The shallow seas of the Christian pro-life movement

Writing for, Chuck Colson runs aground whilst trying to navigate the shallow seas of the Christian pro-life movement.

A few years ago, novelist Anne Rice, famous for her vampire stories, recommitted herself to her Catholic faith. She then announced that she was dedicating her writing talents to Christ. One result was the wonderful book, Christ the Lord, a story that imagines the childhood of Jesus.

It is apparent that Rice’s beliefs are deep and genuine—which is why I was so surprised to learn she is endorsing a staunchly pro-abortion presidential candidate.

A sincere Christian celebrity who doesn’t endorse Colson’s conservative Christian political views? Imagine that! Colson is aghast. Doesn’t Rice know she’s betraying Christianity itself?

Christians did not leap into politics five minutes after Roe v. Wade was decided. Christian doctrine on the sanctity of life, coupled with the Church’s involvement in politics, began 2,000 years ago.

But then Colson says a very strange thing.

For instance, the Didache, a first-century manual of Christian discipleship, teaches: “In accordance with the precept of the teaching, ‘you shall not kill,’ you shall not put a child to death by abortion or kill it once it is born.”

Now that’s funny. Colson wants to prove that the Bible has always been hostile to abortion, and yet when he goes to find some quote he can use that actually says not to commit abortion, he has to resort to a late-first-century extrabiblical text that is obviously referring specifically to the late-term abortion or infanticide of an unwanted child. And so what if people didn’t like late-term abortions back then? That’s not surprising–people naturally feel strongly about the deaths of those who are recognizably babies. Even pro-choicers agree with that, for the most part.

Colson, of course, has to throw in a misguided slur against science to try and bolster his case.

Whether we believe this and accept responsibility for the unborn child depends on our view of humanity. Do we believe that humans were created in God’s image? Or do we believe, as the secularist does, that humans are just one more example of evolution’s chance handiwork, no different in kind than lice and lungfish?

Unfortunately, he’s digging his own grave, here, because if Christian morality depends on evolution being false, oops. But there’s a bigger problem with Colson’s views on abortion. Not only is God pro-choice, the conservative evangelical’s claims against abortion are based on the idea of the sanctity of life. And yet the evangelical also believes that life, per se, is not destroyed at the death of the body. Though a pro-lifer will tell you it is wrong to take the life of another human being no matter how small, it is not possible (according to another part of the Gospel) to actually take anyone’s life away from them. The soul, they say, continues to live even after the body dies.

Abortion, in a Christian context, is thus not so much a violation of the sanctity of life as it is a violation of the sanctity of the body. Mortal man has no power to end an immortal life, and thus can only be guilty of crimes against the body, not crimes against the life. You can separate the life from the body, and you can destroy the body, but you can’t actually harm the life. Life, according to the Gospel, is not merely sanctified, but invulnerable. Thus the true sanctity at issue here is not the sanctity of life, but the sanctity of the body.

If, however, the body of the fetus is sacrosanct, then to be consistent we would also need to say that the body of the woman is entitled to a similar sanctity. Instead of trivializing the abortion issue into a black-and-white question of whether or not murder is wrong, we have a full-blown, non-trivial ethical issue in which the sanctity of one human body conflicts with the equal sanctity of another. If the sanctity of the woman’s body is not inviolable, neither is that of the fetus. Either the sanctity of both is absolute, or the sanctity of both is subject to compromise.

Couple this with the fact that nowhere, in the Bible or in early Church tradition, does any Christian authority declare when, exactly, the developing organism counts as a “person” (and not just, say, the husband’s valuable property). Latter-day believers have latched on to conception as the beginning of personhood (though even there, we have to consider the gradual transition from non-person to person which takes place), but this is pretty much an arbitrary distinction. The Bible makes no such distinction.

Historic Christianity give us no grounds for dogmatically asserting that abortion is wrong from conception onwards, and tells us besides that we can’t take the baby’s life anyway. And considering that God’s alleged choice in the Garden of Eden was so pro-choice that it doomed all of Eve’s children to eventual death and likely damnation, I’d have to say that Anne Rice, and not Chuck Colson, is the person with the deeper understanding of their own faith here. Colson tries to trivialize the issue with clichéd sound-bites and cheap shots at science. Rice, at least, has the decency to look at the whole picture.

2 Responses to “The shallow seas of the Christian pro-life movement”

  1. chigliakus Says:

    I was wondering if you’d seen this?,8599,1710844,00.html
    It’s almost entirely unrelated to your above post, except perhaps in regards to the sanctity of the body. Really just something interesting to me as all the Christians I’ve talked to share the view about Heaven that this particular Bishop opposes.

  2. The Professor Says:

    That’s an interesting perspective, and in fact it’s surprisingly similar to the conclusions I was reaching when I was still a Christian.

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