Another view of life v. choice


In a recent article by the nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker she says, “Biologically, life begins at conception. Full stop.”

Now, “full stop” is an emphatic way of saying “period” — “end of discussion.”

But it’s that “full stop” of further consideration that has left us in the resentful, entrenched positions we presently have. 

The “Choice” side says, “Our bodies, our choice” and seems just as entitled to the self-evident right of its position as the “Life” side does in its tracings of human life’s origin. The conflicting values are tearing us apart. How have we managed to create a wrong from two rights?

There is a sect of some five million people in India that are called Jains — their doctrine is Jainism. The principle tenet of their religious practice is non-violence and they are ardent in applying their beliefs not just to humans but all levels of life. By what right, they reason, should we dismiss any form of life created upon this earth?

In addition to being vegetarians they will not swat a fly or mosquito, they use peacock feathers to brush aside any insects in their path, and wear masks so as to not swallow something live as they speak or breathe. They recognize life in plants as well and only eat secondary vegetable products such as nuts so as to not kill the living source of those nuts.

I imagine these people to be lovely souls. They are the most literate of any religion in India and their members are generally quite successful in their businesses. These are not kooks. What other than good could come from such sincere devotion?

Well, as it happens, the city, Palitana, can answer that question.

The Palitana area has a large Jainist population with many temples. Boldly imposing their beliefs beyond their members the Jains have decreed that all Palitana should be vegetarian, its 250 butcher shops closed, and not one offending egg is to be brought into the city.

Among other groups, the 20 to 25 percent Muslim population objects. They want to eat meat and also need it for ritual sacrifices that help to define their own religion. The Jainists won’t hear of it. 

What’s gone wrong? 

Good, principled people, it seems, have become so dazzled by the purity of their ideals that they are blinded to the rights of others. It’s nothing more sinister than that in its origins but it’s insidious in its workings because their own righteousness blocks out all others’ rights.

Without recognizing it, all choice is to be of their choosing.

In this seemingly parallel universe lies a view of our own “Life vs. Choice” conflict. Just as a man’s right to swing his fist ends at another man’s nose, so too must one person’s moral positioning, even when church-endorsed, pull up short when about to violate another person’s rights. You can convince but not coerce. 

Here is the “full stop” moment of basic fairness in all the world. The matter is as plain as the Jains.


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