The problem with America is that our universities teach worldview and our churches don’t. As a consequence, students usually enter college with a limited capacity to answer simple moral questions. By the time they graduate, that capacity is further impaired if not lost altogether. Such substantial moral impairment was on full display in a recent Q&A following a debate on the topic of abortion at Oregon State University (OSU). I participated in that debate and one of the questions I was asked by a student has been reproduced below:
“Dr. Adams, you mentioned that dead things do not grow. But then how can you explain how vegetarians will eat plants, which grow, but will refuse to eat animals. And doesn’t self-awareness matter to define what human life is in terms of personhood?”
In case you did not understand what the student was saying, please allow me to explain. According to the postmodern worldview, to which this student clearly subscribes, there really is no objective truth. Things don’t have essential value because of the kinds of things they are. They have value only if people assign value to them according to some accidental characteristic.
For the postmodernist, the abortion debate should not be focused on truth claims. Choosing abortion is simply a matter of preference. It is like deciding whether to assign value to animals and become a vegetarian or simply decline to do so and head to Texas Roadhouse and eat a 12-ounce steak.
Their basic thesis is that if you personally value human life, then, by all means, have a baby. If you don’t, just have an abortion. You’ve seen this worldview reflected in bumper stickers that say “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” Imagine a similar sticker on a buggy in the 1800s, which read “Don’t like slavery? Don’t own one!”
How does one respond to such a broad worldview problem in a short Q&A with a time limit and a long line of people standing behind the microphone? I responded to the student at OSU by narrowing the question and clarifying her position with a hypothetical. That hypothetical, which follows in its entirety, is a variation of one I first read in Defending Life, written by Baylor philosopher Francis Beckwith:
“Let’s just say, heaven forbid, that on the way home this evening you were involved in some sort of a car accident and you went into a coma. It’s a reversible coma and you’re going to be in that coma for months, if not years. In the process of being in that coma fortunately your brain is repairing itself. Eventually, you’re going to come out of the coma. When you do, you’re not going to have any memories. You’re not going to know how to read or write or speak. You’re going to have to be taught to do all of those things. Do I have a right to kill you while you’re in the coma?”
The response from the student was a shocking “Not necessarily.” She couldn’t bring herself to directly answer that simple “yes” or “no” question. To do so would have been to acknowledge a moral absolute. Her commitment to relativism was more sacred than life itself. Even her own life must be sacrificed at the altar of moral relativism.
To be fair, the student did try to give two reasons to justify her non-answer: 1) You can’t always tell when a coma is reversible, and 2) previous court cases have said that you cannot always sue for time lost in a coma. But that was not an answer to my question. My question concerned a reversible coma, not an irreversible coma. More importantly, I asked her about the right to life not the right to monetary compensation. That was the issue we were debating.
The reason why I asked the student that very direct question at the end of that very specific hypothetical should have been apparent to all in attendance when I responded to the student:
“I respect your opinion but let me answer the question. I don’t have a right to kill you. Absolutely not! Because you’re valuable … because you still have your basic human nature. And, guess what? I just described accurately the condition of the unborn. When they are born, they’ll develop all of those things. And they’ll have to be taught to do them. But they’re just as valuable as you. And just as I shouldn’t kill you I shouldn’t kill them either. That’s my answer.”
After a brief pause, the audience broke out into applause for the first time in the entire debate.
Fellow pro-lifers can take away two general lessons from my exchange with the student:
- We sometimes deal with people whose hearts are so hard that they cannot be persuaded by logic or by the glaring deficiencies in their own reasoning.
- When we respond to such people with respect and focus on their inherent worth as human beings, we bolster our credibility with people who are sitting on the fence while listening to the exchange.
In other words, we can’t convert everyone. But we can convert many people by arguing respectfully in public exchanges with the unconvertible few. This is why churches need to do more than just actively engage the culture on the issue of abortion. The church needs to train every member of the congregation to defend the unborn with a proper balance of grace and moral clarity.
Quoting Bible verses will not get us anywhere in the debate over abortion. We must first ground our arguments in scientific evidence showing that the unborn are human. Once we do so, our job is not finished. At the end of the day, we must also be able to address the issue of what makes us valuable as humans.
In order to cultivate a basic reverence for human life, Christians need worldview training. Every Christian needs to know how our worldview differs from other worldviews. As disciples, each needs to understand that the truth claims of Christianity are superior and that they are worth defending. In the abortion debate, it is literally a matter of life and death.
In short, there is still a chance that we can stop this country’s moral free fall. But the church must come out of its own moral coma first.
Author’s Note: The Adams/Strossen debate has been re-edited and is much more clear. The exchange referenced in this column occurs that the 1:51 mark. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck0CRlcIU9E&feature=youtu.be