Today Norman Geisler apparently defended his continued support for Donald Trump by claiming that Hillary Clinton is worse than Adolf Hitler. The reason? Her support for abortion.
I first learned about this from Hemant Mehta’s blog and so I’m going to quote the relevant passage from his article “Christian Theologian: I Still Support Donald Trump Because Hillary Clinton is Worse Than Hitler“:
… there is less chance that Hillary will change her views and become a pro-life supporter than that Trump will become pro-abortion after he is elected. So, if you want to save unborn lives, your odds are much better with Trump.
… we have aborted nearly 60 million unborn human beings under Roe v. Wade since 1973 — a decision that Hillary ardently supports. Reportedly, Hitler only killed about 12 million people. So when Hillary supporters point to Trump’s flaws, do we not have a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black!
While I am prolife (meaning: I believe non-therapeutic abortion should be illegal), I do not think that the elective abortion of a first trimester pregnancy is the simple moral equivalent of a child being sent to the gas chambers. (I’m staying with the first-trimester so as to focus on the least controversial claim.) I’m also astounded that I have to make that point in response to somebody like Geisler who has been teaching Christian ethics since before I was alive. Consequently, it is quite improper to suppose that Clinton’s support for the legal status of elective abortion should be sufficient to warrant comparing her to Hitler.
Having said that, I was taken aback when I read the first of Mehta’s responses to Geisler. He writes:
1) There’s a big difference, which Geisler ignores, between “killing” 60 million cells that haven’t become people yet and purging the world of several million living, breathing human beings. (emphasis added)
To begin with, I am willing to grant Mehta’s point that unborn human beings (or at least some of them) are not yet persons. The concept of a person is philosophically contentious and there are many different views as to what is required to be a person (e.g. consciousness? self-awareness? second-order desires? language? etc.). And many if not most theories of personhood would not apply to an unborn fetus. Nonetheless, the unborn human being is just that: a human being. If it seems awkward to call a blastocyst a human being, perhaps you can concede at least this much: (i) the blastocyst is a human organism, and (2) the fetus at later stages of development is a human being.
One thing certainly is clear: the unborn fetus is not a single “cell”. And Mehta’s description of fetuses as individual cells, like euphemistic references to “uterine contents”, is part of a long history of pro-choice advocates dehumanizing (whether intentionally or not) the fetus whose life is at stake in abortion.
If you ever needed a capsule summary of the polarization of political and ethical discourse in the public square it is this. One person treats the elective abortion of a fetus as the moral equivalent of sending a child to the gas chambers while another person treats it as the mere termination of a “cell”. Is it any surprise it is nearly impossible to make any progress?
Having said all that, let me make two final points. First, I am broadly sympathetic to Mehta’s critique of Geisler, so while I was troubled by this dehumanizing reference to fetuses as cells, it does not undermine the general value of his analysis.
Second, comparing Mehta to Geisler is very much an apples and oranges comparison. Mehta is a bright and socially savvy atheistic blogger who writes for a popular audience, but he isn’t an academic, he doesn’t teach ethics, and he is fifty years Geisler’s junior. By contrast, Geisler is, as I already observed, a respected evangelical Christian leader who has been teaching Christian ethics since before I was born (and way before Mehta was born). So the fact that his analysis of abortion and the political process is this crude and reductionistic is deeply depressing.
Twenty years ago Mark Noll lamented the scandal of the evangelical mind. With commentary like that of Geisler, that scandal would appear to remain very much alive.