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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Secular Pro-Life's Christian Outreach

Ha! Made you look at the headline! Now read the whole article, because it's a little more complicated.

Secular Pro-Life has always been open to people of any faith or no faith. Still, SPL is often associated with, well, secularism. Our leadership is comprised of non-theists, and we're always going on about that "over six million pro-life American nones" statistic, and about young people being the most pro-life and least religious generation since Roe v. Wade.

But this statistic may actually be more important: a recent Pew survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 33 found that only 36% would describe themselves as "a religious person."

While the United States certainly has a Christian majority, that is based on self-identification. What does it mean for someone to call himself a "Christian"? Young Americans in particular are not devout. Sure, they grew up in Sunday School (who else remembers Silly Songs with Larry?). They try to be good people and not hurt anybody. They attend church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe a few other times a year. But these are not people who have religious concerns about eternal life and sin at the center of their minds. They drink. They cuss. They party. And they most assuredly have sex before marriage.

My point here is not to point and stare and call people hypocrites for not living their lives by a particular Christian worldview. My point is to describe average young American Christians, bearing in mind that I was once one myself. And my point is that non-religious Christian youths are unlikely to be swayed by pro-life arguments that are full of citations to a Bible they don't read and theological thought leaders they've never heard of.

If I'm right, Secular Pro-Life is actually in a better position to reach out to a significant percentage of Millennial Christians than explicitly Christian pro-life groups are. Because if you aren't a "religious person," prayer vigils, sermons, and sayings like "Let God Plan Parenthood" are not going to get you involved in the pro-life movement. And heaven forbid (ha!) that you take such an approach with an average young Christian woman who is pregnant, terrified, and considering what looks like an "easy way out." About 65% of abortions in the U.S. are performed on Christian mothers, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.

This is a major reason why Secular Pro-Life is, always has been, and always will be open to Christians. Many pro-life Christians, to their credit, recognize the problem and understand that a religiously-neutral human rights perspective can provide the solution. (Yes, that has prompted some backlash from certain highly fundamentalist Christian subgroups. But those critics are in the minority.) Working together, we can reach the full spectrum of Americans, and make abortion unthinkable for them all.

30 comments:

Scott Klusendorf said...

I think the sword cuts both ways on this. Yes, signs that read, "Let God Plan your Parenthood" are not going to persuade non-theists. But secular atheists also have intellectual baggage and have yet to provide a compelling grounding for why any human--born or unborn--has intrinsic dignity we should acknowledge. After all, in a universe that came from nothing and was caused by nothing, humans are cosmic accidents. How do we get intrinsic value in such a universe for anyone, including embryos and fetuses?


Sure, we can assert human value on blind faith, but where's it's proper grounding? Make no mistake: I appreciate the efforts of pro-life atheists and gladly work alongside them. You are not my enemies. My resources are your resources and I gladly share them. But just because atheists recognize human value and objective moral rules at the epistemic level does not mean they can persuasively ground them at the ontological level. This is a huge problem for thinking young people within the church who've been exposed to Christian worldview training. Trust me, they will grill you on this point.


In short, pro-life atheists are not uniquely situated to reach Christian students. Indeed, it seems that you ignore a third option--that is, Christian theists who provide persuasive arguments for the pro-life position that appeal to theists and non-theists. For example, our LTI team of pro-life speakers--all of them theists--have non-Christian and Christian students routinely tell them, "thank you for making such a compelling case and giving arguments for your view. You've given us something to think about."


In short, it's simply not necessary to ditch theism to reach students with compelling pro-life content. We do it all the time. Last year, we reached 31,000 new students is Catholic and Protestant high schools. This year, we are on target to reach 60,000 new students in those venues. At each campus, we argue that the Christian worldview does a better job explaining human dignity and human value than secular explanations. Many of these "Christian" students are secular in their worldview, just as you describe above. And yet the kids respond to our speakers who they know are Christian theists. I wish you could see the reviews (available upon request).


My gentle request here (consider this a friendly in-house chat) is that you not overstate your case. Christian pro-life speakers, properly trained, can match your own efforts any day of the week. And we've got the reports from students to prove it.

