A culture of life describes a way of life based upon the belief that human life at all stages from conception through natural death is sacred. It opposes the destruction of human life at any stage, including abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment (also known as the "death penalty") [note 1], studies and medicines involving embryonic stem cells, and contraception. It also promotes policies that "lift up the human spirit with compassion and love." The term originated in moral theology, especially that of the Catholic Church, and was popularly championed by Pope John Paul II; it has been widely used by religious leaders in evangelical Christianity as well. The philosophy of such a culture is a consistent life ethic.
In the United States, secular politicians such as George W. Bush and Kanye West have also used the phrase. In 2004, the Republican Party included a plank in their platform for "Promoting a Culture of Life."
|Issues included in a Culture of Life|
|Promotion of||Opposition to|
|Agape love and charity||Abortion|
|Murder and suicide|
|Adult stem cell research||Embryonic stem cell and fetal research|
The expression "culture of life" entered popular parlance from Pope John Paul II in the 1990s. He used the term in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus, and then more fully expanded upon it in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae ("Gospel of Life"):
In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death", there is need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.
In the encyclical, the pope noted that even those who were not Catholic "can appreciate the intrinsic value of human life." He also issued "a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: Respect, protect, love, and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!"
John Paul linked this to Catholic teaching, which believes every person is created in the image and likeness of God and is intimately loved by God. The Church, then, must build a culture of life that values each person as a person, not for what they own, do, or produce. It must also protect every human life, especially those that are threatened or weak. The doctrine had foundations in earlier church teaching such as Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which articulated the Church's position defending life from conception to natural death, disapproving medical procedures harming an unborn fetus, which the Church holds to be a person with an inviolable right to life. Catholic hospitals and medical institutions will not perform such procedures.
Following the promulgation of Evangelium vitae, advocates of a culture of life founded the Culture of Life Foundation in the United States to promote the concepts behind the Pope's encyclical. Pope John Paul II recognized and blessed the foundation in 1997.
On October 3, 2000, during the U.S. presidential election campaign, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Methodist, cited the term during a televised debate against then Vice President Al Gore. Bush expressed concerns that Mifepristone, then newly approved as an abortifacient pill, would encourage more women to terminate their pregnancies; whereas his goal was to make such terminations rarer:
Surely this nation can come together to promote the value of life. Surely we can fight off these laws that will encourage doctors or allow doctors to take the lives of our seniors. Sure, we can work together to create a culture of life so some of these youngsters who feel like they can take a neighbor's life with a gun will understand that that's not the way America is meant to be.
Leonard Mary of the Boston Globe said that Bush had directly borrowed his language from John Paul II, viewing this as a deliberate strategic attempt to gain political support from "moderate" Catholics voters (while not coming out so strongly against abortion rights that it would alienate pro-choice voters). Some voters believed that only the Republican Party would build a culture of life in the United States, and this helped Bush win.
Some Catholics,[who?] however, criticized Bush for apparent inconsistency between his support of a culture of life and his strong support for the death penalty, which Catholic doctrine permits where there is no other means for society to protect itself. As Governor of Texas, Bush repeatedly authorized executions of convicted murderers.
Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America says that "achieving a culture of life cannot be done by simply voting Republican." Day says that "to be truly pro-life, we must support a broad spectrum of issues including worker's compensation, minimum wage, and education assistance for displaced workers," as well as addressing poverty, including a livable wage and health care. Day says that Republicans should broaden their definition of a culture of life beyond simple opposition to abortion, and that to achieve a true culture of life that members of both parties will be needed.
The 2004 Republican National Convention adopted a platform with a plank titled "Promoting a Culture of Life." The platform's pro-life stance included positions on abortion; access to healthcare despite disability, age, or infirmity; euthanasia; assisted suicide; and promoted research and resources to alleviate the pain of the terminally ill.
The phrase "culture of life" was also invoked during the Terri Schiavo case of March 2005 when the phrase was used in support of legislative and legal efforts to prolong the life of a woman in an persistent vegetative state. It has also been used to promote providing inexpensive medical care for people in impoverished countries.
Following the Boston Marathon bombing, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts opposed the death penalty for terrorist bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, citing the need to build a culture of life. In their statement, they cited a 2005 document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, which said "no matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so."
A growing culture of life in the United States, one that took the protection of life more seriously, led to the rapid adoption of infant safe-haven laws in the early 2000s. Under these laws, mothers can leave their newborn children in places such as hospitals, police stations and fire stations, without being criminally charged with child abandonment.
In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today's social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable 'culture of death.' This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency.
He argued that there was "a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another." Those who are ill, handicapped, or just simply threaten the well being or lifestyle of the more powerful thus become enemies to be eliminated. John Paul said he saw this as applying both between individuals and between peoples and states.
He added his belief that every time an "innocent life" is taken (dating back to the time of Cain and Abel) that it was "a violation of the 'spiritual' kinship uniting mankind in one great family, in which all share the same fundamental good: equal personal dignity." Any threat to the human person, including wars, class conflict, civil unrest, ecological recklessness, and sexual irresponsibility, should therefore be regarded in his opinion as part of the "culture of death."
Without morals, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said, "it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak," and "human beings therefore become instruments of other human beings... We are already on that road: for what else is the termination of millions of lives in the womb since the Abortion Act was introduced, and embryo selection on the basis of gender and genes?"
Advocates of a culture of life argue that a culture of death results in political, economic, or eugenic murder. They point to historical events like the USSR's Great Purges, the Nazi Holocaust, China's Great Leap Forward and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge as examples of devaluation of human life taken to an extreme conclusion. The term is used by those in the consistent life ethic movement to refer to supporters of embryonic stem cell research, legalized abortion, and euthanasia. Some in the anti-abortion movement, such as those from the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, have compared those in the abortion-rights movement to the perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust. They say that their opponents share the same disregard for human life.
... is testament to growing alliance of conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals who have found common cause in 'culture of life' agenda ...