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Stephen Gyllenhaal

Stephen Gyllenhaal

Posted: September 5, 2009 11:11 AM

Abortion, Health Care and the Soul

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A few days ago a friend of mine agonized over her loved ones from the deep South raging that Obama was a murderer because his health care plan would sanction abortion. She felt an insurmountable gulf between, which seems to have gripped much of the nation as well, a gulf between those who consider themselves progressives, myself included, and those who rage against their government for wanting to protect them (for instance) from illness, pain and unnecessary death. These are people who see a national health care program as signaling the end of the Republic. Their behavior seems laughable, mentally ill, perhaps an argument for health care that requires mental care for every single one of them.

But I'm coming to see that this thinking may be wrong. These people may in fact have something deeply right; or at least more right than those of us who put Obama into office, those of us who believe in his brilliant intellectual capabilities, his articulateness, his clarity, his political acumen.

It has to do with soul.

Those of us who live lives using the principals that have evolved from Plato and Socrates, up through the Enlightenment, Industrialization, the Information Age -- how many of us would give up much of anything in an attempt to save our souls? I mean this seriously -- really -- how much would we be willing to sacrifice? Do we really -- I mean, really, really -- even believe in what is called the soul, other than in the arena of music or as something abstract enough that it isn't going to get in the way of our Blackberries, iPods, Kindles, twittering devices, jobs, marriages, New York Times, literary books and so on?

Would we sacrifice ourselves or our children in a war, for instance? Would we allow ourselves or our loved ones to be maimed for the soul or for anything spiritual at all?

Spiritual is a pretty easy word for us (certainly for me) -- it's amorphous -- and convenient. I no longer believe in organized religion, frankly. I don't belong to a church -- so there's no sacrifice there, no ten percent of my income goes to a bunch of priests. I'm not even saying I'm wrong about my cynicism towards all religions. But it does seem quite obvious to me that many of these right-wingers, born agains and so forth have been more than willing to sacrifice a hell of a lot for the soul. It's why the elites of the Democratic Party have been so long perplexed by these folks over and over voting against "their interests." But honestly, are their interests really of "this world?" An innocent baby's soul matters (so you save it under any circumstances). A criminal's soul matters too (so you hang him for his earthly crimes.)

Which is why I think government sanctioned abortion (with a medical plan that covers it) so horrifies them. Do I think their rage and apparent self destructiveness is correct? No. But I think what drives them may be more valuable than I have up till now understood. If this nation is to survive (and I sure hope it does) we (the supposed enlightened) will have to make a superhuman effort to understand the other side. I don't believe the "other side" will ever try to understand us. Increasingly I think they see us as evil as "the devil" because they fear we have no souls. Much of the time I think they are being manipulated by the hopelessly soulless creatures who will do anything for power and profit, but this only makes our job more pressing. Who else is going to bridge this gap? Who else can reach across this gulf of confusion, suspicion and rage? And if this experiment that started with Plato and Socrates is in fact correct, then I believe we are up to the task. And if we are able in the end to succeed and bridge this gap enough to ease the worst of the tensions that beset us then, who knows, maybe in the final analysis it will turn out that it's us (not them) that gains back the most, namely, our souls.

 
 
 

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