Kelsey said...

I didn't mean to suggest that Christians cannot persuade non-Christians. If that's how you took it, I apologize. It sounds to me like you use essentially secular arguments when speaking to non-Christians (and nominal Christians) on the abortion issue, and yes, ANYONE can (and should) do so, regardless of your personal faith.


I myself am not sure that human origins make a huge amount of difference here. Why can't "cosmic accidents" have value? Why must we be descended from Adam and Eve to have a right to life (or for our right to life to be sufficiently "grounded")? The Golden Rule is universal.


But that's probably a larger debate than can be had in blog comments, and since the goal here is to promote unity and save unborn children, perhaps it's best to let those sleeping worldview differences lie.

JDC said...

Excellent post! You brought up many great points.

John Bates said...

In a secular world, what is so different about the "cosmic accident" that created the pig? What is the justification for killing a pig, where is its 'right to life'? I find secular pro-life non veg(etari)an to be a difficult position to hold.

Kelsey said...

That's a fair question. I go by Marquis' "Future Like Ours" argument, meaning that once you have a sufficiently intelligent species, that species should be protected at all stages of life. So I think it's unethical to kill chimpanzees, gorillas, possibly dolphins, but I'll chow down on a hot dog. However, it's worth noting that many SPL members are vegetarian or vegan. SPL takes no official position on animal rights.

KM Misener said...

I am a pro-life vegetarian. There is no reason we can't expand our compassion to both unborn children and animal life.

KelleyAnnie@Over the Threshold said...

And this is why I read this blog. I'm a Christian, but one of the ones with thoughts of eternal life at the center of my daily life. I also think that for reasons you listed, the abortion debate is best argued from a secular perspective. I'd be much more likely to join your group at a rally than to stand with my church group at the March for Life (which I have never participated in because I just don't see it as that effective). What I HAVE done is volunteer with different crisis pregnancy centers because I see the first priority as making other options available to women because "no other option" is why women choose abortion.

GrowUp said...

Ironically, the secularists are uniquely positioned to re-evangelize the evangelicals with the prolife cause.

I'm a Christian and almost young enough to be a millennial, and when trying to reach my generation and younger of Christians I use Secular Prolife and similar sites exclusively. I do not use Christian or other traditional prolife sites (like LifeNews.com) because they would be dismissed out of hand by many Christians under 40.

People need to realize --> under-40's Christians are hugely reactionary against their Evangelical or fundamentalist upbringings (or the stereotypes they've internalized). This means the are either politically against everything associated with their conservative Christian heritage, or they just don't care about the stuff their heritage cares about. IOW, they believe what the mainstream entertainment on which they came of age tells them to believe (socially and politically left-side of the culture war). The unborn lose out on this due to association prejudice. The conservative Christians finally get an issue right, and then they abandon it.

Steven underwood said...

I believe that the reason why ‘pro-life’ has become such an issue with many overtly conservative Christian groups is because it is ‘cheap’ righteousness. The same goes for the obsession some of our reactionary Christian friends have with homosexuality. They are issues that often have little personal cost for the vast proportion of pew filling Christians and so they are low cost stances – if you don’t happen to gay or a woman facing a dreadful decision about an unwanted pregnancy, then you can sit in your pew and feel morally righteous and superior without actually having to expend to much ‘religious effort’ – so you can see the attraction!

The only real way forward to lower rates of abortion is good sex education (not just about the mechanics but issues around the social, emotional and psychological aspect of sex, sexuality, relationships, contraception and the emotional, psychological and life-chances costs of unplanned parenthood/abortion etc.). However this should not be just a matter of something schools provide, but also something parents should be involved in. Oddly enough, it is the liberal secular democracies of northern Europe that have low rates of both teen pregnancy and abortion – societies that put a big emphasis on sex education and also social responsibility. Britain, where I live, hasn’t quite got that balance – but still fairs far better than the USA.

http://bornagainagnostoc.blogspot.co.uk/

John Bates said...

