Friday, July 10, 2020

On the Ridiculous Extension of the Term "Pro-Life"

Today I am going to follow up on one of the points I made in my previous post ("On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church", July 2, 2020). In that article, I noted that the current progressive "Woke" mindset essentially creates and controls the very terms of the discourse it purports to have. Woke ideologues dictate one and only one way to address some social ill and then attack their opponents as uncaring if they do not affirm that specific, particular means of addressing said social ill. It is a ridiculous confusion of the means with the end. We all agree on certain ends, but disagree on the means to attain them. Woke politics insists we identify the end with the means with the result that the window of acceptable discourse is narrowed until there is only one socially tolerated position to hold on any given subject: the Woke position.

This slipshod thinking has made substantial inroads into Christianity in this country as well. The infection has spread so far for various reasons, including
(A) Contemporary Christians don't have a firm moral foundation to their beliefs; they often do not understand why they believe the things they believe and hence are easily swayed from them when some progressive ideology offers an ostensibly "better" explanation for its ideas.
(B) Christianity in the United States is too politicized (left and right) with the effect that Christians are especially susceptible to partisan influences, even without knowing it.
(C) Western affluent Christianity has lost sight of what it means to be "at enmity with the world" (Jas. 4:4). Instead, Christians seek the approbation of the world. They covet a sense of "with-it-ness" when it comes to contemporary issues. They want to look good in the court of public opinion, which necessarily means they seek for that praise on the world's terms. It also makes them sensitive to attempts of worldly people to "shame" them for not living up to the arbitrary definitions of "goodness" established by the virtue-signalling  social media influencers (Related: "Shepherds for the Whole World", USC, May 29, 2015)
(D) The post-conciliar Church has lost its spine when confronting the culture, instead opting to go with the flow and band-wagon behind whatever the zeitgeist says is the dominant issue in any current year. The Church has also lost its credibility on moral issues in light of the sex abuse scandal and is hesitant to try to reclaim it, meaning substantial support from the institutional Church in this struggle is practically non-existent.
The cumulative effect of these conditions is that huge swaths of the Christianity—Protestant and Catholic—are not only taking their moral cues from pop culture, but allowing that culture to define the very parameters of public discourse. The result is a reorientation or "re-branding" of Christian ethics to align them more with secular values while simultaneously applying historical revisionism to the Church's past to try to diminish her triumphs in the realms of socio-economics and culture.

One of the plainest examples of the re-orientation of Christian ethics in light of modern values is the way Christians of late have stretched the term "Pro-Life" to mean almost anything and everything. Have you noticed this trend lately, especially among your Catholic friends of a more progressive stripe? It manifests itself in a very predictable pattern: 

1. The progressive media really wants people to get behind some cause.
2. There is push back from Christians who don't agree with progressive program.
3. Your progressive acquaintances mobilize to apply virtue-signalling and social-shaming to get reluctant Christians on board by trying to argue that the thing under consideration is actually a sensible Christian option;and not only sensible, but really the only "truly" Christian option.

4. The conclusion is then drawn that if you are really a Christian who "claims" to be Pro-Life, you will support the progressive agenda.

This tactic has the effect of removing from the disputant the burden of defending his position and instead shifts that burden to the Christian Pro-Lifer by making his very faith and convictions the locus of debate. Thus, instead of "Ought one support the BLM protests?", the argument instead becomes "Is Jim really a good Christian like he claims?" The original point in dispute is simply taken for granted and now Jim, rather than the question of BLM, is what is being scrutinized. Jim is now personally on the defensive.

I used the example of BLM, but there are all sorts of progressive causes people use this argument to bludgeon us with. For example, did you know you are not really Pro-Life if you don't support the following:

  • Increased funding for public education
  • Expansion of Medicaid benefits
  • Illegal alien amnesty 
  • Opposing the Trump travel bans
  • Vote by mail
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Covid-19 lockdowns, compulsory social distancing, and masks
  • The George Floyd/BLM protests
  • Increased funding for mental health programs
  • Investment in inner city infrastructure and community programs
  • "Defunding" police departments
  • Laws making it more challenging to acquire firearms
  • Progressive environmental legislation
  • #NeverTrump
  • Eating meat
  • Abolition of the death penalty

I have seen each of these issues as a variable in the sentence "You're not really Pro-Life if you don't support ______________________." You probably have too. It's a hammer people use to beat Pro-Lifers over the head to try to guilt them into supporting their obnoxious policy positions.

I, however, am not so interested in why people do this—clearly its to drive a political agenda—rather, I am more interested in why so many otherwise intelligent Christians buy into it and allow their own sincerity to become the point under debate. Why can't they see what's going on?

The reason actually goes back to the origin of the Pro-Life movement in this country. The Pro-Life movement was founded to oppose the legal sanctioning of abortion, which is the murder of a child in the womb (or sometimes out of the womb) of its mother. Abortion is an evil and barbaric practice, intentionally killing and innocent person in the place that should be the safest for them.

Nevertheless, at the time Roe v. Wade was decided, the opponents of abortion recognized that the winds of change were moving in a generally pro-abortion direction. Not wanting to seem reactionary or like crusty barnacles merely opposing everything new, instead of calling themselves Anti-Abortion, they opted for the term Pro-Life. This was a marketing ploy; it's better and more palatable to public opinion to be "for" something than merely against it. It makes you look more "positive."

In its original context, Pro-Life meant to oppose the intentional killing of human beings, which is murder. Understood this way, it covers both abortion (murder at the beginning of life) and euthanasia (murder at the end of life). This is what it means to be Pro-Life: to oppose legalized murder.

The problems, however, is that the term "Pro-Life" gradually expanded, and this was in some sense inevitable given the decision of the movement to market itself that way. What began as just a choice of words for marketing and public relations eventually became internalized many Pro-Lifers. They did not think of themselves as merely anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia, but as supporters of "life." And what does that mean exactly?

Well, to support life means to oppose death, obviously. So anything that caused "death" could reasonably construed as a so-called "life issue." This is how we developed the awful theology of the "Seamless Garment," also known as the idea of the "consistent life ethic", which was the extension of opposition to "killing" to other areas besides abortion and euthanasia. This began not in the culture, but in the Catholic Church itself, where its most perfect exemplification was the sudden opposition of the hierarchy to the death penalty—despite the inconsistency with Scripture, Catholic tradition, and moral theology. The modern opposition to the death penalty was driven entirely by an equivocation about the terms "death" and "killing", specifically, an inexcusable inability to distinguish between killing generally and murder in particular, between justified and unjustified killing. But it didn't matter; how could people who "claimed to be Pro-Life" support something that intentionally inflicted death? Bad optics, bruh.

Thus, the first "you're not really Pro-Life if you don't also support" was foisted on us by our own hierarchy, and the change has been pronounced: a look at this comparison of the Catechisms of 1992, 1997, and 2018 makes plain how profound the shift really was. For more on the Seamless Garment, I recommend "The Corrupt Theology of the "Seamless Garment" from the Coalition for Thomism blog.

There's also this immature inability to distinguish between the intentional taking of life as the primary end of a moral act (e.g., murder) and states of affairs which may incidentally bring about a loss of life as unintended consequences (e.g.,  permissive gun legislation which allows millions of people to access and use firearms responsibly but also results in the unintended or accidental deaths of others). People who get tripped up on this sort of stuff need to go back and study basic ethics and in the meantime stop posting their stupid memes.

But to return to Pro-Lifers for a moment, regarding the terms "killing" and "life", we saw above an equivocation on the term "killing." It was inevitable that we would see something similar surrounding the term "life." A Pro-Lifer in general and a Christian in particular support "life." In arguments about contraception, we say we are "open to life." We encourage women considering abortion to "choose life." What this originally meant was to oppose intentional methods of snuffing out life or preventing its emergence. In other words, "life issues" are those which address the question "Whether life should exist?" Abortion, contraception, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, as well as matters surrounding denial of care. These are "life issues."

But what we began to see happen, I'd say around ten years ago, was a blurring of the concept of life so that the existence of life got conflated with quality of life. "Well so what, Boniface? Life is life." Psshh. Don't be so daft. Actually, these are two radically distinct concepts: the former concerns the right of a living thing to continue in existence, the latter has to do with what sort of existence that thing will have. Quality of life is about whether your life will be easy or difficult, what sorts of opportunities you will have, what your environment will be, your education, what one can expect in terms of socio-economic mobility, and so on. All of these things are very important, and should be of concern to all people of goodwill—but, (a) they are not "life issues", and (b) there is such a diversity of opinion about the best way to succeed in these areas that it is impossible to paint any one solution as the only one permissible, much less (c) be able to anchor one's entire Christian or Pro-Life "cred" to any of them.

