Military service is a surreal experience. What else could you get from putting hundreds of testosterone-pumped young males from every background imaginable together for months on end? The combinations of ideologies and mindsets that collide are unpredictable and innumerable – they served to pop the bubble in which I used to live: a place where youth was by definition liberal and skeptical of social conventions.
I have found that to survive through this carnival of absurdity, it is best to wear an imaginary Dali mustache and constantly remind myself: “Surrealismo!” This is exactly what I did a few weeks ago when I witnessed a most unusual dialogue.
For the purpose of communicating the sense of astonishment I felt, I will describe the two protagonists. Mr. A is a slightly effeminate young man with a childish naïvety and a big mouth to match. He is also insanely rich. Opposite is Mr. B: he is a matter-of-fact kind of guy with a very strict Christian Orthodox upbringing from his rural family. When it is his job to wake us up, he chooses to do so with the accompaniment of byzantine hymns recorded on his mobile phone. Yes.
So, here goes:
A: “This friend of mine just can’t be bothered with contraception. She’s had an abortion six, maybe seven times! They even paid her once to film the ripping up of the baby and use it for a documentary!”
B: “You’re disgusting – you do know that for the church, it would be less of a sin to give birth to a baby, give it a proper christening and then kill it.”
It was one of those simultaneously comical and horrifying experiences that take your ideas and beliefs, just as you thought they were about to take some kind of form, and give them a great shake. I am almost ashamed to admit that I live in a world where this conversation has taken place.
I have, for my sanity’s sake, attempted to perform an autopsy on that chat. First things first: our pleasant chap Mr. A seems to be friends with a loyal skipper of sex-ed classes. Still, that’s within the sphere of perceivable reality: I could have very easily imagined that there are people in this world that “just can’t be bothered” with avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancies. I also could have imagined that within that group of people, there is a small subset that is pro-abortion in the most irresponsible of ways, using it as a morning-after pill, and insensitive to the mental pictures associated with the expression “ripping up the baby”. I am also assuming that the gynaecologist this young lady is seeing has made clear the possible effects of unprotected sex and of repeatedly resorting to termination, but has proceeded to the act because it is allowed.
So, I can claim that I have come to terms with what I heard from Monsieur A.
What remains mind-numbing though, is what my darling B had to say. For clarification, I do not believe that B – or anyone else – actually has the murder of a newborn as a possible plan when life throws an unwanted pregnancy at him. Nevertheless, it is true that he considers abortion to be a graver sin than the killing of an infant after it has been baptized. This is disturbing on its own.
The idea is based upon the Christian mythology that unbaptized souls, like, supposedly, those of aborted embrya, are not worthy of heaven: they linger in limbo for all eternity. Christianity also preaches the unquestionable and immeasurable sanctity of life from the moment of conception as its main argument against abortion, which it considers to be murder. But if an act of murder weighs more than another, doesn’t the sanctity of life stop being immeasurable and become adjustable and specific to circumstance? The whole argument is shattered. The vague institution of the sanctity of life is the reason why some people refuse to use science to take control of their lives and proceed with undesired pregnancies.
Personally, I like to approach the issue of abortion as a battle between maternal and fetal autonomy. The line at which the latter is perceived to value more than the former is technology-dependent: it is the point after which the fetus can be viably sustained using the best medical means available. This point is currently at around 24 weeks of gestation but is expected to shift as science advances. As is within the nature of the medical profession, the line drawn at 24 weeks is not clear-cut but is only taken as such to allow for a law: it is the duration of pregnancy after which, within statistical variation, more of the newborns will survive than die if delivered.
This position, of course, I’d apply only to abortions where the infant is unwanted due to the mother’s psychological concerns and not because of physical health issues, for example in the case of prenatal screening diagnosing a serious genetic condition in the fetus, in which case other parameters enter the discussion.
The idea brought forward by B has an additional underlying logic to it: since abortion equals murder, then all a mother has to do instead of terminating is to give birth to a child and give it its christening before she kills it to save its soul. Hopefully, in the process will come the realization that so strong is the bond that she’s formed with the infant, that she is unable to take its life. It is a priest’s way of asking: “Why terminate a pregnancy whose fruit will give such joy and love?” Needless to say, this ignores the basic reason that the notion of family planning ever developed (limited resources) and reduces it to something that can reasonably be ignored based on the “joys of child-bearing”.
“Surrealismo” it is. In the end, this whole reaction to that extraordinary conversation might just be the hysteria of the cultural shock, of coming into contact with people with whom you share so little in terms of beliefs that you can reasonably wonder whether you are both habitants of the same planet.
Petros Fessas is currently serving in the Cyprus National Guard for another year and will read medicine at Cambridge after that
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