Sunday, November 25, 2012

THE END OF PRO-LIFE POLITICS

THE FIRST CAMELLIA
A recent piece in CatholicCulture.org, "The End of Pro-Life Politics" by Dr. Jeff Mirius, is a must-read.

An excerpt:

When all is said and done, this political emphasis of the pro-life movement has built and sustained many pro-life organizations; it has provided quite a few jobs; it has created claims on the loyalties and purses of pro-life Christians; it has become a significant industry. And it has accomplished almost nothing.

The time has come to admit the obvious and, in consequence, to speak the unspeakable. Is it not clear now that the social order as we know it in the West is utterly incapable of sustaining successful pro-life politics? The evidence is overwhelming. First, there is again the remarkable lack of success over the past forty years despite the staggering resources expended in the cause. Second, in the United States at least, this lack of success seems to conflict with polls that repeatedly show a majority of voters to prefer restrictions on abortion—which proves that such voters do not regard abortion as significant enough to influence their votes. Third, as indicated at the outset, the number of other serious social and political challenges which have so rapidly emerged in recent years are clear signs that our mainstream culture has problems far deeper than a disagreement about how to handle the question of legal abortion.

It is no longer satisfactory—in fact I would say it is disingenuous—to stress (for example, in response to the Obama juggernaut) that we simply need to go back to the trenches and mobilize more people and more resources in the same political effort next time around. Twenty-five years ago this seemed to make sense. Ten years ago people were reluctant to suggest that it did not. Today, anybody who thinks this is a reasonable response to the problems we face either has his head in the sand or possesses a vested interest in the economic viability of one or more of the many pro-life organizations which—almost certainly through no great fault of their own—simply cannot succeed...

Yes, we have a grave obligation to be pro-life in our thinking and to favor a culture of life in everything we do. But we have no grave obligation to make political change a high practical priority, not when a realistic assessment shows that the likelihood of positive political change ranges, at our current moment in history, somewhere between extraordinarily unlikely and impossible. Western culture cannot now sustain it...

This misreading of the signs has unfortunately caused us to waste enormous amounts of energy fighting not so much for Christ as for political outcomes which cannot be sustained without Christ...


I urge you to read the piece in full. It underscores many similar thoughts I've advanced here (e.g., "Why I Am For Life, not Pro-Life") and in my (loooong) essay, "Poor Baby."

Just one additional thought: That the pro-life movement has become a "significant industry" points up another hidden cost of abortion; namely, the potential for spiritual corruption when we make a career out of using the very weapons of "us vs. them" aggression, power-mongering, and war mentality that give rise to abortion in the first place.

In fact, the very notion of a "war on abortion" is emblematic to me of a near fatal misreading of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Truly, who among us can bear the scandal of the Cross? Really--results that are that meager? Weapons--charity, meekness, love--that seem to avail so little against the worldly powers and principalities? Our anonymous trudging to Mass, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to Adoration--these seemingly ridiculously "small" acts, this laughable devotion, are supposed to prevail against the gates of hell?

Mother Teresa tending the dying untouchables on the streets of Calcutta--where is the medical advance, the girrrrl power, the relevance, in that? St. Therese of Lisieux, behind the Carmelite grille, writing the Apostle's Creed in her own blood and wearing it against her heart--what contemporary pregnant single mother is that supposed to speak to?

Where is the glamour of triumph, the pumped fist, the crowing victory speech in the inner life of prayer that Christ assured Mary, Martha's sister, was "the better part?"

Are we to give our whole strength, our whole mind, our whole heart and still be denied even the quiet consolation that we have helped convert even a single heart; that our sacrifices have gone to ease the pain of even one other human being; that we have prevented even one abortion?

Yes.

That is the Crucifixion. And our belief that our work and heart and charity and prayer do bear fruit is  the Resurrection.

How, where, and when we cannot know. But we do know this: "No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

THE SILVER LAKE RESERVOIR

14 comments:

  1. It should have been obvious after 40 years that neither party was really interested in over-turning Roe v. Wade.

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  2. Interesting post. I think I've been intuitively moving this way -- first when I started giving, a few years ago, not to the political action committees but to "Feminists for Life" which seemed a group which tries to reach women in a way they would prefer to be reached, to frame it not as a "thou shalt not have an abortion" but more of a  "thou has fertility rights".  I like how the group takes a historical view, quoting the pro-life sentiments of early feminists like Susan B. Anthony.  It seems a more positive point of view even if it does frame things in terms of "power" (i.e. the power to procreate) rather than in terms of the Christian message of the scandal of the cross and power being made perfect in weakness. 

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  3. Hi TS, thanks so much for weighing in. Of course to me the idea of 'fertility rights' is exactly, taken to its logical conclusion, what promotes abortion. I don't tend to think in terms of rights; I think in terms of obedience, truth, and love...So instead of Thou shalt not have an abortion, I like You will want as a free child of God to live in absolute, Christ-based love...also of course, having failed so miserably to do that myself, it's always an area where I feel extra vulnerable. And perhaps extra called to speak the truth as I see it...

    Anyway, thanks again for your measured, kind and thoughtful response.

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  4. That's a very positive piece, and a welcome perspective. One thing it pointed out for me is the imbalance in the movement:

    "Meanwhile, those who have engaged in pregnancy center counseling—an area in which success is actually possible on a daily basis—have had to labor under a severe shortage of funds, because of the common insistence that the first pro-life responsibility is to fight abortion politically."

