Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Choosing Life: Mine First!

I think many in our culture have lost a sense of the value of life; it’s pretty meaningless to them.  Spreading the pro-life message by showing the horrors of abortion or euthanasia just doesn’t impact them, because all life seems relatively unimportant to them --- except theirs.  From a Christian point of view, this is a reversion to paganism, because love of God and love of neighbor have lost their key underpinning: love.  If God and my neighbor no longer have an intrinsic value, why should they be loved, any more than a rock is loved?
Pro-life proponents have programs to demonstrate that a valuable human life exists in the fetus and in the Alzheimer’s patient, but if you don’t believe that human life has value --- except your own --- then these programs only generate yawns.  Who cares if it is a life or not?  A new method of teaching seems to be required, one which focuses on what a pagan does value: himself.  To preach the pro-life message effectively, we must demonstrate that choosing life enriches YOUR life and brings you joy, and that choosing death lessens YOUR life and brings you pain.  Tailoring the pro-life message to one of self-interest is starting the education message at a primal level, but if someone doesn’t know what one and one equals, no amount of calculus lessons will impact them.  To have them understand, we have to get them listening.
“Christ came to give us life, that we might have life more fully,” say Christians.  This is an ego-centric look at Christianity: it benefits you.  Christ fed people and healed people; we teach this as an example of His love, but to those on the receiving end His gifts were also very personal: “He did this for ME.”  People began to pay attention to His message when they first got what they, perhaps in greed, wanted.  Jesus appealed to some of their most basic desires to get their attention.  He couldn’t get them to focus on WHY He did what He did, until He got them to focus on WHAT He did.
I think in our culture today there are many people whose level of faith is not much different than those of Jesus’ time: they had “faith” in God only so long as God helped them.  If we wish to teach these people the value of life --- and of love --- we must start there, appealing to their selfishness, showing them what respecting life can bring them, and only then showing them that they can get continued benefits such as these from trusting in God and explaining His message of love.  It is a more gradual program of education than most pro-life leaders presently espouse.
This morning the speaker at my men’s group was a young man from the University of Michigan, a member of a small pro-life group.  He spoke of the modest progress they have made on the campus of 40,000 students.  Modest might be an overstatement.  He mentioned the lectures, pray-ins, and debates his group sponsored, and their sparse attendance.  He proudly spoke of one young mother-to-be who responded to them outside the abortion clinic: “She chose life,” he proudly exclaimed.  “One,” I thought quietly, but it is immensely better than none, for all life DOES have value.
I volunteered to him some of my feelings about the value of a personal witness: not brochures or signs or lectures “about” abortion, but of hearing the testimony of people who chose life --- and of those who chose death.  Let these people stand together on a stage and witness what their choice meant to them then, and now.  Surveys show many people deeply regret abortion.  Surveys show many people found joys they didn’t know existed when they looked at their child.  “Put these people on a stage,” I said.  “Let them speak of the effects of their choice, not the effect on the little life saved or lost, but on THEIR life.  Present them on a stage as being both sides of the abortion argument, but don’t bill it as a debate but rather “There is no debate.”  And let them present the facts as they experienced them.
“Choosing life benefits you” is a message some people might better understand, than the messages presently thrown at them by the pro-life movement, which they find easy to ignore.  Incorporating ultrasound images into the pro-life message was a large step in the right direction, but we need to go farther. 
It sounds like a selfish way to teach the value of life, starting with the value of yours, but I think for many in our culture this is the only way of teaching they might listen to.  And does it matter how we teach, as long as they learn?  And even if we must bribe them with food to listen --- as Jesus did --- is that wrong?


  1. Thanks, Jackie. I kept this post focused on the pro-life topic, but I could have easily expended it to the general issue of our ME-first society. And I could have been humbled to admit that I too have this problem, as I recently discussed with my confessor. In praying that I might do God's will, I recognized that so often He gives me opportunities to do so, but I find them irritants, from the person who asks to borrow money to the person who calls wanting to talk about a critical problem in their life: if it's not convenient for me at that time, I find myself wishing they would go away, instead of staring into their eyes and seeing Jesus.

    I want to serve our Master --- as I put it into MY schedule of what I want to do, and when. Even as I wrote recently about the importance of good "ends" and "means", I find that I want to accomplish good results, but am often reluctant to use good ways to achieve them --- because the ways that God asks me to act are not MY ways. It is good to look in the mirror sometimes, and see who we really are.

  2. You're right Tom about giving witness to what it meant to ME to choose life.
    I chose to follow Jesus because he offered me a life more abundantly, with his love, forgiveness, and friendship with all those who are like-minded.

    Following Jesus, I find that I, too, want all the benefits and only a little suffering. When he hands me a cross to bear, I quickly ask him to take it away, forgetting that he calls us to bear our trials patiently without complaining.

    I don't like looking in the mirror.

  3. I've read that we tend to choose friends who are like us, maybe that's why I like you, Maryellen. I very much understand your thoughts, although perhaps you often put them into words better than I can.

    Hope you are enjoying the fall weather.