Book Reviews

Sacred Choices : The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions (Sacred Energies Series)
by Daniel C. Maguire
Paperback - 168 pages (July 2001)
Fortress Pr; ISBN: 0800634330 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.41 x 8.45 x 5.45
Editorial Reviews
Review by William  A.  Spriggs,  December 11, 2001

As I write these words for this book review, the December 3, 2001 issue of Time magazine that sits on my desk has on its cover a photograph of an Afghanistan woman with the cover title: "Lifting the Veil: The shocking story of how the Taliban brutalized the women of Afghanistan"; also, on December the 2nd, 2001, a newswire report from the Los Angeles Times, by Valerie Reitman, "Royal birth comforts Japan," as reported in The Denver Post, Dec. 2, 2001, p. 5a., tells us the story of a girl born on December 1, 2001 to the Crown Prince Naruhito and his princess wife, Matsako. The story behind this story, of course, is that women, as of this moment in history, can not ascend to the 2,600-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne. How appropriate that I review a book about female choice concerning contraception and abortion at this moment in my planet's timeline; I'm sure that it is just a coincidence, but an interesting one to me, nevertheless.

I don't know if your are quite aware of what has emerged recently concerning arguments swirling around Natural Selection and it's twin sister, Sexual Selection, or more commonly called female choice (which is not quite ready for prime time capitol letters). Both theories, brought forth by Charles Darwin, have been considered separate and run parallel to each other; Natural Selection is considered the prime motivating force behind evolutionary change, with Sexual Selection being considered an essential, yet separate contributor to that force. However, both theories are now being reexamined more closely and there are attempts being made to merge the two theories back under one umbrella, and yikes!, even position Sexual Selection as the primary force.

When Charles Darwin first published his idea of Natural Selection in his 1859 book, The Origin of Species, he still had nagging questions that just would just not go away: How did the outward physical features of ornamentally adorned males make any evolutionary sense? Why did the male peacock have very large, colorful feathers? (which by the way, are very heavy). Why were there large and intricate antlers found on male elk, moose, and deer? Why did the male lion have a large hairy mane? Why did the male silver-back gorilla have a prominent white strip down its back? The list is almost endless; how could all these brightly colored and intricate male adornments that can easily be seen from a distance and obviously an advantage to the predatory enemies of these males, evolve? They made no sense at all until Darwin acknowledged the female's role in chapter four of Origin of Species, and her choice of a mate based on those obvious outward features.  The Sexual Selection theory goes something like this: The female picks the most ornamental male because the guy with the most evolutionary hindered pile of feathers or other adornments and still survives is a winner because was able to escape his predatory enemy while still carrying these ornaments; hence his genes must be "winners" and a good vehicle in which to transmit her genes to future children.

Although our modern societies are much more complex in comparison to the behavioral groups in which our animal cousins dwell, similar evolutionary forces can be seen in our Modern cultures even by the non-scientifically informed populace: it is the male with the most resources ("outward stuff" that he can display -- profession, salary, automobiles, oil wells, clothes, physical appearance, ability to tell jokes, compose sonatas, build monuments, and even belonging to a racial and ethnic background that resembles the dominate culture, etc.) who would be considered a "winner" in that environment where the female resides at that fecundated moment in her life; statistics prove that these features are what attracts human female's attention today in modernity. She chooses the male that she considers the best to carry her genes into the next generation and will give her children the best advantages available.

So the current argument within the evolutionary movement today is that there are not two separate parts to Natural Selection but only one. Thus, all of science is now faced with the formidable task of accepting the argumentative case that it is the female, through her choices, that is really driving the evolutionary force in nature because it willingly forces the male into aggressive positions of competitiveness with each other to attract the female. The instigator of this recent paradigm shift in the merging of Natural and Sexual Selection may be credited to the theories brought forth by Geoffrey Miller in his April 18th, 2000 book, Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of the Human Mind, (I expressed doubts about two separate Darwinian theories in my essay, Altruism, paragraph 13, June 1996, and again in my book, Man in the Mist, Nov. 2000) which argues that all advances and embellishments in the arts, sciences, governments, businesses, and the various industrial and military complexes are really adornments -- peacock tails -- created by males in which to woo and be selected by females in the evolutionary need to transfer one's genes.

How could such an enormous evolutionary fact like this be totally ignored in the first place? Well, my friends, since males are in this highly competitive world with each other, you must remember that the male is a very sensitive creature when is comes to admitting mistakes and "weaknesses" to others (the perfect example is not asking directions when lost). Darwin's theory first entered the world stage where male scientists declared to the world their superiority to other races and their obvious "strengths" over females. After all, has not recorded history shown us that in each case males have been the overwhelming force behind the advances in the sciences, philosophies, governments, and the media, financial, industrial, and military complexes? That's empirical evidence, right!? Correct. But that only answers the question of who physically did these things, but not the "gene's eye view" of why they did, and still do, these efforts. Was Darwin merely adapting to the cultural display rules of his day in accepting male dominance  as an unavoidable fact of nature?

This leaves us at the front door of a serious point to consider: if the overview of this theory suggest that all the evil and destructive things that mankind has done in our recorded history are done by males to accumulate "stuff" and attract the female, then does that mean the female is really the driving force behind all the evil and destructive things that have happened? If the theory is correct, then, the answer must be: yes. But in this bleak perspective, we find the core of salvation. Evolution is the adaptation to local environments -- basically, solving problems of a situation that one faces. If one fails to solve the problem, then one is at high risk of not adapting and, thus, being snuffed out in the evolutionary race. And if we know that the information we have on hand in our course that we steer in our evolutionary voyage is incorrect, can we make any necessary course changes and improve our position in the evolutionary scheme of things. So if you believe that the captain of the evolutionary ship is the female, you instantly understand that the salvation of the planet is directly linked to the empowered and informed female; bringing women to the light of education, self-respect, and self-sufficiency should be our planet's noblest future course. Then women will be prepared to make necessary choices that will ensure survival of our species and all life on the planet.. 

Let's face it folks, this is a highly dangerous idea to some because it could upset the apple cart of our modern society; don't expect this theory to be broadcast on the nightly news like how best to conduct a military campaign against terrorism. This theory that females are really running the show is on par with the Copernican theory that brazenly declared Earth to be no longer the center of the universe but just a willing participant in the swirl of planetary system dynamics. In this evolutionary theory, males suddenly must be aware that they are no longer the center of their universe and are only part of the female's genetic dynamics. Males may not -- sorry, -- will not -- take too kindly to the fact that they are merely volunteers in the female's quest for genetic superiority. On the other side of the coin, females also will not accept wholeheartedly the fact that they are even remotely responsible for all the devastation and evil that has occurred in our planet's history. Like Evangelical Christians facing evolution -- the fear of what lies on the other side of the truth is hard to accept.

Now that I have set the stage with this new grand view of genetic transference in evolution, the importance of female choice when it concerns the subject of contraception and abortion should be an absolute. This is an important little book that takes a very courageous stance attempting to reverse the huge tide of fundamentalist views that control and dominate religions at this moment in our evolutionary time: the theme that major religions of the world only hold no choice positions in regards to the female's right to make decisions about her body and reproductive choices. The very core goal of this book is very simple:

Many people believe that contraception is forbidden by their religion, but this book will show that the world's religions are open to family planning, including contraception and also abortion as a backup when necessary. This information has been too little known. Many people, even within the various religions, have heard only conservative views on family planning. It is well known that there are no choice teachings on contraception and abortion in all religions but there are also pro-choice positions in these same religions that give people their moral freedom to make choices in these matters. These liberating views have been hidden away -- this book seeks to reveal them. p. 4.

This book is an effort by a group of religious scholars known as The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health, and Ethics to bring forth the pro-choices elements of ten religions: Christianity, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, and various Native American and Native African religions lumped as one. From the book, one is not sure if the author, Daniel C. Maguire, is the head of this group, but one can not deny his enthusiasm nor his commitment to this goal; he has presented before us compelling reasons for the quest of this group.

The book then leads us to the core of why people have children in the first place and Mcquire reminds us of the evolutionary harshness of our early ancestral beginnings, and as he so brilliantly understates the reason for reproduction,: "...this thrust toward reproduction is the defining story of our breed...The major religions were spawned in a world where our species lived on the scary brink of depopulation. p.5.

In quoting Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, Mcquire cites us that: "The ancient religions 'turned reproductivity into a mode of being godly. The multiplication of one's kind became both an index of divine favor and way of receiving such favor.'" p. 5.

I don't know if I quite agree with the Jesuit paleontologist's view that all life was envisioned as "godly" by our deep history ancestors, and thus hardwired into the architecture of our brains, but I feel that it is safe to say that, even then, all life was considered precious by every individual that came before us. I, and many others, argue that religions evolved from the memes of survival gathered by the elders of the clans, who then passed on these survival tips to the succeeding generations -- some into myths, some into stereotypes, some into social display rules for the clans -- all of which then ultimately evolved into religions that assisted in survival. One theme that is constant throughout the book is the basic idea that all life is precious and sacred; "Religion is the response to the sacred. So what is the sacred? The sacred is the superlative of precious. It is the word we use for that which is utterly and mysteriously precious in our experience...When we talk about the sanctity of life, we are talking about this mysterious preciousness." p. 20.

By holding this view of preciousness before us as a survival goal, we succeeded. We not only survived, but we prospered and multiplied -- too well. The author points us to the horrible truth to the success of overpopulation and the effects that such developments have on the environment. Maguire hammers home the thought that the "over-salaried & over-caloried" population cause over seventy five percent of the pollution on this planet and that that pollution is circumventing the globe in the very air we breath; once again we are reminded that sperm counts worldwide have fallen by 50 percent since 1938. Mcguire also lays out simply and firmly the obvious connection between poverty, lack of education, lack of available birth control information, and cultural views of women held by many societies; Maguire quotes United Nations Development Fund for Women director Noeleen Heyzer: "Poverty has a female face. Most of the world's poor are women and most of the world's women are poor...Girls constitute the majority of the 130 million children who have no access to primary schooling." p. 8.

You see, this brings us back to the stark truth of dealing with the truth of our new feminized revision behind evolution: If what we say is the truth that women are running the evolutionary show, then why is it that the males appear to be the ones in control of the resources and causing all this grief that seems to fall on the female that we see all around us in the world? Investigate very closely, and you most likely will find that behind these males, silent females are somehow involved with those "successful" males. Once again, it is these females who have made the decision (in many cases unwillingly, and in some cases forced) that these males are the best genetic vehicles for her children -- and sometimes that means choosing aggressive and misdirected males that have done, or are capable of doing, terrible things at their local environment. I am not, for one second, suggesting that females are silent partners in some huge conspiracy against their sisters; it is just evolution doing its job that it has always done for millennium after millennium; in order for it to make changes, evolution needs new data input in which to change course -- it will respond -- trust it -- evolution knows only that which is real at particular locations on the planet at particular moments in history.

I know that it may not seem fair to some, and in particular to the author, but because of the length of this review, I will end this book review before even attempting to go over the various viewpoints that the author has dusted off from deep within the souls of the various religions regarding contraception and abortion. I will leave that quest up to you. With this new paradigm shift in Natural Selection that I have prepared for you above, it should now be obvious that female choice in all matters of life, including contraception and abortion is already deeply ingrained into the innate parts of the female brain. What this book does is prepares you with much needed additional ammunition necessary for the battle ahead that you must face against the forces of female "no-choice."

Although this book does not, in general, have an evolutionary theme attached, nor is it a scholarly work, it is a helpful piece of the puzzle that evolutionary psychologists seek in which to find the true evolutionary path to human behavior. Let me leave you here where the author quotes scientist Harold Dorn: "No species has ever been a able to multiply without limit. There are two biological checks upon a rapid increase in numbers -- a high mortality and low fertility. Unlike other biological organisms [humans] can choose which of these checks shall be applied, but one of them must be. " p. 18.

And finally: "Historically, women have been the principal cherishers and caretakers of life. We can trust them with these decisions." p. viii. Here, Here. Go forth and multiply -- choose wisely and freely, for it is nature's force that commands it to be so.

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