Remarks from Rob Arner at the Warminster March for Life, November 2, 2019, at the Warminster Planned Parenthood center where they do abortions. Slightly edited.
It’s wonderful to be with you this afternoon for the first of what will hopefully be an annual event at this facility, until such a time when the hearts of our culture have been opened to love and this event is no longer necessary. A little about me – I’m a theology and ethics professor and director of admissions and financial aid at Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Montgomery County, and I also teach religion at Temple University. I have a strong, loving wife Lori and three terrific kids, 10, 7, and 5 years old. I am also on the board of the Consistent Life Network.
My message for you today comes out of the Christian tradition. You may have heard people in the media saying Catholics and other Christians have hitched our pro-life convictions to a specific political agenda. That we’re being made use of by certain politicians for cynical political gain, or that our beliefs about the sacredness of human life are only concerned with the unborn. Some say about us, “You’re not pro-life, you’re only pro-birth,” as if our concern for the lives of the innocent and vulnerable stop at the moment of birth.
But I want to tell you, the Christian roots of the pro-life movement are far, far older than Roe v. Wade in 1973. They are far broader than only caring for the lives of the unborn, and they are far, far deeper than partisan politics of the left or the right can ever truly comprehend.
No, my friends, Christians are pro-life because the Bible tells us from the very first chapter that we’re made in the image and likeness of God. Every person, male and female, of every race, nation, social class, level of ability, or stage of development, is a genetically unique and irreplaceable being of fathomless value. This is the pro-life message of the Christian tradition, and it’s our call to proclaim it boldly in all places where human life is threatened or demeaned.
I want to share with you some of the voices of ancient Christianity, some of the first Christian writings from after the time of the apostles that demonstrate that the church has stood up for the weak and vulnerable, including the unborn, during all eras of its history, not just the modern one. While it’s true the Bible itself doesn’t address abortion directly, other influential early Christian writings from the first three centuries of the church’s existence most certainly do.
I want to help bring those voices to life for you for two reasons:
- To show conclusively that Christians have always been pro-life, and
- To help you better understand your own pro-life convictions with the help of those in the tradition who have gone before us.
Setting the Scene
The ancient Roman Empire, out of which Christianity emerged, was not a culture that valued life. The emperors routinely executed their rivals and political prisoners by crucifixion or beheading. Likewise, when a Roman citizen wanted to watch a sporting event, they didn’t go down to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies play baseball like we might. Instead, they would go down to the Coliseum and watch a gladiator match. This was essentially two slaves who were forced to fight to the death while the audience cheered. That was what passed for “sports” in ancient Rome.
Likewise, both prenatal abortions and postnatal infanticide and exposures of unwanted or “defective” children were widely practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. Although apparently more widely practiced among the rich, abortion was a cultural practice that transcended socio-economic status. Wealthy families aborted pregnancies because of concerns about dividing their estate among too many offspring, while poor families aborted out of fear of being unable to support large families.
Particularly among the upper classes, women would also seek abortions out of concern for the preservation of their sex appeal and “youthful beauty.” Many times, abortions were also practiced to conceal evidence of adultery. The emperor Domitian had an affair with his niece Julia, and ordered her to abort the pregnancy to hide it, a procedure which resulted in the young woman’s death.
Roman families would also take babies who had been born alive, and if there was something “wrong” with the baby – it appeared deformed, or was the “wrong” gender, they would leave the baby on a mountainside to die. This practice was known as the “exposure” of infants. One distinctive practice that set the early Christians apart from their pagan neighbors was that the Christians would routinely patrol the areas where babies were known to have been left. If they found the babies alive, they’d take them in and adopt them.
Early Christian Writers and Pro-Life Convictions
In the Didache, an early Christian discipleship manual from the late 1st or early 2nd century, the moral formation section is known as the “Two Ways,” – a “Way of Life” and a “Way of Death.” Under the “Way of Life”, the teaching on abortion is simple and unequivocal: “You shall not murder a child by [means of] abortion [φθορᾷ, phthora], nor kill one who has been born.” Later, the Didache lists those who belong to the “Way of Death,” among whom we find, “murderers of children, who abort the mold of God” (Did. 5.2).
A version of the “Two Ways” section of the Didache is also present in the Epistle of Barnabas, from around the year 100, which reiterates the command against abortion, but puts it in a different context: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion [phthora]. You shall not kill what has been born” (Ep. Barn. 19.5). In this version, “the fetus is seen not as part of its mother, but as a neighbor” (Gorman, 49). Thus deliberate killing of the fetus or born child is seen as a gross violation of the neighbor, whom the Christian is obligated to love.
The great Latin apologist Tertullian, writing around AD 197, discussed abortion at length, refuting the pagan rumors that Christians kill and eat children in their Eucharistic feasts. Noting the common nature of abortions and exposures among pagan society, Tertullian throws the charge of child-murder back in the faces of his accusers and points out that they are the real child-killers. He concludes, observing the impossibility of Christians eating children because
with us, murder is forbidden once for all. We are not permitted to destroy even the fetus in the womb, as long as blood is still being drawn to form a human being. To prevent the birth of a child is a quicker way to murder. It makes no difference whether one destroys a soul already born or interferes with its coming to birth. It is a human being and one who is to be a man, for the whole fruit is already present in the seed. (Tertullian, Apol. 9:6-8)
The two great theologians from Alexandria in Egypt, Clement and Origen, each commented briefly on abortion in their weighty theological books. Clement’s very long Paedogogus references abortion in the context of a discussion on marriage. He addresses the destructive effects of abortion on the human psyche, commenting that “women who resort to some sort of deadly abortion drug kill not only the embryo but, along with it, human kindness [philanthrōpia]” (Paed. 126.96.36.199). His concern is both for the child and for the psyche of those who procure abortions. In his judgment, abortions can lead to a callousness of the heart that impedes the Christian imperative to love one’s neighbor. Later, in the apologetic Against Celsus, Origen explains that the Christian God “certainly requires us to bring up the offspring and not to destroy the children given by providence” (Origen, Cels. 8.55). He views children as divine gifts and blessings, the destruction of which is an affront to God, the giver of life.
