All of us involved in the pro-life movement have at some point or other heard the charge that the movement is an entirely Christian one. Certainly, in America (and around the world) the pro-life movement is dominated by Christians, having begun with the Catholics and then later joined by various protestant denominations and organizations. However, I’ve argued before that the pro-life movement is not only a Christian movement, and there are people of all (or no) religious persuasions who have joined the pro-life cause.
Still, it is difficult-to-impossible to deny the strong influence of the Christian religions on the pro-life movement. The overwhelming majority of pro-lifers are most certainly Christians, yet though there is a certain religious element to our involvement in the pro-life movement, it would come as a surprise to most people to learn what that element truly is. Christians, like most other people, recognize abortion for what it is: the intentional killing of an innocent human being. This is no great revelation to anybody, namely that we are pro-life precisely because we believe that killing innocent humans is wrong.
Historically, abortion and infanticide have been with us for a long time, and Christians, as well as their predecessors the Jews, have always been opposed to such acts. We know, at least, that the Greeks had a form of infanticide known as “infant exposure” and that elixirs and potions were sometimes consumed by women for the purpose of killing their unborn children. We also know that such acts were rare amongst the Israelites, amongst whom barrenness was a form of shame for women.
Still, by the time of the Roman Empire, abortions were often obtained by prostitutes and unwed women. The practice was also opposed by the Catholic Church at this early time, hence the Didache, circa AD 70-80, “The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder… You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.” The Epistle of St. Barnabas, written during the same time period, confirms this teaching of the early Church: “Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born.”
It is not the justification of our cause but rather the drive behind it which makes so many Christians pro-life and so many others not. In other words, our religion isn’t what is telling us that abortion is wrong: we already know that it is. Professor J. Budziszewski points to what he refers to as “guilty knowledge” as evidence of this. Noting that a pro-abortion counselor was quoted by a pro-abortion journalist as say “I am not confident even now, with abortion so widely used, that women feel it’s OK to want an abortion without feeling guilty. They say, ‘Am I some sort of monster that I feel all right about this?’” Budziszewski then notes that this statement is revealing: “Plainly, if a woman has guilty feelings for not having guilty feelings, she must have guilty knowledge.” In other words, even many of the women who are obtaining abortions for themselves realize ultimately that abortion is wrong. This is confirmed by numerous surveys, in which the vast majority of women report feelings of regret, guilt, and depression; as well as higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and a variety of other conditions.
We know that abortion is wrong, and we don’t need religion to tell us this. Thus, while Christianity may affirm that abortion is indeed wrong, its real contribution to the pro-life movement is its insistence that we carry this knowledge to its right conclusion and oppose abortion. Knowledge is much like faith in that it often does us little if any good if not acted upon. Hence St. James the Just in his epistle: “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?”
Unlike members of many other religions, particularly those which are forms of atheism, we believe that if we do not oppose even the greatest of atrocities, there will literally be hell to pay. As one of my favorite philosophers, Russell Kirk, noted, “What raises up heroes and martyrs is the fear of God…. A God-intoxicated man, knowing that divine love and divine wrath are but two different aspects of a unity, is sustained against the worst this world can do to him; while the goodnatured unambitious man, lacking religion, fearing no ultimate judgment, denying that he is made for eternity, has in him no iron to maintain order and justice and freedom.” We are sustained in our fight by the knowledge that were we to not do so, we would be committing the sin of omission and may thus be judged for it.
Given the bileful and often even violent resistance which we encounter as our reward for affirming the right to life, it is no wonder that so few people are willing to take a stand on this issue. It is only by our support from each other and ultimately our strength derived from a just fear of God that we are able to continue in this, even in spite of setbacks such as those recently faced at the polls in the latest round of elections. It would therefore do us all well to remember the words of that wise sage, Dr. Kirk: “Meek before Jehovah, Moses had no fear of the Pharoah; but… [those who were] much at ease in the presence of Zion, [they] were timid in the presence of a traffic policeman. Although convinced that God is too indulgent to punish much of anything, they were given to trembling before Caesar. Christian love is the willingness to sacrifice oneself….”
If you found this post helpful, some related posts may be found here:
Abortion and So-Called "Lebensunwertes Lebes" (Catholic America Today)
My Reflections on Nancy Keenan's Speech
Some Thoughts on Abortion: Some Rights are Greater than Others
Abortion Rationalizations and Motives
My Thoughts on the CLFL Roe v Wade Day Booth
On Being Pro-Life