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abortion-three-ways-christians-rationalizeI am guessing I am not alone in being tired of politics and, especially, politicians this election cycle. Often, perhaps more often than not, I am tired of politics. It is just so gritty and manipulative, so low and utilitarian. Give me just one Socrates for every thousand politicians. Though I am not proud of it, I must admit there have been days this fall that I have feared I might just put my fist through the computer screen as stupid politicians treat me as equally stupid. Like the prairie dogs that surround Longmont, they seem to emerge from every hole. The difference is that the rodents are much more attractive than the politicians. Neither, however, can be effectively domesticated.

Despite sounding like a jaded romantic and a bitter old man, I did moderate a debate this past week on the Colorado University campus between two congressional candidates, Jared Polis and George Leing. Whatever prejudices I brought into the room, I found myself very much admiring each of the candidates, and I found the entire moment exhilarating. Frankly, it was a good and civil debate, and it was hard not to think historically, to realize I was playing a role—albeit a tiny one—in the continuation of a tradition that began in 1789 and has never faltered or been forsaken.

Neither candidate touched—in any real or tangible way—social issues. When the issue of abortion came up, each of the candidates professed rather grandly the right of each woman to choose. The matter closed as quickly as it had emerged. That was it. No debate in the least as there was nothing to debate. No one in the audience reacted one way or another. The moment came, and it went.

As I have mentioned in some other pieces at The Imaginative Conservative, I went through a very strange but intense period of quasi-atheism and agnosticism during my teenage years. From age thirteen to twenty, I rejected the orthodox notions of God. Most of this was due to family matters and my reaction to them. Watching my step father take communion and present himself as a faithful servant of the Church while living much of his life in a Mr. Hyde fashion sickened me, and I assumed most Catholics were mere hypocrites. As to God, I did not doubt His existence as much as I hated Him. It was easier to believe in a universe without Him. Should He exist, He did so as a manipulative tyrant.

Because of my admiration for my many Catholic relatives throughout my rather large extended Kansas family as well as my appreciation of Mary (I know, I know—I was not very consistent), I maintained (and have never lost) a love of Catholic tradition and ethics. I was a complete nerd in my teens—reading everything I could get my hands on—and I decided I would one day write a book arguing for Catholic history and ethics without faith. My great models were Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and, especially, Robert J. Ringer’s Restoring the American Dream. I read each of these books countless times, and I was convinced I could do the equivalent for a faithless Catholicism! Bizarre, I know.

For only a brief moment in those strange teenage years did I consider abortion to be moral. . . possibly, maybe, but probably not. When I tried to explain this to my mother, she sat me down and explained the Catholic position on the issue. She did so intelligently and firmly, and this conversation remains one of the highlights in my life. My mom is quite brilliant and well read, and anyone would be a fool not to listen to her on such issues. Well, she persuaded me so strongly at that point in my life that I wrote my debate/forensics oration for that academic year on the evils of abortion. Being without faith, I wanted to convince the world (and probably myself) that one could be an atheist and pro-life. I came back to Catholicism in the deserts of Morocco in February 1988, but this is not the place to tell that story. Regardless, I have never wavered in my own anti-abortion stance since that conversation with my mother.

Since the loss of our own child, Cecilia Rose, in 2007, my convictions have become even stronger. That someone would voluntarily end the life of another just boggles my mind and soul, and since the loss of our daughter, even the thought of abortion brings back painful memories of our loss.

Having, I hope, established my sincerity about the evils of abortion, let me make this claim. Whatever successes the pro-life movement has made in the political realm (and amen), they are nothing compared to the successes of the movement in areas other than politics. We need to learn from this. Forty years of arguing about abortion in the realm of politics has gotten the pro-life movement almost nowhere. I am sure in some areas, it has hindered the movement.

Christopher Dawson argued rather convincingly that at the root of every culture lies the “cult,” the common religious sentiments and beliefs of a people. Politics, law, economics, art, etc., emerge from the cult. They do not direct it. To pretend that a law can change the culture is a dangerous notion, as it turns upside the way things actually work. This is not to suggest that laws and politics do not shape culture, but rather that the most successful and permanent changes come when a cult and a culture is convinced of a truth.