I think you can now see that the early Christian opposition to abortion is clear and unequivocal from the time of the Didache onward. Abortion is seen as an issue of violence and is condemned by most writers as a failure of neighbor love and as murder. Concern for the fetus as a creature of value distinguishes Christian attitudes from those of Greek and Roman moralists. In seeing abortion as fundamentally an act of killing a human being, early Christianity opposed it in the context of what Gorman calls a “consistent pro-life ethic” (Gorman, 90). The same writers who condemned abortion also condemned Christian participation in bloodshed in any form.
Lactantius, a Christian writing from the first decade of the 4th century concludes a wide-ranging discussion of Roman bloodshed, covering infanticide, killing in war, the death penalty, and the gladiatorial matches, with this summary statement: ”Therefore, in this command of God, no exception whatsoever must be made. It is always wrong to kill a man whom God has intended to be a sacrosanct creature” (Inst. 6.20). Within this overall teaching prohibiting all bloodshed, the early Christian condemnation of abortion becomes a subset of a total ethic that valued all people as God’s creation, and prohibited their slaying by those whose lives had been touched by Christ.
So you see, my friends, the early Christian reverence for human life is as old as the faith itself. We’re a people who defend the needy and vulnerable, because that’s the kind of God our God is. It’s written into the deepest logic, history, and tradition of the Christian church. In our name of “Christian,” we share the name of Christ, the crucified Messiah, who poured his life out for the life of the world. It’s in his name that we take our stand for justice in this world, and it’s following in his steps that we lay our own lives down for others.
For more of our blog posts from Rob Arner, see:
Dorothy Day and the Consistent Life Ethic: Rejecting Conventional Political Paradigms
Note: As with all political commentaries, this post reflects the viewpoint of the author, who chooses to use a pen name. We encourage and publish a wide diversity of views.
by Ms. Boomer-ang
People with a consistent life philosophy should be wary about efforts to recruit us into conservative movements. Rejection by liberals is not a sufficient reason for embracing conservatism. If leaving what one does not love means leaving all existing political homes, it is okay to have no political home. One can either accept that homeless status or urge the building of a new political home where one does belong.
Many conservatives campaign on pro-life slogans, but once elected focus on attacking public services, discriminating against non-conformists, promoting environmental degradation, cruel law and order policies, and military aggression. Conservatives’ non-negotiable policies include such things consistent life movements should either be open-tent about or outright reject. Of course, correspondingly, many liberals campaign on environmental protection and immigrant-welcoming slogans, but once elected focus on promoting abortion, death-hastening, and incentives to submit to them.
What spurred this essay were Carol Crossed’s review of Defending the Unborn on this blog (April 2016), and a fall 2016 article in a local pro-life newsletter urging readers to vote for “pro-life candidate Donald Trump.”
In the 2016 election, from a pro-life viewpoint, Hillary Clinton was a known “evil.” But the pro-life newsletter presented Trump as a known “good.” Actually, from a pro-life viewpoint, he was and is an unknown. To vote for an unknown over a known evil is understandable. But the newsletter portrayed him as a known good-guy, as if to shame everyone who did not vote for him, and that is inaccurate. Not voting for either candidate was a valid action in that election. (I took that action.)
A later edition of that same newsletter praised Republicans for not only accepting pro-lifers but also trying to lower property taxes. Reducing property taxes can threaten some public services, and the pro-life movement should be open-tent about that issue.
It is simplistic to call Trump pro-life. For most of his life, he was proudly pro-abortion. Maybe he felt he had to stop antagonizing pro-life people, in order to run for president as a Republican. But he still gloried in the sexual exploitation of women, which is one source of unwanted pregnancies. (In fact, were not some of the reasons Hugh Hefner and his male-condoners promoted abortion to allow a man to exploit a woman sexually with fewer unwanted consequences and to reduce a woman’s society-accepted justifications for rejecting sexual advances?) Candidate Trump also mocked handicapped people.
And with President Trump, what do we get? Eliminating child deduction from income taxes! Proclaiming that what John McCain said during his last year doesn’t count, “because he’s dying.” (As if one should hope he would die speedily.) Putting people with alleged histories of having fun sexually exploiting women into high positions. (Though if a Democrat had nominated someone like Brett Kavanagh, at least before the #MeToo movement, would people who objected to him be mocked as “religious right”?) Separating refugee children from their parents and confining them in bad conditions. Calling for parades showing off our big weapons. (Around the time of the 1976 Bicentennial, a newspaper letter noted approvingly that our parades, unlike those in other countries, did not show off big military weapons. This was American exceptionalism; this was one reason why America was great.)
Carol Crossed’s review provides us with examples of conservatives and Republicans promoting abortion and, before Roe, liberals and Democrats opposing it. One example was “a liberal Democrat whose statement for unborn protection was coupled with opposition to the Viet Nam War and the death penalty.”
Post-Roe, I personally have had acquaintances whose support of abortion and euthanasia is part of their military hawkishness and support of the death penalty. Now the media acknowledges the existence of pro-abortion conservatives and Republicans, but almost never mentions pro-life people who are “liberal” on just about every other issue. An exception was the Village Voice—both in its willingness to print Nat Hentoff columns and its printing this century of a letter from someone else who said her (I think it was a her) opposition to abortion and opposition to the death penalty were part of the same philosophy.
Several conservative policies and goals pressure people to believe they have “no choice” but to submit to abortion and death-hastening. These include welfare family caps, the repeal of tax exemptions for children, pushing private schools (which increase the cost of raising children), and allowing health insurance premiums to rise drastically while cutting coverage (along with promoting discount plans that do not cover life-accepting treatments for the severely ill and disabled).
Wanting to belong to something is very real. Parties too small to win elections can still have influence and provide political homes for their adherents. For consistent-lifers uncomfortable with both the Democratic and Republican parties, a post on this blog (December, 2017, by Monica Sohler) recommended the American Solidarity Party. This Party’s platform has many admirable points, and for consistent lifers who are religious Christians it could be the right thing. But I’m looking for something whose tent is open to non-Christians, pagans, atheists, and agnostics (and as something more than conversion-material), as well as devout Christians. Something which holds that certain principles are right, whether or not God ordered them.
For posts on similar topics, see:
For posts on conservatives in the consistent life ethic, see:
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons
The following is a letter CLN board member Julia Smucker addressed to her church at the request of one of her pastors after raising these concerns in person. As a nonsectarian organization, we welcome perspectives from various faiths, as well as secular ones, that affirm consistent-life principles.
Since attending my current church, I have noticed that the Prayers of the Faithful often include a prayer for members of the military, usually with a reference to them “protecting our freedom.” For Christians, who belong to a universal faith, confess Jesus Christ as the one true lord and savior, and believe in the inviolable sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death, this language should raise some concerns.
