Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Outrage by Any Other Name [Jay]

The question has got to be answered; Is the principle problem facing the pro-life movement one of an unconvinced public or one of the hardened hearts of a troubled culture?

In my mind, the best way to consider this is to look first at those who are convinced of the humanity of the unborn and see if their treatment of the pro-life cause is measurably different from those who are either unconvinced or even pro-choice. Do those who call themselves “pro-life” in general act like people who are convinced that 3,500 or so innocent human beings are being unnecessarily killed everyday in the United States with the permission and legal protection of the government?

The question can fairly be asked, “What is the appropriate response to that belief?” My honest answer is that I do not have the foggiest idea, but I assume it will look somewhat different for all of us. I can draw a parallel here to a Christian walk with God. I do not know what the Christian Jay is fully supposed to look like. I know that I am supposed to represent Christ, but I learn more about what that means every day. What I do know for certain is that the imperfect Christian Jay ought to look different than the non-Christian Jay. Accepting the truth of Christ must produce change in my life that we can look at it and say that something changed on that day.

Lets look at the lives of pro-lifers in the United States and ask the same question. How does the knowledge of the humanity of the unborn change our life? It is a more troubling realization than most are comfortable acknowledging, though. I live in a world where we kill people everyday on a massive scale for elective reasons.

If you want to test it, lets change a variable in this situation and see what happens. I know Scott and Greg love to trot out the toddler, but I want to go a little older. There are qualities that we say do not impact how we value a human being. Age and development both fall into those categories. That means that pro-lifers are saying that we do not recognize any difference in the value of a human life based on numerical age and developmental differences. A 10-week gestation fetus is of the same inherent value and has the same humanity as a 10-year-old child.

Now say that it was 10-year-old children being killed everyday in facilities all over the United States. Every other data factor stays the same, but we change a couple of variables that we argue do not matter. Would we be reacting in the same manner? The American people know that 10-year-old children are being killed because their parents do not feel like they can afford a teenager, or the child had a disease or a handicap that will be difficult to deal with as they hit puberty, or the mother is single and knows that a teenager is much more difficult to raise and can not possibly handle this on her own. How would they react to that? Would the reaction be the same for the average person who declares themselves pro-life? We say that we see no moral difference in these scenarios, but would we have a different moral outrage and response at functionally the same moral offense?

I am asking the question and that will be the focus of some coming posts. Have we convinced the world of our arguments? Are we convinced ourselves? And how do we simultaneously champion the moral argument of the unborn while awakening the outrage of those who already identify themselves as pro-life? It will do little good to convince the world that the unborn are human beings if the resulting moral response is so muted as to not make a difference.


  1. I think it is simply a problem of apathy among those who call themselves "pro-life." For example, many "good Christians" know that ten year olds die everyday in hell holes like Darfur, Somalia, or war-torn Chechnya. Most good Christians are repulsed by animal cruelty in factory farms, hunger in urban slums, or sex trafficking happening right here in America. The question becomes "But what can I do about it?"

    The child in Darfur, the street urchin, and the unborn child about to be aborted all share one thing in common. To most "pro-lifers" they are victims trapped behind enemy lines, human beings imprisoned in strange, alien worlds with their own rules that keep us out. Whether it's the Janjaweed who control Sudan or the NARAL activists who have constructed a venerable Berlin Wall keeping us from protecting unborn children, pro-lifers recognize the crisis but cower before what seems to be an impassable barrier of rhetoric.

    Giving the pro-life community simple things that even a family can do together on Sunday is a good start. As a former salesperson, the trick is getting them hooked, you can always upsell later.

  2. I struggle with this issue. I teach abortion apologetics to Christians in various churches, and talk to non-Christians about it whenever I have the opportunity. I also vote for pro-life candidates and pro-life legislation. But that's the extent of my involvement. I don't know what else to do.

    I am bothered by the fact that 40 million babies are aborted every year on this planet (1.3 million in the U.S.), but feel helpless to do anything about it other than what I can do on the individual level from time to time. And I don't think marches and demonstrations do much good (I think they are often counter-productive), so I abstain from those.