Politicians, for the most part, are the worst spokespersons for any single issue. And, we all know why—most politicians seek votes and popularity, not truth.

abortion-debateAs with almost every thing in life, real change is difficult, demanding, and time-consuming. Our best hope of ending abortion is not by placing our trust in politicians or the realm of politics, but in aiding those who are pregnant and comforting those who have had abortions. It is in re-convincing the American people that family matters and that life is sacred.

For those of us who love life and the sacredness of every single person, there is no race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. There is only life. What amazes me is that every group—social, cultural, ethnic, sexual—that has faced discrimination is not adamantly pro-life. Eugenics, alive and well under various guises, more often than not attacks those very groups most vulnerable. When the gene is discovered for what makes a person homo or heterosexual, one can bet that that gene will be targeted by many either to change or destroy.

Life will become sacred again only when we live out our beliefs and live them in love. Handing the problem to politicians is not only a recipe for disaster, it is moral cowardice.

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21 replies to this post
  1. “When the gene is discovered for what makes a person homo or heterosexual, one can bet that that gene will be targeted by many either to change or destroy.”

    And when the Truth is discovered that homosexuality is in most cases a psychological disorder rather than a genetic one, what then, Professor?

    • Yes, it seems like Professor Birzer is using ‘progressive imagination’ here to entertain a mind/body dualism fantasy. The genes responsible for anatomy and physiology are known and evidence regarding how they’re expressed in terms of form and function can be found throughout nature.

      Widespread today is a near-religious belief that the task of science is to be perpetually ‘marching on’ beyond our current understanding…beyond even the bounds of logic.

  2. There has to be more to politics, and certainly the Republican Party, than abortion. The long game for a truly serious conservative party has to be convincing people’s hearts and minds, not just limiting their ability to exercise certain options.

    • There isn’t anything ‘more’ to the Republican party. They are founded on the philosophy of radical liberalism, that is, of protestantism, and their economics is the economics of greed. They identified a good economy with marriage and children (and rightly so, even pagans are not as dumb as the new socialist) and it is perfectly right they should defend those principles now, but other than that single clutch on the truth, they are completely empty of help for us. We must build a third party, with a Catholic economics and morality.

      • There is more than one type of Republican, madam. Yes most ‘conservative’ Republicans identify with Libertarianism. But we have to remember social and cultural conservatism is an historical faction in the GOP. The majority of believers in Russell Kirk’s principles of conservatism (who are politically active at least) are Republicans.

        • Nate, we would agree on so many things that I would not argue with you the definition of conservative, at least not in the context of this post. We have different ones. To me, no one who believes in the sustainability of the secular state, nor in any aspect of protestantism, nor in any form of government save the Catholic state, can be called conservative. You have a different definition, I bet. Still, I think if we talked about it long enough, even though I might not shift your admiration for the qualities you identify with conservatism, I think I could convince you (using Pius XI and T.S. Eliot no less–and Bob Dylan, too, for that matter : )) that the structure Christ set in motion is the truly balanced and truly conservative gold standard, and it includes a state, with an economics (most broadly distributed ownership) and a politic (I would argue for constitutional monarchy due to the inherent instability of unredeemed democracy). We had such nations for 1500 years, moving from the slave economy of the Roman empire to the fully enfranchised and fully landed European in the beginning of the fifteenth century. That is the only conservatism for me. Who tolerates secularism is by definition liberal, to me. But I don’t have to win that argument with you. Just help build a third party and let’s get going on the Restoration. Because, man, we really have no alternative.

  3. The nature of the debate has to shift, I agree; however politicians should not be excluded from that debate ex officio. If a politician has something to contribute, then let him contribute. I think that what can really be taken from this debate is that the primary battle ground for the pro-life cause cannot be in politics but in society as a whole: in schools, in churches (I’m always surprised by the lack of sermons pertaining to the sacredness of life and the evils of abortion), in the home, and in the pub. That’s where cultures are formed and evolve and that’s where we will win the fight. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!