It is well and good to pray for the safety (both physical and spiritual) of our loved ones and others who may be in harm’s way. This can be a meaningful way of joining the particular concerns of our parish community to the prayers of the universal Church – as long as we never lose sight of the fact that this is what we’re doing, recalling that our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world are likewise praying for the needs of their own communities and the safety of their own loved ones. Whenever we turn the attention of our prayers beyond ourselves, it is this catholicity that we should look to, and not to any idols of militarism, nationalism or exceptionalism that would supersede it. In other words, whatever we pray for our country or members of its military should be things that Christians anywhere in the world could pray for their own, without contradiction between their prayers and ours. For that matter, whatever we can pray for members of our own country’s military, we should be able to pray the same for people who participate in the armed forces of any country in the world.
When nationalistic language creeps into our liturgy couched in quasi-religious terms, it becomes something even more dangerous. This is because the language of the American national mythos uses terms like “freedom” and “sacrifice” in ways that are radically contrary to Christian understandings of them. The national mythos finds heroism in military might, including both the willingness to risk one’s life and the willingness to take life. This is the militaristic understanding of sacrifice that is credited with protecting freedom, generally understood in an individualized sense as doing what one wills, and delineated by citizenship. But for Christians, there can only be one sacrifice that truly guarantees our freedom, and that is the self-emptying sacrifice of the Lamb of God who became obedient to the point of death, who laid down his life freely rather than being defended by the sword or calling down legions of angels, who conquered death not by inflicting it but by submitting to it. And the freedom gained by this sacrifice is not merely individual liberty but the freedom to love as we were created to love, without being enslaved to fear or dependent on violence; the freedom to be servants of all (a more Christian understanding of service that’s also obscured by referring to members of the military as “servicemen and women”); a freedom meant for the entire world regardless of nationality or citizenship. For Christians to look to any other sacrifice for our freedom is not only settling for a much lesser freedom; it is a turn to a false god.
Contrary to the story nationalism tells, Christian tradition teaches us that all human life is sacred. Even putting aside questions of justification that might seem to override it, if we truly believe in the sanctity of all human life, from conception all the way to natural death, what we absolutely cannot do is sacralize the countless unnatural deaths that occur in the name of “protecting freedom” through military combat. If all human life is indeed sacred, then all killing of human beings is cause for lament and penitence, not for celebration or praise.
Those human beings who participate in the military, combatants and otherwise, certainly do need our prayers, because of the moral, psychological and spiritual dangers no less than the physical ones. In addition to post-traumatic stress and moral injury, widely recognized as consequences of exposure to or participation in violence, peace psychologist Rachel MacNair, who I work with on the board of the Consistent Life Network, coined the term Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress for a form of PTSD caused by perpetrating violence and has studied its effects on people who have participated in various forms of violence such as war, abortion, and executions – all things that, in the phrasing of the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, “do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.” Because of this, I pray for soldiers and veterans in the same way I pray for abortion workers and executioners.
In this vein, I’ve heard one liturgical prayer for military members that I’ve been able to join in good conscience: “That no harm may come to them, and that they may cause no harm to others.” This is what I pray in the place of any congregational prayer offered for the military. Whatever the wording of our liturgy, it is crucial that it be conducive to a soundly Christian formation of conscience, and that it be orthodox both in the sense of right belief and (doxa meaning glory) of right worship: giving glory where glory belongs.
For a post on a similar topic, see:
by Tom Taylor
Alarming reports about climate change and ecological damage along with John Whitehead’s recent blog post on climate change have led me to thinking about stewardship. The principle of stewardship, it seems to me, is inherent in the Consistent Life Ethic (CLE), has great value as a positive expression of CLE in practice, and affirms the Consistent Life Network’s vision of connecting ways of thinking that promote peace and nonviolence.
Embedded in the idea of stewardship is protection of and reverence for all life. Good stewardship calls for the wise use of resources to counteract forces that lead to war, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.
The concept of stewardship most obviously applies to care of the environment, and responsible use of land, water, energy, and all natural resources. But it also means allocating and stewarding sufficient resources to offer viable alternatives to violence and illustrate life-supporting approaches to all of the issues of consistent life concern:
- Resolving conflicts peacefully, and transferring resources currently devoted to war to peace initiatives and efforts that mitigate structural causes of war.
- Supporting women, families, and children through crisis or unplanned pregnancies and infancy, and even beyond, if needed.
- Allocating sufficient resources and services that reduce poverty and provide a strong safety net for low-income and vulnerable community members. Good stewardship in this area also includes offering opportunities for learning additional skills to strengthen economic security, develop full potential, increase a sense of self-sufficiency, and offer fuller possibilities for active participation in community life.
- Instituting programs that promote racial justice, understanding, connection, and reconciliation among diverse racial and ethnic groups. An example might be allocating significant funding for affordable housing capable of attracting a wide diversity of residents throughout neighborhoods in any given community.
- Initiating restorative justice practices and viable rehabilitation services as an alternative to the death penalty and mass incarceration.
- Offering quality palliative care, emotional support, and community connections to terminally ill individuals. This will obviate any tendency toward assisted suicide or euthanasia by reducing physical suffering, loneliness, isolation, and depression, and maintaining a strong sense of connection and value to the very end.
- Protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, reducing waste, and preserving land, soil, watersheds, wildlife, and habitat.
In these ways, consistent life values embody the idea of stewardship by honoring life in all the forms and stages it may have, by honoring the dignity of all persons, and by honoring all the interconnections that support human life along with the life-sustaining processes of earth. As such, stewardship can be seen as a foundational underpinning and affirmation of the consistent life ethic. It connects with all of the positive ways we can support peace and life-fulfilling activities in our daily community and personal lives as well as oppose threats to life. It affords us the opportunity to make life-affirming decisions in our daily choices concerning our habits of consuming, using resources, and supporting business enterprises and community programs.
As humans at top of the chain of life, perhaps our first and greatest responsibility is to be good stewards and caretakers of all that we are given – of life in all its stages, forms, processes, and capacities, whether its essence be human (at any stage), domestic animals and wildlife, or natural resource and habitat. This stance makes “do no harm” the highest human priority, and fully embodies the mantra of “reverence for all life” often cited in ecology writing.
The essays of Wendell Berry, a CLE endorser, inform and articulate this thinking in great depth. He writes:
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” (The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, 1978, p. 14)
Berry gives this responsibility a broad scope that reflects the consistent life ethic when, in speaking of conservation, he defines it “to mean giving care to everything needing care: wilderness, all bodies of water, the air, farms and working forests, all the creatures (living and not-living), neighbors, families and communities, languages, cultures, minds, souls, freedom, democracy, the Constitution.” (The Way of Ignorance, 2005, p. 150)
This vision of consistent life stewardship offers a positive affirmation of the many things the consistent life movement supports in addition to the threats it opposes. Perhaps this vistion of stewardship can be helpful in spreading the consistent life idea by suggesting practical ways to work toward the societal changes that the movement envisions. The stewardship concept additionally establishes a strong connection between the consistent life ethic and current environmental issues, including climate change, that present further threats to life.
Stewardship also offers the opportunity in our individual, personal lives to model and practice life-honoring values in ways such as reducing our consumption, waste, and carbon footprint, and supporting consistent life efforts with contributions of our time or financial donations — in essence, being good stewards of all aspects of our lives and the goods available for our use.
As Berry states: “If we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us. A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now, and in the good things of human culture that we have now; the only valid “futurology” available to us is to take care of those things. (What Are People For?, 2010, p. 188)
Berry’s writing also recounts how violence results from lack of true stewardship:
“The great moral issue of our time, too much ignored by both sides of our present political division, is violence. From the colonialism that began with long-distance navigation to the present stage of industrialism, we of the so-called West have lived and gathered wealth increasingly by violence. This has been increasingly an age of fire…We run our factories, businesses, and households by means of fires or controlled explosions in furnaces and power plants. We fight our wars by controlled, and sometimes uncontrolled, explosions. Violence, in short, is the norm of our economic life and our national security. The line that connects the bombing of a civilian population to the mountain “removed” by strip mining to the gullied and poisoned field to the clear-cut watershed to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight.” (The Way of Ignorance, pp. 145-146)
The principle of stewardship as part of the consistent life ethic also is supported in the thinking of Gandhi, whose statements and writings on duty and responsibility, trusteeship, village economy, and the Constructive Program all reflect a sense of stewardship that is key to his philosophy of nonviolence and ahimsa (harmlessness). This perhaps is summed up best in Gandhi’s famous statement: “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.”
In the essay, Gandhian Vision of Environment, C.S. Dharmadhikari states: “Gandhi was the first man to introduce the concept of service to nature in order to enrich nature… Gandhi visualized a non-violent economic order based on equality and justice. He advocated a simple life which fulfils basic necessities of life and is in tune with nature… His concept of non-violence was an all-encompassing and a positive one. It is not merely a ‘live and let live’ formula, but it involves a principle of ‘live and help others to live,’ and these others should include human beings, animals and nature.”
In closing this consideration of stewardship, there is perhaps no better summation than some words from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in his writings on the consistent life ethic: “We are stewards, not sole owners, of all of our resources, human and material.” (The Seamless Garment: Writings on the Consistent Ethic of Life, 2008, p. 245)
by John Whitehead
The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago this year, on November 9, 1989. This massive barrier that since the 1960s had effectively imprisoned the residents of Communist-ruled East Berlin was also a symbol of the larger Cold War division between Eastern and Western Europe and the Soviet Union and the United States. When Berliners broke down the Wall, this signaled the Cold War’s approaching end. The events that led to the Wall’s collapse and the Cold War’s end show how nonviolence resistance can resolve a conflict seemingly destined to be resolved only through catastrophic violence.
Cold War Tensions
To appreciate the full significance of the Wall falling, we must remember how bitter and seemingly entrenched the East-West divide was only a few years earlier. In the early 1980s, the mutual hostility and arms race between the hawkish Reagan administration and a hardline Soviet leadership made nuclear war seem the Cold War’s most likely outcome. Taylor Downing relates in his book 1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink how precisely six years before the Wall came down, from November 9 to 11, 1983, the world came very close to nuclear holocaust.
During those days, an elaborate NATO military exercise, which included forces in West Germany, rehearsed procedures for launching nuclear weapons. Fearing this rehearsal might be preparations for a genuine attack, the Soviet leadership reacted with alarm and heightened military readiness. The exercise ended without violence breaking out, but some further miscommunication or provocation could easily have led to a very different outcome.
Meanwhile, the Wall had served as an oppressive presence in East Germans’ lives for decades. One observer of the country’s affairs, writer Timothy Garton Ash, noted that an East Berlin doctor even wrote a book called The Wall Sickness, describing the Wall’s toll on people’s health, including contributing to suicides. The Wall also led to death more directly: more than 100 people were killed at the Wall while trying to escape or simply because of accidents.
The European tensions of the early 1980s began to ease by the decade’s end. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev established a friendlier relationship with the United States, while introducing greater political freedom, including freedom of expression, in the Soviet Union. Such changes were especially significant for Communist East Germany, which even more than most Eastern bloc states took its cue from the Soviets. In his book Magic Lantern, Garton Ash noted that East German youth were taught the slogan “To learn from the Soviet Union is to learn how to a win,” a phrase that took on a new meaning by the late 1980s.
Nonviolent Resistance & Crisis in East Germany
Grassroots political dissent in East Germany changed at this time. For years, activists in the city of Leipzig would meet in St. Nicholas’ Church to pray for peace. In 1988, these services grew to include silent marches through the city to protest restrictions on travel outside the country. Such marches were a radical act of defiance of the authorities. Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall explain in their history of nonviolent resistance, A Force More Powerful, that while Communist regimes would tolerate a certain amount of dissent in private spaces such as churches,
when dissidents ventured out into city streets and public squares, they met with instant repression. Along with command over the mass media, control over the physical arena was a primary means by which communist rulers made sure that opposition was confined to intellectuals and activists, cut off from the larger public. (p. 429)
That the Leipzig protesters could publicly demonstrate, even silently, showed how the political situation was changing. By early 1989, they were no longer silent but chanted “We want out!” Public protest against the regime continued to grow in size and assertiveness.
