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It is regrettable that Jon A. Shields ["The Accidental Activists",May/June] found it necessary to take a gratuitous swipe at Kristen Luker's brilliant and courageous book, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, in order to heap praise on Ziad Munson's The Making of Pro-Life Activists. Not having read Munson's book, I do not doubt that he deserves Shields' plaudits. Having taught Luker's book for years, I know she deserves better.

I wonder what in Luker's book Shields thinks would be devastated (to use his word) by Munson's findings. He quotes Munson as saying that his pro-life activists did not seek out activism. Activism emerged as "an unintended result of their ordinary lives." But that's Luker's point also. She interviewed activists on both sides, all women, but not just pro-life, and found that they got actively involved in the debate because of the lives they led, lives comparatively centering more on their families or on their careers. They were not shock troops of any religious or political party. Shields cites Munson's finding that religious conviction was often the result, rather than the cause, of his respondents' participation in the movement: "One out of every five activists in my sample found their religious faith either contemporaneously with or after their mobilization into the pro-life movement." In a summary of her own findings, Luker writes, "almost 20 percent of the pro-life activists in this study are converts to Catholicism." Where is the devastation?

The religio-political landscape has changed greatly since Luker's book was published twenty-five years ago. Conservative Protestants are now much more likely to be involved in the pro-life movement, which was at first populated primarily by Catholics. The controversy itself has greatly exacerbated, perhaps even caused, the wide-scale political polarization our society is plagued with today. But Luker is a sensitive and responsible guide to the way things looked in the immediate wake of Roe v. Wade. And one thing she deserves real credit for is her courtesy in referring to each side of the controversy by their preferred name, "pro-life" and "pro-choice," not, as the controversy has become more bitter, by the labels their adversaries apply to them, "anti-choice" and "pro-abortion." Luker's book is still very much worth reading, and Shields owes her an apology.

R. Stephen Warner
Professor Emeritus of Sociology
University of Illinois at Chicago

Jon Shields replies:

Professor Warner misunderstands my critique of Kristin Luker's Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Luker's central and most provocative claim is that the pro-life movement is not what it appears to be, since its fundamental concern is not protecting human life. Instead, Luker argues, pro-life activists are driven by cultural anxieties over the decline of traditional gender roles. Pro-life women, according to Luker, are especially upset by cultural assaults on the sanctity of motherhood. As she puts it, "While on the surface it is the embryo's fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women's lives."

One fundamental problem with Luker's work is that she simply maps the "worldview" of Catholic housewives who were active in the pro-life movement. Luker does not explain why her subjects decided to become active in the movement or why millions of Catholic women who share a similar worldview remain uninvolved. In other words, she did not explore the initial motives and exhortations that drove these women into the pro-life movement in the first place.

Ziad Munson's The Making of Pro-Life Activists remedies this oversight by exploring the mobilization of pro-life activists. Munson finds scant evidence for Luker's thesis. In fact, for reasons I detailed in my review, I think Munson is far too charitable when he concludes that Luker's emphasis on gender traditionalism is not "altogether wrong." Munson's book, moreover, merely adds to a large mountain of evidence that suggests that pro-life activists are fundamentally driven by a concern over human rights. For example, the most important mobilization tool in the pro-life movement is images of dead fetuses. It is hard to explain the power of such images if the "embryo's fate" isn't at stake.

I further disagree with Warner's claim that Luker's book was unusually even-handed, though I acknowledge that I am in the minority on this question. Luker, for example, argues that while the moral perspective of pro-life activists is formed in dogmatic and simplistic "childhood religion classes," pro-choice activists' morality is acquired through "immense amounts of intellectual effort." Pro-choice activists are therefore "morally nuanced" and even "slightly insecure as to whether they have received all the relevant data." Nonetheless, I certainly agree that her book is "very much worth reading" even though I think it has profoundly distorted our view of the pro-life movement. I also think it will continue to praised by academics at least partly because it allows them to dismiss the pro-life movement as reaction against liberalism.

Happy in the State of Denmark

In his review of Phil Zuckerman's Society without God ["Happy in the State of Denmark",May/June], C. John Sommerville writes that contented Danish society has lost the use for God and, with it, the use for talk about God: "Evidently, Danish society lacks any vocabulary with which to discuss religion or religious feelings." Sommerville suggests that we might infer that, in a society as insular as Denmark's, questions about "ultimacy" or the transcendent can safely be ignored. He then asks, "Was this what Kierkegaard noticed, some 150 years ago?" The answer is "yes, absolutely." On the poor quality of Christian upbringing and education in 19th-century Denmark, Kierkegaard writes in The Book on Adler, "The parents have never spoken about the essentially Christian; they have thought: The pastor must do that. And the pastor has thought: Instruct the lad in religion, that I can surely do, but actually convey to him the decisive impression, that must be the parents' affair." Given the 3 percent church attendance of this "Christian nation," Kierkegaard's words appear prophetic.

Mark A. Tietjen
Asst. Professor of Philosophy and Religion
University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia

Are You Experienced?

As always, I so appreciate the scope and depth of B&C—and the sometimes astonishing degree of care that must go into coordinating a given issue of the magazine. I love, for instance, the gentle sense of humor in the juxtaposition of a variety of articles in the May/June issue and the psychedelic tie-dye cover: obviously Chris Smith's "Are You Experienced?" (with allusion to Hendrix's famous album); "The Accidental Activists," by Jon Shields; and other titles like "Love and Death," The Ramayana, etc. etc. No sincere nostalgia from the boomer generation, just a slightly self-conscious sidelong chuckle at ourselves.

But more to the substance: Smith's discussion of Anne Taves' update on William James opens up for me all sorts of questions about "meta-discourse" on religious experience.

In the boys' locker room in high school, guys would boast about various exploits, and it was clear to any thinking fellow that the bragging was largely a coverup for sexual insecurity. Like Lao-tzu said, "If you have to talk about it, you know nothing about it" (well, that's a rather crass restatement). The Apostle Paul makes a similar move in 2 Corinthians 12, where he begins with a curious little riff on spiritual experience and his own boasting—the end of which is a "thorn in the flesh" sent by the Lord to silence him. And the best part of that passage, to my mind, is "My grace is sufficient for thee: my strength is made perfect in weakness."

Back in the 1960s I was reading and devouring Alan Watts and Carlos Castaneda, trying to account for my "religious experience." I got involved in psychedelics after I had my definitive experience in an attempt to explain to myself what had happened. All the potions and "special" substances I ingested failed to duplicate what I had experienced sans dopage, and ultimately Watts, Castaneda, Meher Baba, and a slew of other gurus failed to help me gain back that ecstatic state or even really explain it.

Strangely, after a 15-year sojourn in Eastern mysticism, a trip to India, and much searching, it was during a quiet evening after Christmas 1982 that I finally found not only the explanation but the Source of that "experience"—and special experiences ceased at that point. Since that time I have had only one "special" experience—and that one is so embarrassing that I'd never boast about it.

The question, I feel, centers on Lao-tzu's opening lines of the Tao te Ching: "The Way that can be experienced is not true; / The world that can be constructed is not true."

So the true "thing" is not susceptible to either experience or construction. It must be more than an experience; in fact, it is a relationship. We don't experience persons, we love and hate them (and a lot in between). Relationship, not experience, is at the heart of true faith. If this were more widely understood and celebrated, I think a lot of feverish effort and manipulative "religion" would go up in smoke like my psychedelic experiences.

Bruce Herman
Department of Art
Gordon College
Wenham, Mass.
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