Still, none of that mattered. "You're not really Pro-Life unless you also support ________" was such an easy position to stake out, Pro-Lifers were so woefully unprepared to defend their positions against it, and its strength so formidable that in a very short time it has become the tool of choice for progressives—Christian or otherwise—to demoralize Pro-Lifers into supporting or at least not opposing a whole host of progressive policy objectives. At the same time, it has diluted the term "Pro-Life" to where anything whatsoever that could have any bearing on quality of life, income, or education in even an incremental way is now a "life issue." The implications become ridiculous. "What? You don't think an unlimited number of migrants from anywhere and everywhere should be allowed to settle here to improve their lives? HoW cAn YoU clAIm tO bE so pRo-LiFe!?????"

And what is the end game? The goal of all this manipulation is to create a social atmosphere in which progressive policies are a fait accompli; they are to be held up as the only reasonable and permissible social positions for a Christian Pro-Lifer to hold—so self-evident that you have to be a stupid bigoted racist misogynist homophobic moron to not think the same. It's all part of a massive funnel-operation to whittle down the realm of acceptable public discourse to a single set of (liberal) policies, outside of which there can be no discussion, no debate, and no other alternatives, least of all by Christian Pro-Lifers, who will immediately abdicate their moral credibility by not "really" being Pro-Life or Christlike if they walk outside the ever narrowing boundaries—functioning like the explosive collars from the 1987 Schwarzenegger flick The Running Man, which are attached to prisoners' necks and rigged to blow up the moment the prisoner steps over the boundary of the prison camp.

This, then, is the tired, pathetic end of the "consistent life ethic", a philosophy that went astray the moment its proponents became too incompetent to distinguish between killing in general and murder in particular. Once this distinction was obliterated and Catholics started arguing against "killing" and for "life" without any qualification whatsoever, it became inevitable that sooner or later the same band of useful idiots would start confusing the right to life with quality of life and suggesting that every single issue that could possibly have any bearing on quality of life was ergo a "life issue"—and that good Catholics needed to virtue signal their Pro-Life cred by supporting whatever pet issue the secularists were yammering about in current year at the expense of not being considered "really" Pro-Life. And (because of reasons A-D listed at the top of this article) most Pro-Lifers were ill equipped to respond and did not fully process the bait and switch that was being imposed on them. And at the end of the day, they wanted to be pat on the head by the world and told "You, too, are good people."

I'm sorry if I seem bitter, but myself and others have been calling out this nonsense for years, in some cases decades. But the reality is that the more this is pointed out, the worse it seems to get. Continued discussions don't make people think harder or reflect deeper; rather, they just get dumber. And as the moral foundations of Catholic ethics get murkier and murkier, more Catholics fall for this ridiculous "You're not really Pro-Life if" argument. And thus the specter of progressivism grows, lurching ever forward, covering everything in its path.

So, maybe I am angry that so many otherwise educated Catholics seem to not only fall for this nonsense, but are practically tripping over themselves to do so. I don't understand—how can you really claim to be intelligent and fall for this ruse?

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Peter Kwasniewski said...

I agree with this 100%.

There is another angle that you don't consider -- probably because it is something that I've never seen anyone but myself talk about. :-)

That is: understanding the metaphysical and theological roots of the pro-life position so that it includes pro-intellectual life, pro-cultural life, and pro-liturgical life.

See this article for the argument:

In other words, if people do not realize that the pro-life ethic has deeper foundations, they will end up surrendering even the ethical side of it.

Dash said...

What an excellent and intelligent assessment of a number of related issues. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

great article.

and i say this as someone who does like some (re)distributionist points here and there, due to current situations. would like more medicaid for some (NOT all or even many, and only if cutting all other public health wastefulness, including obamacare) and more fed-funded education in certain troubled areas (only if unions were dissolved and homeschool made easy and accessible everywhere). also definitely for more mental health funding (only if institutionalization was enforced again, liberals did away with it because of a jack nicholson movie) and maybe even some loan forgiveness (if usury was also banned, making college loans unprofitable and making faculties cut their stupidly inflated costs). oh and natural conservation of resources (not cutting them either, all for oil and fossils as clean as they can be; hope Trump or anyone can build keystone xl and get us off foreign oil), as well as keeping our natural landscapes as much as we can (have to compete with the old world in tourist revenue), and even some more land accessibility for the increasing amount of landless people we have - specially if done to raise animals, as it's increasingly proven that animal foods are the most nutrient-dense.

