Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Pro-Life Counter-Offensive

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 23, 2009

Phil Lawler’s blog entry yesterday (see Lost Opportunities) struck a chord, but it was a dissonant chord, and I’d like to take advantage of it to start a larger conversation. Of course I’d rather take advantage of it to start a pro-life counter-offensive, rather than earn Phil’s further displeasure by waiting any longer, but I don’t know how to do that. Which is exactly my point.

In a key paragraph, Phil writes: “Still we sit and wait, like McClellan and his powerful Army of the Potomac, waiting for just the right moment to launch our counter-offensive. But that ideal moment never arrives, and meanwhile the culture of death tightens its grip on our society.”

What are we to make of this indictment? Well, it depends on whom Phil means by “we”. Some of us have put quite a lot of effort into the pro-life cause; clearly Phil does not mean to denigrate those efforts, as if this particular group of “us” has just been sitting around. I suspect the vast majority of regular users are in this category. Of course there is a much larger group of people, both Catholics and otherwise, who support abortion or, at the least, don’t care about it much one way or another. But such people are objects rather than potential initiators of our counter-offensive, so presumably they are not the “we” Phil has in mind either.

This would leave, I suppose, the fairly large group of people who are generally pro-life as long as it doesn’t seriously interfere with their other priorities, people who ought to make more of an effort, instead of (for example) automatically voting for pro-abortion candidates whenever any other reason to do so suggests itself. In this sense, “we” indicates the potential reservoir of pro-life support in our country, a reservoir which may be growing shallower as the courts and the dominant politicians manipulate the law to foster a different sort of culture altogether. But I have breaking news: Most of “us” (in this sense) are not waiting for the right moment to launch a counter-offensive.

So what is the point of Phil Lawler’s indictment? I’ve deliberately not asked him, because the possibility for an ongoing discussion is better served by permitting myself a slightly adversarial tone (which considering how much Phil and I tend to think alike, is very difficult to achieve). But since Phil Lawler typically chooses words with extreme care and effect, I’m willing to bet that he anticipated—and hoped for—exactly this sort of reaction when he wrote the piece.

Okay, I’ll be the first to take the bait. My point in doing so is this: McClellan and his successors had obvious and enormous power that they did not know how to use effectively. We don’t. The only group of “us” that has wanted to launch a counter-offensive consists of those who have been working all along in favor of life without the ability to get an effective counter-offensive off the ground. The question is not only what a successful counter-offensive might look like but also whether an effective counter-offensive is even possible in our current cultural circumstances—or whether, in fact, we’ve really been doing the best that we can.

Well, perhaps “best that we can” is too strong. Each one of us, obviously, could do something more, but I suspect that each one of us doubts whether taking those extra steps, whatever they may be, will be enough to make a difference. In my opinion, there are very good reasons for such doubts. We’ve long ago joined battle and tried a thousand things, but there has been no strategic initiative capable of doing more than slowing the progress of the culture-of-death juggernaut. One may well contest, with some asperity, the idea that this failure has been caused by those who care doing too much sitting and waiting.

Now, having bitten, it would be a great waste of all our time if I did not proceed to suggest some of the reasons that no initiative has been very effective, and what might be done with the collective resources “we” still have to make better progress over the long term. I’m pretty sure that’s what Phil Lawler hoped would happen, and not only from me but from readers as well. Admittedly, there are no easy answers but, starting tomorrow, I’ll go on to actually swallow the hook and post a few ideas. I believe I know without asking that, when he returns from his trip, Phil intends to do the same.


Discussion in order:


Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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