I do not presume to know when human life begins. What I am fairly sure however, is that — behind all the fire and brimstone of the “pro-life” crowd, there is a fundamental determining belief that shapes their fanaticism about abortion and what others decide about their own bodies.

They would have us believe it’s only about their deep concern for the sanctity of all human life … presumably from the first zygote to the finished product. (I’ll ignore the obvious hypocrisy that these are the same folks who loudly champion capital punishment and war.)

Sorry. There is far more going on here than they would like us to believe. It’s really about sex and, true to their twisted Christian dogma, Scripture leaves no doubt as to the underlying motivation. Having once studied for the ministry, I think I can quote Scripture with some authority and the Good Book is choked with evidence that the only justification for sexual congress is birthing children. Sex for any other purpose (like fun?) is sinful.

In Genesis, we are told that, after his son Er was killed by God, Judah commanded his next son Onan to “take his brother’s widow unto wife.” Owing to his knowledge that any child fathered with the widow could not be his heir, he pulled out and “spilled his seed upon the ground.” Enraged at Onan’s defiance of His command, God killed Onan as well. We’re left with an image of a vengeful God and the word “onanism” which Webster defines as both masturbation and coitus interruptus.

Christianity embraced this theme about “spilling seed” and redoubled the notion of sex: only in marriage and only for the purpose of procreation.

Saint Paul went so far in I Corinthians 7:9 as to preach that God wanted man to be celibate but, failing in that, getting hitched was the better alternative to hell. “If they cannot keep themselves under control, then they should marry. It is better to marry than to burn.”

Moving forward a bit, the early church father Jerome held it wrong to “imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the production of children.”

Clement of Alexandria, writing shortly after Christ’s crucifixion, described the real purpose of human sexuality. “To have coitus other than to procreate is to do injury to nature.”

Perhaps more relevant to the followers of Doug Wilson’s Moscow cult would be the thoughts of their spiritual guide, John Calvin.

“The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between a man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen might fall on the ground is doubly monstrous.” How do we get from onanism to Roe v. Wade? Quite simply thus. If the sole purpose of sexual union is impregnation, it would follow that the same people who decry abortion would also oppose contraception.

Small wonder that in 1873, Protestant moral reformers warring against sexual freedom, rammed through Congress the Comstock Act which was soon followed by a series of state Comstock laws. The specific wordings varied but the law was clear. The production of contraceptives and the distribution of materials were expressly outlawed.

The underlying theme: sex not intended for breeding was sinful. Midwife-turned-activist Emma Goldman, battling hard for legalization of birth control, spoke out publicly in New York City and was arrested twice; in 1915 and 1916. A hundred years ago, women were jailed for teaching other women about birth control. It wasn’t until 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut that the Supreme Court made the pill legal for use by married couples. Fifty-five years ago!

Evangelical George Bush put an end to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s support of Third World family planning agencies that provided contraceptive information. The program had existed for thirty years disseminating information to 100 million couples. Sex not intended for childbirth is sinful. Contraception is bad.

Fast forward to 2014 when 5-4, the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruled that a private corporation could be exempted from a federal mandate requiring contraceptives to be included in employee health plans on the grounds of religious freedom.

So. If you think the debate is really about abortion, think again. All the posturing, chest thumping evangelicals who swear their radicalism is only about love for all human life … look deeper and you will find a Biblically driven mortification of the flesh. Their sex is holy; your sex is sinful.

McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.

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