  4. The ground of the American Republic follows the Christian worldview in that life is sacred and God given. The general gov’t has promulgated laws and ruled, via the federal judiciary, on abortion laws promulgated by the states. Government and the American political process lies at the epicenter of the war on children. For those who defend human life it would be wrongheaded to withdraw from the political arena and to allow the progressives to move ‘forward’ in their desire to not only increase the slaughter but to include children born with deformities.

  5. To say take abortion out of politics is to say we accept the situation that it is legal and will work under the radar, convincing individuals not to murder an unborn child.

    That is the Vatican’s new position, do we understand that? When Chicago’s incoming bishop Cupich told his priests at his old diocese that they could not participate in the 40 Days for Life campaign because it is not ‘Catholic’ enough, he means it is pushing for legislation, and that is now, since Vatican II, prohibited. Benedict’s first public statement since his retirement, the Aula Magna speech, says it in very dressed up language indeed: the Church is compromised by historical errors, and so evangelization must be done only by individuals spreading that (insipid and pagan) gospel of love love love. Not laws laws laws. There are all kind of euphemisms for the new approach, the usual phrasing being, ‘the job of Catholics is to help form consciences.’ But not laws. The same approach may be seen vis a vis the homosexual topic–we will no longer seek laws to control or discourage it, we will only try to convince individual homosexuals to convert–well, actually we’re about to give that up, too! Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation of the Faith put it like this: homosexuality is a grave sin (that’s his bow to tradition), but we are not allowed as Christians to discriminate against it. That is a legal term, and it means we should pass no laws to control the vice, no laws allowing for preferences against homosexuals in jobs or housing or the military–or marriage, of course. We must allow it everywhere but preach against it privately. His ‘doctrine’ is what governs Church practice to this day, the synod accepted it, not understanding it’s only a dressier version of what they rejected. (I think they’re not good readers.)

    This is the ecumenical solution as Vatican saw and engineered it in the sixties. This is the solution ISIS and just about every living Muslim will fight and die to reject. (Gallop poll, Who Speaks for Islam.)

    It’s the path to hell–for individuals and for societies, pagans as well as Christians. No nation can withstand it. I can guess the author of this post does not see the fundamental and absolute connection between the birth rate and the economy, between the promotion of sterile sexual behavior (homosexuality, masturbation with pornography) and our low marriage rates that lead to our low birth rates that lead to our crashed economies all over the world. Try doing a minimum amount of research on the situation in Japan, which has the lowest rate of intercourse in the world and the highest porn use. You will see it clearly. Abortion (and the rest of sex socialism) is not an unfortunate modern option, it is a nation killer. “Surely not!” you might be thinking, “Because who would want to kill their own nation?” Why, the devil, son. He hates us. He has many minions now, men and women who view humanity as a virus that must be eradicated for nature to be at peace once again, and they know that given this option, in a world where there is no marriage, no safe haven, no room for motherhood, they will abort. Motherhood is not a given among women (nor among all animals, either; sexual behavior is fragile).

    Yes, we must have laws to protect our society from the effects of abortion, homosexuality, divorce, and pornography. Yes, that requires participation in the messy business of politics where you have to rub up against all kinds of Pilates and Herods and ultimately, they kill you. I am glad Jesus and John didn’t opt out on account of how demeaning it was.

    And by the way, Socrates is not a hero! He was a spoiler, a man who asked trick questions leading to blind alleys, a man who wished merely to shake mankind’s search for truth, and he was justly executed by his peers.

    • ” I can guess the author of this post does not see the fundamental and absolute connection between the birth rate and the economy, between the promotion of sterile sexual behavior (homosexuality, masturbation with pornography) and our low marriage rates that lead to our low birth rates that lead to our crashed economies all over the world.”

