I once took a class with Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, in which he gave a potent illustration of the difference between an absolutist morality and a consequentialist morality. “Suppose a serial killer comes into the room and says he lusts for blood. He will let all of us live if we will let him slit her throat.” He points to me. “If we don’t, he will shoot us all. What should we do?”
A lively debate ensued that, needless to say, was very personal for me. A consequentialist would say that it is better to let me die that the greater number of lives may be saved. An absolutist would say that it is better that the whole class die rather than any of us be guilty of my murder.
The gospel is absolutist. Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
A tragedy occurred on Black Friday with the violent assault on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, resulting in the death of two civilians and one police officer. The attacker was a man of strange religious views, whose past is riddled with infidelity and spousal abuse. He supposedly said “No more baby parts,” suggesting his attack was a response to Planned Parenthood’s abortions and selling of fetal tissue. And when he was charged on Wednesday, he said that he was a “warrior for babies.”
There is a very strong argument to be made that the shooter is mentally unstable, but others have been violent in the name of pro-life that were perfectly sane. There have been an unfortunate number of shootings, bombings, and other attempted violence against abortion clinics, doctors, and employees ever since Roe v. Wade. The media has been quick to blame the pro-life movement for this violence. Their argument goes something like this: some people will get violent if they believe abortion is an evil on par with the holocaust. They believe things like that because pro-lifers say it. This violence is obviously wrong. Therefore pro-lifers should stop saying these things.
The truth is, every cultural controversy of great moral consequence – slavery, civil rights, abortion — has had it’s individuals who thought violence was justified in achieving their ends. The pro-life movement is not unique in this way. But it’s important to note that just because all of these movements had their violent outliers, they were in fact outliers. Violence did not characterize them.
What those on the pro-life side should be seeking to communicate to the media at this time is that we do not condone this violence and that our hearts are broken for the families of the victims. We are, or should be, absolutists. When we say pro-life, we mean pro-ALL-lives. We seek the lives and well being not only of the unborn, but of their mothers, of those working the clinic, of the friends that accompany them for support – of all men and women. We will not take responsibility for what happened in Colorado Springs. Only the shooter can do that. The fact that some will react violently when they hear the truth does not give us a right to avoid speaking it.
We do not need to apologize for calling abortion evil or for comparing it to the holocaust – in terms of the callousness of a culture and the numbers of the dead, it is an apt comparison. Both were the consequence of swallowed lies.
The violent activists of history are well remembered, but they did little to further their own causes.The kind of activists we should be seeking to imitate are those like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce spent two decades of his life fighting slavery – a fight in which violence was useless. He was told it was a losing battle, and after decades of being the minority in parliament, it felt like one. He spent his life writing bills, making demonstrations, seeking sympathizers in high places, and relentlessly, tirelessly, praying. He assembled a group of abolitionist artists, journalists, and politicians to work together on changing the tides of culture, because he knew that what he was fighting was not a person or even a group of people, but a culture and a legal system. Ultimately, he saw the abolition of the slave trade in his lifetime.
The same is true in our fight against abortion. We are not fighting abortion doctors or clinic workers or technology – we are fighting a lie, a woefully confused culture, and a misguided legal system. Violence is vain in this endeavor.
We grieve for the lives lost. For Officer Garret Swasey, for Ke’Arre Stewart, for Jennifer Markovsky, and for the families and loved ones they left behind. We want to thank our police departments for their unflagging courage in these tragic situations, especially in light of the recent events in California.To be pro-life means to be pro-all-lives. We hope the media will recognize this and cease their attack on truth-telling.