Monday, August 19, 2013

Religious Minorities and the Pro-Life Movement

Last Tuesday, Kristen Hatten, writing for Live Action News, wrote a piece that's gotten quite a bit of attention, entitled "Atheists, agnostics, pagans, and more: do they have a place in the pro-life movement?"

First of all, let me say that I'm pleased to see this conversation is happening. It's long overdue. And I'm in wholehearted agreement with Hatten's ultimate conclusion, which is that "any friend of the unborn deserves a seat at our table."

Hatten recounts that she was a pro-choice atheist, who then became a
pro-life atheist, and then a pro-life Christian soon thereafter. It all began with an abortion debate she had with a pro-life friend, and if that friend had "used religion as a basis for her argument, I not only would not have been convinced, I would have dismissed her entire thesis outright and probably would have ended the conversation."

In light of this realization, it's odd that in this very article, she assumes that her audience is Christian:
God has His ways. I believe they have been called “mysterious.” Perhaps we should be humble enough to accept they don’t always involve us being loudly right at everyone’s face. Are you right to say God is the number one reason to oppose abortion? In my opinion, yes. But being right is not always how you win an advocate for Life – or a soul for Jesus.
Of course, neither Hatten nor anyone else should be prevented from speaking about their religious beliefs, and it is not my intention to silence anyone. But Live Action is not a formally religious organization, and I know for a fact that Live Action News has at least one atheist author. There is no reason to think that the readers of Live Action News are exclusively Christian.

The unfortunate impression created by this article (which, in fairness, I'm quite sure that Hatten did not intend) is that non-Christians can become pro-life and that this should be encouraged through secular argumentation, but that this is a mere stepping-stone to creating pro-life Christians. By the time someone is involved enough in the pro-life movement to be reading pro-life blogs, the religious conversion should have already happened.

Is conversion possible? Sure. The inverse is also possible: a pro-life Christian may become an atheist. Indeed, many SPL members are former Christians. What relevance does any of this have to the unborn babies who are at risk each day?

A non-Christian person can be as pro-life as they come, but if that person thinks that the local pro-life organization is on a mission to save his or her soul, there's bound to be discomfort. It might cause the person to be less involved in the pro-life movement than he or she otherwise would be. That's where Secular Pro-Life comes in.

I am optimistic that as SPL grows and develops healthy relationships with other pro-life groups, and as this respectful dialogue continues, the pro-life movement will become more diverse and will derive great strength from that diversity. The table is having some great conversation, so pull up a chair!


SweetAndy said...

I subscribe to Live Action and get their news regularly. I hadn't read this one which came in the other day but I suspected the answer to the title was, Yes.

Picky Note: it's Live Action (not Life).

M said...

I am prolife, I am a former Christian, and I am currently an Atheist. On the other hand, I have friends in the prolife group i volunteer at who were Agnostic and eventually became Catholic. So yes, it is possible both ways. Sorry to disappoint the author of the forementioned note.

Assuming that your audience is entirely Christian, or that the mission of the prolife movement is not to save both the life of the baby and the mother but to ultimately "gain souls for Jesus" is not only futile, but harmful to the cause. I am lucky to be part of a prolife group that is officially non-religious and non-partisan - there are people of all political parties and of many religions or no religion (Evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, Agnostics, Atheists like me) -, we all respect each other's beliefs and (why not) enjoy chatting every once in a while about it, but we never mistake our main mission with our personal motivations to fight for it.

But if I had the least perception that I was in a group for which fighting and banning abortion is not the main and ultimate goal, but a mere pantomime to convert me to a certain relgion (as if), I would not think twice or even once before letting myself out. I respect the different religions and the right of people to preach theirs and talk about it as much as they want, but I do not appreciate using the most important cause that unites us a mere tool for proselytism.

Luckily that's not the case. We define ourselves as a non-religious/non-partisan prolife group and we do not intend to bely our own words.

BigBlueWave said...

This is why seculars have to carve out their own space. I'm not saying Christians and seculars CAN'T work together, but non-Christians need their own space to work with a worldview they find comfortable.

Drew Hymer said...

Christians are always going to be concerned for our eternal welfare. So, of course, they're going to try to convert us. We shouldn't be offended but instead recognize it as evidence of a caring attitude.

Kelsey said...

Good catch. Fixed.

KB said...

I agree totally with this post
"In my opinion, yes. But being right is not always how you win an advocate for Life – or a soul for Jesus."

