Podcast Transcript | About Abortion with Dave Brennan
Pro-life apologetics in a post-truth world | 25 July 2023 | Episode 57
Hello, and welcome to this week's episode of About Abortion.
There are within the pro-life world at least two major camps. We could call them the secular camp and the sacred camp. I don't want to stereotype these, or portray them unfairly, but I think it's fair to say we have at least these two major camps. The one that we might call the secular camp are in fact broadly, mostly Christian by conviction. They are privately and perhaps in other contexts quite publically and unashamedly Christian, but their philosophy is that when it comes to pro-life activism, we keep God out of the picture. We don't mention God, our faith, but we have to argue in a neutral way. We use secular arguments, and that's the way that they proceed. The organisations will try to hide their Christianity, or suggest they are not Christians, and they're purely secular human rights organisations, and that's how they proceed.
On the other hand you have two further camps. You've got those who say they're pro-life, but have quite a defeatist approach, who say, "Until the nation becomes Christian again, until everyone's converted, we can't see any social change, because the foundation for pro-life conviction is the Christian faith. So there's nothing we can do except preach the gospel." And sometimes these folks would have quite a narrow conception of what it means to "just preach the gospel", and although they might say they support pro-life work in principle, in reality, there's no hope there for the time being. So all efforts are diverted towards straight evangelism, and it's thought that the nation will become quite naturally pro-life once it becomes Christian again. And I have some sympathy with that view, and I certainly agree with the primacy of evangelism. But that's one of these sub-camps.
The other sub-camp would be those who do engage the culture very directly on the issue of abortion and other moral issues. But they argue much more from authority and they certainly don't want to keep God out of the picture. And I want to really begin a conversation now about where we should place ourselves. Is it with one, or the other, somewhere in the middle or somewhere totally different? Because without doubt, wherever we land on this, we have to agree that it's such an important question. Something most of us would agree on is that we are in a culture that's moving further and further away at the moment from the gospel. We are seeking to engage a culture that's post-Christian. Indeed, we could say increasingly anti-Christian. How do we engage in moral debate with a culture that largely does not share the foundational convictions that we do about God and the law of God? How do we do that?
So I'm going to play for you a recording of a talk I gave at the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK Teams Conference a few weeks ago. We've got teams all over the United Kingdom out on the streets, engaging members of the public, using big pictures showing the reality of life in the womb, and exposing the inhumanity of what we call "abortion" - the violence done to human beings in the womb. Our teams go out there and use a Socratic questioning method, helping people review their beliefs and assumptions about abortion, and by God's grace we see many minds changed, and we see lives saved. And I think it's fair to say that whilst we wouldn't fall neatly into any of these camps, historically we've had more of a secular approach on the streets with our pictures, science, human rights arguments, and that logical Socratic questioning method. We've sought the common ground and our basic argument has been, "Look, if you believe in human rights, and the unborn child is a human being, which science shows us beyond any doubt, then shouldn't the unborn child also get human rights?" That's been the essence of what we at least lead with, not to the exclusion of evangelism and looking at the foundations, but that's been our predominant approach over the years. At our recent Teams Conference I sought to introduce to people a way in which I believe we now need to go much further and much deeper in our apologetics essentially. Please understand, I'm not seeing this as a closed book. This is very much the beginning of us grappling with How do we engage the culture at this particular moment in time? I want us to begin thinking these things through, and I would welcome feedback and engagement:
"Finally, one of the hardest things, and a number of us have found this increasingly... It seems that over the last five years especially, we've seen a bit of a shift. With some people, whereas it was enough to show the reality of the baby and make the case, it was scientific ignorance - "I didn't realise it was that developed!" and so on, for many people that was enough for them to make the jump to being somewhat pro-life. But something we've seen increasingly over the last five years, (definitely in Norwich,) is people able to look at the pictures, able to contemplate full-term abortion and even infanticide, and say, "I'm comfortable with that, because at the end of the day it's just her choice. It's up to me. It's about my rights, my truth, my reality." So how do we engage a culture that's increasingly going that way? Not a truth-centred culture, a self-centred culture, where even the notion of objective truth is being left behind. How do we engage a post-truth culture?
Before we dive into that, I want to say by way of caveat, I still really believe that with huge swathes of people, the pictures and the human rights argument are very effective. I think there are at least two reasons why they still work with many. Firstly, although we live in a culture that's increasingly God-less, it does still have this post-Christian, residual law and structures that may not be fully understood or consistently held to, but things like equality and care for the weak etc. This post-Christian hangover is real and it still has an impact at various levels. So although we could say it's fading, it's not gone and can still be used. The other more universal and timeless reason is that every human being does have a conscience. God has given us a conscience. His law is written on our hearts, we're made in the image of God and instincts such as the maternal instinct are very strong. In fact, in Scripture, they're taken as a given even amongst those who are evil. Jesus said, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children"... (Matt. 7:11) and in Isaiah 49:15 it says, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?" Of course it's not universally adhered to, but it's one of the most basic inbuilt instincts in human nature to care for one's own children. It's not flawless. The conscience is not enough to save people or really transform them, but it is enough for people to know deep down what's wrong a lot of the time. So for those two reasons I think the pictures and the human rights arguments continue to work. We shouldn't give up on them.
But increasingly we're running into trouble because our assumptions about our own culture are becoming outdated. In particular, our assumption that people will take science and reality seriously. Two examples of this: the whole trans debate. We're seeing people quite happy to ignore biologial reality. People are quite happy to detach themselves from reality and just go with their feelings and desires and make their own reality. And a step futher than that, they will then often perceive truth claims contrary to what they want not as information, but as a personal attack. They will see that as violence, an assault on them, rather than information. That becomes an attack which they will try and repel.
I think a great example of this was when we were doing a display in Norwich a few months ago, and we had in this instance just two living pictures and a sign saying, "Follow the science," and it had some information on the moment of fertilisation - that's all. There was no moral language, no imperatives, just some scientific facts. And this woman came along and instantly burst into a rage, and said, "So what you're doing is, you're calling me a murderer." She had several embryos through IVF in a freezer and she was about to discard them. But she made the connection. The facts convicted her, but she perceived that presentation of the facts as a personal attack, so she rejects them. She's come back again and again trying to fight against what we're doing, but all she's really fighting against are the facts, because we haven't said anything. So we're in a culture that's not only ambivalent towards objective truth, but actually often hostile to science and reality. We'll follow the science if it suits, but not if it doesn't. So that's one assumption that's becoming more and more outdated.
The other assumption is that people care about human rights. Most people will say they care about human rights, but do they actually? If it were true that people took science and human rights seriously, it really would be as simple as: show the pictures, make the human rights argument, and they're with you. The fact that it doesn't go as easily as that shows that there's much more at play beneath the surface that we need to be thinking about. People seem very comfortable with shifting the goalposts within a conversation. So you show the pictures, make the case, answer their questions, and they shift the goalpost to still defend their position, even though all the reasons they've just given for it have been defeated. Something else is at play that I want to try and explore.
I want to give you a quote from Scott Klusendorf's book The Case for Life. Whereas we're talking about the centre of gravity culturally, legislatively, I want to think about what it is idealogically. This is what Scott says quoting J. Gresham Machen:
"False ideas are the greatest obstacle to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer, but succeed only in winning a straggler here and there if we permit the collective thought of a nation to be controlled by ideas which by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion."
(Although we could say now, maybe harmful delusion in our culture.)
"Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. What is today a matter of speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage it has gone too far to be combatted. The time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thoughts of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity more than a logical absurdity."
He says it's true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. He's not saying that it's our clever arguments that have the power to change things. What he is saying is that ideas and ideologies, worldviews, whole networks of thinking, dictate people's particular thoughts and beliefs and attitudes, don't they? So as long as we leave those worldviews untouched, they will continue to dictate what they think about abortion for example. It's not to say that we can't see gains without going there, but unless we hit the ideologies and indeed the idols of our culture, those things will continue to move people to just shift the goalposts, justify what it is they want to have, even when it doesn't make sense. So we need to try and get to the source, the heart of our culture. What's driving this abortion culture? Romans 1:18-32 reads,
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is for ever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 reads,
But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
So, do you see here that there are two things in particular that flow out from a suppression of the truth of God and the worship of the Living God, and the adoption of idols - worshipping created things. One is insanity - foolish thinking and foolish acting. That's where it comes from. Some people take this to the conclusion, which I would call a blinkered or even a defeatist evangelical view, that there's no point doing social reform until the whole country becomes converted and is Christian already. Some people say, "There's no point, we're not going to see any change, we have to make everyone Christian first and then they'll become pro-life." I think that expression is false for at least two reasons. One is, we know non-Christians can become pro-life, because of the conscience, the way God's made them, because of the post-Christian hangover in our culture. We know that non-Christians can be persuaded of the human rights case. We also know that Christians need to be persuaded. It's not as if when you become a Christian, you automatically become pro-life. How many Christians need to see the pictures and hear the case made? So I don't think the answer is to drop social reform, activism, apologetics etc, and simply preach the gospel and hope that abortion will be ended automatically at the end.
But the second, more important reason is that I reject the idea that one should avoid issues of morality in evangelism. I don't think it's true that we should tiptoe around the moral issues in order to just do evangelism. I don't think that's how Jesus did evangelism. Jesus often made a beeline for the moral issue, the heart issue, the thorny issue, the one that everyone else might have been tempted to avoid. He spoke to the rich man about money, he spoke to the woman at the well about her sex life, he spoke to the men squabbling over inheritance about greed. Jesus didn't avoid the moral issues. In fact, the moral issues, rightly handled, are the perfect gateway and opportunity for evangelism and sharing the gospel.
So, I don't think the answer is to drop the issue of abortion and just preach the gospel. However, if we're going to reach our culture most effectively, and as Scott put it in his quote, "reach more than just the stragglers," I think we do need to hit the root more than what we're currently doing. Alastair Campbell said, "We don't do God." Well, I'm saying, "We need to do God." We need to be prepared to root our idols. We need to proclaim the gospel and engage at a religious and ideological level. Not all the time. It takes wisdom. Even Jesus didn't give it all at once. There's wisdom on when we start and how quickly we proceed. But we need to be prepared at a religious and ideological level because what precipitated 1967 is not a dip in science, a dip in knowledge. That's not what caused 1967. But broadly looking at culture from a height, it was a culture moving away from God, it was the sexual revolution, and child sacrifice is what the gods of our age have demanded. The sexual revolution demanded as its price child sacrifice. That's where it's come from. It's the God of self, expressed especially through sexual 'liberty' as it's called. (It's actually captivity, but thought of as liberty.) That's the source of this, where it's really come from, and I think we need to be prepared to go there.
So, this is why on the streets, where you've shown the facts, presented the evidence, made the case, answered all their questions, and they can't disagree with anything you say. And at the end they say, "But I do still think it's her choice." What's going on there? They still recoil, rebound into the default position. I think it's because what you're up against is not intellectual, it's spiritual. These are not intellectually honest or intellectually free people making honest mistakes. These are ideologically committed people, ideologically captive people, who will remain ideologically committed in the face of truth and sound arguments and evidence etc. In the face of what is clearly humane and right, they will cling on. They will re-write reality itself in an instant. They'll move the goalposts at the drop of a hat to maintain their position. Why? Because it's not a position they got to because of intellectual persuasion or the scientific evidence. What does Romans 1 tell us? They've suppressed the truth of God, in particular creation. They've denied that He is Creator. They've worshipped idols and the fruit of worshipping idols results in two things: insanity and depravity. That's where this has come from. They're killing babies because their idols tell them to. Idolatry dictates our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. It's our sinful desires that fasten us to our idols, and that generate our idols. We make idols in order to justify what we want to do. This is why the evidence and logic alone is not enough.