The East German regime had originally built the Wall in 1961 to stem the flow of East Berliners into the freer and more prosperous West, a trend that threatened the regime’s legitimacy. A similar crisis had arisen by summer 1989. East Germans began seeking asylum in West German diplomatic missions in East Berlin and elsewhere. In September, neighboring Hungary, an Eastern bloc state where the Communist Party had agreed to end its monopoly on political power, decided to open its border with Austria. East Germans responded by fleeing to Hungary and then the west; perhaps 50,000 had fled by the end of October. Not all wanted to flee, however: in Leipzig, where public protests had now swelled to include thousands, the protesters had changed their chant to “We are staying.” Reforming East Germany from within was the goal.
That autumn, the protesters again received significant support from the leader of East Germany’s most significant ally. Gorbachev had already announced a reduction in Soviet military forces in Eastern Europe and allowed Hungary and Poland to reform their political systems significantly without Soviet interference. The likelihood that the East German regime would receive outside support in suppressing dissent dwindled. Gorbachev confirmed this non-interventionist attitude in an early October speech in East Germany, in which he urged reform while also saying that the country’s policy should be made “not in Moscow but Berlin.” He also privately ordered Soviet troops in East Germany to not get involved in any conflict within the country.
Conflict between the authorities and protesters grew. Police beat and arrested protesters in Leipzig, East Berlin, and elsewhere during the first week of October. A crucial turning point came when Kurt Masur, the conductor of the Leipzig orchestra, arranged an impromptu discussion involving the city’s Communist Party officials, Masur, another musician, and a clergyman. The private talk was meant to find a way of averting further violence and produced an appeal for nonviolence that was read in St. Nicholas’ Church and over the radio. The authorities opted not to employ riot police or the army, and tens of thousands of protesters marched in Leipzig on October 9.
Events moved quickly over the following month. The Communist Party leadership went through a shake-up, while protests in Leipzig and East Berlin grew to number hundreds of thousands. The final act, though, was essentially the result of an accident. The regime decided to relax restriction on travel to the west; when an official announced this decision on November 9, however, he garbled it and said incorrectly that East Germans could leave the country through Berlin or any other border crossing, effective immediately. When crowds gathered on the east side of the Berlin Wall, the guards decided on their initiative to let them through. The crowds not only poured into West Berlin but quickly took to standing and dancing on the Wall and eventually knocking it down with hammers.
These dramatic scenes were followed in the coming years by the Communist Party’s fall, the reunification of East and West Germany into a single country, and the Cold War’s end.
Remembered 30 years later, the Berlin Wall’s collapse seems more bittersweet than it did at the time. The 20th century’s Cold War has been succeeded by a new one between the United States and Russia, with the dividing line running through Ukraine rather than Germany. (The fact the line of conflict is now much further east than before should perhaps raise some questions about which side has been more expansionist over the past three decades.) Meanwhile, other nonviolent revolutions, such as Egypt’s in 2011, have been less successful than East Germany’s. Nonviolent resistance to oppression doesn’t always have happy results—although its track record is still better than violent resistance.
Even with these qualifications, the events leading to the Wall coming down should be celebrated for what, often contrary to conventional wisdom, they accomplished. The Cold War’s hostility was replaced with eased tensions, the Soviet Union reformed and reduced its influence in Eastern Europe, and nonviolent protest brought down highly repressive regimes such as those in East Germany and other Communist nations. While efforts against war and political repression do not always follow this pattern, we should remember that they sometimes do and take inspiration from that.
When the Wall fell, some Berliners drew historical connections and lessons about nonviolence prevailing over violence. Garton Ash reported that someone stuck a note to the Wall’s remains reading “Stalin is dead, Europe lives.” Another said “You see, it shows Lenin was wrong . . . Lenin said a revolution could succeed only with violence. But this was a peaceful revolution.”
For more of our posts on historical nonviolence, see:
For more of John Whitehead’s posts on history, see:
Due to giving medical details, the author wishes to remain anonymous.
I am a disabled woman with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a disease that attacks the joints. I use a walker or a wheelchair in my daily life.
I’m worried about where the medical field is heading. My home state of New Jersey has legalized assisted suicide, although there are currently legal battles over the law. The law is limited — but as we know, over time, they tend to expand the rules about who qualifies for assisted suicide. We’ve seen that in Canada, in the Netherlands; and in other countries.
RA is a progressive disease. I wonder what type of health care I’ll be getting as I get older and more severely disabled. RA can in fact become terminal, if it attacks the heart or other organs. I wonder if I’ll ever be pressured to accept assisted suicide.
Even more so, I wonder whether I will get the same suicide prevention services as an able-bodied person if I need them.
Recently in New Zealand, there was a case where a young woman who was wheelchair bound and in chronic pain, in a similar situation to mine, attempted suicide and went into a mental hospital. She told the psychiatrist who was assigned to her that she wanted to die. Instead of treating this woman’s depression, and counseling her against suicide, the doctor suggested she travel to Switzerland to a suicide clinic and kill herself there.
Every able-bodied patient in that hospital was presumably being told not to kill themselves and getting therapy and medication to treat their suicidal feelings. But a person in a wheelchair was encouraged by her own doctor to kill herself.
Due to my bipolar disorder, I’ve sometimes struggled with suicidal feelings myself. In my 20s, I too spent time in a mental hospital. I was young and physically able-bodied then. (I developed RA in my 30s.) The doctors were determined to prevent my suicide and worked with me to overcome those thoughts and feelings.
I can’t help but wonder if I ever need to go into the hospital again, will I be treated the same way now that I’m in a wheelchair? Maybe I would today, but what about 10 years from now, when my disability is even more severe? What about 20 years from now?
Today, if a person is actively suicidal, they can be put in a mental hospital, even against their will, and given treatment. Or a person can voluntarily seek treatment for suicidal feelings. If I do seek it in the future, will doctors encourage me live or help me to die?
Every time I read a story about another disabled person who was euthanized in another country, it hurts me on a personal level. I see how little disabled lives are valued compared to able-bodied ones. As a disabled person, that makes my own struggle against suicidal feelings harder. Assisted suicide has an effect on disabled people just by being available to other disabled people.
I have to say, I’m very glad to have found a movement that values all lives, even disabled ones. I’m so glad that so many people are with me when I speak up for the value of my life and the value of other disabled people’s lives. We need to continue advocating for ourselves and others.
Photo from Not Dead Yet
For more of our posts on this topic, see:
The 6th annual conference of our member group, Rehumanize International, happened October 18-20, 2019, in New Orleans. Consistent Life Network was a co-sponsor, and several of us attended. Sessions offered from CLN officers included: “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, Moral Injury, & the CLE” (Rachel MacNair) and “Apocalypse Never: Why We Must Reject Nuclear Weapons” (John Whitehead). Some of us also participated in panels, mentioned below.
