there should be consistency between a person’s stance on capital punishment and war, but that’s another issue.)

Then there is the lack of understanding about abortion.  Everybody has probably heard the anecdote from Freakonomics about the effect that abortion  may have had on crime rates.  What’s not included in that and other discussions of abortion are the complexities.  Due to the religious stranglehold on federal funds that fund sexual education in may inner cities that cannot afford the programs on their own, many of our youth don’t learn about the effectiveness of condoms as a birth control method, much less a method to control sexually transmitted diseases.  What they do learn is that anything other than abstinence is highly risky behavior and there is nothing that can make it safer.  They learn that condoms are ineffective, even though most of the teachers know better.  Why?  Because the law that gives our inner-city schools  the money to execute these programs specifies that the teachers can’t say anything positive about any protective measure other than abstinence.  So we’ve got kids out there having sex without protection, believing lies told by enthusiastic boyfriends about how to make sure not to get pregnant.  And we wonder why teenage pregnancy is such a problem.  That’s just one of the facets of the issue.

And as for those people who say “If abortion were legal when my mother was pregnant with me, I wouldn’t be here”, I have sympathy for you.  You must not have had a happy childhood with a mother that really wanted you.  I can’t imgine how horrible you felt growing up.  I really am sorry.  But it hardly seems like a good reason to make it illegal for those who want to act responsibly after making a mistake.  On the other side of their argument, if my mother wasn’t allowed access to a safe, legal abortion a few years before I was born, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be here.  I’m very glad that she was able to decide when she was ready for motherhood despite not being perfect.

I know my grandma reads her Guideposts magazines.  They have these “inspirational” stories about people overcoming adversity.  At least that’s how Grandma would describe them.  But the last time I read one of the stories in one of these magazines, I could only describe it as preachy.  Not to mention the fact that stories were recycled from one issue to the next over and over again.  There was a point in my teenage years where Grandma would give me her old issues and ask me to read them.  She would ask me about the articles later, so I had to  make sure to at least skim them.  I would recognize the stories (after the first issue) and go and compare them to the stories in the previous issues.  I found them to be the exact same stories.  So I guess I would call them preachy and unimaginative.

Then Grandma complains to me that my sister has had no religious “upbringing”.  I think, in a way, not being attached to a church while growing up can be a valuable asset.  It forces you to confront the issue of religion as a whole rather than just assume that the way you were “brought up” is the only correct way to obtain eternal salvation.

Either way, my grandmother’s religion should not totally dictate who she votes for unless she’s going to at least try to reconcile inconsistencies within the church’s stance and/or the candidate’s stance.  I spent an entire semester of my education at Alverno College (a Catholic school) interning for Planned Parenthood of WI.  When I was setting up the internship I remember sharing my concerns about the compatibility of PPWI’s values with those upheld by my school and it’s sponsors the School Sisters of St. Francis. The internship coordinator assured me that the nuns would be more agreeable on the issue than it would seem.  Now, I am not claiming to understand the views of Alverno or the School Sisters of St. Francis, but there are a wide array of views that would allow for being a “good Catholic” (following the teachings of the Bible and the Pope) and allowing the existence of organizations that advocate responsible sex practices and the existence of safe, legal, and rare abortion.

Yes, there are going to be a few women who use abortion irresponsibly as a form of birth control.  It’s unfortunate.  But the vast majority of women who get abortions and doctors who perform them don’t enter into the surgical procedure without first having thought about it long and hard.  And if our interest here really lies with the well-being of the fetuses, then let’s consider the possibilities.  If the fetus isn’t aborted the mother has two options: keep the baby or give it up for adoption.  If she keeps the baby, she is ensuring a certain lack of opportunity for her and her child.  If she puts the baby up for adoption, she is usually ensuring a miserable trip through the foster care system for it.  The people who would be potential adopters are mostly now undergoing fertility treatments and using technology to get pregnant and give birth to a being that contains their own genetic information.  Truthfully, there are already plenty of kids who need good homes.  Until all of our children are being cared for in loving permanent homes, we shouldn’t be pushing more kids into the system.

Then comes my final, and strongest, argument for keeping abortion legal. Our society is secular – not religious.  Objection to abortion is a religious issue.  Christians, Muslims, and probably members of other religions object to abortion as against god’s will or something.  To them I say “Great.  Don’t get an abortion.  But don’t force others who don’t share your religious views to be bound by your religious laws.”  Christians don’t like living under Muslim law, right?  Muslim’s don’t like living under Christian law, right?  And nobody liked living under Roman rule, right?  So let’s have our separation of church and state.  Just because some people don’t eat meat on Fridays doesn’t mean you can’t get prime rib on Friday.  And we should always have that option.

There is only one situation in which  I can see outlawing abortion.  It’s called an IDEAL SOCIETY.  If and when we achieve it, I’ll be more than happy to sign my name on the petition to make abortion illegal.  But until then, keep the government out of my sex life and out of my doctor’s office.

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