all these somewhat moderate expenses provided the people work for it: would have low biz and personal taxes otherwise, high tariffs, some taxes on some renters and loaners that could perhaps spare more. also, decentralizing land laws that encourage cheap local development, peace through order and separation of diverse communities as needed, and landed family clans naturally developing through subsidiarity. this instead of huddling up more and more atomized muzzled and chipped sheep in bureaucratic unnatural cities fed through ubi soma and degraded culture through magic screens. oh and yeah no more useless foreign entanglements, and fairer trade for us too. heck, i would even go as far as trustbusting the silicon valley and media complexes, but perhaps an extra tax on them is a start. oh and if we cannot take down porn, heavily tax/limit it. of course, no more lgbtqi-preaching to kids either.

none of this, of course, should be done without grounding in Catholic tradition, if not then it becomes more useless Prot readings of the Constitution left and right. i would also add that "pro-life" originally was around so as to rally conservative Protestants and seculars to our cause. the latter naturally died out, the former seem to sell out every chance they get too - in fact, more and more i see evangelicals going liberals or "libertarian" rather, as they do love their fiscal conservatism more than anything - even if it leads them to defend porn or queer marches because 1st amendment. their kids obviously become pro-blm in confused disgust. the slippery slope is real.

is a confessional Catholic order the solution? not necessarily monarchical or even dictatorial, but definitely some grounding must be found for a truly Catholic political solution, because it's certainly sad that Francis and liberal Catholics are now 1970s marxists in all but name, and their controlled opposition just goes with the gop flow. the only prog thing the current prog Jesuit hierarchy still oppose without compromise (or having lost yet) is gender id i think, and even that ship i think will sail when Francis and his late 20th century cold-warrior peer group fades away. the neocons are no better, they are just 5 years behind the lib-Caths. Schoenstatt ladies pray for migrants while complaining about crime, and are the most scared of a virus that won't affect most of them (but affect their husbands' paycheck), and of guns that actually keep them safe.

so idk, but at any rate, great article. we need prayer and repentance regardless. that will lead to action, if honestly done, and in keeping with honest Catholicism and not the vanity of the world.

Mary Walker said...

This is off topic, is there a way I can convert your font color to black on a white background? I have problems with sight and cannot read this print? Thank you for your time on this matter

Boniface said...


The best thing to do is to just view it on a mobile device, which will automatically give it black on white view. If you don't have a mobile device, look in to using the desktop "reader" mode for Firefox or Chrome

c matt said...

1. I don't think it is lack of intelligence for some (especially the episcopal some), but rather there is funding involved in stretching pro-life to include these other matters.

2. Clearly there is a distinction between existence of life and quality of life issues, and you are right to point it out. Problem is, society has been transfixed on the concept of equality for quite some time, which erodes the concept of hierarchy, and therefore the ability to properly prioritize. As you say, it is not quality of life is unimportant, but (a) it is subordinate to existence, and (b) there are myriad ways (means) to improve quality with varying and less predictable success, but rather few with respect to not murdering innocents.

Phinnpoy said...

You shouldn't have printed that list. Now Mark Shea will havesome new items to tell people how to be more 'pro life' not less!

Kurt said...

Then there is this:

Boniface said...

How is this even relevant to the article?

Boniface said...

@Kurt, ah never mind. I see the angle you are getting at. Thank you for this.

Inquisitor Benedictus said...

Quality of life (material, cultural, moral, spiritual) is related to abortion, since the question is not so much the legality of abortion but why people would want to have an abortion in the first place. I think the attempt to expand the definition of "pro-life" is a clumsy attempt to seek out the root causes of abortions, and an acknowledgement that merely banning them wouldn't make said underlying causes disappear.

Anonymous said...

so talk to the Dems and move them to the right of Trump on the issue then, Kurt. ohhhhh that's right, you cannot even be to the right of Hillary in that party now. so don't present the lesser evil as worse, when in fact it is easier to push the lesser Republican evil towards the light. or ideally, let's form a Catholic party and get over the Freemasonic-socialist postwar consensus splitting up the Church into two materialist-minded factions.

Inquisitor, good point, however that clumsy attempt to expand prolife efforts seems more like a facade for introducing social and cultural change into the Church at this point. not to mention, the root causes are yet to be addressed, which is that the family is cared for less and less by both sides of the aisle. one cuts taxes and benefits, the other gives them to planned parenthood. besides, to be honest, just like we cannot stop all masturbations or prostitutes or drug dealers, we cannot stop all abortions; the world is fallen. we can do our best though.