Matt Lee Anderson on Being Pro-Life

My friend and fellow Mere Fidelity cast member Matt Lee Anderson had a piece on the subject of the pro-life focus on abortion over on Vox. It is well worth your time. The following are a few selected quotations:

But for the pro-lifer, that “clump of cells” is as wondrous, as potent, as mysterious as, well, the cosmos. The recognition of the “baby” induces a hushed reverence. The universe once appeared out of nothing, a fact that reasonably seems to induce the strange vertigo of awe, but the formation of a new human being is not so different from this. The embryo contains a whole world of possibilities and adventures. The “newcomer,” Hannah Arendt once wrote, “possesses the capacity of beginning something anew.” For those weary and afraid, the opportunity for a new start that the embryo announces momentarily refreshes their spirits.


These natural reverences permeate the pro-life movement’s ethos. While many pro-lifers are at home speaking the language of rights and respect required for democratic political discourse, we are — if our own rhetoric is at all truthful — animated by something much nearer to love. We cannot shed ourselves of the sense that there is something too powerful, something too good about the human being, to make its life or its death a matter for our choice. It is better for the embryo to go on existing, for it and for us and for the cosmos whose beauty new human life adorns and deepens.


For the pro-lifer, there is no clearer instance of the marginalized, the voiceless, and the vulnerable than in the womb — and no more profound source of wonder at the limitless possibilities that human life is capable of achieving. The early embryo looks nothing like us, has none of our capabilities, drains the mother’s resources, and often requires the mother to sacrifice many of her interests. If in these conditions one can see something worthwhile, something that can be a benefit or a blessing to the world even when unwanted, then one can start to glimpse why pro-lifers are so animated and so patient in their efforts.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Links, Sex and Sexuality, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Matt Lee Anderson on Being Pro-Life

  1. Geoff says:

    Many thanks for your abstact. It almost sings. Showing my age, it should form part of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the key of life.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Yes, it is almost like a song – full of love, honour, beauty, and wonder. I don’t know Stevie Wonder’s song, but I did think of ‘Sing to God new songs of worship’ when I read Matt’s post.

  2. evan773 says:

    I find myself agreeing with much of what Matt writes in the piece. Even so, I’ve never felt comfortable with the pro-life movement itself. I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that many of the most vocal advocates of the pro-life position also take a fairly patriarchal view of female sexuality. James Davison Hunter made that same observation in one of his books some years ago. I’d suggest that the impasse over abortion lies in that the two sides aren’t generally honest about their reasons for taking the positions they do. Until the pro-lifers of Matt’s ilk gain the moral courage to disavow misogynists who oppose abortion for the wrong reasons, such winsome messages are likely to fall on deaf ears.

    Another reservation I have concerns policy levers for reducing the number of abortions. In most cases, it is more effective to give people an array of choices and nudge them toward making the better choice. But the pro-life movement is always and only about limiting choice, often in ways that are fairly punitive, demeaning, and degrading to women in vulnerable situations. Thus, to those of us who are fairly ambivalent about the issue, the pro-life movement often comes off as overly judgmental and self-righteous. Our culture–especially among policy-making elites–has very little tolerance for moral paternalism and anything that wreaks of self-righteousness. Thus, if the pro-life movement wants to gain any credibility with the broader culture, it needs to seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade and stop passing ham-fisted legislation that comes off as punitive and petty. And pro-lifers of Matt’s ilk are going to have to disavow such punitive and petty measures.

    Evangelical fear of succumbing to liberalism has led to a subculture in which a fair bit of right-wing nuttiness is given a free pass. The Culture War has done immense harm to the cause of Christ. That’s because it’s enmeshed the Gospel with right-wing reactionary politics. I’m not opposed to Christian involvement in politics. But it needs to be a distinctly Christian political witness. If we can do no better than put forth a slightly Christianized version of reactionary, alt-right political dogmas, then we should probably withdraw. Matt takes a big step forward in articulating what a distinctly Christian position would look like on the question of abortion. But it’s going to take more. Given that evangelicals have been sharing a bed for the past five decades with a host of sub-Christian reactionary movements, we’re going to have to demonstrate that we’ve broken ties with such groups. Sadly, I don’t see it happening.

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