The purpose of this post is to address a hypocrisy engaged in by many self-described pro-lifers. I previously wrote about the culture of life here and I highly recommend reading that post before proceeding with this one.
Pope John Paul II was the first to use the phrase the “culture of life” in a World Youth Day tour of the United States in 1993. The Pope stated that “The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God’s work of creation. In a special way, it means respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end.” He wrote extensively on the culture of life, including in his encyclical Evangelium vitae or “the Gospel of Life.”
In the minds of many, the American pro-life movement and the culture of life are synonymous and, while they do share much in common they are not one and the same. “Pro-life” in its decades long use has historically been much narrower in its definition than what is referred to by the culture of life, referring predominantly to opposition to abortion while the culture of life addresses a wide range of issues (additionally, the culture of life is more than a mere political movement but a way of life meant for all of society). Many self-described “pro-lifers,” while adamant in their defense of the unborn, are willing to compromise on, or even emphatically embrace, issues like our aggressive military interventionism abroad, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the death penalty. However, all of these issues, and others, are contrary to the culture of life. Many liberals have been quick to point out this hypocrisy among the pro-life movement and they are absolutely right in doing so – in fact, it is the number one complaint I hear from liberals regarding the pro-life movement and one of the few legitimate ones. To support any politician or policy that would sacrifice the human dignity and lives of others in the name of combating abortion is to support a culture compromised. While we can distinguish between life-issues, they have one universal root: the real issue, which is our culture’s disregard for life. Abortion is a symptom, a devastating consequence of our twisted perception of humanity and only by defending every life-issue and having the courage to stand as an advocate for all of the weak, born and unborn, can we expect to effect change. In Evangelium vitae Blessed John Paul II affirms the need to be unconditional in our defense of human life and dignity and support a culture of life. Never did he suggest a need to fight abortion at all costs, but instead calls us to defend all life-issues:
This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. We find ourselves not only “faced with” but necessarily “in the midst of” this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.
Additionally, to understand what the culture of life is and to recognize when pro-lifers stray from that culture we must know what it is not. Monsignor Charles Pope. summarizes what the antithesis of the culture of life, the culture of death, looks like:
We have discussed the “culture of death” numerous times before on this blog. This description of Western Culture was used by Pope John Paul II. Fundamentally it refers to the fact that in the modern, western world, especially America death is increasingly seen as a “solution” to problems. Has a child come along at an inconvenient time? Perhaps the baby has been diagnosed with defects perhaps there is some other wrenching problem regarding the pregnancy such as the poverty of the mother. The solution? Abort the baby. Has a criminal committed heinous acts? Kill him through capital punishment. Is an elderly or sick person suffering from a reduced quality of life? Perhaps they are bedridden or experiencing the pains of the dying process. Solution? Euthanize them. Does raising children and dealing with a larger family cause hardships: economic and emotional? Do children cause stress? Simple, contracept so that they don’t exist in the first place. So you see, the death or non-existence of human beings is increasingly the “solution” to problems and this is what is meant by the “culture of death.”
Unfortunately, many conservatives cannot bring themselves to let go of the notion that the death, non-existence or suffering of certain human beings is the “solution” to their problems. Instead, they argue until they’re blue in the face that the lives of hundreds of thousands are expendable if America is threatened (they’re not), preemptive strikes are not unjust (they are), that waterboarding isn’t really torture (hint, it is) and that assassination of unarmed men via car-bombs constitutes “self-defense”. These issues are inseparable from abortion because they all stem form the same mentality: that human life is expendable, that killing and inflicting more pain and suffering is the answer to all our problems. The only way to promote a culture of life, and therefore to be truly pro-life, is not to “just focus on abortion” so as to not “divide our attention” but to stop the culture of death at its root: the mentality of death that underlies each and every one of these issues.
Many pro-lifers don’t fervently defend these immoral actions, however. Many haven’t really given it a lot of thought. But that too has its own dangers. Many pro-lifers have spent years educating themselves on abortion and passionately fighting against it but they have been intellectually lazy when it comes to other life-issues. They are sickened by their own government which, to date, has endorsed the murder of over 52 million unborn Americans but think it improbable that our government would torture or ever be the villain in a war; we’re the good guys and we don’t do that. Besides, those issues aren’t as “important” so why bother finding out? In response to the lukewarm pro-lifer (though fervent on abortion they may be) I ask one simple question: if our government is so corrupt and evil that it freely endorses the murder of defenseless, unborn children by the millions, at the will of their own mothers, and you recognize this, then is not such a government also capable of committing other heinous acts like unjust invasion and occupation of other countries, assassinations, torture and more? In fact, isn’t it probable that such atrocities are happening – right now? We already recognize other areas where our government bows to the culture of death in euthanasia and the death penalty and, while we blame the Democrats on the left for abortion and euthanasia we must also recognize the culture of death present on the right: unjust war, assassination, torture and the death penalty. The Culture of Life is not partisan; these are not Democrat issues or Republican issues, these are American issues – but even on a grander scale, these are global issues and Catholic issues and we must act and vote first as Catholics and as a part of the same Body of Christ and, only following that, as Americans.