    In some respects I feel guilty for not doing more, but in other respects I feel like I am doing "all" I can do given the political situation. A lot of Christians feel that way. They're not apathetic about the issue, but feel helpless. And since abortion is done outside of the public view, it's easy to have one's attention distracted away from the awful reality on a daily basis.

    As for our moral-emotional response to abortion, compared to our moral-emotional response to killing 10 year old kids, I think most pro-lifers would feel more moral-emotional outrage over the 10 year olds being exterminated, even though we know the two are equal in both humanity and value. My emotional response is tied to my emotions more than my knowledge. In my head I know a 10 week old fetus is just as human and valuable as a 10 year old human, but on the emotional level I identify much more with the 10 year old. I see the 10 year old. I interact with the 10 year old. The 10 year old has consciousness to feel the pain of being killed, whereas the 10 week old does not. That doesn't make it right, but I think it explains why pro-lifers would be more up-in-arms over killing 10 year olds than 10 week olds.

    I'm sure you are familiar with the "grab the baby or the 10 embryos in the lab in the event of a fire" dilemma that pro-ESCR advocates throw at us. Most of us would take the baby on the way out and leave the 10 embryos...if we could only do one or the other. It's not because we don't believe the 10 embryos are valuable human beings. It's because we have an emotional identification with a more fully-formed human being like a 1 month old baby. We know the baby would experience pain in the fire, whereas the embryos would not. Even if one is of the opinion that we should choose the 10 embryos, I think all can understand why someone would choose the baby. We should not expect people to feel the same way about abortion (at least early-term) as they do about infanticide or murder (of adolescents). All of the victims are equally human and equally valuable; all of the killings are equally wrong; but our emotional reaction will understandably be different for each.

  3. I hate to be the first to say this, but I suspect a dickens of a lot more of us would be engaging in civil disobedience if it were the ten-year-olds.

    The one other thing that does change the situation is that you can rescue the ten-year-olds by getting them out by themselves. They aren't physically located inside of a person who is trying to pay for a "hit" on them. So there would be more of a point in storming the killing clinics and trying to rescue the kids, as in a hostage situation.

    Still, I do think that this whole vividness thing should make us look a lot differently at people praying the rosary in abortion clinic driveways and getting arrested than we usually look on them. Not weirdos, and just possibly saving some lives. (For the record, I'm a Protestant and don't pray the rosary. That was just an example.)

  4. Trent:


    First of all, I agree with your comment.

    I would like to say that I think the pro-life community sometimes suffers from biting off more than we can chew. I will post my full response on that a little later. I am differentiating between the pro-life position and the pro-life movement in the United States. The movement needs to get focused on this fight over abortion right here and right now because if we do that we can win this thing. I like the idea of simple things, but we need to be more urgent in how we move as a whole.

    as you know, the dilemma you write of is an argument used by pro-aborts to undermine the humanity of the unborn by demonstrating how tenuous my belief in their full humanity and value is based on my instinctive reactions in a crisis situation. The flaw is that it does not speak to the humanity of the unborn at all but only my inconsistencies.

    My question is actually meant to demonstrate the inconsistencies and ask how this inconsistency is damaging our efforts and impeding the movement to stop abortion. That we do not behave as if we believed what we profess is exactly the point. We had better find a way to start feeling for the unborn in large numbers or else they will continue to be killed until we actually decide to treat them like the humans that we know they are. The heart must follow the head because you well know what is at stake. You appear to have devoted a great deal of time to teaching this subject as have many of us. The question is what do we do when we are convinced?

    More on that in a future post as well.

    I agree with you. We would find a way to intervene and stop it for 10 year olds. There are people out there that are being consistent, but if all of those who believe in the humanity were being consistent I think we would see zeal and passion for this issue that is on a scale that this country has not seen in a quite some time. Civil disobedience, marches, and whatever we had to do in peace to stop the unconscionable whole sale slaughter of innocent human beings.

