“If men became pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament!” Such full sexual equality presently eludes us at the level of mere biology; yet, we can even now begin to explore spiritually the sacred dimensions of abortion. Indeed, even within Western “civilization” there are ancient traditions that can aid us in an effort to reconstruct a radical, yet sacramental, view of abortion.
In order to develop a spirituality of abortion and facilitate dialogue between pre- and post-Christian traditions, let us begin with an examination of Gnosticism.
Among the diverse spiritualities of Gnosticism one community, the Phibionites, stands out in its’ remarkably (de)incarnational efforts to subvert the patriarchal, repressive norms of “orthodox” Christianity; they sought a synthesis of Paschal redemption, Eastern wisdom, and sexual liberation through liturgical reform. The Phibionites, like other Gnostics, were open to the erotic potential of the agape feast; but when pregnancies occurred they faithfully followed the mystic logic yet another step forward. They would wait until the fetus was large enough to be removed by hand; they would then extract the embryo and consume it, concluding their celebration with a prayer of affirmation and empowerment, saying “We did not allow the Archon of lust to play with us, but collected the mistake of our brother.”
As we unpack the many layers of meaning within this ceremony, one of its most striking aspects is its progressive approach to sexuality. By fully separating intercourse from procreation and ritualizing abortion, the Phibionites both anticipated and even surpassed the most advanced elements of our own society’s socio-sexual praxis. Theologically nuanced, community-centered and spiritually nourishing, the Phibionite liturgy provides a point of contact with a yet more ancient, but better remembered, tradition: the services of Moloch.
Just as the Phibionites illumine the diversity within early Christianity, the worship of Moloch recalls to us a more multicultural moment in Jewish history. Only a brutally enforced, ethnocentric isolationism proved capable of separating Israel from the worship of Moloch. Yet, if we but allow it, Moloch can speak to us today as we seek to develop a fruitful spirituality of abortion.
Moloch can speak to us of inclusiveness. No longer will we need to make arbitrary distinctions between “born” and “unborn”, or even “wanted” and “unwanted” children. All children will be wanted, and welcomed to their uniquely chosen place at Moloch’s banquet. Hearkening to Moloch, we will be empowered to expand the sacred circle of sacrifice even beyond that conceived by the Phibionites.
Moloch can speak to us of empowerment. Rather than trying to make hair-splitting distinctions over viability, a thriving cult of Moloch could encourage us to speak into power the obvious fact that few outside of a Princeton seminar in philosophical ethics dare acknowledge: there is no significant increase in a child’s independence by virtue of the simple accident of birth. Moloch could give parents the freedom to relinquish the burden of child-rearing, should it become too heavy. Infanticide, like abortion, could cease to be stigmatized, becoming instead a sacred moment in which women might encounter and embrace their inner crone: that much-maligned, yet powerful inner presence of blessing and cursing, life and death. Similarly, for those many men who up to now have had to slink off or grudgingly pay for an abortion in ways that cut them out of the action, sacrifice to Moloch would affirm and enable their own inner warrior’s longing to take life (without any of the danger involved of facing an armed opponent) in a dynamic, celebratory way.
Moloch can call us to new spiritual depths, both individually and as a culture. As G.K. Chesterton once remarked, one of the most important factors distinguishing Judaism and Christianity from their rivals was their differing attitude toward children. As we become ever more free of sentimentality and irrational attachments to offspring, and achieve again a more clear-headed and practical attitude that balances family choices and personal wellness, we must continue to open ourselves to new spiritual forces. We can do this confident in the words of Jesus, who said that even if we have lost spirit’s first presence, we can receive a seven-fold spiritual indwelling which will change us in ways beyond our imagining.