Life Before Death

Let our society truly choose life, with all its competing moral claims and obligations to minister to the weakest among us.

Continued from page 2

With respect to abortion, did you know that 300,000 fewer abortions were performed during President Clinton's eight years in office than have already occurred during President Bush's five. In part, this is surely due to the cutback in funding and the restriction of birth control and family planning services in health education and sex education programs.

In light of these numbers, one could argue that a pro-choice agenda serves the anti-abortion cause more effectively than does a so-called pro-life agenda, which limits contraceptive options and restricts sex education to the moralistic platitude of "Just say no." Even apart from such evidence, a pro-birth stance outlawing all forms of abortion and an anti-death stance outlawing all forms of euthanasia (though rarely extended to capital punishment and war) does not, in my opinion, add up to a pro-life policy, especially when questions addressing the quality of life--after birth and before death--appear to evoke respectively little moral intensity or compassionate solicitude from self-described pro-life crusaders.

Beyond this, if we are truly to choose life, we must weigh the competing demands for our moral attention in the scales of equity and justice. An encompassing pro-life position would weigh into the balance poverty and malnutrition, equal health care and education, and all the many facets of human rights and dignity, with as much care as today's pro-life crusaders devote to abortion, euthanasia, and Gay marriage. To choose life is not, regardless of the cost, to mandate birth or to prevent death. To choose life is to nurture and enhance the quality of life for the entire human family. This entails moral choice and requires moral compromise. No responsible civil ethic can be fashioned that does not allow prioritizing the competing claims on our moral attention. To choose life- reverently and thoughtfully, unbiased by sentimentality-we must resist the siren's song of moral absolutists, for whom both choice and compromise are anathema.


I recognize that I've been talking about ethics on what many would define as a metaphysical occasion. Before mounting my spiritual charger--as all these trumpets seem to call for--and galloping off toward the ether, let me say a word about our approach to religion here. We Unitarians are sometimes accused of having a thick ethic and a thin metaphysic. Even on Easter, I will rush to say, "Guilty as charged." We test our faith by deeds not creeds. As Henry David Thoreau put it when asked about the afterlife, we take things one life at a time. Our book of revelation is the book of nature. We read the story of our lives and the story of life itself in its rich and luxuriant pages. As Jesus himself did, we follow the spirit not the letter of the scriptures.

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