  5. When I read Lydia's comment, I was reminded of a Life Chain that I was standing with a couple of years ago. The coordinator was taken away in a police car and someone asked me what was happening. My response was "I hope that we are being arrested."

    Turns out, she had to show our permit to the police who had not been informed that we were doing this. But, what a statement 100+ peaceful, praying pro-lifers being arrested in our little city would have made!

    I agree with you, Jay. We have to act with zeal and passion. The killing must stop!

  6. Jay,

    Maybe I was not clear in my point of the lab burning scenario. Let me explain further.

    The opposition finds the scenario a powerful tool against us because they know that most pro-lifers would rescue the toddler rather than the 10 embryos in the freezer. They think that such a choice proves we really don’t believe the embryos are human. You are correct to point out that this scenario does not actually work against the pro-life position because it doesn’t speak to the humanity of the unborn. But I don’t think choosing the toddler over the frozen embryos reveals an inconsistency among pro-lifers, as do you. I think you are ceding too much to the opposition when you admit as much.

    Human beings make decisions based on more than what they simply know to be true to fact. In the case of choosing the toddler or the embryos, while we know the two are equivalent in their humanity and value, there are more factors that influence our choice of which to save than this knowledge. I think the key factors are emotional and relational in nature. As I said previously, we feel an emotional attachment to a toddler that we don’t feel for the unborn. I just had my first baby in January. My feelings for my baby girl were minimal while she was still in the womb, but exploded upon her birth when I finally met her. Did I think she was any less human on the other side of the womb? Absolutely not; nevertheless, I feel very differently about her now than I did then.

    My point in bringing up the burning lab scenario was to point out that we are more inclined to experience emotional outrage, and act on behalf of those whose humanity is more “tangible” to us, because that tangibility creates in us an emotional bond that cannot be ignored when faced with a scenario like the burning lab. Recognizing that, one should not expect for pro-lifers to react with the same moral-emotional vigor in regards to the destruction of the unborn as they would to the destruction of the born.

    Our relationship to the individual is another factor of our moral-emotional response. If the same lab were on fire, but contained my baby girl and 10 other toddlers, I would choose my baby girl over the other 10. Why? Because of my relationship to her. It has nothing to do with what I believe about the humanity of the other 10. In like manner, our choosing of the toddler over the 10 embryos has nothing to do with what we believe about the humanity of the unborn. I don’t see how either choice a pro-lifer makes in the burning lab scenario can be construed as inconsistent with pro-life views.

    In the same way, it is not inconsistent for pro-lifers to feel more moral-emotional outrage over the killing of 10 year olds than 10 day old embryos. Our emotional response has nothing to do with judging the humanity and value of either, but we shouldn’t be expected to have the same moral-emotional response to both in order to know and argue that they are of equal value as human beings.

    I think it is a mistake to think pro-lifers should experience the same kind of moral-emotional response to early-term aborted babies as they would to the genocide of 10 year olds. I really do think that the destruction of the unborn is just as morally evil as destruction of the born, but by no means can I pretend to have the same feelings about the latter as I do the former. And neither should I be expected to. We should act to save all, but few will ever feel the same way about both groups. That’s just the nature of our human experience.


  7. Jason,

    I thought you were clear. I also thought I admitted that my response was incomplete. Instead of covering the same ground again lets get to a couple of questions. You wrote:

    "Recognizing that, one should not expect for pro-lifers to react with the same moral-emotional vigor in regards to the destruction of the unborn as they would to the destruction of the born."

    OK, stipulating that is true, how much moral-emotional vigor do you suppose we should expect? How far short of full moral-emotional vigor will be sufficient to enact change?

    You also say

    "I really do think that the destruction of the unborn is just as morally evil as destruction of the born, but by no means can I pretend to have the same feelings about the latter as I do the former. And neither should I be expected to. We should act to save all, but few will ever feel the same way about both groups. That’s just the nature of our human experience."

