Materialism vs. Immaterialism
So, this may be so obvious that everyone knows it but me, but here goes anyway. I always thought it was interesting that the religious right is generally anti-abortion but pro-death penalty, while the secular left tends to be pro-choice and against the death penalty. You'd think, in terms of consistency, that you'd be for protecting life on both ends (anti-abortion and also anti-death penalty) or on neither end (pro-choice and pro-death penalty). Why is it that people can be so passionate about protecting one life but not another in this way?
After all, a lot of hay is made by comedians and others about this apparent inconsistency, such as jokes about how much the religious right gets weepy about a microscopic bundle of cells but has no mercy when demanding a guy get the electric chair, but I don't think I ever heard anyone advance an explanation as to why.
I'm not talking about proximate causes here. I am one of the people I'm talking about, after all, being pro-choice and anti-death penalty, and I know the reasons I believe both.* But, beyond the surface level reasons such as, "Abortion is murder," and "Since we can't give a wrongly-convicted person his or her life back, we shouldn't be willing to take it because it could be a mistake," is there a coherent reason that anti-abortion and pro-death penalty go together and why pro-choice and anti-death penalty seem to go together?
Here's my theory. The religious right, being, well, religious, spend a lot of time thinking about immaterial things, like God, angels, Heaven, etc. Whereas those of us in the secular left spend little time thinking about the immaterial and more about the physical reality we inhabit.
Well, you see, I suspect this difference in basic thought patterns is what drives the stances each side takes on these issues. Those on the religious right, in both cases, believe they are protecting someone they can't see, a potential human being in the case of abortion, and the victim of the crime in the case of the death penalty. Concentrating on the immaterial means thinking about things you can't, by definition, see, things that aren't concrete and standing in front of you, just like the fetus and the victim. They believe they are standing up for the rights of those who can't speak for themselves.
Those on the secular left, on the other hand, being rooted in the material world, are trying to protect the real person that they know exists right there, right then: the mother (by protecting her right to control her own body) and the death row prisoner. The victim, to the non-theist or irreligious, is beyond our help and protection, and a potential person is another way of saying a person who does not yet exist and thus does not have rights that trump the rights of the mother, who does already exist and have rights.
Which brings me something this line of thinking brought me to. A term used by the religious right to describe the secular left, meant to be an insult, is "materialists." This is meant to imply that the secular left is low, base, concerned with material things (which implies greed), as opposed to themselves, the noble, faithful, selfless ones. But why is it that the religious right gets to define the conflict as "materialism" vs. "faith?" Because, strictly speaking, "faith" is not the opposite of materialism, since you have faith in material things (like the people who believe in Bigfoot). No, the more apt opposite of materialism would be immaterialism.
And, as Thomas Jefferson said, "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings." And that's the fact. Immaterialists believe in nothings and immaterialism is the practice of putting the rights of nothings before the rights of the living, thinking, feeling, real inhabitants of this world. The famous saying, "Kill them all; God will know his own" isn't the result of an anomaly or perversion of Christianity and theism. It is a logical consequence of immaterialism, of putting the good of the immaterial (the soul) above the material (the body). What difference does it make if we kill a few good Christians along with these heretics, after all? Their souls will go to Heaven to be with God, after all!
But that's just another way of saying that nothing (their souls) will go nowhere (Heaven) to be with nothing (God). The deaths, unfortunately, are all too real.
* I believe in the right to an abortion because the rights of a woman to control her own body outweigh the rights of a potential person, and also because I believe that the anti-abortion movement is, in large part, about controlling women and their behavior. That's why anti-abortion activists not too subtly imply that all women who have abortions are sluts who wouldn't need abortions if they weren't.
I oppose the death penalty because it's not worth the risk of executing an innocent person. We can set free someone who has been falsely imprisoned (though we can't give them those years back), but taking someone's life is final and the system isn't foolproof enough to take that risk. Besides, I think executing someone is letting them off easy.