That argument seems convenient, a little like pro-choicers arguing that an unborn baby is not yet human, it is on the wrong side of the cut-off point. You're drawing a spectrum from cosmic dust to a human and deciding that the point of division is just to the left of a dolphin. On the scale from dust to dolphin, I'm not sure how you can split the difference to put a pig on one side of the line and a dolphin on the other. But, the arbitrary decision you have made enables you the utility of chowing down on a hot-dog, so you grab that rationale. This to me seems very similar to the arguments put forward by pro-choicers to justify the utility of not progressing a pregnancy. I'm not criticizing you, I'm just struggling in my own mind to grasp how, in the absence of making the religious distinction of a 'soul', it's possible to justify eating meat and being opposed to killing unborn children. So way off topic, I apologise.

Chandler Klebs said...

I think it is great that Secular Pro-life is open to Christians. It only makes sense for all of us to work together and not be exclusive.

Chandler Klebs said...

Funny you should mention the pig. I happen to like pigs as well as other animals. I could never kill those animals myself and would be forced to total vegetarianism if others stopped doing so.

Chris P said...

As far as I know the atheist movement has nothing to do with "reaching out" to people. Telling people that it is a scientific fact there is no God is one thing but implying that you can run with some other message on the back of it is wrong.

Chris P said...

Hopefully ones that are honest instead of the majority that lie to their clients. "No other option" is not "why women choose abortion" - please don't generalize.

Chris P said...

Nice way of hiding your desire to manipulate people. The Christian "worldview" has no special merit and is frequently wrong for the obvious reason that it wants to maximize its membership.

Chris P said...

Better stop all those animals from eating each other too then and killing them with your car, cat, windows on your house, ant killer and so on. Delusional naivety as to reality. Do you kill the bugs on your veggies before you eat them too?

Chris P said...

Makes the pack of bullies larger.

Chris P said...

Thank you - a much better approach to the matter.

Chandler Klebs said...

What exactly do you mean?

Chris P said...

We have enough people trying to waste our time with "personhood" legislation and trying to restrict our freedoms. Other people's abortions don't cause any negative effect to you and may cause positive effects. I don't like people's tattoos but they don't affect me negatively. If people want to carry to term and accept responsibility for a Down's kid that's fine even though it is probable that society at large will have to contribute to care. But please don't tell women that they HAVE TO have to carry to term.

Vin said...

Some ancient age theologian said theology was the harder of sciences, because a theologian should know both of the matters of heaven and of everything else.


I'm Christian and I think "everything else" is part of the wisdom every religious person should look for. The pro-life view can be perfectly explained in a secular way, just like the majority of Christian ethical concerns such as poverty, slavery etc.

Chandler Klebs said...

When you say that other people's abortions don't cause any negative effect to me, you presume to know my feelings. You may lack empathy but not everyone does.

Chandler Klebs said...

You are correct about this. The message that I am opposed to is "There is no God, therefore you must believe everything that I say is scientific.". Technically, there should be no such thing as an atheist movement.

Chris P said...

Why cannot atheists have a movement to get religion out of schools and government?

Chris P said...

Empathy for something that you don't know about? That's weird. Do you go around talking to all the women you know to ask if they are pregnant so you can have empathy?

Chandler Klebs said...

I am not saying that they can't. I would neither oppose or promote such a movement. Rather, I think that we all need to find better ways to help reverse all the damage done by the government and the irrelevant things they force kids to sit through in public school.


However, I don't think that a movement led by atheists is quite the same as an atheist movement. Atheism is just a lack of a belief. It has nothing to move.

Chris P said...

Why aren't you involved with your school district? Not much to do with government - more to do with local school boards.

Chandler Klebs said...

No, I don't ask women about their pregnancy. My empathy comes after the fact that I understand that damage of any type has already been done. I care about what happens to people even in other countries that I will never meet.

Chandler Klebs said...

I was home-schooled. I don't know much about what is going on in school for other people. From what I hear, it isn't that great.

Chris P said...

I care more about people being killed by guns, cars, malnutrition, environment and so on. Empathy for something that doesn't increase the world population when it is already too high comes nowhere on the list.