As the 2013 Canadian March for Life launched to a live band singing “We Want to see Jesus lifted high” (to be followed up with choruses of “Yes! Yes! Lord” and a myriad of other worship songs), I was yet again reminded of how out of place I am as an atheist in the pro-life movement. I’m pro-life because every embryology or biology text book tells me that a new human entity comes into existence at fertilization, and I believe that all human beings – even at their youngest and earliest stage of development – deserve equal right to life and protection. Most assuredly, my goal in being in the movement is not to “see Jesus lifted high”.
I’m not alone. It’s not merely pro-life atheists who are apt to feel excluded from pro-life involvement. How likely is it that a Jew might want to see Jesus lifted high? Or a pro-life Muslim? Or even a pro-life pagan or the myriads of Hare Krishna followers who respect all life, including animal life? I have met pro-lifers who affiliate with all these non-Christian belief systems, but few of them feel comfortable participating in traditional pro-life events. Is the goal of the pro-life movement Christian evangelism? Or is it truly to save unborn lives?
I addressed in blog entry Pray to End Abortion? why I believe the tendency to paint the pro-life movement as something that is Christian-only is problematic and detrimental to our movement. To reiterate briefly: in order to win a political majority in this country we will require the yes vote of people from all religious and political stripes. Wearing our most religious colours so loudly, our movement tells every onlooker who does not seek to affiliate with Christianity, that they should just go ahead and ignore us. We further the misconception that abortion, unlike every social ill prior, simply cannot cease within secular society.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that Christians should necessarily hide their faith. I appreciate that for many, it is their religious convictions that compel them to care about “the least of these”, per the instruction of Jesus. I may be embarrassed by the men in feathered hats, the church groups chanting the rosary, and the man doing interpretive dancing with his giant crucifix, but I do respect their right to be a part of the movement. I do however, think that all Christians should seriously consider the appropriateness of their public displays and ask themselves whether there might not be a better way of reaching a curious onlooker with sound pro-life arguments, than by performing a religious ritual. It is after all science and reason that bolster the position that the “least of these” is in fact one of us.
That being said, my plea to organizers of the March for Life and similar public events is this: Can we please keep the public face of the pro-life movement secular and inclusive to individuals of all faith and no faith? Let groups and individuals pray and chant on their own if they must. Church groups certainly have a right to their vigils and prayer meetings. But when we stand on the podium to address the nation, can we set aside the exclusive Christian prayers and songs? History is after all ripe with inspirational peace and freedom songs to remind us all that we are following in a long line of champions of human rights.
Science and reason provide arguments that can be understood and received by anyone, regardless of their faith convictions. It is my deepest hope that from here on in, the pro-life movement will collectively seek to see reason and biological facts lifted high.