The Personalist Project

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry about The New Culture of Life, posted by Ruth Graham in Slate last week. It's all about how "the future of pro-life activism is young, female, secular, and 'feminist.'"

My first instinct is to welcome the post, for both its content and its appearance on such a left-leaning site. Another happy surprise: photo after photo of appealing, cheerful, confident-looking, young pro-life women.

On the other hand, it makes clear how many people the earlier, more religiously driven pro-life movement has alienated.  Lots of people had bought the story that abortion isn't a human rights issue at all but just a private matter of conscience for a few odd people with a few odd consciences. It's as if we were rallying to enforce Friday abstinence, and everyone was, understandably enough, retorting, "Look, you eat all the fish you want, but hands off my cheeseburger."

This is largely because interested parties have been twisting the narrative to make us seem fanatical, incoherent, and theology-driven. But we've done some of the alienating ourselves. We've treated certain things that are legitimate matters of opinion--about foreign policy, economics, and criminal justice--as if they were on the same level as Thou shalt not kill. We've cozied up to one political party--and no wonder, since the other one has steadfastly refused to yield an inch.

On the other hand, though (let's say I have three hands today), I have to wonder about the staying power of a pro-life movement that's deeply confused about or blithely indifferent to foundational realities like masculinity, femininity, marriage, and plain old biology. 

The new, secular pro-lifers aren't riled up about transgender bathroom laws. They seem to have bought the idea that gender may be "assigned" at birth but it's something you can make up as you go along. This is nice for big-tent purposes, of course. And you don't have to accept traditional Judeo-Christian morality 100% to recognize, for instance, that "violence against another human being can never be a human right," as a sign displayed by Terissa Bulkovinac of Secular Pro-Life puts it.

But on the OTHER hand (OK, I'm practically an octopus today),  it's good news precisely because the view really is more holistic in certain ways. The people profiled here see more clearly than some of us religious types that there's a larger principle in play than Don't kill the unborn--a seamless garment, if you like (provided it's understood as something more than a pretext to go soft on abortion). The larger principle? You don't violate the vulnerable. You therefore care for the poor, AND the foreigner, AND the special-needs children, AND the addict, AND the mentally ill. And even the criminal.

 In short, you don't try to skirt the inherent dignity of any human being. Caring for the unborn baby--the archetypical "little guy"--fits in naturally with concern for all his fellow little guys. 

Besides, there are two separate tendencies here. One is non-religious people affirming pro-life principles. The other is religious people choosing to frame their arguments so that they rest on premises anybody can affirm. The presence of this second group has been pounced on by pro-abortion writer Amanda Marcotte as evidence that pro-lifers are just as religious as ever but are sneakily posing as reasonable people. But most on the left concede that the pro-life movement is much younger and divers-er than it used to be.

Well, I didn't mean for this to degenerate into political talk. Who could imagine cyberspace was suffering any shortage of that these days? The personalist point is this: 

When we pigeonhole people--as when we divide the human race up into religious pro-lifers with all the conventionally attendant trimmings, and secular pro-choicers, with all of their usual trappings--we not only alienate potential allies, we ignore large swaths of reality. And when we let ourselves be pigeonholed, everybody loses. In the end, reality reasserts itself. Our compartments fall apart. They turn out to be less useful political weapons than they seemed. Neither the most stereotypical Religious Rightist nor the most fanatical secular humanist can spin the new alignments as evidence of their favorite cliches.

And that's a good thing.

Comments (3)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Oct 21, 2016 6:03pm

That really was a very interesting article Devra. On the whole I think it should make us laugh. The thrust of it is right. I especially like these points:

- Emphasis on the link between feminism and the pro-life position. That is something that could benefit both sides. 

- The point that the pro-life movement is too closely linked to  conservative/republican politics.

- That it still too often goes together with the kind of patriarchy rightly criticized by feminism

- The "seamless garment" point, that respect for life includes much more than fighting abortion (and euthanasia).

Rhett Segall

#2, Oct 21, 2016 7:31pm

It's astonishing that some one million abortions each year in the US are found morally acceptable by so many Christians and Jews.  I think that searching for a non religious denominator for reverence for life is up against those who hold that a person can only be present when a certain biological  development is achieved.  Check out this column in today''s NYT. It deals with parents terminating  a 21 week old fetus  so that the child, who has  a defective heart, will not suffer  in its anticipated short life.  Read not only the article but readers' comments.- so many agree with the parents. They seem like good people. I'm sure they are.-, but so misguided. I'm tempted to write in the following imaginary conversation between the mother and older son:

Son: "Mom what happened to my little brother Lev you told me I was going to have?"

Mom: "We killed him so he wouldn't suffer.It was because we loved him."

Son;"Mom, if I'm suffering will you kill me?"

I couldn't get myself to write it though.

Laura P

#3, Oct 21, 2016 7:38pm

Thank you for recognizing the disconnect the pro-life movement has had with mainstream culture for too long. I am a faithful Catholic young woman who has been active in pro-life work for years. I have seen people deeply hurt and alienated by the overly religious folks who've been part of the movement since the beginning. Though my Catholic faith is integral to who I am, I have seen people directly hurt by it. And that is not ok. Think about women in crisis situations being told they're not being good Catholics when they seek help in a pregnancy clinic. It makes me angry that well-meaning predecessors of mine within the movement have used their faith as an excuse. It's horrible really.

I am so glad to see this trend. It shows me that even religious people are capable of meeting people where they're at. I think the world needs to see more of that. You've got to solve the immediate problem and be a reasonable person before anyone will stand hearing about Jesus from you.

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