17

Sucking the Life Out of Prolife

In a world of texting, tweets and one-upmanship, people are getting very clever at “owning the language” with the use of overgeneralizations. This seems to be happening with the term “prolife”. I’m pretty sure it used to mean opposing legalized abortion and perhaps euthanasia, but that’s about it. Today it might relate to just about any issue that has anything to do with being alive, such as the environment, the death penalty, immigration, minimum wage, healthcare, gun control and more. This doesn’t seem to go both ways however. Do we have a NEW prochoice movement that blends the right to an abortion with the right to bear arms and the right to a secure border? How about “school choice”? Is that now part of being prochoice?

I am perhaps overly sensitive to overgeneralizations because they are problematic for both apologetics and any kind of problem solving. Overgeneralizations are terms that can mean too many different things to too many different people. Think of the word “God”. If you walk up to a stranger and ask “Do you believe in God?”, what you mean by “God” and what the other person means can be as far apart as Heaven is from Hell. Until things are made clear, there will be little progress and much frustration in the discussion. How about terms like love, spirituality, community, conscience, etc.? How many homilies have you sat through that use too many of these kinds of terms, making you think “He said a lot… without saying anything.”

Consider problems in everyday life. Someone says their smartphone is acting funny. “Acting funny” can mean too many different things to too many different people, but deliberate questioning can drill down to the specifics and possibly reveal more than one issue.

What’s wrong with your phone?

  • Camera won’t focus
    • What else?
  • Battery life is too short
    • What else?
  • It drops calls
    • What else?
  • That’s it.

“Acting funny” was separated and clarified in to three specific concerns. The three concerns may or may not be related to an underling root cause; we don’t know, but to go forward we must first we prioritize the issues and then begin to investigate each one. Depending what you use your phone for, the camera and battery issue may just be an annoyance that is manageable, but dropping calls might be totally unacceptable and thus given the highest priority, and dealt with first.

Now suppose you ask someone about being prolife:

What does “prolife” mean to you?

  • Ending abortion
    • What else?
  • Banning guns
    • What else?
  • Abolishing the death penalty
    • What else?
  • That’s it.

Once clear, we should look at the life (or death) impact of all three aforementioned issues. You can search the statistics yourself, but abortion wins in biggest death toll by far. So no matter how many issues you want to intermingle with being prolife, abortion should be dealt with first and most urgently IF preserving human life is your sincere concern.

Without clarity and prioritization—especially with complex issues with a lot of emotional baggage— confusion, division and frustration render problems nigh unsolvable. Overgeneralizations are the enemy of clarity. A recent article by Fr. George Rutler helps explain why ambiguity can be so helpful to those wishing to put agenda over reality.

“Clarity requires effort because it requires honesty, which can be a costly commodity. So George Orwell said: ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.’ Clear expression issues from clear thinking, which in turn requires conforming thought to reality. This was a primary concern of the Master in his holy agony, for he prayed to the Father that his Church never fudge the truth: ‘Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth’ (John 17:17).”

Amen!!