Let me tell you that this is a post about politics. But not the type we’ve become accustomed to, where the writer starts on one side of a debate and preaches either a liberal or conservative platform. I hope to present something different: a view of politics as seen through my personal history and value system. The seed of this post began when I heard the following exchange between two of my co-workers.
“I vote a single issue: pro-life. I don’t care what else a candidate stands for.”
“Let me understand this,” the other said. “You’d vote for some guy who would grope your daughter or granddaughter? And then joke around about it?”
In my job, we’re not supposed to talk about politics at work, given the nature of the work we do. But this short snippet of conversation was enough to get me thinking.
I know my co-workers well enough to know that when the one uses “pro-life,” she really means “anti-abortion.” Just within the last few decades, the whole concept of being pro-life has been constricted to that single definition, so much so it demands an opposing position, which is equally constricted: pro-choice.
In my mind, when considered from the perspective of an entire life, being “pro-life” means just that: in favor of an entire life, not just the one which hasn't been born into the world. "Pro-life" when seen over the course of a full life, seems more liberal (more social programs, more government services) while being for “pro-choice” more conservative (less government, more personal choices). For me, “pro-life” is layered with meaning. It covers everything from summer food programs for kids, Meals-on-Wheels, the Harry Chapin Food Bank, and the homeless shelters (among many others). It means caring for the elderly, work for the unemployed, and - dare I say it? - healthcare that’s available to all, especially those who cannot afford to pay for it.
How we got to the point where things got so convoluted is beyond the scope of a single blog post. But the commonly used meaning of “pro-life” has become a rallying cry - and a very narrow one at that - specifically against abortion rather than a cry on behalf of all aspects of life. It tries to reel people into a single arena, dupe us into buying into that tiny definition, and strip us of our personal values and morality while replacing them with a group morality. It’s gutted the values of Christianity, Judaism, and the Religion of Islam - the mandates to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit those in prison - and contorted the discussion in such a way that to vote against abortion is to also vote against these other great mandates of our faith traditions. This “group” morality makes an issue black or white when, in reality, it’s an issue of such breadth and depth that it defies a single definition.
How have we come to allow ourselves to be so duped?
It’s dangerous, this going down too-narrow pathways in our politics (and even our lives, for that matter); of ignoring the varied and rich diversity of intersecting pathways; of buying into “Only this way is the right way.” There’s a certain deadliness that comes into play when we lose our capacity to know when we are being duped and, worse still, suspecting that we’re being duped but not able to articulate the whys and wherefores or knowing that we are and continuing to cling to the dishonesty anyway. It’s a deadly game when we stop thinking for ourselves and considering things from different angles.
We have to allow others to travel their own paths without forcing them to follow a single one. We have to stop handing over our good sense to charlatans and racketeers, all in the name of something they’ve chosen to define as “pro-life.”