Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire is a documentary that explores the issue of abortion in America. It gives plenty of time to both sides, but it also allows religious extremists in the debate to indict themselves. The documentary is worth viewing not only for those interested in the issue on both sides, but for those interested in the nasty turns that religion can take. Various Christians shown throughout the movie literally advocate and/or commit murder and terrorism in the name of God.

The main problem with the documentary is its editing. It is severely disjointed; it keeps jumping back and forth between issues, speakers, and stories for no apparent reason. I lost track of the number of superfluous songs included in it. (If I wanted to watch music videos, I’d get MTV.) A number of the clips, such as from Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes, are completely pointless (and the bit from Keyes is also taken out of context). At 152 minutes, the film is painfully long; I yearned for it to end. Cut of its fluff, it easily could have fit within an hour and forty-five minutes.

The documentary contains three main parts (mashed together). It explores the views of opponents of abortion, tracks a thoughtful but incomplete debate among left-leaning intellectuals, and shows abortion procedures.

The views of opponents of abortion fall into two main categories: abortion should be outlawed, and abortion should be violently protested as well as outlawed. Most prominent of the legislation-only camp is Norma McCorvey, otherwise known as Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade fame. McCorvey describes how, following her episodes of self-mutilation and involvement with new-age mysticism, she found Jesus and changed her mind on abortion. “I’m a servant of Christ now,” she says at an event.

The general theme among the religious opponents of abortion is that “life” begins at conception and that God prohibits abortion.

What the documentary does not do is explore nuances of opinion. Many people only want some restrictions on late-term abortions, yet nobody from that camp was interviewed for the film.

The film is downright frightening when it shows interviews and talks by those who favor violence. Following are several of the scary quotes:

“We will not back down on upholding the law of God. If this nation, if Bill Clinton, is going to reject the law of God, then this nation is going to die [i.e., self-destruct].”

“I think they should execute blasphemers [including those who say “god damn it”]… because that’s what the Bible teaches.”

“Abortionists should be executed.”

“They’ve been seduced by Satan… We’re coming right into the middle of Satan’s territory up here in Colorado…”

One fellow (who also offered the quote directly above) argues that advocates of legal abortion consist of three types of people: satan worshippers, homosexuals, and “the pro-death.” But this guy clearly is delusional; he also claims that he’s seen employees of abortion clinics barbecue the aborted fetuses. I don’t think interviewing insane people contributes much to the discussion.

Much of the documentary reviews the various murders committed by Christian opponents of abortion. When one of the murderers is sentenced to execution, several people supported the murderer. The film interviews one woman who was a victim of a bombing of an abortion clinic.

One person discusses Christian Reconstructionism, the movement of Rushdoony. The goal of the movement, according to the documentary, is to establish religious law; implement the death penalty for abortion, homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, heresy, apostasy, and witchcraft (among other things); and generally to establish a Christian theocracy.

Much of the film is dated and seems so; at this point the religious right has fairly effectively dampened calls for violence against the “abortion industry.”

The left-leaning intellectuals include Nat Hentoff — who, notably, opposes abortion on secular grounds — Alan Dershowitz, Noam Chomsky, and Peter Singer. Not surprisingly, the overriding theme of these people is moral ambiguity and subjectivism. Dershowitz argues, “Everybody is right;” it’s “very, very difficult” to draw “black and white lines.” Chomsky says, “The values we hold are not absolute.”

Of course there is a gray boundary here; even Ayn Rand, who adamantly favored legal abortion, drew a distinction between embryos and fetuses just before birth (see Ayn Rand Answers, page 17). But, for Rand, the emphasis was on the morally clear regions — particularly the early stages versus an independent child at birth. (See her additional comments.) Those interviewed for the film emphasize the moral grayness at the expense of the morally certain.

However, the documentary is obviously editing content to make a point. One woman claims that we should move away from the language of rights, which implies right and wrong. The film pits the view of moral relativism and subjectivism against Christian absolutist dogma. The film ignores — or includes only incidentally — the possibility that moral clarity may be reached outside of the context of religious dogma.

The film conflates general moral ambiguity with the fact that women should choose whether to get an abortion based on their personal conditions. But those are two separate issues. The claim that women have an absolute moral right to get an abortion has nothing to do with whether a particular woman should choose to get an abortion. Similarly, freedom of speech says nothing about whether an individual should go into journalism.

The film’s greatest failing is to never bring to the forefront the distinction between a potential and an actual person. Hentoff, the outlier, argues that an embryo is “a developing human being,” and no one debates this. But the relevant distinction is that an embryo is a potential person, whereas a born child is an actual, independent person. The documentary should have included interviews with people who argue this position.

All of the film’s favored intellectuals, of course, endorse welfare statism, regardless of their stance on abortion. Chomsky, for instance, derides the U.S. for not giving more in foreign aid.

The film contrasts the secular left-wingers with the Bible-thumping anti-government types. One fellow argues that we should establish laws “as outlined by God,” which, for him, entails the right to keep and bear arms, the abolition of the IRS, and “constitutional government” (whatever that means for him). Never have I been so struck by the danger of affiliating with kooks who hold superficially similar political positions. As a secularist, I support both legal abortion and economic liberty. I have practically nothing in common with Chomsky, but I have even less in common with those who think that welfare should be abolished because it violates God’s will for our allegedly “Christian Nation.” Of course, my perspective is not one that the documentary chooses to explore, for it has its own agenda.

The film also shows two women getting abortions. One woman gets hers relatively late, at five months, while another gets hers early. One problem with the film is that it does not discuss how many abortions occur within the first trimester, why some abortions are performed later, or what Roe v. Wade has to say about late-term abortions. The unfortunate impression left by the film, then, is that abortions typically or often involve fully-developed fetuses, which is simply not the case.

Still, the documentary is worth viewing despite its many faults and shortcomings, so long as viewers are aware of those issues.