I would propose we begin as follows. If you review the background materials for the forum (available as a link from the abortion forum homepage), especially three essays raise important questions. To begin with, John T. Noonan's "An Almost Absolute Value in History," which offers a perspective out of the Catholic tradition, can be helpfully compared with James Gustafson's "A Protestant Ethical Approach," in which Gustafson develops a six-point contrast between Catholic and Protestant approaches, as a way of helping us understand how they arrive at different conclusions. I would propose we review these essays and choose one or more of the following questions as opening questions for our forum:
a) how representative of Catholic and Protestant views are the Noonan and Gustafson essays? Does either leave out important considerations which should be before us? In particular, Gustafson suggests that his position comes to a conclusion which could be embraced by a Catholic priest under the specific circumstance of needing to avoid putting the penitent into a position of "bad faith." If Gustafson is correct, he points to a possible "bridge" position between Protestant and Catholic views. Is Gustafson correct? More generally, are such middle ground or bridge positions even possible - or desirable?
b) Noonan allows for therapeutic abortion under some circumstances, but implies by way of closing that a mother who held the image of Jesus' self-sacrificial love before her might choose to give up her own life in order to save her child. Gustafson is more liberal - and he closes his essay with a comparison with the Christian who will take another's life in a just war, "but mournfully." There is a contrast suggested here between an early Christian love of neighbor that included pacifism (the refusal to kill another, even in self defense) and the just war tradition which argues that love of neighbor does _not_ override considerations of personal and collective self-defense.
Might these larger differences, and the moral commitments they entail (pacifism, on the one hand, and just war on the other) help us better understand the issues, values, and commitments involved in the abortion question?
c) Anti-abortion views emphasize that the anti-abortion view has been a constant view throughout Christian history. By contrast, those views endorsing at least some forms of abortion as morally permissible emphasize that Christian traditions have offered varying responses to the question of abortion - thus relativizing the authority of a supposedly singular and unequivocal tradition and shifting the emphasis of moral authority in such decisions to the individual conscience (and perhaps an immediate circle of significant persons, including the physician, etc.) In this light, history matters.
Which of these views, to your knowledge, seems more complete and accurate in its portrayal of the history of Christian tradition in terms of Christian judgments concerning abortion?
d) Rabbi Feldman's essay points to several key differences between Jewish and Christian approaches to abortion. In particular, the two faith communities utilized different versions of ostensibly the same key text - - with the upshot that the Jewish tradition (rooted in the Hebrew text) allows for abortion under some cirumstances, while Catholic Christians and others, relying originally on the Greek translation, are more restrictive.
This difference in each community's version of a sacred text points not only to the apparently incommensurable differences regarding abortion; it points more broadly to the larger question of this forum - namely, how far will dialogue, ostensibly a necessary condition for democratic polity, carry us in the face of deeply rooted, irreducible differences between diverse communities?
What kinds of dialogue, if any, can we require between members of diverse communities, if they are to remain sister- and fellow-citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society?
How might such dialogues, if they are to take place at all, be structured?
With what goals?
e) As a "meta" version of "d": Gustafson and Noonan vary from one another in part with regard to the kind of claims they make about their claims: Gustafson explicitly seeks to move from a Catholic framework, which he characterizes as oriented towards a single, objectively right answer, towards a framework which is, he claims, more complex - and more ambiguous and pluralistic in the sense that this framework thereby seems in principle incapable of arriving at a single right answer.
Given the importance of dialogue and a concommitant pluralism as necessary conditions for democratic society - if a given religious position shows itself to be more dialogical and pluralistic than another, is it thereby automatically more "democratic"?
Contrariwise - how far will dialogue "work" to hold together a pluralistic society in democratic fashion, if that society is to include religious groups whose beliefs include an insistence on their view as the single, objectively right answer (i.e., as those beliefs, for members of that faith community, are not open to discussion or modification)?
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