On Being a Consistent Chimera
by Rob Arner
I’ve always felt like something of a misfit, like I don’t fully belong. As a person living in 21st century North America, I find myself surrounded by an oppressively exclusive metaphor of the left-right political spectrum. It’s a moral and political environment with two competing “camps,” in which both claim to be fighting for justice and a better world, but each prioritize radically different things as the hallmarks of the better world for which they fight. I find myself looking at both camps and often finding myself in agreement with the goods that they seek. Thus, my conception of a better world is marked by things that are central concerns to both “liberal” and “conservative” groups. In this, I sometimes feel like a mutant hybrid, or better, a chimera – an amalgam of components of two wildly divergent worldviews.
My first awareness of this difference of conscience came in college freshman Spanish class. We were tasked with debating different moral issues in Spanish. It just so happened that on my debate day the two issues under consideration were abortion and the death penalty. In preparing for the debates, I noticed that those who were opposed to abortion as a violation of human rights were often supporters of the death penalty, and those who advocated death penalty abolition were often the same ones who advocated for the widespread availability of abortion. I also realized that I was opposed to both, for reasons I did not yet fully comprehend. But on debate day, my debate opponent truly shocked me, as she argued for both the death penalty and legalized abortion. I vividly remember remarking, rather cheekily, “¡Ella quiere matar a todos – desde los enfantes a los criminales!” (She wants to kill everyone – from babies to criminals).
Thankfully, in my experience such blatantly “seamless shroud” advocates are quite rare. Much more frequent is the tension of being embraced in part and pushed away in part. For example, I find that when I’m in more “conservative” company, the fact that I’m pro-life on abortion and oppose involving the medical profession in helping people kill themselves is welcomed, but my opposition to the latest American military misadventure is cause for concern because I don’t “support the troops.” Likewise, when I find myself among more “liberal” friends, my pacifism and opposition to the death penalty are points of connection, while my conviction that abortion is first and foremost an issue of killing rather than of bodily autonomy prevents me from being fully accepted. So I live in this tension, seeing and adopting many of the moral goods sought by both “conservatives” and “liberals,” but finding a home in neither group. Despite the isolation it entails, I like it this way- not being fully “at home” in either popular camp. It allows me to see with eyes of understanding and compassion and make common cause with both in our collective struggle for a better world.
When I first learned about the consistent life ethic (CLE), it gave me words and a framework to articulate what I now realize I had always believed: that human life is too precious, too sacred to be violated. For me as a Christian, this resonated with my conviction that human life is sacred to God, that human beings are bearers of the divine image, and that, as Cardinal Joseph Bernardin remarked, “The person is the clearest reflection of the presence of God among us. To lay violent hands on a person . . . is to come as close as we can to laying violent hands on God. Each social system – east to west, north or south, communist or capitalist – should be judged by the way in which it reverences, or fails to reverence, the unique and equal dignity of every person.”
But I’ve also learned to speak in non-theological ways better fitting the pluralism of the public square. By positing a linkage (not an equivalence) between such seemingly disparate issues as poverty, war, abortion, racial discrimination, and euthanasia, the CLE has given me the conviction to stand up for human rights and dignity wherever and however they are threatened.
So I live in my misfit space, with friends on the right, and friends on the left, working at times with and against both. It can be a lonely space, being this consistent chimera. It requires employing critical thinking as well as connected knowing in equal measure; the ability to deconstruct and the necessity of reconstructing and unifying. But as one who is committed to the idea of being a “minister of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), it provides the remarkable and refreshing opportunity to build bridges rather than walls, and to bring adversaries together, making common cause in the pursuit of justice, peace, and a better world.
As much as the CLE makes me into an oddity, I know it’s also the best framework for making me into a healer.
Rob Arner is author of Consistently Pro-Life: The Ethics of Bloodshed in Ancient Christianity
He also wrote our blog post, The Consistent Life Consensus in Ancient Christianity
For more blog posts on personal journeys, see:
Supporting the Dignity of Every Life (Bill Samuel)
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons (Karen Swallow Prior)
Off the Fence and Taking My Stand on Abortion (Mary Liepold)