Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter (Isaiah 59:14).
“My body, my choice” has been chanted by abortion advocates for as long as I can remember. So it is somewhat jarring, at least to my ears, to hear the same slogan deployed by those opposing vaccination mandates. And it is even more jarring to see people eager to use the slogan for one issue object to its use for the other. It doesn’t imply moral equivalence to observe that many pro-abortionists favor vaccination mandates, and that many opposed to abortion insist upon vaccine choice.
Which should raise a question. What does it mean for “my body” to be mine? If I am a father, with a wife and children dependent upon me, is my body mine? In what way? Am I at liberty to drink excessively, or to deprive myself of sleep by secretly indulging in late-night pornography? To ask such questions is not to deny the importance of bodily autonomy; it is just to suggest that it is never absolute. But we know all this. Our problem, culturally, is that we are losing our ability to discern the contours, and therefore the limits, of bodily autonomy. We have no idea how to talk about it.
Truth has indeed stumbled in the public square. For example, in our discourse today, truth is often reduced to—and confused with—facts. Notice, for example, how political speeches are followed by “fact checkers,” who in turn find themselves fact-checked by others. Lay aside for the moment that facts can be manipulated in a variety of ways (even simply by deciding which ones to report and which to ignore). What do facts mean? If a business doesn’t hire a black man, or a white woman for that matter, is it therefore racist? It is easy to marshal facts. It takes work to understand what they tell us.
To push it further, we are in danger of abandoning truth altogether, as seen in the currency of phrases like “your truth,” used in a college classroom last week by our vice president. While superficially sounding generous and tolerant, it undermines truth. Which in turn undermines justice, for there can be no justice apart from truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”—as modest and philosophical as it sounded—led to an unjust murder.
What if we were to ask, “What is my body for?” But asking that question is a cultural no-no, because it introduces religion. The idea that I am made for something implies that I was created—and not by me. It brings up other issues like accountability, purpose, responsibility, and ultimately, God—weighty matters that don’t poll well. But really, can we speak seriously of bodily rights apart from understanding who we are and what we are made for?
Truth must be fought for. And one of the ways we do so is by speaking about God in the public square. But if “righteousness stands far away,” if we cower before the rules of the secular world and set God aside as if irrelevant, our culture will go only in one direction. And we can already see where we are headed.