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Posted by on Dec 4, 2008

De Vita: Toward a Christian Philosophy of Life

De Vita: Toward a Christian Philosophy of Life

Madonna by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr

Latin Baby by Ralph & Shelly Neibuhr


In an interview on National Public Radio yesterday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee offered a very intelligent and fluent presentation of the pro-life position. While being interviewed about his new book, Do the Right Thing, he stated clearly and succinctly that life has to be seen as sacred and valued and that humans cannot be wantonly discarded when they are inconvenient or an economic liability. The big danger, as Mr. Huckabee pointed out, is that if we teach our children that certain marginal people are disposable, we ourselves may become disposable once we are old and infirm.

One of the listeners emailed a questioned about the consistency of an anti-abortion position and one in favor of capital punishment. Mr. Huckabee allowed that there might come a point when the case could be made to eliminate the death penalty. Even as he praised those who participated in candle light vigils outside the Governor’s mansion protesting the execution of criminals, Mr. Huckabee said that the taking of such lives occurred not at the whim of an individual mother but after an exhaustive judicial process. He made the point that some crimes are so severe and the danger to society is so great that killing people is the one definite way to make sure that such people will never commit this crime again. He added that the death penalty is a deterrent that benefits society.

His presentation was very sincere, yet there was something that made me uneasy about it. Is re-criminalizing abortion truly a pro-life position? Abortion still occurred when it was illegal. Making it illegal once again will not stop the practice. Philosophically, a true pro-life position requires supports and incentives for the care and nurturing of all – at every stage of life. An acceptance of abortion can represent a coarsening of the public’s view of unborn children and human life.  An acceptance or a toleration of abortion is seen by many as leading to a debasement of the human fetus and of motherhood itself.

Nevertheless, if we criminalize abortion, we won’t stop it. We can “enjoy” taking the moral high ground, but I think that this is an illusion. What happens when women do not have safe and legal access to abortion? The mother and child relationship becomes socialized without the benefit of the social and economic supports necessary to lead a life of worth and dignity.

If we accept the view that birth control is also immoral, we are holding to an idealized view that sex only occurs in marriage and that in natural family planning, reason and ovulation always win out over human passion.

Although well intentioned – that great pavement on the road to perdition – the movement to re-criminalize abortion does not represent a well integrated philosophy of the dignity and worth of life. Criminalization could very well return us to a public policy that moves us away from a humanistic and Christian philosophy of life.

Morally, one can advocate an idealized Christian lifestyle focused on virginity, abstinence, and separate beds for married couples, but pastoral applications of moral theology have always been more about actual living – and dealing with the messiness of life.

Perhaps, what we are really wrestling with is the notion of what it is to be inhuman. Interrupting an otherwise healthy pregnancy without a very compelling reason still appears to have a lot of support as being an inhuman activity. Then again, the notion of placing a woman at risk of death because she does not share our beliefs or because she perceives she has no other choices also appears to have widespread support as something that is inhuman.

Can you have a secular policy that permits abortion and even physician assisted suicide? It is hardly a Christian position. Then again, perhaps the Christian witness is better seen in public policy that makes these choices less necessary and less desirable. If we insist that public policy has to be Christian in a post-Christian civilization, we may be doing something that is not really very Christian – we may be claiming (against the teaching of St. Paul) – that the law can save us.

(Image taken from Shelly Niebuhr’s home page:

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