Opinion

Killing babies: it’s what humans do

For many pro-lifers today, Christian or not, the best arguments seem to require turning their pockets inside out and saying: Don't worry, no Jesus stuff this time. Really.
Fri Mar 18, 2011 - 7:52 pm EST

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, March 18, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - For the pro-life movement, the path to victory, smooth and broad, lies beckoning.

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Much to pro-choicers’ dismay, technology has now made the babyhood of the smiling, thumb-sucking intrauterine target practically undeniable. Only three years ago, the majority of Americans began calling themselves pro-life for the first time, ever. Hundreds of college-age pro-life nestlings are busy making the pro-abortion establishment seem (wonder of wonders!) stodgy and backward; then there’s the David-and-Goliath battles waged by the likes of Lila Rose, whose name even seems a sign she’s a Heaven-sent answer to pro-life prayer.

It seems difficult to deny that we live near the brink of a long-awaited springtime in America. We’re finally noticing how abortion really gels with the All-American Spirit: abortion is mean, and if we don’t like anything, it’s meanies. It’s a simple message whose freshness today owes much to the shaking-off of such things as partisan politics, something that never really had much to do with whether or not to kill babies.

Also shed is the tinny religious aftertaste. Don’t worry, say many pro-lifers both Christian and non-Christian, as they turn their pockets inside out: no Jesus, really.

This method should be credited for its successes. I’m a fan, in fact. It’s pretty clear that nobody wants to hear about Jesus or Christianity unless and until they ask first; after all, that encounter is always intensely personal. But there’s a problem.

Consider how this edgy pragmatism suits the ad I recently spotted on the Red Line of the D.C. metro, offering the warming sight of a family’s smiling faces beside the tagline: “You don’t need God – to hope, to care, to love, to live.”

It was by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) - the group behind a crisp white website with press releases that include pot shots at Christian political speech and a gravely-intoned condemnation of Wal-Mart for blaspheming the gods of science by selling a homeopathic remedy. The message isn’t quite as dry as the web address in the ad, LivingWithoutReligion.org, where CFI winningly debunks “common myths” about people who consider God a third limb to human goodness: “Human decency does not depend on religious belief,” they argue. “[Nonreligious people] are concerned about others. They love and are loved. ... We believe anyone can find meaning in a life that is human-centered.”

The image is as clear as John Lennon ever conjured it - to be good and loving and happy, all we really need to do is recognize each other as people. Incidentally, this is also the message of the pro-life personhood movement - something that we know works and will keep working (in a broad social sense, setting aside the legal one).

Great! That means all we have to do is get people to be good and not selfish without getting mixed up in the Jesus stuff, and the babies should be home free. The “human-centered” idyll would, perhaps, look a lot like one of the highest points in history, the pagan Roman Republic. While by no means irreligious, even the most virtuous Romans didn’t consider themselves in need of a personal relationship with God. The mystical search for meaning was philosophy’s job; religious piety was a different sort of thing back then, a more practical thing, one that even CFI would arguably condone with a grunt.

So far so good, except for one small thing. Anyone familiar with ancient Rome knows that leaving a newborn to starve or freeze to death was the sensible thing to do if you just didn’t want it. And exposing babies was what the nice guys did. Others seem to have had a penchant - sometimes to control population, and sometimes just for fun - for burning them, cutting them open, suffocating them, or tossing them to sharks. Humans apparently thought this pastime was such a blast that it thrived practically everywhere on the planet they happened to go.

In fact, only Judaism was the awkward kid in the ancient crowd, and then Christianity spread the weirdness around by strictly forbidding infanticide, both inside and outside the womb, among its converts. Early Christians routinely rescued children exposed by their pagan families, but even in Christianized areas the baby-tossing habit proved hard to kick until orphanages finally began easing the death toll.

The modern counter-argument might be that people just aren’t that barbaric anymore and that, after all, people like the Romans were clearly moving towards a better understanding of how to treat people. Christianity introduced the first step, and hopefully in a few more hundred years we can just put the whole child-sacrifice thing behind us.

But this supposes that the Romans and their neighbors were being somehow illogical, missing a premise somewhere, by disposing of disabled or unwanted children. The somber reality is that at the brass-tacks level, there’s simply no practical human reason not to.

What about intrinsic human dignity? If there really is a purely reason-based and natural argument for such a thing - which I personally doubt - the idea at least has never, anywhere, dawned upon a whole nation except through Christianity. The only reason we’ve gotten so used to lavishing “personhood” with limitless worth and vaulting it to the pinnacle of social goods is not a heritage of reasoning, but a heritage of experiencing a God who is the ultimate Person - a uniquely Judaeo-Christian quirk, and arguably, the only one.

You see, left to itself, personhood - a mystical reality that’s beyond characteristic - has nothing to measure itself against. Only man’s historical experience of a transcendent Person can unlock personhood as something that is universal, that rises above the mere pragmatic, and that withstands the tide of human interests. The mere fact that the Divine explanation of personhood is eminently true, and that we still enjoy the momentum of a failing Christian social engine, could fool us into thinking it will always be so easy to point out.

Today, this word still enjoys the privilege of being the shortest argument in the world: that baby is a person, a person, a person! But listen a little more closely and you’ll notice that the hammer falling with each “person!” is not a true concept, but a gut feeling, a visceral recognition of that wordless thing we intuit about ourselves and loved ones. And unlike a concept, that intuition naturally grows dim as people range outside our immediate affections: this phenomenon, fully visible on the average school playground, is only suspended from the political sandbox by our Christian legal roots.

There will come a time in America as it has elsewhere when pro-life sentiment, fully unmoored from Christian grounding, stammers to explain why we must save every unwanted, unloved baby. Asked to defend the inviolable worth of the less cute, more irritable, costly, depressed and elderly victim of euthanasia, we’ve already begun to.

This is why the whole pro-life idea cannot be an agnostic endeavor, or even a theist endeavor - it’s an inescapably Christian one. To the extent we now reap the fruits of Christian civilization, we must sow with equal vigor, even if it must be elsewhere in the field.

As a rule of thumb, when we find ourselves marveling at all the glittering opportunities for good if only we leave out Christ, we should be suspicious. But the final word must go to those who have experienced in the flesh what it really means for anyone, whether one person or the world, to be redeemed from abortion and snatch another chance at the true “human-centered life.”

While always compelling, the testimonies of post-abortive women with Silent No More Awareness can begin to sound a little grating to the modern ear - a little too much like a church service. God this, Christ that; sin this, born-again that. I’ve even found myself hesitating to include an accurate proportion of the God parts in my reporting. But they emerge again and again, as do the parts where a child’s lost personhood is found, and a blindness cured.

“When I saw him, I knew who he was immediately,” said one of many post-abortive mothers who have described a mystical encounter with their lost baby. “I saw his whole personality, his potential, his impact on others in his life, and I saw that I was responsible for taking that away.”

In all the stories I can ever recall hearing, there have been two reasons healing took place: the forgiveness of Christ, and the grieving of their baby; a person met, a person bidden farewell. It’s no coincidence that for these women, the two recognitions became one, forming the only path out of darkness. We would do well to follow their example.


  abortion, child sacrifice, lila rose

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