Life, Part 1
A post in the Christianity series.
Life. Life is a weird thing. We can instantly identify when something is alive, however we do not have a good working definition for what constitutes “alive” or not. Also, until we find definitive proof to the contrary, it sure seems that the majority of all life in this unfathomably vast Universe is concentrated right here on our little blue planet. But what an amazing place it is! Life on this planet is everywhere, in uncountable variations and in forms from single-cell bacteria to the mighty blue whale, on land, in the air, and in the waters. There are very few places on this planet where life cannot or does not exist in some shape or form. In the deepest oceans, the darkest caves, and the harshest deserts, we find life.
Life is also terrifying, because due to The Fall, we get to experience pain, suffering, and death. Every living thing dies, and although every generation has those who spend their lives looking for a “cure,” there isn't yet even a glimpse of hope that we can extend our lives, much less conquer death entirely. Our entire existence seems predicated on a constant state of decay, a state so ubiquitous that it's called the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which, in layman's terms, states that all things constantly and only transform from more structured to less structured over time.
Death, then, is The End. The ultimate point of no return where a soul (Christians believe) ends up in Heaven or Hell, where it will exist for eternity. Death is often sudden and rarely expected. Life on this planet for humans, animals, and insects alike can and often is cut short in violent ways. As death is the antithesis of life, often causing pain and rarely an uplifting topic, it's difficult to discuss. But because death and life are so intrinsically linked together, refusing to talk about death means we also fail to truly talk about life, especially human life. This reluctance has had dire consequences for Christianity in America and the country's political landscape as a whole.
As a Christian, I believe that life is sacred, given to each and every one of us by God, and is the most precious of any possible gift. God created us to glorify Him, but because He didn't want robots, He gave us free will to choose our own path (see: Evil and Sin). He also didn't just create a couple of us to live out lives of solitude. He created us as communal creatures, wholly dependent on, and only truly thriving in, the existence of others. Over time He showed us how we should live and treat each other (see The Bible), providing the culminating lesson through the death and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. As Christians we then are expected to not only value our own lives as the most precious gift of all, but to value everyone else's life as even more important than our own, and that's where life has a tendency to get complicated.
Due to our fallen nature, while we would love to have clear and obvious black and white definitions and meanings, we find that life provides us with anything but. Grey areas abound in discussions and topics across all walks of life, discussions that can be so difficult that many will refuse to even approach the topic, but these discussions must happen. It's time to talk about how Christians view and value life in this country, or more specifically how we have failed to do exactly that, and where we should go from here.
What follows are my beliefs and my views, but they are views and beliefs that come from years of discussions, study in the Bible and Christian teachings, and my own understandings of the teachings of Christ. Where you have disagreements with what I say here, please reach out as I'd love to hear your concerns and discuss ways I may be wrong, or teachings I may have missed. But I will also ask if you reach out that you are open to the idea that I may not be wrong here. I promise that I will put my full effort in having a respectful discussion and I ask that you do as well.
It is common for Christians across all walks of life to consider themselves Pro-Life. As I said before, life is sacred, life is a gift, and life should not be squandered, so it makes sense that we should work towards preserving and saving (introducing and bringing to Christ) as many lives as possible before Death inevitably takes its toll. However, I am hard pressed today to find actual pro-life views and values in many aspects of public-facing Christianity, particularly in politics and conservative religious groups. While many wear the “Pro Life” title, they also regularly support politicians and policies that are abjectly anti-life in one way or another, often without any realization of what they are actually supporting. And in most cases, the argument centers around one topic.
It's the reason that millions of children are at risk of losing access to vital health care. It's why the US has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. And it has helped set the stage for a resurgence in Nazi and KKK groups in this country.
I'm talking, of course, about abortion. Specifically, this insistence that if we could just make abortion illegal every single other problem this country has would be solved. This singular mindset has driven many Christians to believe that they must vote for Republicans regardless of any actual political stance a given candidate holds, leading to long-reaching and terrible consequences.
