Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A friend recently wrote in asking just what the phrase "Culture of Life" refers to.

For those who weren't raised within evangelical America, the long answer is as follows: a) it's complicated, b) it's complicated, and c) to get a real understanding of the term, you need to spend a significant amount of time at your local Christian bookstore. I'd recommend starting with the Phillip Yancey titles, if you can find them amid all the Rick Warren and Max Lucado displays.

The short answer, meanwhile, is that the phrase is an umbrella term for a host of conservative evangelical beliefs regarding abortion, euthanasia, and even gay marriage. Since every life comes from God and is valued by God, the "culture of life" is devoted to valuing and defending life in all its various stages, from pre-natal fetuses to the terminally ill to the matrimonial love which allows for procreation.

Where the "culture of life" begins to be problematic -- and, to the media, newsworthy -- is when it starts being defined in opposition to a corresponding "culture of death". At this point, "culture of life" proponents shift from politically affirming one set of beliefs to morally judging another. It is not merely that those who believe in "death with dignity" are politically wrong; it is that they are also morally wrong. By supporting euthanasia, they clearly must be bad people.

Granted, not all who support the affirmative side of the "culture of life" also proceed on to moral condemnation. But there are enough who do that any use of the terminology at all has become troublesome. Which is a shame, because I highly doubt that Jesus of Nazareth, and to a lesser extent the Apostle Paul, would have wanted his message used in this way. To say the least, I can't imagine Jesus would have wanted his followers to feel that verses such as Romans 6:23 ("the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord") granted them license not only to literally equate death with sin, but to use that equation to morally impugn those who favor a "culture of death".

As for my own personal position on the matter: I'm not inherently offended by the phrase, but nor do I think it is very useful. For those holding views such as mine it can lead only to an irresolvable contradiction. I may believe that abortion ought to be legal but rare, that terminally ill patients have the right to determine at which point life is no longer bearable, and that the institution of marriage is far too sacred for us to decide who ought to be allowed entrance to it; but I also believe all this precisely because I deeply and profoundly value all life.

When it comes to a culture of life and a culture of death, where does that leave me?


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