Nobody who rests comfily within the bed of Establishment thinking seems to want to take a position on the debate around abortion. All of what the venerable Ellen Tordesillas can add to the debate, for example, is a wish of “good luck” to those bold enough to take a position and slug it out in what is otherwise a splendid arena that pits the Forces of Ethical Thinking against the Forces of Primitivism. The highest profile players in this arena include New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights playing forward striker for the Forces of Ethical Thinking and on the other side is the 2,000-year-old bedrock of, well, 2,000-year-old thinking, the Roman Catholic Church, and its team of lumbering “morality” policemen, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
For me it is quite simple.
Take the soul out of the equation and the rickety house of cards that is the Primitivist position on the matter of abortion comes crashing down.
It is the role of the dubious concept of the “soul” that muddles the whole issue of abortion. Organised religion uses it as a spanner that continuously fouls up any attempt to take a level-headed and ethical view on the matter. For something being used to frame the “debate”, the “soul” is at best a nebulous and slippery construct. As such, the concept of the soul is a personal matter managed at a deep level on an individual basis. To use it in a very public debate that has far-reaching impacts in a society governed under the framework of a secular state is quite simply an abuse and perversion of religious dogma.
Remove the concept of the “soul” from the debate on whether or not to legalise abortion in the Philippines, and the guiding principle that then becomes the underpinning of this debate is the mind
Douglas Hofstadter in his book I Am A Strange Loop provides a compelling theory of what a mind might be, and I attempt below to summarise the conceptual cornerstone of his book:
The physical human brain is a complex machine for storing patterns, and the mind is an immensely complex pattern stored in this machine. The mind therefore forms in the brain starting from the time we are born and increases in size, complexity, and sophistication as we go about living the rest of our lives. The nature our mind is an outcome of how our brain organises data captured in the course of our interactions with the world around us into a pattern.
The mind can therefore be thought of as having two measurable properties: size and complexity. Size and complexity of one’s mind could be a function of the extent of a mind’s cognitive abilities — how broadly and deeply one could think, let’s say.
Granted, our current level of understanding of our minds and measurement technologies available currently fail to give us a clear basis for measuring the defining properties of the mind. The point is, such properties are definable. It is the approach and basis for calculating the values of these properties that lie beyond today’s science a the moment.
In contrast, there is no such hope of an intellectual grip around the concept of the “soul”. And therein lies the power of organised religion. Organised religion is able bypass the rigours of modern thinking and hold an entire society hostage using an undefinable construct.
Philippine society is being held hostage by an irrational fear of the “wellbeing” of the “soul” — what is essentially an unknowable unknown.
If only Filipinos can somehow bat away the pop-gun being held to our heads by the Roman Catholic Church and see the debate around abortion for what it really is. It is a debate around which of the two minds at stake here — the mother’s or the unborn child’s — does our society already have significant investment (time, effort, emotion and, yes, money) sunk into.
And we can regard it with this simple question:
Which is more valuable: the mind of an unborn child, or the mind of its mother?
To answer the question we can think of which between the above two is more replaceable, thus;
– A mother who loses an unborn child, can quite easily try again in the future
– A husband who loses a wife or a parent who loses a 16- to 20-year-old daughter to a botched abortion or complicated pregnancy cannot replace this loss ever.
While so much time, money, and emotion had already gone into the formation of the mind of, say, a pregnant 16- to 20-year-old not much in relative terms has gone into that of an unborn child. Indeed, other than hardwired brain activity inherited from our evolutionary legacy, the mind of an unborn child is basically empty — a mere vessel for containing a pattern formed out of life experiences that, perhaps, another vessel conceived at some future time could house.