Pro-life imagery: When pictures speak a thousand words

I went to Mass today, like I do every Sunday, and did the routine. I enter, dip, cross, and head over to the selection of pamphlets they put out every week. After stuffing my bag full of CareNotes on bereavement, I scan the selection further for more winners…and found a loser.

It was a pamphlet on a topic ubiquitous in Catholic circles…the culture of life.

Granted, this isn’t a Catholic phenomenon, but a larger Christian one. Indeed, many Protestants are more fanatical than Catholics on that subject. It’s not Catholic teaching on life issues that I am here to discuss, though. Rather, it is the image on the front of that brochure that made me think and that triggered this post hours after I saw it.

Not surprisingly, the picture was of a baby.

Christians who promote a culture of life usually try to do so by preaching against, and using the political process to restrict or ban, abortion, birth control, and euthanasia/assited suicide. Often included in this cause are activism against war and the death penalty.

A wealth of images was available to whomever created this pamphlet.

A man in a cell talking to a priest.

An elderly person being cared for by a nurse.

An adult with Down Syndrome on vacation with his family.

An Iraqui child with prosthetic limbs in physical therapy.

No. Unless the pamphlet specifically addresses a particular life issue, the symbol of the culture of life is a baby. I can’t think of any occasion where it was not.

Further, whenever the culture of life is discussed, abortion is almost always brought up first and tends to get the most airtime. It’s almost as though “culture of life” is a buzzword for anit-abortion politics rather than a larger way of thinking and acting that respects the sanctity of human life. The other pro-life causes are just trappings.

One of the great frustrations, to the faithful and atheistic alike, of religion is the propensity of many faithful to constantly seek fault with other followers. Just as Orthodox Jews criticize Reform and Reconstructionist Jews of being heretics, so liberal Catholics have their own moniker-Cafeteria Catholics. The great irony of this is that those who screech the loudest about the damage we heretics do to the faith are just as “guilty” of buffet attendance as we are.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a Catholic classmate in high school who went into an angry tirade about the immorality of abortion but who then turned around and expressed an almost sadistic support of the death penalty. This despite the fact that the Church is very clearly against the death penalty in almost all cases. I’ve seen far too many Christians wax hysterial over the evils of abortion while expressing what, again, can only be described as a sadistic love affair with the death penalty and war. I expect that someone will argue that the latter two activities kill bad guys whereas abortion kills the good guys. But how is a pregnancy that is risking a mother’s life and taking her away from her husband and existing children a good thing? What about people who were executed who were later found to be innocent? What about people whose “treason” consisted of owning the wrong newspaper? What about the women, born and unborn children, elderly, sick, and other *civilians* killed in war?

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy, where am I going with this? My point is that anti-abortion sentiment is taken for granted among Christians and Catholics, but it’s far more permissible, apparently, to engage in or support practices that are just as reprehensible in the eyes of the Church as abortion.

Admittedly, it’s much easier to garner sympathy for cute little babies than for hardened criminals, but one of the points that Jesus stressed most in his ministry was that being one of His disciples was hard work. It was not something you could just abandon once it became inconvenient for you. Likewise, Catholics cannot abandon their values regarding life once they decide they don’t like the person whose life is considered sacred.

In general, it’s easy to get behind the cause of preserving the lives of little babies. How many pamphlets would people collect if the picture on the front depicted a comatose teenaged drug addict whose family is wondering, “Is it time to let go?” Probably none at all. A couple of weeks ago, when I attended Mass, a special prayer was said for the soldiers in the Middle East “defending our freedom.” First, I don’t believe for a minute that we are defending anyone’s freedom over there at this point, and I don’t know why so many people continue to clutch that pearl. Second, this is yet another example of Christian hypocrisy on life issues. Notice that no prayer was said for the innocent civilians being maimed and slaughtered in this war. Notice that no prayer was said pleading God to bring our troops home, who are mostly young men with their whole lives ahead of them, who likely had no idea what they were really in for in this war that is both immoral and unnecessary.  No prayer was said to give other young men the strength to resist the lavish promises of the warmongers so that they may be drawn into the Hell on earth that is the Middle East.

Now back to the iconic baby. Birth in many Christians’ eyes is seen as an ultimate good.


Having children that one does not want and cannot care for is a recipe for disaster. How many children ended up disabled or ill because of abuse and neglect? In trouble with the law? How many elderly, disabled, or other marginalized people are overlooked by people whose parents never taught them by example how to understand and be compassionate? How does the Church address this?

That image on the front of that pamphlet sums up everything that is wrong with so much of Christian politics today and with the pro-life movement.

They revere the unborn and a romanticized version of motherhood at the expense of the real-world well-being of mothers and children and the rest of us who are already here.



  1. Bree · September 6, 2010

    I totally agree with you. I was raised in a very liberal non-denominational household. My grandmother was a lapsed Catholic who stopped practicing when she came from Germany to the States, so you can see that when it comes to organized religion, I don’t agree with a lot of the arguments most fundamental Christians have towards abortion.

    It seems that they are so gung-ho to protect the child when it’s in the mother’s womb, but as soon as it’s born, they don’t care about it anymore. It is now filled with sin and a burden on us taxpayers, especially if it is born into a household of poverty and where the mother may be single and/or a minority. Then these so-called Christians start whining about having their tax dollars go towards their care. Well, you wanted this child so desperately to be born, now you live with the consequences I say.

    The culture of life should not just be about unborn children. If people are going to identify themselves as pro-life, that means they fight for the dignity of all life, including the people that you mentioned in your post.You don’t stop caring once the babies are born and the soldiers come back from America after their duty has ended.

  2. vesta44 · September 6, 2010

    Just to talk about the babies portion of the pro-life movement, I’ve always thought that those who are pro-life in that manner should have to put their money where their mouths are. They don’t want women to have access to birth control or abortions, fine, then step up to the plate and support those unwanted children they forced women to have, support the families of women who died because they couldn’t get an abortion and carrying a child to term killed them. And by support them, I don’t mean just monetarily. I mean they need to provide monetary support, but also the mental, emotional, and physical support that a loving parent would provide. But if you told them that, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that they’d say it’s not their responsibility. Sorry, if it’s not your responsibility, you who have campaigned against birth control and abortion access for women, then whose responsibility is it? Put up, or STFU is my stance on it.

  3. JeninCanada · September 11, 2010

    Nice blog you’ve got here! An excellent post that should be printed out and posted up in public spaces at churches.

    • joannadeadwinter · September 11, 2010

      Thanks so much and come back soon.:) Right now, I share it online and with people that I trust, but when I move into an area where not everyone knows who I am, I might feel more confident.:) Small town life, you know.

  4. Pingback: In which I flatter (and chastise) myself… « Dead of Winter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s