Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Pro-Life Video with the Wrong Message? [SK]

Brett Kunkle over at Stand to Reason is concerned about a popular CatholicVote.org commercial. It's the one which features President Obama. If you haven't seen it, watch it now, then continue reading below.

Here is what Brett says about the clip:

The video mistakenly communicates that human life is valuable merely in virtue of its instrumental value.

"What's instrumental value? [Citing Greg Koukl] Something that has instrumental value is only valuable in that it leads to something else that has intrinsic value. A classic example of something that has instrumental value is money. Money itself is not valuable, but it's valuable in that it can get something that has intrinsic value. Money might get you happiness. Money might get you pleasure. Money might get you friendship. Money might buy you mercy. In other words, the money has value in that it leads to something else that is valuable in itself. This is very important because something that has instrumental value is valuable in a very tenuous way."

But what if President Obama never reached the presidency? Indeed, what if his life was filled with hardships that he had trouble overcoming? What if he never went to college? What if he never found success in politics? What if he struggled with homelessness? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Would he not still be a valuable human being, with the fundamental right to life and worthy of protection? Yes, because the pro-life argument is that human beings have intrinsic value.

"Intrinsic value [again citing Koukl] is something that has value in itself. The value or worth that it has is inherent in its very existence. For example, love is something that most people would consider has intrinsic value. Love is something that is valuable in itself. Health is something that is valuable in itself. Happiness is something that has intrinsic value. Mercy or virtues or dozens of things are ends in themselves and have value. That's intrinsic value."

You see, it's not the potential in a human being that makes him valuable. He's valuable in virtue of the kind of thing he is. Human beings are valuable precisely because they are humans beings, created in God's image.
I must confess to thinking similar thoughts the first time I saw the clip. If that's the extent of our message--or even our primary one--we're not doing our job as communicators.

However, given the morally untutored culture we live in, the imagery and message of the clip may still prove helpful. It's hard to change how people think on abortion if you don't first change how they feel about it. On that level, the ad provides a valuable assist. For example, I've met many pro-lifers who initially joined our ranks because of a slogan I think suffers from the same problem Brett identifies above. The slogan reads: "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart." I dislike it, because elective abortion is wrong even if performed prior to the detection of fetal heart activity. Thankfully, many of those same pro-lifers have moved on to more sophisticated and intellectually credible arguments.

In the end, I'm more inclined to see it Brett's way than not. Instead of choosing between emotionally powerful messages and intellectual credibility, why not do both?


  1. When I first saw that, I felt that it worked as an antidote to the despair that drives so many arguments for abortion: "But she needs an abortion! She's [single|poor|whatever]!" I thought that the ad was arguing that there is hope even in difficult situations.

    However, I've seen more people interpreting it the way you suggest, and saying things like, "so, does that mean that if we knew the baby would turn out to be a serial killer, abortion would be OK?" So it seems to have been ineffective.

  2. And I thought I was the only pro-lifer in America that didn't like this ad! It's nice to be able to once again fall back on the, "Well if you don't believe me, Scott Klusendorf and Brett Kunkle say..." argument. :D

  3. I think you make some excellent points about how many pro-lifers use a utilitarian view of whether or not life is valuable, which is exactly the view that pro-choice folks embrace. However, I disagree that this ad is not intellectually credible, or that it communicates utilitarian view of the value of human life.

    I don't think the point of this ad was to say that it would have been wrong to abort Obama because of what he has become. In fact, I don't even think that the ad wanted to argue that abortion is wrong. I think it was supposed to stop short of that and just get people thinking about the initial motives that lead people towards abortion.

    It seems to me that the point was merely to address the emotional distress and concerns of pregnant mothers FIRST. After all, when someone is deeply distressed, you must give them a glimmer of hope so that they will calm down a bit, and then you can get into a serious discussion. Diving right into serious apologetics will work with some, but I would guess that for most we have to deal with their emotions first, or meet them where they are at, and then bring them into a more indepth discussion.

    I just started listening to the first podcast, and I think you guys are right about a lot of things that are ineffective about the pro-life movement. Keep up the great work, I'll be listening! :)

  4. When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.Yours is a nice blog.


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