Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Brahmin Bull” first appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of Touchstone.
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The Liberal Case Against Abortion
reviewed by Anne Barbeau Gardiner
A descendant of South Indian Brahmins, who holds degrees in physics and applied mathematics, and is a member of the ACLU, Feminists for Life, Amnesty International, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Vasu Murti claims to show from a purely “rational, secular” viewpoint, “apart from religion,” that human life begins at conception, a point he illustrates with photos.
Well and good, but there is more to the book than that, and that more undermines his argument. The author puts various civil rights on a par with the right to life, and then raises the “right” of animals not to be eaten by humans above the right of children in the womb not to be aborted. Also destructive of the argument for life is the “rational” argument he makes against traditional sexual morality.
The Born Animal
“ While there may be religious reasons to oppose contraception, divorce, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation, oral sex, etc.,” he writes, “there are no rational, secular arguments against such practices.” Thus defending sexual immorality as “rational,” apparently assuming that moral teaching is “religious” and therefore not rational, he denies that Natural Law is written on the hearts of men, and further, he abandons common sense, since sexual immorality is clearly the cause of so many abortions.
Similarly, he argues that recognizing the rights of unborn children just like “the rights of blacks, women, lesbians and gays, children, animals, and the environment” would be a sign of “secular social progress.” Here he puts the right to life of unborn children, foundational to every other right, on a par with civil rights and the imaginary right of a farm animal not to be killed for food.
In a chapter titled, “Vegetarianism: It’s Pro-Life,” Murti cites with approval Tom Regan, who argues that, as “those humans who were slaves were not recognized as legal persons in pre-Civil War America,” so also farm animals—which, he claims, have “beliefs and desires” and a “psychophysical identity over time”—are viewed nowadays as “legal property” when they should instead be viewed as “legal persons.” Murti himself calls animals “disenfranchised” and approves comparing “the mass killing of animals” for our food with the Holocaust.
The effect of his argument is to put animal rights on a par with those of young children, that is, above those of the unborn, whose right to life he thinks secondary. “Animals are sentient beings possessing many mental capacities comparable to those of young human children. If we fail to see them as part of our moral community, how will we ever embrace humans in their most primitive stage of development?”
In other words, if we do not treat animals as equivalent to young children and stop eating them, how will we ever be sensitive enough to care for children at the “most primitive stage” in the womb? To make the defense of the unborn dependent upon vegetarianism and the belief that animals possess similar rights does not help the unborn.
One other argument should be noted. Murti blames the failure of the “anti-abortion movement” on its being overly “religious” and recommends that it become “completely secular” to succeed.
Yet he turns around and says that the support of organized religion is the reason for the success of every major rights movement in the United States: the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. The animal rights movement, which has remained “secular” until now, needs to win the “support of organized religion” to succeed.
So according to him, the pro-life movement must abandon religion to succeed, while the animal rights movement must ally itself with religion to succeed. It seems that he wants animals to win the right to life before the unborn, and wants vegetarianism to be advanced by means of organized religion. How is this a “rational” and “secular” defense of the unborn?
In making his argument, Murti exalts beasts above their place in creation. It is a flight of fancy to say that animals have beliefs, desires, and a consciousness of themselves. Christians call the exaltation of the beast idolatry, since faith teaches us that only humans are created in the image of God, have been redeemed, and are promised eternal life.
According to Scripture and Natural Law, we should be good stewards and treat animals with due consideration, but we have every right to use them for our food and covering. In Genesis, God himself kills an animal to clothe Adam and Eve with its skin.
In the introduction to this little book, Carol Crossed, president of Democrats for Life, endorses Murti’s “universal argumentation” and opposes those whose “divisive faith beliefs” promote the “inequality” of animals and unborn children. So there you have it: Idolatry brought to you by Democrats for Life.
Anne Barbeau Gardiner is Professor Emerita, Department of English, John Jay College, City University of New York. She is the author of Ancient Faith and Modern Freedom in John Dryden?s The Hind and the Panther (Catholic University of America Press) and a regular reviewer for New Oxford Review.
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