Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Defining Life

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...
|Jeremiah 1:5|

I would love a coherent definition for “life,” because I just don't get it.

The pro-life camp wants to protect the rights of the “unborn,” or, basically, to defend innocent babies – human beings who can’t defend themselves. I know there’s some discussion over what constitutes a “life,” whether it’s at the moment of conception, or nine weeks later, etc…

God says Jeremiah was known before he was “formed in the womb.” This seems to clarify the definition of the beginning of “life” a bit more, at least from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

If it comes down to a definition of what constitutes human life in general, however, then the scope broadens.

I wonder about the thousands of human beings who die every day from hunger and other preventable diseases. Are they also innocent human beings who deserve protection against harm? What about the millions of victims of genocide and bombing campaigns in places like Darfur and Iraq? Are they deserving of life as well? How about the human beings (not “aliens,” no matter how many times you say it, CNN anchor Lou Dobb) who cross over national borders, trying to survive? Did God know them before they were formed in the womb?

The Bible has things to say about life across the board. For immigrants, legal or not, we are told to “love [them] as yourself, for you were [immigrants] in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). For those who are poor, or hungry, or naked, or imprisoned, we are told that “just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

For those who are imprisoned, Jesus says. Perhaps for those on death row who are overwhelmingly men of color, whose lives are scheduled to be taken away by a government that kills people in order to say that killing is wrong.

As a man, I can never know what it means to be faced with a pregnancy or possible abortion. I can never, ever understand what that’s like, and I’m very wary of male politicians making judgment statements on women in those precarious positions.

But I do know what ‘life’ means. And if it applies to defenseless unborn babies, then it must equally apply to defenseless born babies in Rwanda and Chicago, to teenagers in the rundown and neglected inner cities across the United States, to people wasting away in places ravaged by war, genocide, and AIDS.

If we’re going to use the Bible to defend a “pro-life” stance, then let’s please ask what constitutes life. If we’re just being “pro-birth,” then let’s call it that.

Because I just don’t understand how a view can defend to the death the right for babies to be born, but care less when it comes to those same babies who grow up in the crumbling homes and schools of the forgotten America; or the wretched lives struggling to eat from day to day across this world; or the lives taken by bombs for no other reason than that they happened to live in a place overflowing with much-needed oil.

I just don’t get it.


At 2:47 AM , Anonymous Jim McKeon said...

the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of Chicago shared your sentiments, and spoke in favour of a "consistent ethic of life", in which he also argued for extending the Catholic church's narrow focus on defending life before birth to also defending life after birth.


At 11:16 AM , Blogger david said...

In agreement with Jim, I think the Catholic church has the largest, and arguably most effective group dedicated to a consistent ethnic of life - defending all life - be they born or unborn, rich or poor, citizen or "alien." Of course, the step beyond this is to recognize, as such saints as Francis of Assissi did, that all life is truly holy to God, and that all life on this planet is not to be seen as merely a resource - food, fuel or a means to an end.

In other news, will you be in Texas at all this Holiday season?


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