Respect for the Sanctity of Life Requires a Holistic, Catholic Approach

I am sometimes accused of holding positions that are so highly idiosyncratic, no one else could possibly share my view. This is, of course, a backhanded way of saying that I am simply ridiculous, without engaging my position. It is also untrue and dishonest disengagement posing as dialogue. Sadly, this often comes from those who have the most direct access to the only descriptive label I am willing to attach to my worldview: Catholic.

Among Catholics, especially during election cycles, the question of “life issues” is always looming. This, in my view, is a mistake from the outset. Life is not an “issue.” Let me repeat myself: Life is not an “issue.” Again, with feeling:  Life is not an “issue.” 

Life (and death) — the things, not the words — is a concrete, harmonious, and inescapable reality; a pulsing, unified flux of things so varied and beautiful, it cannot be contained within a political party, platform, or statement. Life is a universal. There are no “universe issues” because the universe itself is too vast to be contained within political swordplay or media soundbytes. The same thing applies to life. 

This makes for semantic challenges, but it more importantly points to the rigor of being “pro-life” in a way that takes the key term (‘life’)  seriously and communicates itself clearly. 

To those who call themselves “single issue voters”: life is not a singular, atomistic, or stagnant thing; life and death extend to the very foundation of politics: the collective living and dying of human persons. Politics has nothing to add to life itself. Life is the measure of politics, not the other way around.

For this reason, those who approach life exclusively as an “issue,” a question of activism and legislation pure and simple, abuse and cheapen it from the outset. They allow the spectre of politics, and the media circus that accompanies it, to define and shrink the vast, cosmic reality of life and death. By putting the cart before the horse, many well-intentioned “pro-life” advocates — who are often only interested in abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and/or another pet cause or two — disrespect the sanctity of life and miscommunicate their real intentions.

This is a sad, ironic form of violence. It is not intentional nor is it the same as other violations of life, but is it real nonetheless. In the United States, the many branches of the so-called “pro-life” movement — from the social conservative wing of the Republican party to Democrats for Life and even Feminists for Life (an organization I deeply respect and admire) — are all at least partially complicit.

But there are some real, concrete alternatives:

Here are three fantastic resources I am personally unaffiliated with, that, in their own separate domains, express the essence of my position.

1. Solidaridad is a political branch of the Movimiento Cultural Cristiano (the Christian Cultural Movement), a secular apostolate within the Catholic Church. You can read their pages in English using the translate option on Google Chrome and alike.

2. Consistent Life (formerly called the Seamless Garment Network) is a website dedicated to “spreading the consistent ethic vision throughout the community, our nation and the world.

3. The Distributist Review is perhaps the best source for serious engagement with economic and social issues in a way that isn’t beholden to right or left wing ideologies. They also have a vast repository of classic essays from the “Golden Age” of distributism.

I would also like to contrast these excellent sites from a particularly sad, cowardly impostor who has recently tried to guard against my critique of the so-called pro-life movement by blocking me, twice: Life News

Life News is a small online site, founded and run by Steve Ertelt. Mr. Ertelt has an active Twitter feed, and has blocked me two times now. He has even gone so far as to make his Twitter feed, which is also the “public” feed of Life News, a private account. He is not Catholic, but he often posts on Catholic subjects. The first time I was blocked, he posted a link to an article about the eligibility of Catholic politicians to receive the Eucharist, of which I reminded him that he, as a Protestant, was not eligible to receive either. Now he has conveniently decided to censor my critique as “spam.” When I pointed out the cowardice of this approach — that is also a highly ironic given his predictable distaste for governmental intrusion — he blocked me again. 

To be fair, there are many other cases where pro-life advocates with whom I disagree do not behave like cowards and are kind, charitable, and engaging —  and wrong, too! But not many of them run a website dedicated to the cause for a living. 

This may seem petty. And I do admit that I am guilty, at least in part, of being petty. (I have nonetheless made efforts to be constructive, to give you more resources than complaints.) But, on a more serious note, this disengaging, weak-spirited behavior is a poor witness to the sacredness of human life, something not petty in the least. It also shows that the pro-life movement is, more and more, becoming an echo chamber. It is mimicking the stagnant state of its own narrowing position.

A holistic, catholic position would include a uniform concern for the events and realities of abortion, torture, war, capital punishment, slavery, euthanasia, labor, ecology, the treatment of woman and children, the plight of the elderly, healthcare, food, transportation, material and nutritional poverty, economics, education, schooling, the arts, immigration, technology, housing, and more.

Unlike more dogmatic whole cloth or seamless garment positions, I am not of the view that you have to come to the exact same conclusions, but you surely must account for as many instances as you can in the principled position that informs your conscience. And, naturally, this informed conscience will impact your daily life.

I pray that Mr. Ertelt, and all others who call themselves “pro-life,” continue to fight for the unborn, but do so in a way that is holistic, universal — catholic, in other words — and truly worthy of the name ‘pro-life.’


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