Wren Knippling: The intrusion of religion into secular life
By Wren Knippling
I grew up in a fundamentalist Catholic community, which was determinedly strict about concepts and opinions regarding gender roles and identities. If you were born with a male body, you had a specific role to provide for the household — fight, project strength and cast aside emotions. If you were born with a female body, your role was to raise the children, maintain the home, cook for the husband and family, and serve your husband.
My parents believed in this to the extent that they constantly pushed this narrative onto their kids. My sisters all had to wrestle with the feeling that they would not feel fulfilment in their lives unless they had a husband and bore his children. The idea of bearing children was their most important responsibility in life, and the idea that there could ever be a circumstance in which they would have to terminate a pregnancy was unfathomable. These ideas were grounded in my parents’ so-called “deeply held beliefs” and an aggrandized use of the word “faith.”
Across the country right now, conservative governments are cracking down on rights and individual liberties. These attacks are especially prevalent against women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and those living in poverty. The people attacking these communities share a common theme in that they constantly attack from the position of “family values” or “traditional views.” This is shorthand for religion, or, more specifically, the Christian religion.
But which version of the Christian religion? Funnily enough, it doesn’t seem to matter to the Christians themselves. It doesn’t seem to click with most people that there isn’t a specific denomination holding a majority opinion in this country. Christianity here has long hidden its cruel intentions behind the lie that, somehow, multiple denominations all disagreeing about minor particulars in the ancient texts compromising the bible equals a non-consensus in the views of how to run the country and where to apply certain rules over people. These separate denominations have long been in lockstep toward the obvious goal of dismantling democracy and installing a theocracy where anyone claiming religious piety can hold power and authority.
In the United States, there is supposed to be a wall of separation between the church and state. The Founding Fathers established this in our Constitution. The reason that the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the people,” and makes no mention of religion or God within its text is because independence wasn’t the idea of a god, nor was it the alleged God itself which fought to gain independence from Great Britain. It was people from all walks of life, levels of wealth, religious beliefs and ethnicities fighting for a secular cause. Men and women together. They were seeking freedom from the tyranny of religious beliefs which state that kings were appointed by God to rule, that their every word was to be obeyed as though spoken through the mouth of God itself.
I used to hear that Christianity was chipping away at the wall of separation between church and state. This was never the truth in my lifetime, however. Christianity has long since destroyed that wall, and is actively dismantling the state, all while hiding behind the idea of this separation to keep the state from defending itself or fighting back.
At the time of this writing, the nation is reeling from a leaked decision from the Supreme Court which will dismantle national abortion protections. It’s highly unlikely that this position will change before the actual release of the decision, even with rampant activism and a majority of citizens in the country holding the opinion that abortion is necessary healthcare and a right for all.
These religious fundamentalists have latched onto the idea that abortion is simply murder. The religious institutions themselves have convinced their followers that this is a crusade to protect vulnerable and innocent children. They refuse to empathize with the pains and struggles of anyone who may need abortions. They have decided upon a completely dogmatic and rigid view that makes no exceptions for concepts like rape, ectopic pregnancies or other conditions that would make the pregnancy dangerous for the pregnant person. They believe it is a sacred duty for a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.
For many Christians, it is not enough to simply condemn the practice; they must prevent others from having an abortion, even those who do not follow their religious beliefs or customs. They are campaigning against a human right to bodily autonomy because they have become convinced by their leaders that they may be tortured for eternity for not doing so.
Many women will be forced into pregnancies that will hurt them, or worse. There will be thousands of women brought in front of judges to defend miscarriages. Many of these women likely will still be convicted of murder. These poor people will quickly learn that, in the eyes of the law and their religion, a rapist’s right to force a pregnancy on anyone is more protected and sacred than their right to choose who they become pregnant with, when they do, and under what conditions they keep the pregnancy.
These opinions are coming from the same communities and institutions that hide child-abusing clergy from the eyes of the public and from justice, institutions that have been found time and again to be operating grooming operations, institutions that have covered up death-by-neglect casualties in the hundreds, if not thousands, in places like Ireland and Canada. These zealots have the unimaginable audacity to declare themselves the judges of morality.
At no point in the bible does God condemn the idea of abortion. More than once, God either commits genocidal levels of abortion (how many pregnant women died in the great flood?) or commands his people (Moses and his tribe are a prominent example) to commit them both in war and in conquest of territory. Instead, they use vague wording such as Jesus saying, “Blessed are the children” in order to justify their current positions while actively ignoring the dozens of times that the exact opposite sentiment is directly ordered by the character of God.
Let’s also be practical and honest about when and for what reason abortion became “abhorrent” in the eyes of these religious zealots. For years, the idea of abortion was commonplace simply because low birth rates and sacrifice were a part of life. We didn’t have the means to guarantee safe births. Many people lived in conditions such that when they were pregnant, they would not be able to make it to a care facility in order to give birth safely (if one even existed close to them). In older times, if a child was going to be born in the winter and there wasn’t enough food to sustain it, a miscarriage or abortion was a common part of life. Things like ectopic pregnancies or rape were, of course, occurring and added misery to these experiences.
Then came modern medicine and science. With modern advances —including sterile facilities, pain medications, rapid response times with ambulances, etc. — birth rates skyrocketed. It wasn’t God who began saving the fetuses, it was doctors and scientists.
As time went on, we started experiencing major population booms and people became complacent in the idea that a pregnancy would likely reach term safely. The Christian religions realized that they needed to commandeer this fortunate outcome and make it about God.
The Catholics were the first to start condemning the idea of abortion, saying that there was no such thing as a necessary abortion and that God would punish those who receive one or even those who condoned the idea. It wasn’t long before the rest of Christianity caught onto the polarizing effect the anti-abortion movement seemed to have. Soon it was common practice in most denominations to demonize abortions.
Let’s make something perfectly clear: This has nothing to do with the welfare of fetuses or the sanctity of life. It’s about the subjugation of women into the role they are said to play, according to a 3,000-year-old fable written by anonymous men. All of this is hidden behind the idea that the religious institutions believe the secular state has no right to interfere in their conduct of themselves running the secular state.
Religion is an unchecked authority that is seemingly free to use its vast wealth indiscriminately to subjugate people who do not even belong to their communities, including those who actively seek to remain apart from them. Religions cannot continue to be allowed to operate indiscriminately of established law simply because they are the proprietors of deeply held beliefs, especially when it is through those beliefs that they justify their tyranny.
It is a deeply held belief of many that abortion is a right. The religious have trampled that idea and, in doing so, have shown that they completely lack respect for the communities that they share space with. As such, they have foregone their own right to respect, privacy and impunity. They cannot be allowed to continue to exert such strong influence over our lives and government unchallenged. We must fight back before it is too late to do so.
FFRF Member Wren Knippling is a godless transgender woman living in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.