It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling for some time with the whole idea of “the sanctity of human life.”
I have to confess that there are unlikely allies who emerge. The result is an “odd coupling” of individuals, organizations, governments and movements that point to a burgeoning hope. Here are several that have captured my attention.
- The National Coalition for the Abolishment of the Death Penalty (NCADP) and the state of New Mexico
I joined the Facebook group for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty because I find the death penalty to be the most basic rejection of the sanctity of human life, even over and above all other issues. I must confess I turned a deaf ear to most of the alerts they sent until it got local – the pending execution of Georgia prisoner Troy Davis.
One other caught my attention. In March, the state of New Mexico repealed the death penalty. The reason given was not potential innocence but cost. Capital punishment is simply too expensive an enterprise to maintain. Admittedly, the NCADP is glad to welcome any help it gets, regardless of motive, but they lauded the result as New Mexico became just the second state (after New York) to remove the death penalty altogether.
The motives clearly don’t match and yet the desired result was the same: Put an end to capital punishment (at least in New Mexico).
- Mike Huckabee and the ONE Campaign
In early 2008, the ONE campaign was featuring a campaign called “On the Record,” in which every presidential candidate went on record regarding their plans to combat extreme poverty and global disease. I decided to compare the views of then Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and, out of morbid curiosity, former Governor Mike Huckabee.
I found what one might expect. Both Clinton and Obama pledged unparalleled support in actual dollars while Huckabee maintained President Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) as well as increasing certain items, though not at the amount pledged by Clinton or Obama.
What was fascinating was Huckabee’s reply to the issues of the availability of clean water and sanitation. “This is an especially cost-effective goal because each dollar spent on water and sanitation generates an economic return of about $8 in savings of time and health costs and increased productivity. I will build water and sanitation infrastructure and invest in increasing agricultural productivity.”
Admittedly, there’s no dollar amount given, and talk is cheap in an election year, but Huckabee had pledged more support than any of his counterparts regarding clean water and sanitation.
He may not have earned my vote, but it did make me consider how there are multiple ways to approach an issue. Huckabee’s rationale for clean water and sanitation and nets for malaria prevention highlight his most basic political commitment to spending less. The logic is that people who are invested in at an early age – clean water, good sanitation, mosquito nets and nourishment – these people are more likely to live longer as well as require less aid and services than people lacking such basic services. They’ll make greater contributions to their own and others’ well-being.
- Robert P. George and Planned Parenthood
The brutal murder of George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who became a lightning rod for the anti-abortion movement because of his willful decision to perform late-term abortions made headlines, mostly because he was killed in the foyer of his church while handing out bulletins for the morning worship.
Responses vary. Some have recognized their own complicity in espousing hate toward Tiller while others have questioned the apparent silence of much of the religious right. Then there are the heinous statements of some who claim to follow Jesus and are yet gratified by his death.
Perhaps the most interesting posts I found, however, come from the office of Planned Parenthood (of which Tiller was not a participating physician) and Robert P. George, the noted conservative Princeton law professor and anti-abortion activist.
Planned Parenthood said nothing of the maliciousness of the shooter nor did they make any allegations relating to his agenda. In terms of moral assessment, it was only George who used such language, calling it gravely wicked. Furthermore, the stoic Catholic professor said simply, “Every human life is precious. George Tiller’s life was precious.”
Somehow the “sanctity of human life” was co-opted into meaning an often theoretical unborn child, with little thought given to the life, development, genetic issues that child may or may not bring. It is fundamentally naive to say anything other than “these things are complicated.” Moreover, people rarely ask about the sanctity of the life of the mother or of the death-row inmate or of the child in Niger dying from malaria or the Congolese woman left incontinent by rape.
Still, I find in the unlikely pairings here (and the thousands more we don’t hear about or read about) a sense of hope – that a better world is possible.
I’ve been struggling through a book for about a year now called “Blessed Unrest” by environmental and social activist Richard Hawken. It’s filled with details and minutiae, facts and figures. It’s brilliant but heady, and so I keep picking it up and putting it back down. I find I’m always drawn back to it, mostly because of the subtitle: “How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being And Why No One Saw It Coming.”
It’ may be a ploy to sell books, but I believe it. I believe there’s something in the air. Whether it’s on economics or the environment, capital punishment or reproductive education, there’s something blowing in the breeze. I’m not sure if it’s God’s spirit or not, but either way, I’d hate to miss it.