Catholic Liberal Education as Pro-Life Education
As thousands of young people gather on the Mall on Friday to witness to the dignity of unborn human life, they do so with one view primarily in mind: we must bring the slaughter of innocents to an end.
But what if the Supreme Court returned the decision to the states today? How many states would adopt laws to protect the lives of unborn children? Immediately the question shifts from politics to culture.
Would the culture of America protect life if it were free to do so? If not, why not? No doubt certain states would do so immediately while others would not. In the case of the latter, why not?
Stated somewhat differently: How do we prepare citizens to live within and sustain a Culture of Life after Roe vs. Wade has been overturned (Deo volente)?
These questions bring to mind a statement frequently made by one of my colleagues, “Catholic liberal education is a pro-life activity.”
I won’t attempt to offer my colleague’s views here but I can share what her statement has come to mean to me since I first heard it: Catholic liberal education can play a critical role in creating a society in which pro-life laws can be established and sustained, a culture in which the slaughter of innocents will become unthinkable.
But how? Catholic liberal education brings three essential ideas into play: Nature, Telos, and Paradox. A culture in which these three concepts are properly understood in relation to human life and rooted in reality will never allow its unborn children to be killed.
First, Catholic liberal education gives us an understanding of human nature as being made in the image and likeness of God. For all of the amazing diversity of human life, we come from a common source, share a common nature, and are loved as children of God. Our origin and nature glow with the light of divine love and these metaphysical traces set human life apart from any reduction of human beginnings to a “clump of cells.” Such a designation would be unthinkable within a culture in which human origins are properly understood against the background of divine action and love.
Second, this nature has a transcendent purpose, direction, and destination. Catholic liberal education clarifies not only our origins but our ends as the consummation of divinely ordered narrative. By thinking in terms of a narrative ordered to a telos, our students come to see human beings as part of a continuum that moves from potentiality to actuality, from a single cell to adulthood, and ultimately to communion with the Trinity in the dynamic life of the beatific vision. This narrative and teleological vision of human life integrates into one journey a life of nature being perfected by grace. And if every human life is born with this destiny before it, how could such a life, any innocent life, be cut short voluntarily? Against a transcendent horizon of communion, how could we not seek to protect the innocent unborn no matter what the cost? How could we not come together to provide support to the mothers and families who need it most in order to protect unborn children?
But—and this is the third dimension—life is paradoxical. For every joy there is a tragedy. Indeed, there is something paradoxical at the very heart of human life and Catholic liberal education challenges students to confront this paradox of life directly. The pro-life vision is not reductive but rather poetic and transcendent, holding in tension dimensions of life that cannot ultimately be resolved. It is the culture of death that is reductive, reducing human life to material, happiness to the comprehensible, and the horizons of eternity to this life and this world.
Though Catholic liberal education is so much more, these three dimensions—an understanding of human nature, human purpose, and the paradox of a life marked by Good Friday and Easter—prepare our students to build up and sustain a Culture of Life. This culture is based on a reality that integrates all aspects of human experience and it will be a culture that will lead us to overturn Roe vs. Wade and ultimately become a Culture of Life in the most complete sense. This is how Catholic liberal education is pro-life education.
For more reflections on the urgency of Catholic liberal education, consider Peter Sampos’ podcast, “Making Visible the Invisible Realities of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty” (Episode 1).