We asked participants to share stories and photos.
John Whitehead, CLN president
The 2019 Rehumanize conference was filled with powerful, memorable presentations, and two I attended particularly stick in my memory. Greta Zarro of World Beyond War spoke about the practical details of activism, especially peace activism, in the aptly titled presentation “Grassroots Organizing 101.” Greta provided advice and insights on how to mobilize people and to organize campaigns to influence decision-makers, which I found very clear and helpful.
An important organizing principle is to give activists clear, achievable goals for the short- and long-term. These goals need not always be changes to law and policy but can include benchmarks such as gathering a certain number of signatures for a petition or letters for a letter-writing campaign. Such comprehensible goals are necessary not least because they can give activists the sense of progress and accomplishment necessary to staying motivated. Another important principle mentioned was to identify the crucial influences on decision-makers—funders of their political campaigns, for example, or even religious figures who command respect—and to try to bring them on board the cause. These and other recommendations were helpful, but the presentation’s impact went beyond specific advice. Simply meeting someone dedicated to the peace cause and to pursuing practical strategies for peace was very inspiring.
The other presentation was by the writer Jennifer Reeser, who spoke on “Confronting Violence against Indigenous Peoples.” In discussing the innumerable injustices, past and present, against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Jennifer focused on literature’s role in the accompanying process of dehumanizing Native Americans. She recounted how various writers, including respected and beloved ones such as William Cullen Bryant and L. Frank Baum, disparaged Native Americans and their language and culture (Baum used especially savage, bloodthirsty rhetoric). Such literary dehumanization accompanied and may have abetted the expulsion and murder of Native Americans going on at the same time.
In contrast to this dehumanization, Jennifer pointed to the positive influence of literature that has portrayed Native Americans respectfully. James Fenimore Cooper was notable in the 19th century for his unusually sympathetic portrayals, including of Native American language—for which Cooper received fierce criticism. More important, Jennifer’s own poetry honors her Cherokee heritage and its language especially. One striking poem she shared was written in English but used sounds only found in Cherokee. The presentation’s focus on how art with de-humanizing themes can be countered by better art seemed a perfect example of the conference’s central focus of re-humanization.
Rachel MacNair, CLN vice-president
I heard chanting coming from another room, and found out later it was pro-abortion protesters who were interrupting Louisiana Democrat Rep. Katrina Jackson’s presentation. People thought it was funny, because Jackson was at the time making the most innocuous of points – how necessary it is that women have access to Medicaid. We had far more radically pro-life things to say that they could have interrupted. But then, the sign-holding protesters probably weren’t paying much attention to content. The chants were the normal run-of-the-mill my-body-my-choice chants.
But then mother Lauren came into the hall laughing hard, because she had been in the room. She said she had just been sitting when baby Finn had started fussing a bit. As is common in such situations, she stood up to sway him to get him to calm down – and as soon as she stood up, that’s when the protesters all stood up, lined the wall, and started chanting. So Lauren thinks maybe she triggered them to start — her standing up was taken as a signal by them that they were supposed to. How ironic.
Security removed the hecklers, and they went outside and protested on the lawn. Some of us went out and engaged them; see Richard’s story next.
Richard Stith, CLN board member
I was having a calm and mutually respectful conversation with various pro-abortion women protesters, outside on the lawn. One woman, however, did not join in our dialogue. Instead, she kept trying to shut us down with the comment that “this is not a fruitful conversation.” Finally a male came over and made the same point with seemingly greater authority. Then they all left with him.
Brian Carroll, American Solidarity Party:
This was my first Rehumanize Conference, and was well worth driving from California. I especially enjoyed two talks on restorative justice by Shareef Cousin, but the high point for me was the presentation by Louisiana Rep. Katrina Jackson.
Sarah Terzo, CLN board member
Panel: Countering Ableism in Medicine
Left to right: Beth Fox, Sarah Terzo, Sophie Trist, John “Frank” Stephens, Jamie Duplechine
Thad Crouch, producer, Choose Life Abort War Podcast for Peace
My biggest Rehumanize Conference 2019 takeaway is that the Dehumanizing System of Domination, Destruction, and Death employs 2-3 common tactics in all or most issues which contradict our values for life, dignity, justice, and peace:
1) Motivations of profit or convenience.
2) Dehumanizing names and messaging.
3) Nice-sounding bull crap justifications.
2) “Products of conception/Clump of tissue”
3) Women’s liberation
1) Political/economic gain
Facts unravel bull crap! We’ve seen the system get very aggressive with whistle-blowers and truth-tellers like Abby Johnson, Daniel Ellsberg, and Chelsea Manning when it comes to abortion and militarism.
Facts don’t always overcome biased minds. However, might we make headway with issues on which we disagree if together we first unravel the three tactics on 2-3 issues we share in common?
Top: Thad talks with Greta Zarro of World Beyond War
Bottom: Thad speaking on the panel – Leaving Violent Institutions
Left to right: Aimee Murphy at podium; Jerry Givens, former Virginia executioner; Toni Turner, former abortion clinic worker; Thad Crouch, Veterans for Peace
Julia Smucker, CLN board member
For more or out posts about participating in events, see:
by Rachel MacNair
If there’s anything outside the purview of the Consistent Life Network, it’s the process we use for voting in government elections. Therefore, as with all posts with individual authors, this is my opinion, nothing official from the organization. The Consistent Life Network doesn’t endorse specific candidates or voting strategies.
What is RCV?
Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) means that instead of voting for one person, you rank the candidates. It could be limited to ranking a top three to five candidates, or ranking all candidates. But your ballot could look something like this:
Those who want the intricacies of how the instant run-off is done can visit this FairVote site. But the point from the voter’s end is: if your first choice doesn’t make it, your second choice counts; if your second choice doesn’t make it, your third choice counts.
RCV is currently being used in the U.S. state of Maine, and in several U.S. cities, and within various professional organizations. It will be used in some of the Democratic primaries in 2020, and Ballotpedia shows several U.S. states have citizens gathering signatures to put it on the ballot. It’s used to select Oscar winners.
So why would that matter to us?
When I’m making a pitch in peace-movement venues, I point out that RCV solves the “lesser evil” problem. You have a candidate who’s awful, warmongering, wants to increase military spending, “modernize” nuclear weapons – but you have to vote for that candidate because the other candidate is even worse.
