Are we winning yet?

A few thoughts about the pro-life situation and on moving forward

As we start the year 2007, are those who respect and value human life in Australia ‘winning’?

For a start, how do we tell if we are winning or not? (And what should be understood as ‘winning’?)

Surveys of community attitudes and the results of votes in parliament on life issues may give us some idea of how things are going.

It seems to me though that surveys about people’s attitudes to life matters are not necessarily very reliable sources of information.

For example, a person may state in a phone survey that they generally do not support abortion but, should that person or a daughter or wife become pregnant in less than desirable circumstances, their actual response may be quite different. The apparent discrepancy between the relatively high opposition to most abortions recorded by some surveys, and the actual high abortion rate, would seem to support that contention.

As far as votes in parliament go, mostly these have not gone in favour of respecting all human life, as we well know. These votes however do not necessarily always reflect the views of the community, but rather they may often reflect the views of just the politicians themselves, especially given that they have conscience votes on these matters.

The question that commenced this article was, are we winning? It seems to me, that overall based on what is actually happening or not happening, that it would be hard to deny that we are not.

And this I would suggest is because most people (not of course all people, but I would suggest the large majority) do not care much, or at least certainly not enough (or not enough in the right direction), about human life and the related life issues.

Moreover, people can hardly plead ignorance about the life issues either as these issues, in particular abortion, have received quite considerable media coverage over the years.

To the extent that people actually are ignorant of the issues, I believe it would be fair to say that the ignorance is largely self-imposed. Most people don’t seem to care and they don’t seem to want even to know or think much about these matters.

If this is true, then we have no reason to realistically expect to see an improvement or even a halt to the continuing downhill slide unless there is a considerable change in the attitudes of most of the population.

Assuming then that it is the case that most people, and I would include in that most of the Christian community, do not care sufficiently about the life issues, why do people care so little? Perhaps some or all of the following reasons, in no particular order, provide an answer:

  1. People regard these issues are just too difficult to resolve so, ignoring them, is the easiest way out. Eg sorting out any perceived conflict of interests between the mother/parents and the unborn child in relation to abortion seems too hard.

  2. People feel guilty (particularly in relation to abortion) because of their having had direct or indirect involvement and so they don’t want to think about it. (Many Christians may also feel guilt because of their failure to have stood up for the defenceless.)

  3. People don’t like being involved in conflict and they well know that these issues can be highly emotive, so they try to stay away from them.

  4. People can’t be bothered to think much about what happens to human life at the earliest and latest stages. After all, everyone who can express an opinion is too old to be aborted or used as a source of embryonic stem cells and the large majority of people are not under any immediate threat of death themselves. These matters just don’t seem to be very relevant to them right now and so dealing with them is a hassle they can do without.

  5. People don’t have a very high regard for human life, at least at its earliest and latest stages. After all, if human life is just an accident of nature without any intrinsic value then it doesn’t really matter what happens to it.

  6. People have in the back of their mind the thought that they might benefit one day from being able to access these contentious activities – eg. abortion could free them from unwanted or handicapped children; euthanasia could free them from a difficult dying experience; embryonic stem cells and cloning could free them from ill health, etc.

  7. People are too busy and distracted to let themselves think about these things.

  8. ????

So in summary, I think we are battling against, at least:

  1. confusion and uncertainty

  2. feelings of guilt

  3. timidity

  4. apathy and self-centredness

  5. the devaluation of human life

  6. self-interest

  7. a hectic, fractured modern world.

  8. ????

What, assuming that the above points are at least somewhat correct, has to happen then if people (Christians at least) are going to care more?

I would suggest that people (not excluding my/ourselves where appropriate) must –

  1. overcome confusion and uncertainty by becoming properly and fully informed and then thinking these issues through thoughtfully and rigorously

  2. deal with guilt caused by wrongdoing and inaction by confessing and repenting

  3. face up to timidity by courageously confronting these contentious and demanding issues

  4. negate apathy and self-centredness by making strenuous efforts to address vital matters that may not be of direct, immediate concern to them/ourselves

  5. really grasp that every single human life at every stage of development and every level of ability/disability has inestimable inherent value

  6. abandon self-interest by being prepared to forsake options that may possibly be of some considerable benefit to them/ourselves but that come at too high a cost to others

  7. order their/our lives in this hectic, fractured world in such a way that sufficient time and energy are available to meaningfully and effectively engage in these vital matters

  8. ????

Can/does the pro-life movement play a role in bringing about any of these changes?