      There’s more than a whiff of consequentialism in this statement, or what C.S. Lewis called “Christianity and.” If one is truly “pro-life,” then even if pro-life policies led to the collapse of the economy or even extinction of the human race, one would still maintain the inviolability of individual human lives. I am not, myself, what the people here would call “pro-life;” that is, I do not support coercive prohibition of abortion. What the author prescribes is exactly right: “Life will become sacred again only when we live out our beliefs and live them in love. Handing the problem to politicians is not only a recipe for disaster, it is moral cowardice.”

    • Me, too, Kurt. It is corrupt and partisan, and I can understand giving up on it. It is not Catholic, it’s pagan. Another sidewalk counselor and I got so frustrated by the lack of Catholic materials that we wrote our own. None of the ‘Catholic’ pro-life centers or resources are actually Catholic, even when they are run by priests! The counseling offered at all the post-abortion sites (we visited them one by one) is strictly religion-light, and mostly secular in content. No mention of conversion, no mention of confession, of the great healing power of the Eucharist. I have the pamphlet we wrote ‘up’ at my website. I actually got a response recently (it invites anyone who wants to know more about the Faith to send the zip code so we could direct them to a traditional Catholic church) and a young woman recently did. We have had a sustained conversation, I hope to have helped her; in any case, she, a Polish woman who had an abortion under intense pressure, got Catholic advice from me.

      But Kurt, even if it’s corrupt–we don’t get to give up on the pro-life movement altogether. You must know, women are suffering. Women are being forced to have abortions they don’t want. For every one who celebrates her liberation from her baby, there are ten who are weeping, weeping. They need a law to back them up. They need our help. Please don’t give up–reframe it for yourself (as my friend and I did) so that it means something to you, and then get back in. Perhaps you’ll end up carrying cheap Catholic books (TAN books usually) to bus stops and stuff like I do, trying to stop abortion before the pregnancy, as it were. I also work for and call for the return to a Catholic state and the building of a third party in pursuit of same–as pro-life work, because that’s what women need. But please don’t turn your back on us poor women, all this is not entirely our fault, forces much greater than a woman’s sinfulness are in play.

      • Not an expert on that era of history, but from what I know, it was not corrupt and dishonest like today’s pro-life movement.

  6. Maybe I’m simple-minded, but as someone who volunteered at a pregnancy-help clinic, I don’t understand why we can’t both help women as well as tackle laws. Different people have different ways of fighting for justice, and I think there are many fronts to this fight. I appreciate all the help we can get!

  7. I have felt for a long time that the pro-abortion activists have harbored a profound selfishness, a “I’ve got mine” attitude towards life while relegating the unborn to an optional status. But if life is paramount then it must be protected, not denigrated. Not a coincidence that “right to die” situations exist. The question is how far will they extend. Not so very long ago adoption was an option, the child to be had a chance, it appears that that has passed.

  8. Excellent article, Professor. If we really want to live in a pro life country we need to live in a Christian/Catholic social order. This may sound a bit radically reactionary, but if we are to build a Christian America we need a Christian Amendment to our constitution. Im sorry if any one is offended of me being “unconstitutional”, but the separation of Church and state which IS in our constitution, was a complete disaster. Not to say I am unpatriotic i love my country. But why can’t I be critical of our certain Liberal aspects of our founding document? The last the thing we need is another religious liberty lawsuit on behalf of the bishops. The Catholics need to be Faithful to God and THEN be faithful to their respective homelands. On my gravestone I want it to paraphrase St Thomas More and say “He was America’s faithful servant but God’s first.”

    • Amen. But to have that amendment we have to get into dirty politics. So this isn’t an excellent article, because it leads people to think they can withdraw from the struggle.

  9. I’m afraid you cannot take abortion out of politics. How would that work? Accept the daily slaughter of unborn children? Yes, the culture has to change, but the only way for culture to change is to have ongoing debates where one side convinces the other of their error. In the meantime laws need to be passed and one can’t accept the current situation. My goodness, if you removed politics from the discussion, you might have people taking to armed combat over the issue. While it remains in the political sphere, at least there is a pathway toward ending abortion in a peaceful manner. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your child. May one day you be reunited with her.

  10. The real need here is to rid America of a ‘democracy’ which allows the Vote to paupers, criminals and deviants.

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