With ranked-choice, you can vote for a good peace candidate you actually like as your first choice, perhaps another as your second choice, and then wait until your third of three choices to concede that you want the warmongering but less objectionable candidate rather than the more objectionable one. You haven’t “wasted” your vote, nor thrown the election to the worse candidate. You haven’t been compelled to simply endorse a warmongering candidate.
This can work for single-issue pro-life voters as well. Many of the candidates who aren’t as bad as their opponents on abortion are nevertheless not very good. They know how to say the right words to get votes, but they’re not sincere. These candidates don’t really have a clear understanding of the violence involved, and don’t desire to get that understanding. They’ll vote as desired on bills when they come up, but they won’t make them come up. And they may feel that tax policy is more important.
But while the pro-lifers will vote for them, just imagine we have a re-established “Right to Life Party” (with which Ellen McCormack ran for president in 1980; it disbanded in 2003). Then if you’re a single-issue pro-life voter, you can communicate what your really want before giving a lower-rank vote to the candidate that’s more likely to win.
Consistent lifers, of course, have always had the conundrum that the last-ranked, likely-to-win candidates for the pro-peace and the pro-life candidates tend to be opposing candidates (in the U.S. and several other countries). The few consistent-life candidates we can find to vote for are in lower offices – or outside the major parties for the higher offices.
Example of the problem
So let’s take as an example the 2020 U.S. election for president. The same principles apply in all years, all countries, and all offices, but I have specific names for this one.
I know of two consistent-life candidates running for U.S. president in 2020:
Mark Charles, running as an independent
Brian T. Carroll, nominee of the American Solidarity Party
How many people reading this have heard of either of these two, outside the things we’ve written about them?
Large portions of our readership won’t vote for either one next year, even if they like them better than the candidate they do vote for, because they won’t “waste their vote” by not giving that vote to one of the candidates likely to actually win.
Those that do defy the logic of the lesser evil will have to do a lot of defying. Friends and family and co-workers will constantly pressure them: they must vote for one of the top two. To do otherwise, they insist, would be irresponsible.
RCV to the rescue!
It won’t be to the rescue in 2020, of course, but here’s the illustration of what happens when RCV is put in place:
The person to whom the consistent life ethic is the most important concern in considering who to vote for selects one of the two above candidates for their first choice, and the other for their second choice. Then, if they have in mind voting for the less objectionable of the two candidates likely to win, they can do that as their bottom-ranked choice.
The danger of helping the worst candidate win by failing to vote for the next-to-worst candidate is gone, and the consistent-life voter still communicates what’s actually desired. The process is better for democracy.
Final question: might third-party or independent candidates actually win this way? It’s possible, since they’re getting the votes they’ve actually earned, instead of having them diverted to less desired but more prominent candidates. Really, it’s currently the only way it’s possible.
But even if they don’t win, if they get the votes of more people who want to vote for them, then we may find a lot more voters have strong concerns about nonviolence than we can know now. Currently, it’s being suppressed by the choose-between-only-two system.
And perhaps more consistent-life candidates would therefore be inspired to run.
(compiled by John Whitehead)
The world just marked the 150th birthday anniversary of a famous advocate for nonviolent resistance and the consistent life ethic, Mohandas K. Gandhi. This lawyer who turned to advocating for India’s independence from Great Britain became famous for using civil disobedience against British imperial rule. His birthday of October 2nd is celebrated as the International Day of Nonviolence.
To remember this activist for peace and justice, we offer a few notable quotations from his writings and public remarks.
Gandhi on Nonviolence
Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of the humans. Man lives freely by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity. (From All Men Are Brothers)
I…justify entire non-violence, and consider it possible in relations between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not “a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness”. On the contrary, the non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental, and therefore a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him, and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him. (From Non-violence in Peace and War)
Gandhi on Racism, Imperialism, and Civil Disobedience
Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922 for agitating against British rule in a series of newspaper articles. At his trial he offered the following comments:
I owe it perhaps to the Indian public and to the public in England…that I should explain why from a staunch loyalist and cooperator I have become an uncompromising disaffectionist and Non-cooperator…
My first contact with British authority in [South Africa, where Gandhi’s political activism began] was not of a happy character. I discovered that as a man and an Indian I had no rights. More correctly, I discovered that I had no rights as a man, because I was an Indian…
I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connexion had made India more helpless that she ever was before, politically and economically. A disarmed India has no power of resistance against any aggressor if she wanted to engage in an armed conflict with him…She has become so poor that she has little power of resisting famines. Before the British advent, India spun and wove in her millions of cottages just the supplement she needed for adding to her meagre agricultural resources. The cottage industry, so vital for India’s existence, has been ruined by incredibly heartless and inhuman processes as described by English witnesses. Little do town-dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness…No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye…
The greatest misfortune is that Englishmen and their Indian associates in the country do not know that they are engaged in the crime I have attempted to describe. I am satisfied that many Englishmen and Indian officials honestly believe that they are administering one of the best systems devised in the world and that India is making steady though slow progress. They do not know that a subtle but effective system of terrorism and an organized display of force on the one hand, and the deprivation of all powers of retaliation or self-defence on the other, have emasculated the people…
I believe that I have rendered a service to India and England by showing in Non-cooperation the way out of the unnatural state in which both are living. In my humble opinion, Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. But in the past, Non-cooperation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil doer. I am endeavouring to show to my countrymen that violent Non-cooperation only multiplies evil and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence.
Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for Non-cooperation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon men for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is either to resign your post and thus dissociate yourself from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil and that in reality I am innocent; or to inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country…
[He would be sentenced to six years in prison but serve less than two.]
Gandhi on Respect for Life
Ahimsa [rejection of killing or the desire to kill] means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour? But she forgets them in the joy of creation. (From All Men Are Brothers)
Gandhi recounted once receiving a letter from a young man whose wife had had an affair with the man’s friend and was now pregnant. The letter writer had been advised by his father that his wife should have an abortion. Gandhi wrote in reply
It seems to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime. Countless husbands are guilty of the same lapse as this poor woman, but nobody ever questions them. Society not only excuses them but does not even censure them. Then, again, the woman cannot conceal her shame while man can successfully hide his sin.
The woman in question deserves to be pitied. It would be the sacred duty of the husband to bring up the baby with all the love and tenderness that he is capable of and to refuse to yield to the counsels of his father. (From All Men Are Brothers)
Gandhi, Hindus, and Muslims
Gandhi greatly desired peace between Hindus and Muslims, India’s major religious groups. In 1921, he wrote “If not during my life-time, I know that after my death both Hindus and [Muslims] will bear witness that I had never ceased to yearn after communal peace.” He decried sectarian strife and around the time of the partition between India and Pakistan noted “My one aim with respect to the Hindu-Muslim question is that the solution will be complete only when the minority, whether in the Indian Union or Pakistan, feels perfectly safe, even if they are in the minority of one.” (See Ishtiaq Ahmed, “The Gandhian Legacy of Hindu-Muslim Relations.”)
Conflict over the Kashmir region, which began during Gandhi’s lifetime, has led to continuing high tensions today between India and Pakistan. With war in South Asia—a war that could have catastrophic global consequences—a real threat, Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of nonviolence is much needed today.
For some of our blog posts on notable individuals, see:
Women’s History Month: Jane Addams by Mary Krane Derr & others
Courageous Woman: Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) by Julianne Wiley
Dorothy Day and the Consistent Life Ethic: by Rob Arner
How to Value People Like Mister Rogers by Andrew Hocking
The Redemptive Personalism of Saint Oscar Romero by Julia Smucker
Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Mary Krane Derr & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Difference this Time: Prolife Heroism (Garrett Swasey, the pro-life police officer killed in shootings at the Colorado Planned Parenthood] by Rachel MacNair
by John Whitehead
Climate change and how to counter it has been much in the news over the past few weeks, with these topics being raised in the United Nations and in the streets. Harm to our shared environment should concern all of us and should especially concern advocates of the consistent life ethic. We should consider how climate change connects to other threats to life we are committed to working against: how climate change worsens poverty; can harm children, including children in the womb; and may make war or other violent conflict more likely. Such connections should heighten our commitment to work against violence to the earth.Climate Change and Poverty
A warming climate will hurt the poorest the most, especially through negative effects on food production. Global warming will reduce yields of staple crops such as rice and wheat. Regions such as Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to climate change’s effects on crops. People with the fewest resources, who are most directly dependent on their own farming, will most likely bear the greatest burden of such effects.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes the possible effects of climate change on the world’s poorest people. The IPCC projects what an average global temperature increase of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades will mean. Such an increase
would disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts and population displacements . . . Some of the worst impacts on sustainable development are expected to be felt among agricultural and coastal dependent livelihoods, indigenous people, children and the elderly, poor labourers, poor urban dwellers in African cities, and people and ecosystems in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States.
(IPCC, Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, Chapter 5)
Further, a global temperature rise of only 1.5°C may prove unrealistically optimistic. If the increase is greater, perhaps reaching 2°C, the effects on the poor will be even more dire.
Climate Change and Children
The IPCC also warns of increased temperatures leading to health problems and disease. A warming climate leads to heat-related deaths, poorer air quality and hence respiratory illnesses, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Disruptions caused by extreme weather events can also lead to food and water supplies being contaminated, also leading to illnesses.
Children are especially vulnerable to these kinds of environmental dangers, given their developing immune systems; the quantity of outside material, relative to their size, they take in by breathing, eating, and drinking; and the amount of time they typically spend outside. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports that infectious diarrhea, a water- and food-borne illness, annually kills 1.5 million children, most of them in developing countries.
Climate change-related health risks extend to preborn children as well. In pregnant women, respiratory illnesses or dehydration from heat can contribute to pre-term birth or low birth weight. Moreover, if climate change and related extreme weather events worsen poverty or malnutrition, as noted above, that may also harm pregnant women and their children’s health. These effects of climate change concern those who wish to protect children, before and after birth.
Climate Change and War
Another feared result of higher temperatures is that the resulting damage to farming and food supplies will lead to violent conflict. Such conflict might arise from competition over scarcer resources, for example, or from civil unrest over governments’ failures to address scarcity.
Whether such a connection between climate change and violent conflict really exists has been a long-running controversy. Some research supports this connection. A 2013 survey of 50 studies on the topic found “strong support for a causal association between climatological changes and conflict across a range of geographies, a range of different time periods, a range of spatial scales and across climatic events of different duration.” One surveyed study found that the risk of conflict in tropical countries increases with the shift from the (relatively cooler and wetter) La Niña weather pattern to the (relatively hotter and drier) El Niño pattern. This finding suggests that an overall shift toward a hotter, drier world might increase the risk of conflict.
However, others argue against this supposed climate-conflict link, criticizing the methodology involved in reaching this conclusion as well as the neglect of other factors that lead to conflict. At worst, linking climate change to conflict might lead to a kind of fatalism that holds violence to be inevitable as long as climate change persists.
These criticisms are well taken and we should not automatically assume that climate change makes war or other conflict more likely. Nevertheless, we should not ignore or dismiss the possibility either. Even a critic of the climate change and conflict connection noted that “there’s no doubt that climate change can, on some occasions, be linked to violence and warfare.” A group of social scientists with various views on the climate change–conflict relationship recently, after various consultations, reached the tentative conclusion that climate change may have had only modest effects on conflict to date but, if left unchecked, could increase risks of future conflict.
Further, the notion that climate change could make conflict more likely makes sense simply on an intuitive level. If poverty, famine, and disease, as well as disruptive events such as extreme weather and mass migration, become more common or severe they could well strain political institutions’ ability to resolve conflicts peacefully. Certainly we would be naïve to expect climate change’s negative effects to decrease conflict or make the world a more peaceful place. Those concerned with peace building would do well to devote attention to countering climate change.
As two writers on climate change observed, this important topic can too often seem “abstract, uncertain, unfamiliar, impersonal, diffuse and seemingly distant.” Connecting climate change to its impacts on people’s lives can make the issue more vivid and the stakes clearer. For consistent life ethic advocates specifically, making these connections shows how protecting the environment connects with protecting human life against other threats that already concern us. Preventing further warming of the planet, by measures such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing renewable energy sources, should be pursued as a way to also prevent worsening poverty, increased illness, and perhaps even violent conflict. At the same time, responding to climate change requires aiding the world’s poor and those people, especially children, suffering from the health effects of a damaged environment. Building structures for managing the stresses of scarcer resources or extreme weather events in a peaceful, constructive way is also an important response to climate change—and a proactive form of peacemaking.