By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. This post which ran a year ago addresses the perennial question of persuasion and some thoughts on overcoming barriers to our life-affirming message.
The great 19th Century historian W.E. Lecky somewhere observes that the spread of any idea depends not only on its intrinsic power but also on the predisposition of the age to which it is presented. Taking that as our cue, clearly our task is to create in modern America an overriding receptivity—predisposition—to the idea that the unborn is “one of us,” deserving of justice and loving care.
It is an article of faith for pro-lifers that virtually every heart, no matter how calloused, can be touched. We will always have a challenging job ahead of us but the kind we have gladly taken up for many decades.
However, first things first. What are the principal stumbling blocks, the primary obstacles, that impede this age’s receptivity to the message that the unborn are our brothers and sisters?
Surely the absence of sufficient information is not the problem. Whether it be popularizing the discoveries of fetology, displaying the pictures of the brutalized and dishonored victims of abortion, finding alternatives for abortion-prone women, our Movement seemingly has made it almost impossible for those with eyes to see and ears to hear to deny that abortion is a grievous offense against the individual child and our collective humanity.
Does our moral obtuseness stem from misunderstanding? The late New Testament scholar William Barclay once distinguished between two kinds of misunderstanding. The first is of an individual who has not yet reached the stage of knowledge and experience which would allow him to grasp the truth. And then there is also the misunderstanding of those who are unwilling to see.
Can there be any doubt that, for most people the real explanation is not lack of information or experience, but their resolve to remain ignorant of the facts and relevant ethical issues? (Barclay distinguished between three kinds of ignorance but that is for another day.)
I don’t pretend to have anywhere near a complete answer why in the face of this enormous body of information so many continue to pretend that the deaths of over 900,000 unborn children every year is not of incalculable importance to every citizen of this republic. Part of the reason for this ignorance–or if you please, obliviousness– surely, is the human tendency to take what appears to be “the easy way out.”
Part of it, no doubt, has to do with the desensitization that accompanies mass killing.
And part of it is, of course, that evil hates the light lest its deeds be exposed. Thus, millions of people shield their eyes from the light—the light for which the Pro-Life Movement stands—indeed, would sooner extinguish the light than search their souls for the darkness within.
All of which brings us full-circle to our original question: how can we increase our nation’s receptivity to our message of equality and mercy? How do we profitably engage the consciences of Americans in a manner which allows the truth to enter in?
Let me say first, I hope what follows is not misunderstood. No one who makes his livelihood writing is likely to diminish the value of the content of what we say. But if we ponder why people resist the pro-life message, I suggest that what we may learn is that often times it is far more important how we convey our message—the spirit in which we communicate—than it is which particulars we include in the message itself.
This is to say it is not mere information that we must offer if we are to overcome the “ignorance” (in any or all of the senses Barclay meant) of Americans to abortion’s cruelty and injustice. Facts we have aplenty, many of which the pro-abortion forces no longer bother to contest. Rather what we must conquer is the “blame the messenger” mentality which now plays such a major role in propping up the Abortion Culture. As much as is humanly possible, we must compel Americans to confront the message not the messenger whom they are desperate to caricature so that they can evade the truth of the message.
Now I am not so foolish as to suggest there is some pat solution that we can trot out and our problems are over. What I can say with confidence is that there is a growing uneasiness with abortion. To circumvent the obvious defense–blame the messenger–we must be transparently filled with compassion in everything we do. That is why it is so important that when any of us attempts to reach people on the abortion issue that we remind ourselves of two things.
First, the sobering fact that this one opportunity may be the only exposure this individual will ever have to our Movement. Second, because in such cases, each of us is the Movement, how we conduct ourselves may well leave an indelible impression.
As I have argued innumerable times, in telling our story we are under a moral obligation to be absolutely accurate. We need not manicure the truth for the truth is all on our side. But far more important, those we seek to persuade must see in us men and women wholly dedicated to assisting both mother and child. Why?
Not because if we don’t, somehow the obligation to protect the right to life of the child diminishes. No, we freely choose to lovingly help their mothers because, being the kind of people we are. Moreover, it ennobles us and everything we stand for when we open our hearts and our homes to women facing very difficult times.
There is no book we can offer, no film we can show, no discussion we can conduct that can ever compare with the impression we will leave with doubters when we compassionately help a young woman through her pregnancy. What one of my daughters did first as a volunteer and now as the President at a woman helping center is what countless other pro-lifers have done before there even was a Roe v. Wade decision. By practicing what we preach (which is easy for pro-lifers), we demonstrate the only kind of consistency that truly enhances the pro-life message.
Finally, compare our situation with that of the anti-life forces. They have no choice but to hurl epithets, distort and attempt to manipulate public opinion, and to attempt to fill the ethical void with breathtakingly brazen attacks on the motives of pro-lifers and the humanity of unborn children.
Alas, no one ever said life is fair. Rare it is that the anti-life forces are ever taken to task for their conduct while we are expected to be purer than Caesar’s wife. Yet, we should be proud that so much is demanded of us before people will ever lend an ear. It is a tacit admission that they understand that we live by the kind of decent, humane values which are always the preserve, unfortunately, of a very tiny minority.
Truly, pro-lifers have been given a marvelous gift: the privilege of shielding our collective humanity against the ferocious onslaught of those who would wrest it away. In the face of such formidable opposition, we must and will endure.
Then, one day, perhaps when we least expect it, the clouds that darken our moral horizons will be rolled away. And when they are, the truth, so long obscured, will light the children’s road to freedom.