The Pro-Life Movement and the Preference for an Invisible Christ
The Pro-Life Movement fights tirelessly for the ‘dignity and the rights of the unborn.’ And they mean what they say. Precisely what they say. All-too-precisely.
When they add the phrase ‘of the unborn,’ they seem to create for themselves a line of demarcation, and beyond this line they will not go.
In other words, if we project the lifespan of the human person onto the face of a clock, the Pro-Life Movement fights vigorously for human dignity for about the first minute.
But then a strange silence falls over the crowd… The multitude which gathered at the ‘March for Life’ begins to disperse. The signs disappear. Everyone goes home.
It seems to the onlooker that these passionate defenders are not aware that there are still 11 hours and 59 minutes of ‘Life’ left on the clock, and that human dignity will be under attack for the entire duration. Why do they cease ‘Marching’?
The child is born, yes, but the struggle is not over. Now the child is actually here in front of us. We can see him and he has a name. His dignity needs a defense. It will still need a defense when he grows old and cannot provide for himself, when he becomes sick and needs care. Why do they go?
And it is at this moment that we realize that there is something profoundly different–experientially and not just rhetorically–about defending ‘the dignity of the person’ before birth, as opposed to after.
When we saw that multitude, what we saw was not really a ‘March for Life.’ It was a ‘March for Birth.’ And that is something very different.
But what is different? The answer, perhaps, can be understood through the concept of ‘encounter.’
As Pope Francis has so uncomfortably reminded us, again and again, Christians are called to encounter those around them. I say ‘uncomfortably’ because this is very often an unpleasant task.
The command to encounter ‘the other,’ in fact, is one of the hardest tasks of the Christian life. And that is why we try to find ways to avoid it.
This, I think, is the key to the curious inconsistency of the Pro-Life Movement that stops defending life at the moment of birth. Because the moment of birth is the moment when we actually have to enter into a real relationship with the new person.
Participants in the Pro-Life Movement are, in a very real sense, defending a group of persons who are not there. Yes, an unborn child ‘exists,’ but this child is not really present to the protesters we are talking about, not someone they have to face, get to know, and enter into a relationship with.
In other words, defending the unborn is easier–from a relational standpoint–than defending any other category of human victim.
This is because we can easily imagine the unborn as innocent, as perfect, and beautiful. In this way, love for them is almost automatic because you do not have to see any of their inevitable faults, their errors, their ugliness.
These unborn children will bear the marks of sin just like everyone else, but until they are born these marks are not visible. All that you see in your mind’s eye is perfection.
In other words, when you love the unborn you are spared the ordeal of having to love an imperfect being. All of that is hidden, so you can pretend it doesn’t exist.
All other categories of human victims are different. They are far too visible, far too ‘real.’
Their skin is not soft and they do not have the picturesque smile and contagious laughter of the imaginary infant. They are diseased, they are angry, they are stupid, they are stubborn, they are criminal. They are addicted to drugs, they are alcoholics, they are prostitutes.
Compared to this sorry lot, who wouldn’t prefer to defend an unborn child that exists mostly through the romantic lens of the imagination?
It is very, very difficult to stand with an already-born person that must be seen and touched and smelled and fed.
It is easy to defend a category of persons that requires nothing of you but that you take a moral high ground, state your convictions, ‘march’ down a crowded street with a bunch of like-minded friends, and condemn the enemy.
It is very, very difficult to defend a person whose defense involves meeting concrete needs, and which therefore may require that you sacrifice some of your wants–perhaps even some of your own needs–to come to their aid.
But this latter is nonetheless a defense of human dignity.
To defend the unborn is absolutely a praiseworthy act, but the authenticity of the whole project stands or falls based on what comes afterward. It does not take long for any hidden hypocrisy to become evident, and for the Pro-Life Movement it is becoming more evident every day.
Perhaps the greatest danger that comes alongside a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ is that the believer might be allowed to convince himself that he loves Christ when, by his actions and his relationships, it is clear that he loves only himself, and that he only praises the invisible Christ because this allows him to stake out a kind of moral high ground on which to congratulate himself and decry his enemies.
Christ tried to warn against this. He said that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, so also we do to him, and that on the last day many will call him Lord, but he will be a stranger to them.
There will always be those who prefer the ‘invisible Christ’ to the visible one. And they will always draw back in disgust when the diseased, addicted, and broken Christs all around them appeal to them for help.
Has the unborn child become the ‘invisible Christ’ of the American Right? It would seem so.
The unborn child is truly a picture of innocence, and worth defending. But beware: the ‘invisible Christ’ is easy to love because absent, because not staring you in the face, because not asking you to give anything more than your rhetoric. The day may come when you are faced with the visible Christ, and you may not recognize him.