As an atheist, this phrase creeps me out, and unfortunately, reinforces the negative feelings I already have towards proselytizers; that unscrupulous people prey on the emotions and vulnerabilities of people to bring them to your way of thinking, regardless of validity of those claims (which at best is doubtful, at worst, is flat out wrong)

As a skeptic and a pro-lifer, it is even more disconcerting. The biological truth is exactly why the pro-life side is more reasonable. The reality that abortion is a murder, is why it should not be tolerated in a just and civilized society. I think it is highly important that the truth be the foundation for any worthwhile movement, because a movement built upon falsehoods, subjective emotions or coercions, can just as easily be derailed to co-opted as factual information, or competing emotion-based narratives come to the surface. Grounding ourselves in reality is the best way to afford consistency.

TooManyJens said...

"The inverse is also possible: a pro-life Christian may become an atheist."

::raises hand::

Anyway, one thing I've noticed is that a lot of Christians (esp. conservative Christians) are willing to say "nonbelievers are welcome in the pro-life movement" but aren't willing to actually allow us equal standing. We're still supposed to get on board with their religiously-based views on sexuality, birth control, etc. For the sake of "unity," we're not supposed to challenge those views even when we consider them harmful. They still regard the pro-life movement as theirs, and they'll tolerate our presence as long as it's clear we're guests in their movement.

Nate Sheets said...

Completely agree. It is difficult for me to justify my stance as a "pro-lifer" when the movement I am associated with is against birth control "for religious reasons" but then insists that their abortion views are based "on science". It's especially ironic when these same people think the Earth was made in 7 days and that "the science" supports that erroneous worldview. So I'm supposed to trust you when you say that you rely "on science" to be pro-life? Uh-huh.

TooManyJens said...

Yeah. And CERTAINLY, not all Christians are like that. But enough of them with positions of authority and/or big enough mics are.

A.Pres said...

Good point. Christians or any zealous/evangelist religion often truly believe that they are trying to "save" people's souls. They definitely have no reason to get pushy, but what they are saying is definitely coming from a thoughtful and caring heart. I've learned not to be uncomfortable with these type of religious statements simply because the intentions behind the statements are good & the effort they put into it shows they care about other's well-being.

A.Pres said...

Non-Religious AND Non-Partisan would be something I'd love to see more of as well. Thus far, I've seen both sides of the never-ending-partisan battle be very rude to each other and endlessly unproductive on Life/Human rights issues. It's the same old "I am an open-minded/loving person... until I disagree with you" nonsense. ::sigh::

Crystal Kupper said...

I'm glad this conversation is taking place.

Denver said...

I don't think her "God has His ways stuff." is aimed at making pro-life non-Christians. Its directed at pro-life Christians and is trying to convince them not to exclude non-Christians from the movement.

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer said...

The biology argument is the crucial one (irony intended) here. A person is a person at any stage, conception and beyond, all the way to death. That's the rock on which we can all stand.

Having said that, I just want to make it clear that I'm an observant Catholic and have four kids, two Catholic and two atheist. I love them all, of course, but it makes me very sad that my atheist children are no longer pro-life. I think it may be that the religious elements of the pro-life movement annoyed them.

What annoys *me* is when people decide that there is no reason to work with pro-lifers who don't use God to support their arguments. Let's put our differences aside and get those babies safely born, folks. And let's prevent the horrible wounds that abortion inflicts on those who survive.

johno said...

What I think is hilarious is those that say their "Christian" like Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden etc are for abortion. Hmm, most Christian denominations are strongly Pro-Life. Some Catholic Christians, and other Christian denominations are not even following what their "faith" stands for. I guess they are not "god" fearing christians after all.

Jameson Graber said...

I think this comment is right on the money. Many of these conflicts really don't need to happen, because we can make organizations that work for different parts of the movement.

M said...

Totally agree. :/

The Nun said...

This article is the reason why secular pro-life is so important. This is not a religious issue even if many people have come to it through their personal religious view.

People can be converted in or out of a belief system and that is their journey. In the end what I think it will come down to is not your Church attendance but whether or not you sought the truth and did the good. That is the purpose of the journey. Religion is a path and map.

SPL seek truth and does good. I am happy to have discovered you.

Rachel Anne Enders said...

I am a Catholic, yes, but my pro-life views are largely secular. My morality set was formed by my religion, but so many other people's arent.

Sashabill said...

More than once, I have seen the hostility that conservative pro life "Christians" display toward other perspectives, including other religious faiths. I happen to be LDS (Mormon) and so I am not really "secular" -- nonetheless I will gladly stand with pro life liberals and Democrats, atheists and agnostics, feminists, gays and lesbians, or little green men from Mars in advocating and defending the right to life.