Joe Biden’s recent remarks about his “personal view” on abortion on Meet the Press prompted a question on this blog regarding how an STR ambassador might respond. Since one of the elements of diplomacy is wisdom—an artful method—here is my own tactical approach to Biden’s so-called “modified pro-choice view.”
Biden said he didn’t want to impose his own “religiously based view” that life begins at conception on those who didn’t agree with him.
I have a couple of questions for the Senator.
First question: What, specifically, is Biden’s religiously based conviction on abortion? Since he said in the interview that he was “prepared to accept the teachings of his church”—and he specifically confirmed his belief that human life begins at conception—then I take it he thinks abortion ends the life of an innocent human being and is therefore an act of homicide. If not, why oppose it?
Second question: Does Joe Biden believe that his belief is true? Does he hold that his conviction is correct, that as a matter of fact human life actually does begin at conception and that abortion really does snuff out the life of a defenseless human person?
Those of you who are alert will notice this is a trick question because I am asking Biden to explicitly reaffirm what is already implicitly obvious in his statement.
To say you believe anything is just another way of saying you think that the notion in question is true. Though it is possible to believe something you do not know is true, it is not possible to believe something you don’t think is true. That’s what beliefs are: convictions about the way things really are. If Joe Biden (or anyone else for that matter) does not believe his beliefs are true, then he would not believe what he believes. He would believe something else and believe that were true.
The reason for this question is tactical. I’m taking away the weasel-room that this way of talking affords to duplicitous politicians. The query sets up a logical dilemma to show that the modified pro-choice view is simply political double-talk.
If Biden denies his beliefs are true, then I have no idea what he means when he says he believes anything, whether religiously motivated or otherwise. If he doesn’t believe his beliefs are true, then what is the difference between believe and make-believe, between fantasy and reality?
But if Biden actually believes abortion truly takes the life of an innocent human being before birth in a way that is not morally distinct from killing a newborn immediately after birth, why would he not vote against such a thing? Would it make any sense to say that as a matter of religious conviction I believe that all men are endowed with inalienable rights, but I could never impose such a personal belief on slave owners?
In a section taken from Tactics—A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (to be released by Zondervan in January), I describe how this tactic played out for me in an actual conversation:
I once had a discussion with a man who offered this nonsense to me at a conference. He said he was personally opposed to abortion, but didn’t think it was right to force his views on others. I asked him the question I always pose when I encounter such a feeble notion: “Why are you personally against abortion?”
He responded with the answer I always get. “I believe abortion kills a baby,” he said, “That is why I am against it. But that’s just my own personal view.”
“Let me see if I understand you,” I said. “You are convinced abortion kills an innocent child, yet you think the law should allow women to do that to their own babies. Did I get that right?”
He objected to my wording, but when I asked him what part of his view I misunderstood, he was silent. I hadn’t misunderstood it. That was his view.
The logic of the modified pro-choice position reduces to, “I think it’s wrong to kill my own children, but I don’t think we should stop other people from killing theirs.”
Notice that this critique has nothing to do with whether abortion is right or wrong. That’s a different question. I am simply pointing out that the modified pro-choice view deals itself a fatal blow. That is Biden’s blunder, and the blunder of anyone else advancing such a foolish notion.