With regard to No.1, pro-lifers certainly have worked, and continue to work hard at trying to make it possible for people to be properly informed by making available good literature, videos, websites, education programmes, etc.

To the extent that people actually avail themselves of this material and take seriously its content, it quite likely helps overcome some of the other stumbling blocks to caring that are listed above. (Certainly it was just the reading of a couple of pro-life leaflets years ago which led to my own involvement.)

But it would also be true that some or all of the other stumbling blocks work very strongly against many people even looking at or taking seriously this material which is available. So, while good educational material can do much to generate concern for the vulnerable, it is effectively useless if people don’t/won’t access and seriously consider what it has to say. Perhaps something has to be done about the other stumbling blocks first before the educational material can have the effect it could be expected to have.

What then of these other hindrances to caring: can we do anything about them?

How do we as pro-lifers help overcome the guilt, timidity, apathy, low view of human life, self-interest, and overly-busy lives that keep people from caring enough about vulnerable human beings?

Some of these hindrances, and maybe all of them but particularly the guilt and low view of life, appear to have significant spiritual elements to them and so specifically spiritual solutions would seem to be required in order to address them. Many pro-life groups in Australia, while often being made up of faith-oriented (usually Christian) supporters, normally do not identify, for a number of practical reasons, as being spiritually-based organisations. Therefore it makes it difficult for such groups to present overtly religious solutions.

Some, especially those from the more evangelical branch of the Christian community, argue that because of the spiritual nature of the pro-life issues, it will only be by the literal spiritual conversion of individuals and hence of our society that true change on these matters can occur. Is that true? Are these things that the churches should be dealing with rather than specifically pro-life groups?

I think it is correct that the churches have a very major role to play, and one that generally needs to be played far more effectively. But I do not think it follows that pro-life groups are therefore unnecessary. (Certainly while we are endeavouring to see the world spiritually converted we must also be seeking to save the physical lives of those who are at imminent risk of death. Evangelism and saving lives must not be seen as being in conflict but as being complementary activities.)

To summarise then what I have tried to say so far:

How then can pro-lifers help people to care more about the life issues?

The following is probably not the only answer to that question, but it is one response that I would see as being absolutely essential – that is, setting an example of real care through our own actions. Presently one of the ways that that is being done well is through the vitally important work of the various crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) as they provide counsel and support to mothers/couples in difficulty. However the role of the CPCs is necessarily limited.

Another way of setting an example of caring – one which I would see as being equally important and necessary, especially in relation to abortion – is that of taking non-violent direct action to stop the destruction of human life.

Such a suggestion may appear rather counter-intuitive, but I do believe that such direct action can/will (eventually) help people, at least Christian people, to care more. (The rights and wrongs of direct action as such won’t be considered here – see other articles on this website for discussions about that.)

A number of very strong claims, eg. every abortion kills a fellow human being, have been made by the pro-life movement over the years. I would suggest that the near absence of behaviour that would normally be considered to be consistent with claims that mass destruction of innocent human life is taking place in our cities and suburbs has contributed to the low level of concern about the life issues that is evident today.

Talk, as the proverb goes, is seen as being cheap. People have more or less heard our verbal/written message but since they see the killing continuing to go on essentially unhindered (directly), that fact seems to have taken much of the sting out of our words. On the other hand, action, as another proverb goes, speaks louder than words.

In response it will be argued of course that far from making people care more, direct action will only stir up anger and conflict. There is no denying that at least for some time – and who knows how long? – very considerable anger and turmoil would surround such action. But do we have any basis for believing that things will somehow change for the better without there being much unpleasantness? The mere fact of unpleasant conflict cannot of itself speak against direct action.

Rather, the carrying out of direct action along with the bearing of the burden of the inevitable harsh penalties that ensue, does demonstrate to people that human life is regarded, by some at least, as having enormous value – enough even to overcome timidity, apathy, self-centredness and self-interest. This example has the potential to inspire others (at least Christians) to take these life issues much more seriously themselves. Whether people will actually respond in that way is of course not guaranteed – the limited response we’ve seen so far in Queensland has not been greatly encouraging but we do try to take the longer term view.

In conclusion then: if things are going to change, people need to develop a much greater concern about the life issues. I believe that direct, non-violent intervention when someone is about to be killed does help to challenge people, particularly Christians, to re-evaluate their position on the life issues. Even more importantly, I believe that it is simply the right thing to be doing anyway.

What do you think?