The Social Ecology of Religion

By Vernon Reynolds; Ralph Tanner | Go to book overview

5
Infanticide and Abortion

In chapter 4 we looked at religious rules and attitudes to conception and contraception and tried to interpret them in terms of whether the societies concerned had gone through the period of fertility transition or not. Here we turn to infanticide and abortion. Conception has now occurred and a new life has begun. Life is regarded in all societies as a precious commodity -- often the most precious. Many cultural rules are concerned with the preservation of human life. There are additionally, at the start of life when the infant is helpless, strong biological mechanisms by which most mammals, especially primates, protect and nurture their infants. The mother-infant relationship is based on a set of powerful biological patterns of behavior which normally ensure that the infant does not starve or get lost or injured. Not only mothers but other females and also males show protective responses to infants in animal societies.

It is against this background that we now consider the following questions: Why do rules permitting or even exhorting infanticide and abortion in human societies exist? The simplest, "armchair" answer would be that humans plan their families according to their needs and resources. This uses a "rational" model of man: He takes nature into his own hands rather than being subject to natural forces. Is there in fact a positive relationship between the purposeful destruction of new viable human life and the survival of those already in existence, or of future children, planned but as yet not conceived? What are the rules and how does religion in particular make them effective? We begin by looking at some pretransition societies.

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The Social Ecology of Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Part I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - Why Religions? 3
  • Notes 18
  • 2 - Prior Approaches to the Study of Religion 19
  • Notes 28
  • 3 - The Challenge of Modernity 29
  • Notes 50
  • Part II - Religion and the Life Cycle 51
  • 4 - Conception and Contraception 53
  • Notes 75
  • 5 - Infanticide and Abortion 79
  • Notes 97
  • 6 - Birth and Childhood 101
  • Notes 126
  • 7 - Adolescence 131
  • Notes 147
  • 8 - Marriage 149
  • Notes 180
  • 9 - Divorce and Widowhood 185
  • Notes 197
  • 10 - Middle and Old Age 200
  • Notes 209
  • 11 - Death 211
  • Notes 230
  • Part III - Religions and Disease 235
  • 12 - Faith and Sickness 237
  • Notes 261
  • 13 - Religions and the Enhanced Risk of Disease 267
  • Notes 282
  • 14 - Religions and the Reduced Risk of Disease 285
  • Notes 300
  • 15 - General Conclusions 305
  • Notes 312
  • Index 313
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