What is the Pro-Life thing? What is it about the pro-life position that distinguishes it from all the alternate positions on life issues? What is it about the pro-life position that accounts for its unique and distinctive understanding of human dignity and the fundamental rights that necessarily flow from it?
The great principles at the heart of the pro-life position are simple, yet radical to their core: Every human life possesses an intrinsic value and inalienable dignity; Human life is “a good toward which the only proper and adequate attitude is love (John Paul II).
The pro-life position, then, is grounded in the belief that all human persons possess inestimable worth and dignity. No person’s dignity is dependent upon or determined by how much they can do or how much they have. In fact, the measure of whether a society is just or unjust is determined precisely by the value it affords to its most vulnerable, weak and powerless members. The more a society is committed to safeguard and protect the dignity and rights of the weak and the poor, the more just that society is.
A pro-lifer believes that the truth about human dignity is objective, not subjective. A subjective truth is one that is true for you, but not necessarily true for anyone else. Subjective truths are valid when considering things like the best flavor of ice cream: I say chocolate is best, but you say vanilla is best.
For the pro-lifer, the truth about human dignity is not like the truth about chocolate vs. vanilla ice cream. Human dignity exists and is true independent of whether you or I or anyone else believes it. The truth about human dignity—like the truth about the roundness of the earth—exists whether any particular person or society recognizes it.
Recognizing the objectivity of the truth as it applies to human dignity is vital for maintaining a just society. If it is not objectively true that all human persons have dignity, the dignity of no person is safe. Absent the existence of an objective moral standard that has the power to compel all societies in all times (trans-cultural/historical), the dignity and rights of the human person will be subject to the whim of the powerful. The vacuum created by rejecting the objective moral law is always and necessarily filled—by those who are most powerful.
In the above, society is no longer governed by the principles of justice, but rather by the following principle: Might Makes Right.
On the other hand, to be pro-life is to always champion the underdog. To be pro-life is to believe that loveis the only proper and adequate response to human life. To be pro-life is to believe that every human possesses an intrinsic dignity and that from this dignity there flow certain inalienable rights—first among which is the right to life. In theological terms, it is to always exercise a fundamental option for the poor.
Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel once wrote that we experience a profound sense of mystery in the presence of a sleeping child. He notes that from a certain point of view—the point of view of power—we could do anything to the sleeping child, because she is utterly under our power. Yet, Marcel observes that from the point of view of love, the point of view of hospitality, it is precisely the helplessness of the sleeping child that makes her existence sacred. In fact, he argues that to harm or manipulate the child would be the greatest mark of barbarism imaginable.
The Pro-Life Thing and the New Evangelization
In light of the above, it is natural to ask: Why does human life have such great dignity, and where does this dignity come from in the first place? While it is possible—and even prudent in certain settings—to offer a defense of the inalienable dignity and rights of the human person without explicit recourse to revelation, an important task of the New Evangelization is precisely to reintroduce baptized non-believers to the liberating message of the Gospel of Life. We are called to invite Christian non-believers to reconsider the message of the Author of Life, perhaps for the first time.
The answer to the question about why each human person possesses such profound dignity is two-fold: our origin and our destiny. As human persons, we are all created in the image of God and destined for eternal communion with God (Gen 1:26-27; Eph 1:4-5). In fact, the only reason for the creation of any human person is God’s love and his desire for all human persons to experience his love for eternity:
“God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:4-5).
In this Year of Faith, we will hear much about the New Evangelization. There is perhaps no greater aspect of the New Evangelization than this: proclaiming the origin, destiny and dignity of every human person.
The following quotes are excellent meditation points for evangelizing the culture with respect to the dignity of the human person:
C.S. Lewis: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (The Weight of Glory)
Bl. John Paul II: “At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news. . . . The source of this ‘great joy’ is the Birth of the Savior; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world. . . .”
“When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that ‘new’ and ‘eternal’ life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this ‘life’ that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance.”
“Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life. . . .” (Evangelium Vitae)
Fr. Robert Barron: “The Incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: God became human so that humans might become God. God condescended to enter into flesh so that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear. No philosophical or political or religious program in history—neither Greek nor Marxist humanism—has ever made a claim about human destiny as extravagant as Christianity’s. We are called not simply to moral perfection or artistic self-expression or economic liberation but to what the Eastern fathers called theiosis, transformation into God.” (Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith)