Wednesday, February 09, 2011

When I Was a Pro-Choice Atheist, Part 5

I keep thinking that I've finished this series, and yet I know that this subject is never neatly wrapped up with a bow or a snappy ending. Just a few more thoughts.

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here 
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here 

Yesterday, when I talked with Sean Herriott on Relevant Radio, we spent some time on the idea that it's so hard to get past labels: pro-life, pro-choice, anti-abortion, pro-abortion, pro-death, pro-child, pro-woman, anti-woman, and on and on.

As Sean noted, we all tend to label ourselves according to our own understanding of our positions. And, we tend to label the other side according to our understanding of their position in relation to ours, rather than as a position or worldview in itself.

(And then we get mad, call each other names and go home and blog about it.)

I'm reminded of one of the best quotes I've ever encountered about disagreements. In Madeleine L'Engle's autobiographical book, A Circle of Quiet, she recounts an argument about baseball between her husband and ten-year-old son.

Bion said, "But, Daddy, you just don't understand!"

Hugh replied in his reasonable way, "It's not that I don't understand. I just don't agree with you."

To which our son returned, "If you don't agree with me, you don't understand."

That seems to be the way most of us communicate.

Instead of philosophies and worldviews being volleyed back and forth, instead of saying, "I know you don't agree with me, but have you considered this?" and reasonably presenting a position, we say, "You don't get it," and we walk away. And, on the receiving end (and I mean this whether one is on the pro-life or the pro-choice receiving end of such arguments) all too often, rather than logically considering another's position and continuing the conversation, we cut it off, as if hearts are changed over one cup of coffee.

Conversions happen slowly for most of us. They are a process, not a moment. So, keep talking.

On the other hand, sometimes everything we say seems to fall on deaf ears. We've tried to talk calmly, lovingly, we've tried to make it a two-way conversation, but we throw our hands up and are stuck feeling in Bion's place: "If you don't agree with me, you don't understand." As I mentioned to Sean at the end of yesterday's conversation, some conversations come to a standstill. We decide, or we are told, "We have to agree to disagree."

It's hard to hear that (and to say that) because most of us, deep down, genuinely think that if others really understood what we said,  they'd agree with us. But, sometimes, they really do understand and they really do still disagree.

That's called free will. 

There's still the responsibility for each of us on our respective sides to do what we believe is right, but there will always be clashes. We are a fallen race. Still, there is prayer and love and a relationship.  There's still the chance for me to try to be the kind of friend that my Catholic friend was to me all those years ago. He (and C.S. Lewis) helped me to see that God can "hate the sin but not the sinner."

Can't I try to do the same? Isn't that what the Gospel commands us to do?

If Thy law had not been my delight,
I should have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget Thy precepts
for by them, Thou has given me Life.

~~ Psalm 119:92


  1. Love this.

    Feel that way about my husband, who is not Catholic, if only he understood...

  2. Thanks, entropy --

    And, y'know ... sometimes there's a lot to be said for the "understood" argument .... I used to feel that way about my husband as well, because he really didn't understand Catholicism. But as he dug further and understanding grew, he did come to agree with it, with me ....

    The tough thing in a marriage is letting God do the real work, and just trying to be available for the earthly grunt work of discussion, book lending, etc. I know how hard it can be sometimes to know how much to say, what to encourage (or ignore), etc.

    Hang in there!

  3. I have so enjoyed this series...nodding along with it and (as usual) enjoying your writing. You are saying it all so well.

  4. Hi, I just found your blog tonight, and it is great to read this series. I was raised as an atheist, became Christian as an adult and am now considering becoming Catholic. Until the last couple years, when I have been riding the fence, I was always pro-choice. In several of the conversion stories I have read, people recount how they first time they had a positive view of Catholicism was when they worked with Catholics in the pro-life movement. While I find other aspects of the stories compelling, I think this is the first time I've encountered someone who I think would "get" where I'm coming from and not take the pro-life position for granted. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote, and it helps to see how another person experienced that transition.

  5. Hi, T. -- thanks for your comment, and I'm glad that some of this series was a bit helpful. You'll be in my prayers as your journey continues ...