March for Life protest in Ottawa. Register file photo.

Peter Stockland: Pro-life fight must turn to culture war

By 
  • October 31, 2019

There is prudence in learning from the well-intended critiques of our critics even if the lesson isn’t what they necessarily want to teach us.

A case in point is an e-mail received at Convivium.ca, the website that Fr. Raymond de Souza and I produce as part of the think tank Cardus, a few days after the Oct. 21 federal election.

Its message was extremely convivial even while expressing disappointment at the coverage we’d given to the federal campaign. Suffice it to say that our performance was deemed to have fallen short because we passed over the issues of abortion and euthanasia. We also failed to identify Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “the most radical politician promoting the culture of death” on a global scale. 

The truth came home to me long ago that readers’ opinions of any journalism I’m involved with live entirely independently of whether I agree or disagree. They — or at least the vast majority of them — must be taken for themselves as gestures of goodwill. Gratitude, not reflexive rebuttal, is the proper response.

The post-election communication we received was a very special example. I was grateful for the truth it sought to express about pro-life issues. I was even more grateful for the clarity with which it was spectacularly wrong about the way to address them. 

Here is the key sentence: “Treating (these) issue(s) head-on will require counter cultural courage and would be an enormous service to people of faith and even those of no declared faith.” 

No one who spent any serious time following the 2019 election can fail to see the entirely good-hearted error in the first four words of the message. If the five-week schmozzle taught us anything, it’s that pro-life issues can’t even be gingerly sidestepped at the political level. 

Doing so almost cost Conservative leader Andrew Scheer his head, figuratively speaking. It might yet cost him the headship of his party if he can’t shake off his unjust vilification as the rabid voice of anti-choice. 

It is true that “counter cultural courage” is required for pro-life Canadians. But the primary culture that must be countered dominates the pro-life world itself, particularly within the formal organizations that have fought the last war over and over again for decades. 

Such ordnance as they’ve possessed has been largely fired in the political theatre, even though it’s been clear since the failures of the early 1990s that, on life issues at least, Canadian lawmakers aren’t for turning. 

The courage required for genuine change has two parts. The first is fully accepting the categorical collapse of the political approach. Video of Scheer being eviscerated by the media, and in televised debates, and on election night might be helpful to the process. 

The second is to fully accept that reducing Canada to zero net abortions requires a lengthy multi-generational investment in long-term cultural change. Its goal must be the realization of a culture that makes the ending of unborn life so unnecessary as to be unthinkable. That is not going to happen head-on.

It’s going to happen very much as the early Christian Church happened: by implacably patient cultural evangelization aimed at hearts, minds and souls pointed toward eternity. It’s going to happen through literature, through painting and sculpture, through video installations; through journalism and academic thought that reclaims authentic social justice. It’s not going to happen through slogans scripted for the next four-year window of a Parliamentary session

Yes, it’s hard to express those things in the catchy appeal of a year-end fund-raising letter.

Yes, it’s hard to motivate the donor base by telling them they’ll be contributing to the modern-day equivalent of building a medieval cathedral. But prudence demands we learn the hard lesson of this just-past election campaign.

The political fight is over. Pro-lifers lost. The culture now awaits.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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