In the context of pro life vs pro choice arguments, I often hear counter-arguments that reduce the sanctity of life in some way. Basically, the “sanctity of life” argument can be used as an accusation both directions. Pro-life people, those who want to ban or reduce abortions as much as possible, will be accused of ignoring the life and health of the mother, or the child when they are grown, and so on. Not to mention, what about all the wars? Pro-lifers are rightly associated with the pro-war crowd, which has somehow become one and the same as the religious right. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates will be accused of diminishing the value of a child’s life in favor of the mother. All life is sacred, they will say. Even in extreme circumstance.
What ends up happening, as in countless either-or debates, we end up divided. There doesn’t seem to be a way to uphold both values in the present debate, or in our current political system. At the very outset, it is strange to try and merge these opposing values into a single value system when the “sanctity of life” is inherently unified, singular, universal. If someone values one life and not another, that person is missing the point. They still get to debate, have opinions, vote, and have their voices heard. And that’s a whole other can of worms. Down this political road we have gone, we are forced to choose between valuing one life or another, and we choose our communities, political party and leaders, our churches and relationships based on which lives we value and which lives we don’t.
It’s the same with gun rights. The rights of gun owners versus the risk of mass shootings. We have both. Someone has to be willing to reduce theirs.
It’s the same with healthcare. Should healthy people pay, by higher taxes or fees or some other way, so that the sick can receive medical care? Or should the sick have to pay whatever the treatment demands? We have to choose between one life or the other once again.
It’s the same with war. Imagine if someone said, “terrorist lives matter.” Not just religious extremists, or enemy combatants, or foreign militaries. Very specifically, those who would use civilian deaths, and guerrilla tactics, and fear to achieve their goal. We make a seemingly easy choice that their lives don’t matter. We can blow them up without any debate. That’s strange, in light of how much debate goes to the sanctity of life in so many other realms of our society. I think it’s beyond strange among those with full knowledge of what is happening. It’s evil that we consciously engage.
We are unique in the developed world in terms of how many people our police kill. There’s little to no debate about whether our police should be able to kill people. That much is generally accepted. If there is ever a time when a police officer’s life is in danger, or he is even just afraid for his life, he has the legal right to kill the threat. Other nations don’t do it this way. There is shock, and horror, when a life is taken by an actor of the state. Yes, there aren’t as many guns on the streets of London or Tokyo. There are virtually none by comparison. That has to be part of the discussion as well. I am saying, up to this point, that there is little to no discussion. It is simply accepted that cops are going to kill people on a more-than-daily basis in this country.
At what point do we finally admit we don’t value life?
There’s another option. We can strike a balance between the value of one life and another. I think the first step is to reduce the use and acceptance of force. The widespread individual use of handguns and long guns in this country, with the backdrop of endless, global military crusades is horrifying. An alien race visiting this world would see the USA as some kind of advanced backwater, a tribe gone mad with bloodlust. They would need help to understand how we can have straight-faced, serious debates about the value of life while we engage in all this other madness. I need the same. The second, very obvious but even more difficult step is to reduce the use and acceptance of weapons. We don’t need thousands of nukes, and millions of handguns. There are threats everywhere, there always will be. Part of the debate is engaging with the threat as if they are human, and not a paper target in a shooting range. Human beings have reasons, and stories, and fears. Sometimes we blow up whole families of these humans out of our own fear. If we valued life, we would find another way, no matter how costly.
What about all the extreme situations? We have to find another way. We keep giving ourselves these terrible options to deal with horrible situations. There are ways to prevent rapists, not just the act of rape themselves, or the abortion at the very end of that chain of decisions, the produce of an entire societal system. Taken off the list of options to prevent mass shootings is a reduction in guns. The option we give ourselves is someone else shooting the shooter. Guns solving the problem of guns. Never considered in dealing with terrorists is a means to reduce the causes of their violent hatred. The only option we give ourselves is to blow them all up. Send in the Marines until we kill them all. Can the police arrest and kill enough gang members to get them off the streets? It’s never worked. It never will. But we can’t seem to give ourselves the other option. There are so many preventative means that are too hard, too expensive, or against our violent culture that they can’t even be considered.
Want to stop abortions? Eliminate the financial stress of motherhood, provide healthcare, free birth control, empower women. Countries that do this have very few abortions in comparison to ours.
Want to end mass shootings? Treat the mentally ill early and often. Make it harder to get guns that are handy for mass shootings. There are guns that are useless for hunting, but great for shooting humans, and we make them easy to get. Countries where guns are hard to get have almost no mass shootings.
Want to value life? Then adopt a child, become a foster parent. Visit prisoners, comfort them in their time of need. Feed the hungry. Comfort the sick in hospitals and the dying in hospice. This isn’t some abstract goal, it’s a set of ideas and decisions that are too far outside of the current debate to engage. Someone who wanted to step away from the pro-life vs pro choice would have a harder road ahead. Those debates devolve into this game of what-ifs. What about cases of rape? If you are a normal human, no matter where you live or who you know, you already know someone who has been raped. It isn’t hypothetical. It’s a delicate topic to say the least. Imagine if she got pregnant from that incident. Would you demand she abort, or otherwise demand she keep the baby? I think valuing life would be making offers instead of demands, regardless of the case. Adopt her baby if she chooses to bring it to term. Pay for her counseling. Believe her when she tells you her story. Do the harder thing. I just can’t stomach the “sanctity of life” argument when it’s this life versus the other. It’s a lie. It’s the easy way out. It’s not good enough for us, we are a better people. We don’t have to flinch every time something bad happens, and go buy more guns or go to war with another country. We can value the lives of murderers, terrorists, and rapists – it’s possible. Reducing the value of their lives isn’t a containable, compartmentalized way of treating life. It will spread to all lives. I think that’s exactly where we are.
We have a very clear ranking of which lives are valuable and which lives aren’t, and we act out of that every day. We don’t have to be that way anymore, we don’t have to choose between this life or that. We can value life, both of them, all of them.