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  The Subtle Atheism of Being Pro-Life
  Issue: 76   Page No: 17   Updated: 01/03/2011 07:31 PM
Author:  Tripp York
Topics:  Abortion , Pro-Life
Type:  Article

The Subtle Atheism of Being Pro-Life
By Tripp York, Instructor of Religious Studies,
     W. KY U.,
Bowlng Green, KY.

I have never cared for the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. Linguistically, it is not even possible to have an argument as the words ‘life’ and ‘choice’ do not mean what the debate requires them to mean for there even to be a debate. The issue of semantics, however, is not why I am writing this article. In terms of abortion, I am far more concerned with the manner, style, and content of Christian witness in terms of not only what we argue, but how we argue. Specifically, I am concerned with how some of those who deem themselves pro-lifers underwrite a form of witness that assumes, ironically, a posture of atheism.

Christianity makes a number of claims about itself, one of them being that a life lived in obedience to God is a fulfilled life. That is, in conforming one’s will to the will of God, a person is realizing their ultimate purpose. A Christian’s true end is found in the worship and glorification of the Triune God. Throughout the history of Christianity, many theologians have even ventured so far as to suggest that in order to know what it means to be fully human one must know Jesus (a claim that, unfortunately, has had disastrous anti-Christ like repercussions). Jesus is the exemplar of full humanity, tradition argues, due to the perfect accord of his will with the Father’s. Therefore, for those of us who follow Jesus, we do not know beauty, goodness, peace, and truth until we conform our lives to the life of Jesus.

I do not imagine, for a moment, that many of us find the life of Jesus genuinely attractive. That is, if you are looking for a paradigmatic model for how to get rich, lose weight, shape your body, make friends, or find a ‘soul mate’ (a thoroughly pagan concept if I have ever heard one), then the life of Jesus is probably not for you. He was hated, reviled, had no place to lay his head, didn’t have a savings account, and suffered the indignity of capital punishment. The vast majority of Jewish prophets before him, as well as Jewish and Gentile disciples and apostles after him, met similar fates as they lived similar lives. The early church, for her first 300 years, was neither tolerated nor enjoyed the sympathies of many of its detractors. Followers of Jesus were ostracized, ridiculed, and burned at the stake for their commitment to Jesus. Their way of life, modeled after Jesus, was not acceptable to the various ‘authorities.’

Yet, despite it all, Christianity grew. For some reason, many people found it compelling—even attractive. It did not offer riches, fame, or cultural comfort. There were no self-help books attached to the path of Christ. The Joel Osteens, Joyce Meyers, and Robert Schulllers of our day would never be possible in the early church. Christianity was not attractive based on what it could possibly do for your resume, status, or bankroll. It attracted people because Christians were willing to die to themselves, to give up control on the reigns of history, to live as outcasts and exiles, and even found it better to die at the hands of their enemies, rather than fight back or kill them. For many people in the first few centuries, this way of life was absurd; yet, some, strangely enough, were compelled to it. There was something about the way the church, on its best days, gave witness to Jesus that attracted others to its fold.

What does all of this have to do with the abortion debacle? My fear of an implicit atheism at root in some pro-life advocates is that their desire for the elimination of abortion assumes that Christianity, on its own merits, is no longer compelling. Rather than do the hard work of providing the kind of life predicated on Christ that could attract others, many Christians would rather make and enforce laws that would require others to live as they live. It is as if they concede, a priori, that their way of life could never compel another human being to think differently about, in this case, abortion, so they take the easier route by forgoing the difficult task of constructing alternative communities predicated on the path of Christ and choosing, instead, to force others to live as they would have them live. This is, I think, both a subtle and a desperate form of atheism that assumes a Christian’s way of life could never be appealing to a non-Christian. This makes me question whether or not such a life contains any truth to it since it cannot be shown, but must be imposed.

To summarize, I have no theological problem with the convictions that renders a Christian pro-life. To be honest, I only wish that many pro-lifers would take their claims more seriously and apply this appellation to issues dealing with, for instance, capital punishment and war. My major contention with many pro-lifers is their incredibly shortsighted understanding of what constitutes life. Pro-lifers exhibit great concern about the preservation of blastocysts, yet if we extend the argument to criminals, non-human animals, and enemies of our tribal nation-states, many quickly become radically anti-life. I would actually like to see more consistency on their part.

But what I would really like to see is how we, as Christians, can live our arguments in such a way that we do not need to coerce others to live the way we want them to, but that we can actually show the beauty implicit within the path of Christ by the way we live our lives. Abraham Heschel claimed that there are no proofs for the existence of God, only witnesses. If you want to convince others of what you see as problematic about abortion, then live a life that reveals what it means to reside in God’s peaceable kingdom. This is an eschatological kingdom, already here, yet still to come, where the killing of any kind will be absent. By attempting to create and implement laws in a democratic society where Christians must live peaceably with non-Christians (and other Christians for that matter!), we are demanding that the state enforce our particular way of life, despite the fact that we have conceded, in the very act of attempting to create certain laws, that such a life has no compelling merits of its own. This, it seems to me, is atheism.


  Cite This Page:
York, Tripp. "The Subtle Atheism of Being Pro-Life" ChristianEthicsToday.
The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Fall 2009 (Issue 76 Page 17)
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