    Are you arguing that the pro-life movement will never be able to inspire people to feel as if the unborn were actually of equal value as opposed to just intellectually embracing the concept? That cedes an awful lot in my opinion. And stipulating that this is true as well, then how handicapped are we in actually stopping abortion if we are incapable of feeling like the unborn are human and responding with appropriate moral outrage? I have not asked if we can summmon up super human outrage, just appropriate. Your response appears to be that this is impossible and silly to expect becasue of relational aspects that mitigate all of our moral-emotional responses. If that is the case, then I am out of business.

    Finally, you said:

    "I don’t see how either choice a pro-lifer makes in the burning lab scenario can be construed as inconsistent with pro-life views."

    I do not recall claiming that the pro-life view was inconsistent. I did say that I thought that if I KNOW that the unborn are fully human and I do not respond to their killing as if the unborn were fully human then I am demonstrating inconsistency between what I know (they are human) and how I respond (they are not really as human to me). I do not think that the day to day culture of abortion is forcing me to decide between the life a newborn, my son, or the early gestational human being. It is just innocent human life being killed and my isolated response to that fact at issue.

    And a personal anectdote in response to yours, my wife and I took a 12 week course during our first pregnancy that made us intimately aware of the developmental process of our son from day to day. I can honestly say I loved him and prayed for him as fervently before he was born as I did after. I am nothing special, so I assume if I could do it with him it can grow outward and be extended to others.

    I am unapologetically Christian in my approach. For me the ultimate goal is to love others as I love myself. I believe that the unborn qualify as "others" and so God intends for me to be no respecter of men and love them as I love myself and as He loves them. I may be foolish and ignorant to believe that we can actually do this, but I am willing to be thought a fool for that cause. I am willing to lay it out on the line and say that we can love them that much. And I fear that we will not stop this until we do.

    With all respect and sincere admiration,

  8. Jay,

    I am enjoying this discussion. Thanks for continuing to engage me in it.

    Would you experience the same moral-emotional outrage at the murder of your spouse as you would the murder of Joe Stranger in XYZ city? Of course not. Does that mean you think Joe Stranger is less human and/or valuable than your wife? Of course not. It means you are a human being, and as such are moved to feel more emotional outrage when you have a relationship and/or emotional attachment to the victim than when you don’t.

    Now, if your disparate emotional reactions do not detract from your pro-life persuasions (moral view), why think that other pro-lifers’ disparate emotional reactions between the 10 year old and 10 day old embryo detract from their pro-life persuasions? In both my scenario (your spouse, stranger) and yours (10 day old embryo, 10 year old adolescent), we share the same moral view that both victims are equally human and equally valuable, and that their deaths are equally tragic; in both my scenario and yours, we feel differently about the two victims (you feel differently about the stranger, I feel differently about the embryo). Maybe you can feel the same way about a 10 day old embryo as a 10 year old adolescent. If so, my hat goes off to you. But I caution you to not make the mistake of expecting others to feel the same. What you can expect is for people who have the moral conviction that embryonic and fetal destruction is immoral will act in whatever way they can to stop it.

    It seems that you are under the assumption that a lesser emotional outrage at the destruction of the unborn will result in diminished advocacy on their behalf. In many respects this is true. A high level of emotional involvement with the unborn is often necessary for people to act against the destruction of the unborn. While emotional involvement often spurs action, it is not necessary for action, and alone…often results in short-lived advocacy.

    I think moral conviction can be enough to spur action, and is better suited for long-lived advocacy. Because I know embryonic human beings are just as human and valuable as post-natal human beings, I work to prevent abortion and ESCR in the ways I know ho. Our main concern should be what people DO about the evil of abortion and ESCR, not the level of emotional outrage they FEEL about it. The business of pro-life advocacy is not threatened by acknowledging the disparity of emotions many feel between different groups of humans (unborn vs. born, stranger vs. relative, etc.). A disparate emotional outrage does not necessarily translate into a disparate moral outrage.

    Let me just emphasize at this point that I do have an emotional involvement with the unborn. It’s just that I—like many other pro-lifers—don’t share the same emotional involvement with the unborn as I do the born, and I think that reality is perfectly understandable. I don’t see it as a deficiency in one’s pro-life views. I agree with you that we should expect for pro-lifers to have the same MORAL outrage at the destruction of the unborn as they do the born, just not equal EMOTIONAL outrage.

    Concerning the pro-lifers burning-lab choice, the reason I was under the impression that you were ceding our choice to take the toddler was inconsistent with our pro-life views was the following statement about the argument: “The flaw is that it does not speak to the humanity of the unborn at all but only my inconsistencies.” That seemed to be an admission that we are, indeed, being inconsistent. But if that is not what you meant to communicate, I accept that.

    As for your son, I didn’t take a special course on embryology, but I did study it a great deal. I also kept up on the week-by-week developments of my baby too. But that did not result in the same emotional reaction as you. I have to conclude that people have different emotional responses to the same information. The other option is that I am a heartless, emotionless individual. But given the fact that I cry like a baby at The Notebook, I have reason to doubt the latter option. Ha!

    As for loving others as we love ourselves, yes, that would include the unborn. But loving them is primarily a way of doing, not a way of feeling. If the feeling is there as well, all the better; if not, none the worse. What matters is that I act lovingly toward them, which in the case of the unborn, means fighting on their behalf, regardless how much I may or may not feel emotionally for them.


  9. Jason,

    OK. I am enjoying the discussion as well, so I hope that you do not think that I am accusing you or any of my brothers and sisters in the pro-life movement of being a “heartless, emotionless individual.” I will try not to hold the fact that you are a man who watches or reads The Notebook against you. I will really, really try.

    I am going to post most of my response on this in a larger post in about 10 minutes.

    I should have said that the burning lab argument AT BEST proves that I am inconsistent. I do think that if that argument does have any bearing it is that element, but I will grant you that I sould have qualified that as AT BEST.

    I noticed that you never answered the 2 questions. I would honestly like your answer. How much moral-emotional response can we expect if a full vigor is unreasonable? The second question will be asked again in the main page post.

    Please understand why I am asking this question. It is not to accuse others, but to ask a question about US. We both want to win this fight for the sanctity of life in our culture. I am not convinced that the current path is leading us to that victory. It is too easy for the post modern mind to intellectually embrace a proposition as true and to not apply that truth to the rest of their world view or moral responses. Our churches and congregations are infected with PoMo minds and we have to be able to recognize that people must be emotionally connected as well as intellectually convinced. It is up to the pro-life Christians to set the standard for how others ought to respond in moral outrage. I just want to know if you think we are actaully doing that. If so, I am afraid that we are going to have a problem winning. Can we do better?

    All of this will be aired in future posts to be critically challenged by people like you. That is a good thing to me. I am a big boy and can hold my own.

    I do hope that if we differ in opinion you will not assume it is because I do not understand your position. This is not my first dance.


  10. Jay,

    How much moral-emotional response can we expect? I don’t know. I would like to say an “appropriate” amount, but that is rather circular. The fact of the matter is that an emotional response is difficult to quantify. I can compare one level of emotional response to another, but to quantify either is really difficult. Even if I could quantify it on some level for myself, how would I know how your emotional response compares to mine? Obviously we should have some sort of emotional response. Only the calloused could feel absolutely nothing for human beings who are being dismembered because they are inconvenient to their mothers.

    You wrote, “I am not convinced that the current path is leading us to that victory. It is too easy for the post modern mind to intellectually embrace a proposition as true and to not apply that truth to the rest of their world view or moral responses.” I agree, but the problem here is not their lack of emotional response, it’s their lack of active response. They are not acting on their beliefs. True, emotional outrage is a good motivator to action, but whether someone has what we think is an appropriate level of emotional outrage about abortion is not the issue. What they do to end or limit abortion is the issue.

    That said, I admit that if pro-lifers experienced more emotional outrage over abortion there would probably be more action to end/limit it. I think we would generate more emotional outrage if pro-life teachers would use graphic images. And since we are prone to forget, they should be shown again and again over the course of time.



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