Conflict in Purpose

Mariner never has been able to fully reconcile the split between church and state in the United States. One can make convincing arguments for the authority of either over the other as a foundation for American culture. Each, in its own way, espouses equality; each endorses spiritual reward for compliance with its doctrine – one the New Testament, the other the Constitution.

The United States was begun in the midst of serious conflict between the Anglican (state) Church and several spiritualist sects that saw the role of faith in a different light. In many instances these sects migrated to North America. Their intent was to have the freedom to practice their religion without Anglican constraints. Freedom for any religion was not the intent – only that sect’s interpretation was acceptable; dissenters were burned at the stake, had noses split, were cast out from the community and suffered other harsh punishments during the early decades of settlement. For about half of the colonies, religion was the only law; governments had not formed independently until later.

The ‘state’ side followed early settlers to the US for economic and political reasons. 150 years after the first settlers arrived, a war broke out between Great Britain and France over who would colonize North America (Seven Years War AKA French and Indian War).

Mariner digresses. If the reader seeks more detail about how church and state began in North America, visit a preferred library or search engine.

The specific enigma about which mariner has difficulty is cultural morality. How can a singular national ethos and inclusive human rights be governed by two masters?

Mariner has personal interest in the conflict over abortion because Roe v. Wade didn’t exist in the 1940’s. No doctor would breach Christian decorum to perform an abortion; abortion was performed on the dark side – if one could find it. Mariner’s mother died at age 26 because she had to carry and give birth to a child doctors said she should not have.

To start, let’s read about Deborah Copaken’s life experience:


A quote from Deborah Copaken – an advocate to keep Roe v. Wade in place.

The day when you find yourself six weeks pregnant at the age of 17, as I did, is not a joyous day, particularly after doing all the right things, birth-control-wise, including getting yourself fitted for a diaphragm at Planned Parenthood. For one, you can’t have a baby. You’re still a baby yourself. You would (you know, even then) cause permanent emotional damage to a child, in not wanting to have one, never mind that you have neither the skills nor the means to raise one properly. For another, you’ve just been admitted to college, and though you love your high-school boyfriend dearly, you have no idea who you are or what you want out of love or life. Plus, raising a baby in a freshman dorm was never part of your plan. Nor your college’s. And adoption—for you, personally—is out of the question. The pain of handing over your child to another person would, you know, become a lifetime of “Little Green” sorrow.[1]

Your parents drive you to the abortion clinic in Maryland. No one in that car is happy, but everyone is nevertheless grateful for one another’s love and for your right to legally choose this option. The clinic makes you answer a bunch of invasive questions to prove you know what you’re about to do, as if you hadn’t been thinking only about this moment for the past week. You’re awake for the entire procedure, which is painful. You cry a bucket of tears into your saltines in the crowded recovery room after, because it hurts and because you’re still 17, the age of emotional roller coasters under the best of circumstances, which this is not. But not one of those tears can be traced back to shame or to regret over the decision to abort the minuscule embryo of cells inside you. In fact, it was not a “difficult decision.” It was easy: the only rational one, to your mind, to make.

– – – –

Deborah made a decision based on her situation. At that moment, a Federal law, Roe v. Wade, ergo a ‘state’ law rather than a religious one, allowed her to choose an abortion. Some would say Roe v. Wade is an affront to religious freedom.

The question always evaded is, doesn’t freedom of religion mean any religion can practice its unique doctrine and ritual but cannot restrict those who have another religion from practicing their doctrine and ritual? Following the Constitution in principle, the answer is yes. What confuses the dialogue is the total dominance of Christian-based religions versus nationally dominant state law; if other world religions had prominence in the US along with Christianity, ‘freedom’ would be better defined. There are dozens of Christian religions from the snake believers in Appalachia to the Mormons in Utah to… on and on. One of the major variations is the Evangelical Christian; there are enough members – particularly in conservative states – to influence legislators. Opportunistic legislators, which abound today, forego state law (Constitution) to placate those who would restrict not only state rights but other religions as well – thereby violating the Constitution. Unfortunately, legislators aren’t selected for their wisdom and ethic.

There is an unhappy truce for the moment because the Supreme Court is bound by the Constitution. Here is a challenge: would it be legal under the freedom of religion clause for some Islamic sects to eviscerate the clitoris of pubescent girls if this were practiced in the United States? Here is a similar challenge: Does the owner of a slave have the right to inflict torture, starvation, rape or religious practices on that slave? How about circumcision? This is relevant today; thousands, including family members, are held in slave relationships not to mention contemporary slave trading almost entirely with helpless women.

As we ponder these challenges, the core human issue is whether someone can impose bodily modification on another person. Is Deborah a slave? Is Deborah an Evangelical Christian? Is Deborah Islamic? Is Deborah a US citizen? It seems the value is one derived from social morality rather than religious doctrine. National statistics suggest social morality says no one can impose physical conditions on another person.

If one is abiding by one’s Christian doctrine, a case may be made that having an abortion is unchristian; if one is not Christian or is of a variety of Christianity where abortion is not an issue, having an abortion is subject to situational ethics which, typically, reflect cultural expectations.

Brett Kavanaugh, a well-known conservative and Roman Catholic is nominated to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. In an interview today he said, “A woman has a right to have an abortion but the Government doesn’t have the right to pay for it.” This is an excellent example of why mariner is so confused. With us since ancient times, the Byzantine two-headed eagle[2] is still around.

Ancient Mariner

[1] Song by Joni Mitchell; see lyrics at

[2] The Emperor of Byzantium wore a crown topped by a two-headed eagle. One head represented his supreme authority over the politics and power of the empire; the second eagle head represented his authority over the Gods, of which he was one himself.