One way to understand adolescence is as a crisis of the value of life. I may take my mother’s love for granted, but it no longer seems to suffice. Father’s love seems remote and conditional on my (unreliable!) performance. My sense of self-worth is displaced by fickle fads among peers of my own sex, and my hopes for the future now seem to hang on my success with the opposite sex.
Many loving parents have labored long to console anxious or despairing teens who have convinced themselves that they have no social value or future. And one way to understand the pro-life movement—trying to persuade a moody civilization of the value of human life—is as those beleaguered parents.
During the Enlightenment, the United States and much of Western civilization renounced Christianity as the explicit foundation for the state. In the U.S., we anchored the state in a doctrinaire humanism: “All men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Within that humanist architecture we made occasional progress, notably in ending slavery and launching of the civil rights movement. Still, these and other achievements were fueled largely by Christian doctrines about the value of human life, as with Christian abolitionism or the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But over the past hundred years we’ve gone through a metaphorical puberty. Affiliation with a “mother” Church or denomination no longer suffices to delineate our beliefs or practices. Doctrines about God’s love made known in Jesus Christ seem as remote and unreliable as the worst father. All the cool kids are now “nones,” unaffiliated with a religious tradition, defined instead by their lifestyle “branding”: Starbucks, LaCroix, hipster, “Okay, boomer,” Instagram, Twitter, and so on. Paralleling the exquisite sexual anxiety of adolescence, our stance on “gender” is now the shibboleth of our political orthodoxy, sometimes ironically making the Left and Right mirror-images of each other.
The consequences have been devastating. Tens of millions of babies, whose human value is reduced in law to a mother’s choice, have been discarded. Mothers themselves face ever-greater pressure to choose against their children, and so allow the judgments of others to “cancel” their motherhood. Like motherhood, fatherhood is reduced from a dignified calling to a lifestyle choice or a resented legal obligation. Sexual minorities are pressed toward immediate gratification and offered no alternative foundation for their human value. The human ecosystem, broken by these anti-humanist practices, affords ever-diminishing opportunity for men and women to mature in love and happiness.
The elderly, too, less flexible in fashion, are readily discounted and mocked for any retrograde opinions they might voice. We honor those who can sustain their independence, but we celebrate as heroes those among the elderly who have the nobility and wisdom to kill themselves or have themselves euthanized, sparing them some pain and sparing everyone else the enormous inconvenience and expense of caring for them. As a civilization, we seem to have lost awareness of our elderly as repositories of our lasting identity and harbingers of our destiny and that of subsequent generations.
Prolifers reading this blog know the story all too well. We know we’re called to affirm the value of unborn human life. Most of us are aware of how this affirmation raises the value of every other human life—the whole dignity of a society oriented toward the good of all.
I invite prolifers also to think of ourselves as mothers and fathers to a troubled generation. Our children are sometimes sad, sometimes afraid, sometimes angry, always confused about human dignity. Our calling is to be loving parents, however exasperated we may feel. If we allow the intemperate misconduct or recriminations of the children to provoke us to contempt or scolding, we go “off message,” not unlike parents yelling at their teens, “Stop moping about how nobody loves you, or nobody will love you!”
Let us instead sustain our message: “You have value, you are lovable and loved, and you have the dignity of a great calling—to respond to that love, by loving in turn.” I welcome the authentic humanists who persist in that message simply for the sake of its humanity. But in this Christmas season, I enjoin my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with the stronger message: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4).