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THE "JUSTIFIABLE HOMOCIDE" OF ABORTION PROVIDERS: MORAL REASON, MIMETIC THEORY, AND THE GOSPEL James Nash Our land will never be cleansed without the blood of abortionists being shed. (Shelly Shannon) The above quotation is taken, with permission, from a letter written to me by Ms. Shannon. A devout Roman Catholic, she is currently doing time at Federal prison in Kansas, sentenced to 3 1 years for shooting a famous abortion provider. I have also been in touch with Paul Hill, the former Presbyterian minister, who killed the Pensacola abortion doctor, John Britton. Mr. Hill has written extensively on how his Christian faith led him to what he calls the "justifiable homicide" of Dr. Britton. The connection between this kind of religiously-justified violence and the work of René Girard is too obvious to be ignored. The violenct acts and rhetoric that polarize both sides of the abortion debate serve to illustrate our society's collapsing ability to distinguish effectively between "good" and "bad" violence (Girard 1972, 52-3). At the same time, the almost universal condemnation ofthe "religious" proponents ofjustifiable homicide confirms the Girardian claim that in cultures under gospel influence, "acts of violence that once endowed its perpetrators with religious and cultural preeminence radually begin to rob them of it" (Bailie 52-3). Finally, as we shall see, the incoherence of religiouslygrounded efforts to condemn "justifiable homicide suggests that James Nash69 contemporary Christianity is also having increasing difficulty in distinguishing "good" and "bad" violence. But before exploring these issues I want to ask another question, one that will prepare the ground for the application of Girard's theory to abortion violence. What light can moral reason shed on the problem of the "justifiable homicide" of abortion doctors? Are there clear arguments which will convince any reasonable person it is wrong to kill abortion providers in order to protect unborn human life? At first it might appear rather simple to produce such arguments —after all an overwhelming majority of Americans currently believe killing abortion workers is wrong, no matter where they stand on the morality of abortion itself. On the other hand, there is a danger that because the current moral consensus against this type of killing appears to be so strong, we may be misled into a false sense of security. After all, thirty or forty years ago there was little debate about the morality of homosexuality, pre-marital sex, or abortion itself. In fact, there are an increasing number of voices suggesting that violence against abortion providers is justified; the question has in fact divided the pro-life movement. What I will attempt to show in what follows is that the arguments offered by moral reason against shooting abortionists are surprisingly weak. While there is little danger in the foreseeable future that anywhere near a majority of people will view this form of killing as "justifiable," there are, I believe, solid grounds to fear that "moral reason" alone is no longer strong enough to provide compelling arguments against abortion violence. If ethical rationality cannot account for the moral revulsion most people feel at the shooting of abortion doctors, the ground is prepared for another way of understanding and avoiding this religiously—sanctioned violence. I am referring to René Girard's mimetic theory, and at the end of this article I hope to show how it can help us to understand both why some pro-life people have turned to violence, and how this response to abortion can be avoided. For if we come to doubt that moral reason alone can uphold the prohibition against "justifiable homicide," then perhaps we need to develop a different kind of reason, or different kinds of reasons. This will lead, finally, to reflection on some of the radical theological implications of Girard's thought, a dimension of his work which, in my judgment, is too often neglected. 70"Justifiable Homicide " Before going any further, I realize I must define what I mean by "moral reason." My use of this term is simply the common post-Kantian notion that if an action is truly immoral, one will avoid doing it not because offear, custom or human law; rather one's actions will be guided...


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