Friday, October 3, 2014

Religion as Explanation? Or Excuse?

I keep running into comments from some adoptees who say that God put them in their adoptive families because it was part of a divine plan.  The idea of predestination has been around for a very long time, its very persistence a sign of how deeply human beings want their lives and experiences to have meaning--special, God-given meaning, meaning that transcends the apparent chaos and randomness of the lives we actually live.  I don't want a theological debate, but I must say, if I were in fact religious, that I would find it very hard to believe in a God that would allow a baby to grow inside one woman for the purpose of giving it to another. 

One of the most pernicious lies prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) tell themselves is that God wants them to have someone else's baby.  Taking another woman's baby "wet from the womb" is such a heinous act that the best way to make it palatable, perhaps, is to get permission from God himself to allow you to do it. 

I do not believe that God makes "adoption plans," and I argue that those who claim he does are indulging in a comfortable (for them) delusion.  There is absolutely no sense to the notion that God has a plan for you to adopt this or that baby.

Personally, I can't promote abortion, except in some unfortunate cases that should remain the purview of the pregnant woman and her doctor.  So far as I'm concerned, a healthy woman who becomes pregnant has become a mother, whatever her marital, financial, or educational status.  I have friends who have had abortions because they "weren't ready."  I would never condemn anyone for making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, but I don't see how it can be viewed as anything other than ending a human life.  Liberals, like me, may find the right-wing, anti-abortion lobby ridiculous and/or intrusive, but they are right about one thing: terminating a pregnancy is ending a human life.

That said, I believe there are other choices that can be even more problematic.  An early termination presumably leaves only the mother to feel the weight of what has happened.  I would like to think an embryonic fetus doesn't suffer during an abortion, but surely a fetus is as sentient as an amoeba or a beetle.  Poke an amoeba, and it recoils.  Threaten a beetle, and it tries to run away.  If those creatures felt nothing, sensed nothing, why the reaction?  A fetus is not dead matter waiting for the flame of life to be lit; it is a creature, still unformed but definitely alive.  If you choose to kill it, you should have a damn good reason--something more than embarrassment, youth, or your desire to do something other than be a parent to your own child.

Adoption is offered as the solution to the problem of abortion, and many Christians and others urge a pregnant girl
 or woman with an unexpected pregnancy to "choose life" and give her child to a couple just waiting to give that baby a picture-perfect life, a life that she might not be able to provide for many years to come, if ever.  The implicit argument is that this stable, financially secure couple would be better for a child than his own mother, as if material comforts were the measure by which we judge families.

The desire to have a child can be very strong.  For many humans it can feel like a basic need, like food, sleep, or love.  We will go to almost any lengths to meet these needs, sometimes even committing crimes or telling lies to get what we so desperately want.  Potential adoptive parents (PAPs) tell themselves lies when something in nature denies them what they want: a child.  And they buy into the lies told by adoption agencies and other adoption professionals (doctors, lawyers, politicians) who depict adoption as a "beautiful way to build a family" or simply as one alternative among several.  The desire for a child can even be couched as a whim, as when a mother of boys decides to adopt a girl so she can have a daughter.  A designer child, if you will.   When the element of choice is brought into the picture, what is to stop PAPs from ordering up exactly what they want?  Age, sex, race--they all become options.  There is something inherently dehumanizing and debased about this way of thinking.

My real objection is to infant adoption, where a newborn is taken from his mother and given to another woman to raise "as if" he were her own.  It is this kind of adoption that has become a booming business, because so many PAPs want a baby and are willing to pay to get one of the relatively few who are available.  The shortage of domestic adoptable infants has led to an increase in foreign adoption, which has in turn led to widespread corruption and exploitation.  Kathryn Joyce explains how evangelicals and international adoption have become mutually reinforcing in her book The Child Catchers.

Is there not something ghoulish about a couple (or anyone, gay or straight) procuring a child, waiting anxiously for a woman to go through the pain and anguish of her thwarted motherhood so they can be assured of a child's arms round their necks and an identity as "Mommy" and "Daddy."  It's like the parents of a sick child, hoping for an accident that will take the life of another child so they can have one of its life-saving organs, only instead of taking a liver or a kidney, they take the whole child.  A dead child who can save another is one thing, a baby denied his mother is quite another.  In both situations, the parents might be happy, but they must realize the tragedy their joy is rooted in.

Thankfully, the stigmas of unwed motherhood and homosexuality have greatly lessened in recent years, and we have grown to accept that human beings can live joyful, purposeful lives under circumstances that fifty years ago would have been untenable.  We are, in fact, more free.  But with that personal freedom there has come a retrenchment on the part of those who see life differently.  As more and more single women decide to parent their babies, fewer are available for adoption.  The strategy, ingenious when you think about it, is to get God on board.  After all, if adoption is a divine plan, how can there be anything wrong with it?  It is only a "divine plan" because certain groups of people have decided it is, and if that isn't a perversion of faith for self-interest I don't know what is.

Adoption should always be about doing what is best for a child, not what adults who want to be parents feel entitled to.  No one has a right to be a parent.  Parenthood is a gift--from nature or from God, depending on your point of view--it is a privilege, not an entitlement.  I imagine people with disabilities often wonder at the unfairness of life, just as unhappily childless people bemoan the unfairness of being denied something they want so desperately.  Those of us with sound bodies and minds are fortunate and should be grateful, even as we recognize that nothing can be done to make a blind man see.  We should no more pluck an infant out of his mother's arms than pluck the eyes out of a sighted man.