“A shocking, award-winning documentary!” “Changing the heart of a nation.” “33 minutes that will rock your world.” Ray Comfort lavishes his work with superlatives, but does it hold up?
I watched 180 so that you won’t have to. Spoiler alert: didn’t rock my world.
Motives are immediately suspect when the video opens with Hitler and Nazi rallies. Right out of the gate, Godwin’s Law is in force, and Comfort makes clear that you’re either on his side or giving Hitler back rubs.
With that dichotomy clear, Comfort interviews people hanging out on a sunny day at some Los Angeles beach. He begins by asking, “Who was Hitler?” The snippets introducing us to the (typically) 20-somethings who we’ll see throughout the video all show them clueless in response. If it was unclear before, it’s now obvious that he cherry picked only those interviews that gave him what he wanted. This is a poor foundation on which to show us a half-dozen people at the end who are convinced by his message. (Okay, Ray, but out of how many?)
We connect the present with Hitler through a long interview with a young American neo-Nazi with a tall blue Mohawk and a dashed “Cut here” tattoo across his throat. And then, videos of concentration camp aftermath.
Comfort primes his interviewees with moral puzzles such as “Would you shoot Hitler if you could go back in time and do so?” or “Would you kill Jews if told that, if you didn’t, you would be killed and someone else would do the job?”
About a third of the way in, the conversation finally turns to abortion. The use of Hitler and the Holocaust is justified when Comfort declares abortion to be the American holocaust, with killing fetuses equivalent to killing Jews. His arguments are nothing new to many of us, but they were to this crowd:
- Finish this sentence: “It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when …”
- What if a construction worker was about to blow up a building but wasn’t sure if there was a person in there or not. If we’re not sure, we should always err on the side of life, right?
- What if someone had aborted you?
I’ve already discussed these and other arguments.
Next, he brings up the sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” In the first place, he’s done nothing to show that there is a god behind these commandments and that it has any more supernatural warrant than “Use the Force, Luke!” Additionally, the commandment is usually translated as “thou shalt not murder.” If the correct word is “kill,” I need to see Comfort walking the walk by campaigning against capital punishment and war. And if it’s an undefined “murder,” what is murder? The commandment becomes a tautology: Thou shalt not do what is forbidden.
Granted, but how is this helpful?
Our interviewees seem a little off balance with a camera in their faces and are apparently not that sharp to begin with given their widespread ignorance of Hitler. Ray picks snippets that give him what he wants to hear, that killing fetuses is equivalent to killing Jews.
The lesson is that you can make an effective emotional pro-life argument to people who haven’t thought much about the issue. But people who change their minds so easily (Comfort brags about how quickly they changed) aren’t well established in their new position. How many of these, after thinking about these ideas at leisure and discussing it with friends, are still in Comfort’s camp today?
There’s a fundamental confusion in his interviewees, and Comfort is not motivated to correct it. There’s a big difference between “Abortion is wrong for me” and “Abortion is wrong for everyone, and we must impose that on society.” People give him the former, but he hopes we’ll take away the latter.
We’re two thirds through the video now and are just hoping to get out with our sanity intact, but Comfort has saved the best for last. The anti-abortion argument is dropped, and he falls back to his old favorite, the Ten Commandments challenge. (One reviewer suggested that Comfort’s compulsive use of this argument is his personal form of Tourette’s.) This is where Comfort ticks off the commandments: Have you ever lied? Stolen? Looked on someone with lust?
He concludes: “By your own admission, you’re a lying, thieving, blaspheming fornicator and must face God on Judgment Day™. How do you think God should judge you?” Again, of course, he ignores that we haven’t established the existence of God or the afterlife.
I did applaud one aspect of the movie, the text at the end that read, “We strongly condemn the use of any violence in connection with protesting abortion.” At least, I applauded this until I realized that this was probably a legal demand since Comfort had pushed his interviewees to consider shooting Hitler early in the documentary.
Given Ray Comfort’s easy success with emotional appeals, what if someone did a rebuttal video? It could open with stories of illegal and dangerous back-alley abortion clinics. Then talk about Americans rejecting oppressive government—“the land of the free,” “no taxation without representation,” and all that. Paint a picture of medieval Europe with the heavy hand of the church on every aspect of life for the poor peasant. Overlay some stirring patriotic music on waving flags and eagles.
The interviews would focus on intuitive arguments like those I’ve discussed in Five Emotional Pro-Choice Arguments. Here are several brief examples.
- Suppose a building were on fire, and you could save either a five-year-old child or ten frozen embryos. Which would you pick? If you picked the child, what does that say about the argument that equates embryos with babies?
- If you’ve seen anti-abortion videos or posters, you may have seen the bloody results of late-term abortions. Why do you suppose they showed you that rather than a woman swallowing an emergency contraceptive (“morning after”) pill? Do you suppose they really think that it’s a “baby” all the way back to that single cell?
- Given that half of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, do you suppose that God has much of a concern about abortion?
- A week-old human blastocyst has fewer cells than the brain of a fly. Does it make sense to equate that with a one trillion-cell newborn? The newborn has eyes, ears, legs, arms, a brain and a nervous system, a heart and a circulatory system—in fact, all the components of the human body that you do—while the blastocyst has just 100 undifferentiated cells. Does it make sense to equate them?
- Who better to weigh the impact of a child than the mother herself?
Do you think we’d get similar results with this video?
Photo credit: Wikipedia
- A Defense of Abortion Rights: the Spectrum Argument
- Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? How Convenient.
- Five Emotional Pro-Choice Arguments
- 180 movie
- A negative video review by paulchartley, 9/29/11.
- “Ray Comfort’s ‘180’ Movie: Holocaust == Abortion… Result!!” Rational Dreaming blog, 9/30/11.
- 180 trailer is here: “Ray Comfort is a fraud,” Pharyngula blog, 8/29/11.