T. S. Eliot once quipped, “paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.” This, I think, is a significant reason why the pro-life cause continues to suffer setbacks or is sidelined, even as a majority of Americans, if polls are to be believed, identify themselves as pro-life. Eliot’s quip, uttered over a half century ago, reminds us that conglomeration of forces that constitute the “culture of death” are in fact what are informing citizen’s actual decisions, if not always their personal beliefs – a serious and difficult problem.
Often, because of the cultural deformation many of our citizens have undergone, the culture of death makes advances great and small under the guise of “equality,” “individual choice,” and even “liberty.” On the surface, these easy and empty slogans seem appealing and even correct to many.
We must, however, never forget that liberty unmoored from truth invites disaster and destruction on a vast scale, the bitter fruits of which we are already seeing. The truth of the inalienable right to life for all is a moral red line that cannot be crossed without leaving behind civilization itself, and which must be defended anew in every generation.
In the wake of recent setbacks to the pro-life cause, there are many ill-advised calls for Christians to retreat from the public square and to retire to little, self-constructed islands of moral sanity. This, of course, may be a special vocation for some people. But if adopted on a wide scale, it would be to ignore the Gospel commission to “go out” into the world with the message of the Good News of Christ’s redemption, and of the dignity and worth of every human life, made in the image and likeness of God.
It’s precisely because our culture is becoming more self-centered, more materialistic, more hedonistic, and more uninterested in making the commitments and sacrifices the gift of life entails, that it has become even more imperative that Christians and all people of sound reason and good will continue the necessary fight to create, build, and sustain a culture of life.
Now is not the time to withdraw but to advance even more vigorously. A nation founded on the principles of the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot long survive if two of the most fundamental human tasks – the begetting of life and caring for life – are ridiculed in the culture and dismissed from the public square without voices of protest. As Blessed John Paul II said: “For religious believers, our times offer a daunting yet exhilarating challenge. I would go so far to say that their task is to save democracy from self-destruction.”
Let’s be clear: the work will be hard, to be sure, and we will not always be liked, loved, and popular in standing strong for truth in a culture that makes an idol of emotions, propagates lies, and even mandates mendacity.
Much of our thinking, strategizing, and messaging on behalf of the culture of life and the Gospel in the present hostile environment will have to be done while “on the fly.” The allies and acolytes of the culture of death do not rest. We must learn and pray for the spiritual gift of being contemplatives in action, day in and day out.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted, there is no authentic Christianity without the Cross. So we in the pro-life movement will have to carry the Cross – a Cross that has likely gotten even heavier in recent weeks – in order to witness and remain faithful to the sanctity of life.
Participation in the Cross always requires us to accept some portion of loss, rejection, and ridicule as we hold high the standard of Gospel truth in our part of the battle. That is the only thing that leads us to the victory of Jesus Christ, our Life, over death and death’s allies.
The continued ascendancy of the culture of death in our nation, among us, and within us is not inevitable. We, who defend the sanctity of life as the primary foundation of our republic, must take the long view as we seek to change and convert the country to the cause of life. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this insight decades ago on another front in battle for the dignity of every human life: “Change does not roll in the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
It’s good for us to remember that advice today. Surveying the land as it is, with all its present troubles and likely tribulations, with our task and goal always in mind, let us not be afraid to stand erect and hold our heads high – for our redemption is drawing near (cf. Luke 21:28).