This is a reprint of my very first column. Although it appeared in late 2001, I had actually written it over two years before, as one of three sample columns which were rejected by the then-editor of the East Tennessee Catholic.
What does it mean to have a “consistent life ethic?” You may remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to decide who should have the robe he was wearing. They couldn’t split it among them because it had no seams. Some have referred to the concept of a consistent life ethic as the “Seamless Garment.” Life is a continuum, and we cannot pick and choose whose lives we are going to care about and protect. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God”(2319).
If we are to be consistent–constant, dependable, invariable, steady, unfailing–in what we believe and do regarding life issues, we must protect and care for all life, not just the lives of the innocent unborn. Many people have bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming, “We vote pro-life!” Well, I would love to vote pro-life but I can’t find a pro-life candidate.
Under the topic of “You shall not kill” in the catechism, we read the obvious: abortion, homicide, suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited. But we also read that those who contribute to famines are liable for the deaths of the starving, that destroying whole cities in wartime is a crime, and that “the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race” (2329). The death penalty is limited to cases in which it would be necessary to protect other victims from the aggressor–something solitary confinement in a maximum security prison can certainly do.
It is relatively easy to be pro-life when it comes to the slaughtering of an innocent in the womb. It’s harder to care about a serial killer. It’s pretty easy to know it’s wrong to throw a newborn in a dumpster. It’s harder to say that no one, no matter how sick he is or how much he is suffering, has a right to take his own life. It’s easy to decide to support laws which ban abortions. It’s harder to support laws requiring that tax dollars be spent to keep poor children off the street, to provide aid to mothers on welfare, to create programs for job training for unskilled workers.
Being consistent isn’t easy. All human beings are a mass of inconsistencies. Being a truly pro-life Catholic isn’t easy either, but Jesus never claimed that His was an easy road to follow.
“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to buy a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough to love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.” –Wilbur Reese
God, the Giver of life, the Creator of life, calls us to believe in life 100%. If we’re only willing to give $3.00, then we aren’t pro-life. We’re just anti-abortion.