Jesus talked about how you have to bind the strong man up before you can take his stuff. As long as the strong man's not bound up, the strong man will continue to dicate what happens next. If someone's a middle-man in a Maffia gang and the big boss has told them to go and do something, and you bump into them along the way, and you prove logically that it wouldn't be kind, and you even say, "and it wouldn't be good for you either," are they going to listen if they've got Don Corleone back at HQ waiting to see the job done, and if it's not done, they're sleeping with the fishes that night. For as long as they are living in the fear of the big boss, they're just not listening, and it doesn't really matter what you present to them, they're not going to hear. So, until their allegience with that idol is broken, as long as they're in the grip of that idol, it will continue to dictate their thoughts and decisions. And that's why we get that rebound: "Well, I still just think it's her choice." Even though you've disproven every single point they've must made. The idol is dictating.
So, when we find that the normal approach doesn't work, what we've uncovered there is a spiritual problem. Even when it's not making sense in the Church, when it should be obvious, being pretty clear in Scripture when life begins, so what's blocking this? It's idolatry in the Church. It's a spiritual issue we're up against. When things aren't making sense, often it's because of idolatry, because what does idolatry breed? Insanity and depravity. One of the greatest lies of our age is the claim of secular humanism to be neutral. It's as if we're the religious ones, the ones bringing our outdated morality, we're the ones who are ideological. Recently I saw a doctor saying, "There'll be those who want to stop this for ideological reasons, but it's important that we progress with our science." Well, science is an ideology, especially if it's killing people to do it. So, it's this great lie that we're the ideological ones, the ones who are morally charged, and secular society at large is netural, doesn't have a morality, and it's gone beyond religion. It's a total lie and it needs to be exposed. There is no neutral when it comes to the killing of babies. The view that it's wrong to kill a baby is no more religious than the view that it's okay to kill a baby. They're both moral, religious, ideological statements. We need to stop allowing secular humanism to get away with being seen as neutral as if it's not an ideology.
Biblically we know that we're all worshippers. We're created to worship. If we don't worship the Living God we'll worship something else. We're religious. Secular humanists are religious. A fish cannot describe water because it's just in the water, and it's like that with secular humanism. People don't realise they're caught up in the religion of our day, the worship of self, individualism. This is every bit as religious as anything else. In America all these Americans said of me, "Oh, he's got an accent," and I'm thinking, I think you'll find you're the ones with the accent actually. It's like that with secular humanism. They don't think they're the ones with the religion. Secular humanism is a religion. In part it's a cult of death, a religion that demands child sacrifice. So, we're all worshippers. We all operate with an ultimate love, an ultimate authority which dictates everything else. I think we need to be prepared to expose that for what it is, what it's doing, the effects on people, on babies, on society. We need to show what it promises. The thing about idols is that they never deliver what they promise, and they can't carry out what they threaten. If you don't obey them, they threaten that your life's going to be ruined. They're gods that are no-gods at all.
So I think we need to expose these foundations root and branch. We need to expose that this idol demands the blood of innocent babies. This idol flies in the face of reality. This idol pretends to reject truth and yet it becomes its own totally arbitrary truth. So I think we need to be prepared to expose the futility and wickedness of this idol for what it is. I think we need to expose that what our culture really cares about is not following the science, and it's not equality and human rights, though it might claim to. It's really the idolatry of self. What we really care about are our passions. That's what scripture says - lovers of self, of pleasure. That's what's really going on here. I'm not saying we bring that in a condemnatory way, but we help people to see what they're being swept up in and how it's not going to deliever what they think it will. Idolatry always disappoints."
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