When Life Doesn't Matter


By Carolyn Shields

Despite releasing our new series, Dialogue, which encourages just that on opinion pieces, I typically shy away from writing on controversial topics. Why? Well, partly from fear that I’ll sound like an idiot and partly because for years I saw things as pretty black and white. If I knew my stance on an issue, I didn’t feel the need to dig much deeper because some one liner was enough for me. I try not to overcomplicate things. I’m not confrontational.

So I shied away from writing on these tough issues from both fear and simplicity which has prohibited or prevented me from developing tight arguments laced with flawless logic. Writing something that could be taken another way felt like I was saying “Try and prove me wrong,” and because I knew my persuasive skills were massively lacking and my lack of time for thorough research on whatever topic was limited, I thought it was better to say nothing at all.

Yet it’s so important to have these conversations regardless of where we’re at. Again and again I see people acting like if only they can scream louder than the person they’re facing, if only they can drown out that hate speech with their own hate speech, than maybe they’ll shut up. Or go away. Or win. And it just doesn’t freaking work that way, guys. Case in point: the Covington School Boys vs Black Hebrew Israelites vs Mr. Phillips.

But I couldn’t help but toss and turn the other night, thinking about whether or not to address the abortion crises, particularly in light of New York’s recent law which allows abortions to be performed after 24 weeks.

Then it hit me.

It wouldn’t matter if I had the most impeccably flawless argument in the world about why abortion was wrong. It wouldn’t matter if I had all the statistics, all the examples and all the data. Why? Because America is balancing on the threshold of entering a post-truth society. Ok, maybe not the majority of Americans, but our ‘elite,’ our leaders in politics, the ones who are telling us how to live, creating a framework in which we are to carry on with in our daily lives, the ones who are passing laws and writing the rules that determine and shape our minuscule moments…many of these people do not care about truth, and that seeps itself into our culture.

Let me explain, or try to at least. The day New York passed its law, I came across an article about a woman whose post on facebook went semi-viral. It was a heartbreaking post. In it, she cradled her stillborn child, blue and dead, and in her post her electrically charged words were poignant and writhing with despair. She cried about how people would look at her child and ever consider that it was not life. How could they deny that this child was a human?

But what kept me up that night, tossing and turning, was something I said hauntingly chill to my family earlier in the evening while we sat around the fire and talked about the state of our country (because that’s something we still do). My sister echoed that woman’s words, more or less: how could you ever say that that’s not a life?

I hated my response: “Obviously it is. But it just doesn’t matter anymore if it’s a life.”

It kept me up, hours later. Because the truth is, that’s obvious. That it’s a life, I mean. Science is like “no dip, sherlock,” on that one, right? I mean, it’s so glaringly obvious that it’s a life. But it’s just sickeningly no longer about that anymore.

This argument, bolstered by all the facts in the world, simply does not work anymore. It’s no longer about whether or not a fetus is a life, and once we accept this, we can move beyond it.

This baby, Amelia Taylor, was born 22 weeks and survived. Read the story  here .

This baby, Amelia Taylor, was born 22 weeks and survived. Read the story here.

The real issue, the argument we have to go after now, is why that life matters. Not just the life of a fetus, but the lives of those that contribute absolutely nothing to the welfare of the state. The lives of those that are completely and totally dependent on another and the lives that seemingly have no value. Guys, look at our homeless, the mentally and physically ill, and our elderly. Pope Francis talks about this in regards to the throw away culture, but when he talks about this, he doesn’t just mean picking up your trash and caring for the environment, he’s talking about life itself. He wrote, “We are living through a moment of crisis. We see it in the environment, but above all we see it in man. The human person is in danger."

Once we begin to make a person’s value based only on what they can offer or do or give, we immediately reduce them to an object. This is a massive default of our consumerist culture, and we’re not just talking about throwing away lives. Remember that hideous chapter in history where we sold people as slaves? Remember how in the 1980s pornography took over the internet and we reduced the body into a lustful object? Remember the holocaust?

