07/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Searching for Answers in the Shadow of George Tiller's Murder

There is something that has been gnawing away at me for months.

In the minutes after I learned that an anti-abortion activist had blown Dr. George Tiller's brains out in the middle of his Wichita church on Sunday, that thick, sick feeling returned.

It starts with a simple question: How are you so sure?

How is it that you are absolutely convinced that you have all the answers? How is it that you know what God wants for every person, in every instance, at all hours of the day? How is it that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your faith, your ideology, your politics, your choice of underwear is undeniably correct? How is it that you can justify any behavior in the name of your God, your beliefs, your stuffed teddy bear Stewie?

How is it that everything is so clear to you? How is it that you are utterly certain that you are right?

Because I have been on this earth a little more than 30 years. And the longer I ramble around here, there's less and less that seems absolute.

That's not to say that I lack strong beliefs. Regular readers of this column aren't apt to call me shy or retiring. But my undying inquisitiveness and liberal education -- in the classic sense, dear readers quick on the trigger -- mean that I question everything. I love reading contrarian arguments and a engaging in a good intellectual joust. And I think it's not only possible, but healthy for one's ideas to evolve over time.

Right now, many readers will start praying for my errant soul. Others will e-mail me that I'm not worth it and should join Dr. Tiller in hell. Some will generously offer to help send me there. It's all pretty predictable by now.

Periodically, readers have asked me why I give certain folks a hard time -- Scott Hagerstrom, the local head of the anti-tax Americans for Prosperity, on Michigan Public Television's "Off the Record" or my column references to the thin-skinned sprites at Well, for one thing, I enjoy tweaking those who take themselves too seriously.

Moreover, ideologues bore me. I suppose it must be comforting to view everything through the correct lens, but it strikes me as undergoing an philosophical lobotomy.

How stultifying must it be to crack open the morning paper and spy a conspiracy on every page. (This story acknowledges global warming -- socialist rag! This column makes the case for tax cuts -- fascist, corporate tool!) How dare other people not parrot my exact views on every issue. Everyone is wrong on everything except for me and the folks on my listserv. Only I know the truth, so I must indignantly share it with the masses on my blog.

How long until you make the leap that they're all out to get you? (Psst. They probably are).

So naturally, my nagging questions don't just apply to right-wingers or pro-lifers. But there is a messianic quality to their demagoguery that's less common on the other side. And in cases like that of Scott Roeder, the Operation Rescue follower who allegedly killed Tiller, it takes the form of violence.

Some people know he did the right thing. Because abortion is murder and that's that. What I'm not sure of is where that line is, between utter certitude in your beliefs and the willingness to kill for them. On Sunday, it got a lot blurrier.

About one-third of American women have abortions. If you think all of them are pro-choice, think again.

Abortion is supposed to be a black-and-white issue, but it isn't, of course. Which is how we've arrived in this country at the messy solution of keeping it legal with a slew of restrictions. What we can certainly do is join together to stop the root cause - unwanted pregnancy, which will decrease the number of both abortions and kids susceptible to higher rates of abuse and neglect.

Over the last few days, I've read a series of letters from people who have had to grapple with late-term abortions, the kind Tiller was demonized for performing. Andrew Sullivan, a pro-life Atlantic columnist, has run them, complete with a now-haunting da Vinci sketch of a fetus in utero.

There's the couple who kept their baby, despite life-ending birth defects, only to watch her gruesomely die hours after birth. There's the woman whose fundamentalist family shunned her after she aborted an ectopic pregnancy that could have killed her. There's the parents who held their collective breath through extensive genetic testing and got the good news that they were having a healthy baby girl.

This is wrenching stuff. There is perhaps nothing more personal. That is why I believe it is a decision not for politicians, but for a woman, her physician and her God.

You may think you know what you believe. And for the select few out there, those who cheer Roeder on, I suppose they do. (Perhaps it's as Yeats once wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.")

But for the vast majority of us, pro-choice and pro-life alike, we don't know what we really would do if we were in that position.

None of this is simple. That's what I know for sure.