Please make no mistake, I'm not saying abortion is a good thing. Far from it. I do believe that abortion is killing and that abortion is something that should be avoided as much as possible. The problem with “the abortion question” is that we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Humans seem to be built to gravitate towards black-and-white answers, but life doesn't work like that, and there's no more telling example than the true effects our singular focus on abortion. The focus on making abortion illegal above all else has ended up killing far more people than preventing all abortions would have ever saved. I'll explain.
Prohibition doesn't work. Humans seem destined to re-learn this lesson every generation or so. It didn't work for alcohol, it doesn't work for drugs, it doesn't work for sex, and it doesn't work for abortions. Making abortion illegal does not prevent or stop women from having abortions. Not only that, when and where abortion is actually illegal, not only are abortion rates are higher, but rates of complications and deaths of the mothers is drastically increased. When procedures like abortion are made illegal, the procedures will still be available, but are often far less safe and are performed at a high risk of complications. When you look at the research, the answer is pretty clear: a short-sighted focus on making abortion illegal kills and maims more people than leaving abortion legal.
This is not to say that we shouldn't try to prevent abortions! What I'm saying is that how we've gone about this, focusing on only that last decision to abort the pregnancy without ever trying to understand why and how someone ends up in such a situation, is fundamentally flawed and decidedly un-Christian. Did Jesus rebuke the prostitute at the well? Did he rebuke and insult the woman caught in adultery and waiting to be stoned? No, He loved them with the exact same love He gives to everyone one else, forgave them, and then gave them the command to sin no more. As long as we continue to insult, demean, and demonize people for their life choices, we Christians are being nothing more than hypocrites. We have been and are utterly failing to show the love of Christ to those who need it the most.
So we must step back and take a more holistic look at the entire situation and focus on the real question: “How can we Christians show the love of Christ when it comes to sex, pregnancy, and abortion?” Only from this vantage point can we start to see ways to positively influence policy and encouraging alternatives to abortion without imposing our beliefs and worldviews on people. Here is what I would want to see happen:
First, abortion must be made and kept fully legal and regulated. Ensure that clinics are staffed and run by certified doctors who know how to perform the procedure safely. Second, increase funding and support for sexual education, teaching safe-sex practices, and supporting the use of birth control. Like I mentioned above, sexual abstinence training does not stop people from having sex, and if you don't teach people how to keep themselves safe then you end up with more pregnancies and more abortions. Third, drastically increase funding and support for adoptions and adoption organizations. There are tons of couples who want to be a family but for one reason or another cannot have children, like me and my wife. Provide the support structure people need, if they so choose, to make it through the pregnancy, to have the child, and offer it up for adoption. There is no better gift one could possibly give.
Sex itself can be a complicated topic and may be worthy of its own dedicated article, but for now I'd like to make sure I've at least covered the basics here. Christianity teaches that sex is meant for marriage, an act explicitly meant for two and only two people through which they become one person. It's the most intimate act two people can perform, and I am personally thankful that I waited, because it's incredible to have this experience that I share only with my wife. But many don't adhere to this view of sex, which is why abstinence training does not work. For those who don't subscribe to the Christian view, there is no fundamental underpinning of why they can't have sex at any time. As such, if you want to prevent abortions, preventing pregnancies through safe-sex teachings and the use of birth control is vital.
Christians are called to be Pro-Life in all things, but there are many who have misused this term to mean the exact opposite. All life is sacred, and it's vitally important that Christians live and act like they truly believe this. Abortion is an unfortunate, terrible act, but one that will never be fully preventable or prevented. To be Pro-Life is to live and serve in such a way to protect as many lives as possible in all walks of life. Make sure the decisions we make and the people we put in power are truly Pro-Life, glorifying God in every aspect of life as best as we can.
There are other aspects of modern civilization that need to be discussed regarding life and Christianity's stances, but this is a lot to process. I will continue this conversation in Life: Part 2, where we'll be talking about guns.