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Friday, August 9, 2013

In Support of Our Atheist Colleagues

Live Action News recently printed an honest and heartfelt article by pro-life atheist Sarah Terzo. Her article was in response to something that Shawn Carney, who began the 40 Days for Life campaign, said on the Life Report podcast.

In Ms. Terzo's article, she argued that the attitudes she often receives from religious pro-life people make her (and other atheists) feel unwelcome in the movement. I hear this a lot from my own pro-life atheist friends. If the pro-life movement is to succeed, I think we need help from people of all faith backgrounds, not just from the conservative Christian crowd.

I should point out that I don't take issue with most of what Carney said. I do think that as Christians, in all things we do we need to keep God first in everything that we do. But I don't think we should be so hasty to paint the pro-life movement as a religious movement. It allows pro-choice people to dismiss us easier, and I'm not sure the anti-slavery movement (in the United States or in England) or the Civil Rights movement were ever painted as religious movements, though the majority of people in those movements were inspired to take a stand by their religious convictions.

I have affiliated myself with organizations like Secular Pro-Life, as a contributor to their blog. I will also be lending contributions to another blog run by an atheist friend, Pro-Life Humanists. My reason is not because I am compromising my Christian convictions. Just the opposite. My convictions are so strong that abortion is a human rights injustice that I am willing to stand with any and everyone who is also willing to stand against this abominable practice. That doesn't mean that I endorse all of their views, but we do have the desire to see an end to abortion in common. When I talk about using secular arguments against abortion, it's because I recognize that not everyone that I talk to will hold the Scriptures to the same esteem that I do. As we say at Justice for All, we start with science and philosophy because these are sources of authority respected by the religious and non-religious alike.

Throughout the past 2,000 years of church history, Christians have recognized two different sources of knowledge -- divine revelation, and natural revelation. Divine revelation is God's literal word to mankind through the Scriptures. There are certain things that we can only know through divine revelation (although we can also justify these positions through philosophical reflection), such as that God exists as a Trinity, that we will be held accountable for our moral failings by God, etc. Natural revelation is what has been revealed through nature, the universe that God created. Arguing from the Bible to prove God's existence would be question-begging. So we can use natural arguments, like the Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Moral Argument, and many others to show that God's existence is possible, in fact, more plausible than his not existing. If someone does not believe that God even exists, then telling that person that abortion is wrong because we're all made in God's image, or because the Bible says it is, or other arguments along those lines would be equally question-begging. Sure you can make the argument that you'll be able to witness to that person, but even if you make a Christian convert on the spot (which is very rare), you still will not be guaranteed a pro-life convert.

I am not saying that we should never use the Scriptures in our discussions about abortion. Obviously if you're talking to another Christian it is appropriate. But even when talking with non-Christians when I go onto college campuses to talk about abortion to college students, the topic of God inevitably comes up. Whether the other person believes I'm making an inherently religious argument, or we're discussion whether or not morality is binding on all people at all times or if it's up to the individual to decide, these conversations usually organically lead to discussions of theology. What I'm saying is that we should be prepared to start with using non-Biblical arguments. Pro-choice people often dismiss our arguments against abortion as being inherently religious, which commits a logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy, but it becomes harder to make that assertion if there are non-religious people who are making the same arguments that we are.

I see no Scriptural reason why we should avoid working with atheists and people of other religions in the fight to stop abortion. There is an argument which I will address below, but I'd first like to remind whoever reads this that God does work through non-believers, as well. In a prophecy from Isaiah, chapter 45, God speaks of Cyrus who is not a believer, yet God goes before him to give him victory and treasures. God does this so that Cyrus will know that Yahweh is the one true God. By shutting out our Atheist colleagues from this fight for unborn rights, we are giving them more of a reason not to take any of our other claims seriously. By working with them, we can also show them that as our views on abortion are reasonable, our views on God are equally reasonable. I've had many opportunities to speak with other Atheist pro-life advocates about God, and I'd be willing to bet that taking the time to show that my views on abortion were arrived at through scientific and philosophical reflection, rather than being held dogmatically from a religious text that they don't believe in, has helped them take my religious views more seriously. Aside from that, hopefully they see that by the passion that I have to see unborn lives saved, my passion to see souls saved is not just blowing smoke, but a genuine desire to live out what I believe.

I think that by alienating our Atheistic colleagues (and Agnostic, as well as people from other faiths), we are losing out on genuine opportunities to work with them and show them that our faith isn't just superficial, but that we really believe what it is we say that we believe. I have called out organizations like Abolish Human Abortion in the past for this very thing. AHA has since responded to my article, though not directly, by attempting to clarify what they mean by abolitionist. I don't feel the need to respond to it as it really doesn't say anything I haven't already responded to. It's still just an artificial designation and they make no attempt to justify why there is a distinction between the terms "abolitionist" and "pro-life advocate." They make a wonderful case for why the church needs to wake up and oppose this evil. But they make no argument as to why atheists and people of other faiths can't also be considered abolitionists. After all, if an Atheist works to abolish abortion, doesn't that make them an abolitionist?

A common argument made to support this position comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, which says, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" (NASB). This passage is used to show that Christians should not associate with unbelievers. But I think this passage is used incorrectly, in fact taken out of context. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5, tells us that in order to not associate with unbelievers we'd have to be taken out of the world completely. You've likely heard this passage translated as, "do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers." That's because in this verse, the idea in mind is an agricultural term, in which you should not yoke together different kinds of animals that are too unequal, such as an ox and a donkey. What is specifically in mind here is partnerships, not a casual or working relationship. Working together to end abortion would not be in view here. Getting married or participating in clearly sinful activities that they might engage in would be more in line with the passage in question. After all, if we're even to avoid friendships with unbelievers, then Jesus himself would have been in violation of this Biblical principle (Matthew 9, 11). For more on this topic, read this article.

So I think the religious pro-life movement is mistaken to alienate those who disagree with us on religious matters. We are losing out on genuine opportunities to show that Christianity is reasonable, and I'm not sure there is a legitimate Biblical argument to be made that Christians can't stand with non-Christians to oppose a genuine human rights violation.


  1. I think both the liberal and conservative camps within pro-life must share blame for its divisiveness, which I've discussed in my own blog at Blogger and WordPress.

    1. Hey, Robert:

      I think that's a fair point. I'll read what you wrote on your blog. I'm not really making the claim here that the religious are *only* responsible for the division, it's mainly just an appeal for the religious people in the movement not to divide among lines regarding worldview.