I’m in the middle of reading a book on the rise of Nazi Germany, namely how such a party could ever come to power. I still can’t wrap my mind around how an entire country could witness the torture and demise of an entire race, but there’s some eerily obvious parallels between Nazi Germany’s treatment of life and Modern America’s (scary, right?). Hitler’s government started to slowly take away the rights of the Jews until they were stripped of their citizenship altogether. When it got to this point, they were no longer useful for the economic advancement of Germany because they couldn’t work, they had no rights and no protection and so on. Nazi Germany de-humanized them until the Jewish people were seen as having no value. They were worthless. So they killed them.

Ok, fine, so our government still cares for a lot of lives that still seemingly have nothing to offer. And we don’t do away with all truth, but can’t you see how abortion becomes this step forward into de-valuing any life that becomes totally dependent on another? Or any life that may demand a livelihood in order to live? What makes a life that is 24 weeks old within the womb any different than a life that is the same age but outside the womb?

We can talk all we want about the harm abortion does to a woman. We can prove life starts at conception. We can give all the facts available to us, but as Pontius Pilate asked, “Truth? What is truth?”

This whole thing went down from a head game and brought it to the heart. There was one other time in my life when I had to realize that even if I had the most impeccable letter drafted, it wouldn’t have mattered to the recipient. You can shove all the truth you want into someone’s face, but it has to be accepted in their heart. If the heart isn’t open, truth means nothing.

So the truth is that a fetus is a life…but why does a vulnerable, non-giving, dependent life still matter?

That’s what we have to go at.

So as I tossed and turned there, my mind whirling and reeling, I became angry with myself. “Okay,” I shouted in my head, “you diagnosed the problem, but now what. What’s the solution.”

It can be so easy to point out a problem or air your complaints. My old students were freaking great at finding issues with something I was doing and they had no problem talking about it (rarely to me and my partner, but typically amongst themselves). When they did talk to us about it and finally shared what was burning them, I learned to kind of flip it back on them. “Okay, we hear you and you have a ton of valid points. But what’s your proposal then? What could we do better? Because this is why we are doing it this way, which is what we think is best, but obviously not perfect. So what’s your suggestion?” (I wish I was that confidently direct back then. I told you…I hate confrontations, but I hate petty gossip even more).

One girl’s mouth literally fell open, she sat back, her shoulders slumped, and she said, “I’ve actually never thought of that.”

I was going to lose my shit.

The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.
— Ghandi

Guys, we can’t just march and shout that this is a problem. We have to be a part of the solution. Sure, marching is part of it. Taking a stance is part of it. Praying about it is part of it. And honestly, the solution as to how to move past the argument about whether or not a fetus is a life isn’t clear to me.

What do you do when truth doesn’t matter anymore? How can you shift and advance the dialogue into why any life matters?

I don’t know.

But it probably starts with us. With why we’re here. With dialogue, statistics and proofs and data aside, let’s get at truth the old fashion way. Dust off that old philosophy book because I think we’re gonna need it.

We know that Nazi Germany lost the war. We know slavery was abolished. We know that God promised Abraham that He would spare the city of Sodom of His wrath if only a handful of righteous were found there.

So we go forward in hope, following the Man who was Truth Himself, all summed up into One Word.

I wish I had a concrete, solid proposal to leave you with, but it’s going to take monumental effort to come up with a solution, but we’re doing it, little by little. I know news like the law in New York can feel like a setback, and I know this article isn’t uplifting or all that encouraging, but I’m going to share it anyway because we can’t fight a battle when we’re not seeing it properly. Or at least, I haven’t been.

Together guys, let’s do this.

Whew! For someone who skipped 90% of her philosophy classes in college (seriously? What kind of professor tells you class is optional?!), I felt like I just spewed out some philosophical-something! Like I said, maybe I’m way behind the times on this. Maybe I’m way off. But share your thoughts! What do you think? Is it time to shift the dialogue on abortion beyond how-can-you-say-this-is-not-a-life? What can we do when it’s not about a fetus’s life that is endangered but other vulnerable lives? What do you disagree with?