Emotional Responses

Are you prolife? Many of you listening to "BreakPoint" probably are. But can you explain why you're prolife? It turns out, most Americans cannot. When sociologist James Davison Hunter interviewed people for his book Before the Shooting Begins, he discovered that most Americans base their moral beliefs entirely on private feelings. Take a young man named Scott, a former Catholic. Scott argues fiercely that the fetus is a human being, yet he insists that abortion should be legal. The fetus is a person to me, Scott said, but it "might not be a person to that mother." What Scott fails to see is that personhood is an objective fact: The fetus either is or is not a person, regardless of what you and I think. But Scott is typical of Americans today. They base their moral views on sentiment, not conviction. On the prochoice side, Hunter asked an architect named Paul why he supports the right to abortion. Paul became agitated. "I don't want to get into philosophical or theological wrangling," he said. "My feelings are based on experiences that are mine alone, and you can't tell me they are wrong." Notice how Paul begs off from any objective discussion of abortion based on philosophy or theology, even at the most elementary level. Instead, he treats private experience as the final court of appeal. You know, if Paul ran his architectural firm the way he makes moral decisions—if he based his construction blueprints on sheer feelings—his buildings would collapse. To be a good architect, Paul treats physical facts as though they were qualitatively different from moral values. But when we separate facts and values, genuine moral debate becomes impossible. If morality is merely a matter of private feelings, then any attempt to reason with people is perceived as a personal attack. Listen to the words of a young mother named Karen. Karen told Hunter she would never dream of getting an abortion herself. Yet she could not bring herself to say that abortion is morally wrong for everybody. "I don't know how [other people] feel," she said defensively. Apparently Karen's greatest fear is that if she says abortion is wrong, she will hurt someone's feelings. The majority of Americans, Hunter discovered, are just like Karen: prolife in their personal lives, yet prochoice politically. Many are even hostile to the organized prolife movement because, in their words, prolife activists "are trying to impose their views on everyone else." Hunter's book does us a great service by delving into the way most Americans really think about abortion—or I should say, how they feel. Those of us who base our opposition to abortion on conviction instead of sentiment need to know what we are up against: not just the highly articulate prochoice movement but also the inarticulate, inchoate opposition of most prolifers—those who have lost a sense of objective moral truth. For the battle is no longer just over the status of the unborn; it's over the status of truth itself.  


Chuck Colson


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