With euthanasia once again before the New South Wales Parliament, it is critical that Christians understand the worldview that underpins perspectives that support abortion and euthanasia.
An Interesting Experiment
During an emergency drill at work, a smoke machine was set off in our printer room to simulate a fire. Instead of moving away as we were supposed to, people tried to get a better look, while some just sat at their desks and kept working.
One person began shouting, “I won!” (in reference to our guesses about what the nature of the emergency drill would be), while another calmly sat down to finish her tea.
Why did everyone react this way rather than in panic?
Because we already knew the drill was planned at that time. They knew the “story”, and that changed how they responded. I certainly hope that if we ever have a real fire, people will have a bit more care and urgency.
Over the last few days, I have been thinking a lot about how the narratives and stories we tell ourselves shape how we respond to life.
My thinking was instigated by the new report revealing that many families feel pressured to abort their child after an in utero diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
Like my tea-drinking colleague in that fire drill, this shouldn’t surprise us.
If we proclaim that a child in the womb has no value beyond a “clump of cells”, doctors have every right to pressure families to make that choice. Doctors should be recommending what is, in their opinion, best for their patients.
How Narratives and Stories Affect Attitudes to Abortion
Why encourage a more difficult parenting journey when it can be “fixed” right now? Why should grandparents, uncles and aunts not encourage them to make a “more intelligent” decision?
Similarly, if that foetus is “just a clump of cells”, we are right to be concerned that limiting abortion exacerbates poverty.
The narrative shapes our responses.
But what are the consequences of this narrative? One is that we end up telling people with Down Syndrome that they are a burden to society. We tell women that children are a barrier to their happiness and success.
We tell people that to be successful is measured mainly by achievements in certain areas of life. We tell children in poverty or other horrible conditions that their life is not worth living, that it would have been better if they were never born.
Do we want to be sending these messages?
How Narratives and Stories Affect Attitudes to Euthanasia
At the other end of life, we see this play out with the issue of euthanasia, which is once again before the NSW parliament.
If our life only has value in our enjoyment, what point is there in continuing?
If it only has value in our contributions, why continue it once we are no longer productive?
If our life only has value based on our perceptions, why shouldn’t I have total control of it?
If I am the sole responsible party and owner of my life, I should have sole say when it ends.
The truth is, I agree with all these statements if the premises are true. If the underlying logic is correct, then the conclusions make total sense. However, these ifs are not true.
Life has value, even in suffering.
Your purposes and contributions extend far beyond your own intentions and perceptions.
Your life is not exclusively yours to own and determine.
We should rejoice in these truths, not embrace the bleak view that the value of our life is exclusively found in our self-determination. Yet when we pass laws such as those allowing euthanasia, we are implicitly accepting these premises.
We, as a society, are accepting the narrative and making a statement about what we think of life and death.
Our Narrative Can Foster An Inconsistent Message
I believe this is the reason for the vehement and often incoherent arguments against even nominally pro-life laws. Examples of such laws are the Children Born Alive Protection Bill that mandates medical care to children born alive after abortion, and Zoe’s Law, which brings harsher criminal charges against people whose actions lead to a death in the womb.
These laws should actually unite pro-life and pro-choice advocates since neither violates a woman’s autonomy. In fact, Zoe’s law brings harsher punishments on those who violate a woman’s choice about the fate of her child.
Yet, according to contemporary thinking, these laws must be opposed, and for a simple reason: they challenge the narrative essential to the pro-choice argument.
They challenge the belief that a foetus in the womb has no inherent value. If a foetus has any value, the narrative of abortion is undermined. If our lives have meaning beyond ourselves, the narrative of euthanasia is challenged too.
Instead of reconsidering our positions, we craft a narrative.
We create a shaky foundation that permits us to hold to our beliefs but leaves us wading through an ethical quagmire of implications that we may not like. But we are stuck: we must endorse these implications in order to hold onto our beliefs, which we have deemed more precious than truth and goodness.
This question of narratives and how they shape behaviour reveals itself in innumerable ways in society, not just in questions of life and death.
I won’t venture into other examples lest we get side-tracked, but I’m sure you can think of many. And please don’t assume I am going easy on political conservatives or Christians.
We, too, can hold to similar false narratives that we have relied upon for far too long. That is a story for another time!
My point is, how do we challenge faulty logic?
Obviously, political pressure contributes to the problem, but far better that we get to the root of the issue. Creating political or societal change does not happen by simply stating that something is wrong.
We need to address the foundations. How do we, as the church, face up to and even change the narrative that dictates our society?
Where to Start?
- We must have our minds transformed and renewed, not conformed to the world. Test every opinion, every narrative, against God’s Word. Regardless of what narrative is pressed upon you, reject anything incompatible with Christ. Changing society begins with changing myself.
- Affirm these values in our communities and our families. We, as God’s family, are supposed to sharpen one another and train up our children. This does not happen passively. We must intentionally affirm that which is good in each other and correct that which is wrong.
- Relentlessly speak the truth. We are not meant to be quiet and unobtrusive. Rather, we are called to be a light to the world. This means speaking the truth carefully and with love. Discernment and wisdom are needed (we can’t spend hours debating every issue that affects society), but when we are confronted with lies, we must speak God’s truth without shame or compromise.
- Understand the foundations of conflicting viewpoints. Arguments against a strawman won’t convince anyone, nor will it help to engage only the surface of other people’s thinking. Don’t just understand opinions that conflict with yours; understand the assumptions that underlie them. Know the reasons someone holds to that view. It will create a much more productive dialogue.
- Apply this to the little things. Perhaps the most challenging part is to hold with uncompromising conviction to even the tiniest detail. But even a boulder is broken down by the waves a little piece at a time. Jesus affirmed that every stroke of the pen of His Word was vital, so we must do the same. If we think any compromise is inconsequential, think again.