Saturday, April 30, 2016

Violence, Abortion, and Frank Peretti


Last November, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was taken over by a gunman. Robert Dear, who killed three people and injured nine, believed he would be thanked for taking action.
Dear told a detective that "his dream" was that, when he died, he would be met "by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him for what he did because his actions saved lives of other unborn fetuses"...
--NBC News report

Forensic psychologists have testified that Dear has a delusional disorder, yet the image of "aborted fetuses" talking in heaven jogged a deep memory from my early adolescence. 

I had only recently outgrown my baby dolls when I read Tilly, a 1988 novelette by Frank Peretti, with a foreword by a Christian contemporary music artist. The story was written in 1986 as an audiodrama which aired on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast August 10, 1987, before Peretti had gained fame among evangelicals for his vividly imaginative stories of devout mortals engaged in fantastic "spiritual" combat between angels and demons. 

The book Tilly reads like the script for a Hallmark movie. A short movie, because the text takes up only eighty of the book's one hundred twenty-six pages. (In 2003, the anti-abortion group LoveLifeAmerica turned the story into a forty-minute film that aired on PAX TV.) The writing is sentimental, the characters two-dimensional. This is undoubtedly a fable with an agenda. 

Kathy and Dan have three children and difficulty communicating. Their troubles began after Kathy terminated a pregnancy nine years ago and they never talked about it. Unbeknownst to Kathy, she'd actually delivered a live fetus. 

Botched abortions, more common with outmoded methods, are the "pro-life" movement's wet dream. In 1977, Gianna Jessen was born alive following an attempted third-trimester saline instillation abortion. More often used in the 1970's, instillation abortions counted for less than 2% of U.S. abortions in 1985 and only 0.1% in 2007. Graphic photos displayed by abortion protesters still often represent the effects of saline abortion. But back to Tilly

After breathing for an hour, Kathy's fetus-now-newborn expires in the hands of the Hispanic nurse Anita (Peretti makes a point of her last name and draws attention to her "dark Latin eyes"). The body is described as "burned and scarred", suggesting that Peretti pictured the effects of a saline abortion, though that method was already rare in the mid-80's.

The nurse leaves the Family Planning Clinic with the remains and takes them to a Reverend O'Cleary who makes arrangements with a funeral home and a cemetery, despite having neither a birth certificate nor a death certificate. Nurse Anita wears black and is the only one present at the service. The funeral home director finds the scene of her grief "shattering". The minister provides financial assistance and Anita has the grave marked with the name "Tilly". 

After a chance encounter with Anita at the cemetery, an exhausted Kathy dreams she meets her aborted daughter, now a polite nine-year-old, one of many children who arrived in heaven as aborted embryos and have grown up nameless but safe in a sort of Neverland-plus-Jesus where they are generally happy except for longing to be held by their mothers and given names. Half the book takes place in this dream where both motherhood and childhood are idealized ad nauseam. Tilly, the only child among hundreds in possession of a name, tells Kathy she forgives her and Kathy wails out her anguished remorse. Before waking, Kathy tells the girl she has always known her as Tilly. 

As a young teen not much exposed to fiction, I found this tale gripping and heart-wrenching. As an adult, I find it flimsy and fake, but that doesn't mean it hasn't quietly conditioned many a young evangelical to find abortion emotionally distressing, even if they don't understand it. 

Last month, the Indiana legislature passed a bill requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated following abortion or miscarriage. Governor Mike Pence signed the new law "with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families". I had to wonder, where did these legislators get the idea of burying fetal remains? Could some of them have read Tilly, perhaps? What's next? Will women have to give their pregnancies names before getting abortions? 

This truck parks daily across the street from a women's clinic.
Theologically. Peretti's description of heaven is confusing. Some children are described as "ugly". Tilly, who sobs, sings like a bird, and has impeccably manners, reassures her mother, "I'm happy here!" and "Life isn't that long." In Peretti's world, terminated pregnancies have souls that go to play with Jesus, who lives down the road and tells them stories while they wait for families who will finally give them names. 

Anti-abortion rhetoric is rife with extreme and imaginative beliefs. When I was a naive, young, and vocal opponent of abortion, no speech or rally was complete until the Holocaust had been invoked. Actually, the Holocaust was trivialized each time the comparison was made, since Nazi atrocities paled beside the perceived magnitude of this legal medical procedure. Occasionally this rhetoric does get criticized, but it is still commonplace in anti-abortion circles, where women choosing to terminate unnamed pregnancies are rated a horror ten times worse than the Holocaust

If one believes the anti-woman propaganda that claims a doctor can be worse than Hitler, resistance begins to seem logical. Yet when over-zealous men and women resort to violence against abortion providers or pregnant women, abortion opponents are always quick to distance themselves from the "delusional". 

Kathy asks for Tilly's forgiveness, though we are not told what she wants to be forgiven forIn the conservative narrative, abortion wracks women with guilt, disrupting their marriages and robbing them of maternal fulfillment, no matter how many children they already have. That may be a delusion, but it is shared by many religious Americans, who will not be satisfied until women accept their role as mothers and abortion has been restricted out of existence altogether.


3 comments:

  1. I wonder how many pro-life Christians know that the only reason they hold these views is due to the popularity of the Apocalypse of Peter in the 1st century? Because that whole "the soul is joined to the body at the moment of conception" notion is nothing to do with the Semitic conception of the soul in Judaism and has more than a bit to do with the Neo-Platonic notion of the soul.

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    1. Irrelevant. You're making a scientific argument a philosophical/religious argument. Science shows that it is a human, and abortion is scientifically murder. It's unreasonable and illogical to assume otherwise simply because of one's misplaced bias from religion/philosophy.

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    2. No. Murder is the unlawful killing of a person. Terminating a pregnancy (removing an embryo growing inside a person) is not murder.

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