    If the resources channeled to political campaigns were invested in crisis pregnancy centers, and, as you said, if we were willing to live in the reality of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, would we be less likely to hear the familiar argument that prolifers only care about the "issue" and not the individual, abandoning both the woman and the child once the child is born? Even though there are lots of people doing plenty for women in crisis who've chosen to have the baby, that's not currently the "face" of the prolife movement.

    I work for a legislative agency and am required to be nonpartisan in any public activities, and I've allowed the political rancor around this issue to paralyze me. I've avoided being involved in the movement for fear of losing my job, even though I believe abortion is a human rights issue, not a political one.

    This article and your comments (and Poor Baby) give me hope that the face of the movement will begin to look less like the caricature of angry people waving signs and more like what I know to be true about so many: joyful people loving and serving people in crisis. Thanks to all of you out there who have done so much with so little to help so many. I'm inspired. In fact, I want make a commitment right here in print to call a crisis pregnancy center near me and see what they need.

    p.s. I'm also praying for artists who will create works that are life-affirming, beautiful, tragic, and true. Art is influential.

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  5. Sorry, but I think this is in large part more of the let's-just-throw-in-the-towel, doom and gloom message that's been pervasive since the election.

    With regard to the author's statement about "the remarkable lack of success over the past forty years," we should keep in mind that the abortion rate in the U.S. has, after all, declined steadily since 1981.

    That may not be the "remarkable" he's searching for, but to me that means millions of souls made it into our world who otherwise wouldn't have.

    How much of the decline was due to the pro-life movement? I'm willing to bet a lot.

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  6. Rob Robertson, for any number of reasons I wouldn't come to Washington for a/the Pro-Life March but I'm very touched and very grateful to you and your family for thinking to host me, and touched as well by your witness and praying of the Rosary at the clinic near your house that does late-term abortions.



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  7. "No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life." (John 8:12) -- I needed to hear this verse tonight. Thank you. It seems your blog is one of the many vessels God uses to speak into my life.

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  8. Hi Lydia--no, no, I'm not talking about gloom and doom--in fact to me if anything is gloomy, it's politics--I'm talking about total, ongoing resurrection!

    I'm not at all saying it's the end of the fight; I'm saying we may want to question waging the war on, which often means confining the war to, the very narrow and in general very ineffective battleground of politics.

    I'm not talking about rolling over and playing dead; I'm talking about coming fully, vitally, electrically alive in the Christ of the Gospels.

    Michele--yes. Let's pray for "artists who will create works that are life-affirming, beautiful, tragic, and true. Art is influential." As Dostoevsky said, "The world will be saved by beauty"...

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  9. Sensible.

    As a former letter-writer, protester, and voter (when NY gave me the option) I'm also convinced that political pro-life activity is fruitless, but also dangerous. It has become something like addictive behavior in many people whom I otherwise admire.

    The truth is that only the occasional family or boyfriend are forcing women to have abortions in the US. And if every woman considering an abortion decided today (and tomorrow, and forever ...) not to have one, at least two industries would come to a screeching halt.

    A much better, healthier approach would be to engage in positive pro-life efforts--adopting some of the 500,000 US kids in foster care comes to mind--and flooding secular and state adoption agencies with home studies and applications. There's no lacking of things to keep people busy, and giving good witness, and doing the small, gentle, possible, and hopeful things.

    Todd

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  10. Well said, Heather. Who of us can bear the scandal of the cross? We are so teeny tiny, beyond weak, weak with a capital W. Thanks be to God He loves us so much.

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  11. What is the scandal of the Cross? I would like to understand this more.

    Is it that, granting the seeming failure and meaninglessness of the Cross, that it is in fact a triumph - the triumph?

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  12. Hi Patrick, the way I understand it, yes, more or less. That the world will eventually kill the person of total truth, total integrity, total love, because it prefers to dwell in darkness. That we are not given to know the fruits of our hidden, small, anonymous acts of love and that the world--which worships showiness, success, grandeur, "results", lies, fame--will instead mock, scorn, ridicule and persecute us for them...

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  13. I am so relieved to see this realization beginning to take root, and the pro-Life movement begin to move beyond the alluring distraction of politics, finally to contest the point of decision. Abortion is not, and never has been a primarily political or legal issue. Abortion is a symptom of a much deeper spiritual disease that has been growing in western culture for quite some time. Politics is merely the forum in which that deeper crisis manifests itself publicly. The antidote to neither this, nor any spiritual malady can ever be found through recourse to worldly power – to politics. The cure, like the cause lies deeper, and that is in our cooperation with divine grace which alone binds up our wounds and heals our brokenness.

    In the end, the scourge of abortion will not be defeated through the ballot box, nor through any human measure. I am convinced it is only through the intercession of Our Lady, that abortion, which so offends against the dignity of man, the purity of the Holy Virgin, and self giving of Our Mother will be defeated, one heart at a time. This is not to say that it is sufficient for us to idly await deliverance, but that we need to cooperate with grace, unmasking the reductionist, materialist conception of man as a collection of urges and appetites, and offering a vision of true human dignity and freedom to our brothers and sisters. When hearts are converted, the culture will reflect that change, and where the culture leads, the politics will necessarily follow.

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I WELCOME your comments!!!