Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Culture of life

"Culture of life" is a phrase that is getting bandied about pretty regularly. It's one thing for the Pope to use the phrase and then for Catholic and Evangelical theologians to pick it up. But when politicians and talk radio pick it up, watch out! At least you can figure the theologians are going to make an honest attempt to arrive at some internally consistent sense of what it means to have a "culture of life." When the phrase is thrown around in the media it is usually just a rhetorical code to inflame passions and subdue intellect. If you unpack the phrase, things get very complicated very fast.

"Culture of life" suggests a culture which reveres and upholds the sanctity of life. Does that just mean preserving life or does it include improving quality of life? What life? Does the culture of life just embrace human beings or are animal and plant life included? Do we only care about American life? What about the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war that we started? Did they die because we haven't yet made a culture of life a reality in this country or would a culture of life still allow for a war like the one in Iraq? Do people who do horrible things (murder, rape, etc) forfeit their chance to be part of the culture of life? Is the life of a murderer not sacred because of what he or she has done? Reasonable people can disagree and I suspect that there are a host of different answers to these and other questions. Yet, I suspect that everyone would say that they value life.

I suggest that the phrase, "culture of life," be retired. With the addition of just one word we can have greater truth-in-advertising while still retaining much of the sound bite punch of the original. So I propose that we use a variety of phrases that a speaker can choose from to best convey the intended meaning. For example, "culture of human life." Or "culture of American life." Perhaps, "culture of some life." [In the previous example, the phrase "and not others" is implied. I think most people would get that.] I'd also include "culture of inoffensive life." [Basically, these are the people who don't piss us off.]

On second thought, just forget it. Where sound bites are concerned, it's just too difficult to sound morally upright and say what you really mean.