The Worldviews Behind Pro-Choice and Pro-Life
Supporters of pro-choice and pro-life policies often lock in heated debate. If you've ever observed or participated in a conversation about these two stances, you've probably gotten the sense that both sides often talk over one another instead of with one another. Battle lines are drawn, slogans like "it's not a choice, it's a child," or "women's healthcare" are pitched like grenades, and typically everyone involved remains hunkered down in their respective bunkers.
As Christians we are called to bear witness to the goodness of life, regardless of its quality, convenience, or stage. Part of this call will lead us into conversations with those who disagree with us.
As Christians living in a very secular part of the nation, we will also be tempted to cave to the pressure of our culture by avoiding life issues, or by partially affirming public policy that contradicts our Christian conscience. I see this from time to time on social media, either from believers who express disdain for the poor, or who offer tacit approval of systemic injustice toward the unborn−both out of allegiance to a political party or mindset. In Christ, we’re called to better things.
What Lies Beneath the Lies
Whether we're in debate with others or ourselves about abortion, it's important for us to step back and look at the larger issues beneath pro-choice and pro-life positions. The panoramic picture we see when we step back is called worldview. Generally speaking, a worldview is a story we assume about who we are, why we're here, the predicament we're in, and how we're supposed to resolve that predicament. The answers we give to these basic questions typically determine where we and those with whom we dialogue will fall on the question of unexpected or unwanted life in the womb.
While many worldviews and worldview variations exist in New England, polar opposite stances on abortion arise from two polar opposite worldviews: secularism and Christianity. If we dig deep and expose the foundations of each, we'll better understand why the battle lines are so sharply drawn−it's not so much that secular and Christian people disagree about abortion - it's rather that they disagree about basic "why" and "what for" questions.
The Secular Worldview
Mark Mattes offers the following rough sketch of secularism as a worldview. To be "secular" means:
- To see life from within the immediate physical and temporal world without reference to God.
- To establish one's own value system apart from any reference to God.
- To believe that there are no absolutes in life−all truth is situational.
If we do a quick run through of these three points in relation to life in the womb, we can see why a society that is increasingly secular has leaned toward abortion as the most plausible option in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Sociologists often speak of "plausibility structures," and in this case the secular worldview sets the boundaries for what is morally plausible.
- If life is nothing more than matter, if a fetus is just biology, and if there is no transcendent God who gives meaning and purpose to human life, then a moral vacuum exists. We are incurably moral creatures, so we must still talk about morality and ethics (although now poised as "choice" and "policy"), however, morality is shoved off the moorings of God, his law, and our dignity as his image bearers.
- If we establish our own values−in other words, if there is no overarching moral structure that all human beings are accountable to−then what we have left is not truth, but what secular philosopher Richard Rorty has called "preference." Another word for "preference" is "choice." The human being is the highest moral agent, crafting right and wrong from what is useful and convenient.
- Once again, if truth is situational, then moral decisions are subjective and situational. Christian morality is often costly because we conform to choices that honor God and human dignity regardless of the cost. This will not make sense to the secular mindset, in which the same human being in the womb is either a welcomed member of the human family, or a disposable inconvenience removed by a procedure. The only deciding factor is the situation into which the child is conceived.
Life Through A Different Lens - The Christian Worldview
We could approach the Christian worldview from multiple angles−the biblical narrative, the structure of Christian catechisms, etc. Mindful of the Christian narrative taken from these resources, I find it helpful to look at the Christian worldview through the lens of four basic questions. These questions offer the "plausibility structure" for why Christians approach abortion as they do.
- Who am I? People are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). Their purpose and worth are intimately bound up in this image. It is good to be human, and Scripture never limits the goodness of being human to only outside of the womb, or when life is productive and pleasurable. Furthermore, every person is unique. The individual is not just biology. From conception she is a unity of biology and soul, uniquely knit together as a good part of God's creation.
- Why am I here? The human person does not exist to simply pursue and achieve self-made goals. Our goal is the God-given pursuit of God's glory and the good of others as the result of the reception of his free gifts. Luther says our purpose is that we might "belong to Him [Jesus] and live under Him in his kingdom." Other Christians have stated that we exist "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." These are all gifts enjoyed and tasks pursued by the living and not the dead, and for this reason abortion does not exist within the range of plausible options for Christians. Furthermore, every human person is uniquely created to love and to be loved, both by God and by others. As G.K. Chesterton put it, "Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the Christian instinct to be glad that God has broken up the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces." These "living pieces" are the individuals God has created for love. None of them are dispensable.
- What's the Problem? The problem humans face is not primarily personal, economic, or political. Our problem is that we are living out of step with God's purpose for our existence - love. At times abortion is chosen because it conflicts with self-actualization. In the Christian worldview, our self-determined versions of self-actualization embody the actual problem−we insist on being God over and above God and others. Bloodshed always follows, either relationally or literally.
- What's the Solution? Love is the solution−love embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. God comes to us through an unexpected pregnancy. The whole Christian narrative of salvation is about a God who gives at great cost. The coming of Jesus was inconvenient for us. He told the truth about our condition. We responded by doing the worst thing imaginable−we nailed love to a cross. But the love of God is stronger than our hate. Jesus, risen from the dead, offers forgiveness and life to all who would receive it. God's solution to our predicament is what makes the universe pulse with meaning, and every heart as well, both the born and unborn. His love also offers what the pro-choice position cannot−forgiveness. While the pro-choice ideologues suppress the evidence of widespread guilt and remorse over abortion, the Christian worldview offers free and full forgiveness to the women who have aborted their children, the men who may have pressured them into the choice, and those caught up in the sick systemic evil behind it all.
Given that the abortion issue is such a volatile one, let me offer a few points of clarification in conclusion:
- Not everyone who supports abortion is entirely sold on the secular worldview. Likewise, not everyone against abortion is entirely committed to the Christian worldview. We often assume positions apart from critical reflection about the foundational issues that lie beneath them.
- A worldview approach does not immediately solve difficult dilemmas. For example, discussions about abortion policy are often taken hostage by the exceptions rather than the rule, so much so that the possibility of an abortion to save the life of the mother leads to "on demand and without apology." Ideally, a worldview approach helps us understand our stance on the rule, as well as navigate the exceptions.
- Christians who loudly protest against abortion must also recognize that their worldview also calls for the same level of protest against poverty, racial inequality, sex trafficking, and any other assault against human dignity. Many Christians who are pro-life are already in the trenches on these issues. Our secular neighbors, as well as our government, would be acutely aware of this fact if all Christian social service organizations with a pro-life stance took a month vacation. However, with that said, many who are loudly pro-life often neglect the systemic issues that lead young women to choose abortion. This ought not be.
- Christians must also show with their lives that life is worth it. When Christians honor marriage, welcome life, adopt children, and live in conformity with the love of God in Christ, we show the world not only that our worldview is plausible, but also that it is real.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT