23 January 2012

talking in a mud-free zone

Yesterday was Sanctity of Life Sunday. 22nd January is the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, a landmark decision made in 1973 by the US Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. And I'd like to say right at the start of this post that I'm not about to launch into a tirade of abuse and criticism against those who would describe themselves as pro-choice. This is officially a Mud-Free Zone. As in No Mudslinging.

Sanctity of Life Sunday isn't acknowledged in Britain, although the topic of abortion is rarely out of the news in this country at the moment because the Department of Health is considering making changes to the assistance offered to women with crisis pregnancies. Various bloggers have written articles to mark the anniversary, and in America the famous evangelist John Piper has preached his annual sermon on the subject. Having "liked" him on Facebook, I receive regular notification on my news feed of his status updates, and although I can't remember the exact wording of the phrase that lodged itself in my mind yesterday, it was to the effect that if you feel strongly about something you should act upon those strong feelings and not allow yourself to become apathetic about the issue in question. A passion should give rise to action. But when you feel strongly about an issue, how exactly should you behave? What should you do? What is the most effective and appropriate way of expressing your allegiance to a stance and, more importantly, furthering its cause? 

The quickest way to engage in a debate about any controversial topic nowadays is to go straight to an online forum and jump in at the deep end. They exist all over the internet in various forms, and are populated by all types of people holding all kinds of views. I am always really interested to read the readers' comments at the foot of any newspaper article written on such a topic, and irrespective of the opinions expressed by the paper or the article's author, the comments section is always packed with all sorts of conflicting feedback. And what always really stands out for me is the amount of vitriol and hatred demonstrated in such forums. Unbelievable amounts of mud are slung. Insults are traded. People are judged harshly by complete strangers because of what they believe or what they've done. And this doesn't just happen on the dreaded Daily Mail website, either. I often read the Telegraph online, and today followed an unfolding dialogue between a woman who had had an abortion many years previously whilst still a student and regretted becoming unexpectedly pregnant (though she felt that her chosen cause of action was, on balance, the correct one) and a man who threw phrases such as "Shame on you for your folly in having sex with a man to whom you were not married!" at her. The woman responded in really quite a restrained manner considering what was being levelled at her. She didn't rise up in anger and use terms like "religious fundamentalist nutter" in response, which is what you see so often when abortion is discussed and pro-lifers try to get their point across. I am pro-life myself, and I read the man's comments and thought, "You are winning nobody round to your way of thinking. No sensible person is going to read what you say and be convinced of the sanctity of life if they weren't already. You are not a good example of the pro-life movement. You come across as simply bitter that you seem to be losing the fight against abortion, and are lashing out in fury." And over on the Guardian website, I read an article that provoked physical anger in me, because it suggested that Christian pro-lifers are not fit to counsel young women considering abortions and equated the term "anti-abortion" to being "anti-sex and fundamentalist" which, I'd wager, were not intended as compliments. Again, if the writer of the article was trying to win fence-sitters - or indeed pro-lifers - round to her way of thinking, she wasn't making a terribly successful job of it. I couldn't help comparing what was being said by people at opposite ends of the spectrum opinions-wise with a discussion I had with some of my friends on Facebook about abstinence and its place in the sex education curriculum.  The tone was altogether different, and although there was plenty of disagreement (and occasional hilarity) on the subject, there was also underlying respect. People suggested things I hadn't thought of, and though my mind wasn't changed, I was challenged. I hope others were too. 

I remember reading Barack Obama's book years ago, in which he explained carefully his views on abortion. And although he didn't manage to alter my pro-life stance, again I was challenged by his reasoning. He provoked thought in me without arousing fury at the same time. And I'm pretty sure that's the way to do it. There are a plethora of ways of supporting your cause, whatever it may be, and demonstrating that you are passionate about it and have given tremendous amounts of thought to why you believe it is worth supporting. Usually there's a dealbreaker for most people: a fact with which they believe there can be no real argument. And there's a way of conveying that dealbreaker to others without flinging insults and shouting people down and deliberately using provocative terms to describe others' views. No one is ever won round in such a manner. No well-thought-out decision on any important subject is ever made by someone covered in hurled mud. And this is what has given me pause for thought today. You can feel very strongly about something, and stand up passionately for that belief, without expressing yourself aggressively and offensively. You may not change the minds of those who oppose you, but you may sow a seed and make them stop to consider their own opinions. There are those who can offer financial support or generous amounts of time or publicity to a cause. And as the Bible verse Proverbs 12v18 says: "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing". Yes indeed.