How to Move from Theory to Practice: Reading “A Consistent Life”
by John Whitehead
Let’s say you’ve succeeded in winning someone over to the consistent life ethic. This person now wants to defend human life against abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, war, and the myriad other threats to life. Now the question arises, “What should I do to promote the consistent life ethic?” A valuable new resource is now available for such a budding activist: A Consistent Life: The Young Advocate’s Guide to Living Peace & Justice Daily by Mary Grace Coltharp and Aimee Murphy, published by Consistent Life Network member group Rehumanize International.
The authors, an intern for Rehumanize and the group’s executive director, respectively, carefully lay out a full year’s worth of study and activities to deepen someone’s commitment to advancing the consistent life ethic. Although aimed at students and other young people, the guide is useful for anyone trying to do consistent-life-ethic work in their community.
The book has 52 chapters, for each week in a year, with each week dedicated to exploring a different aspect of the consistent life ethic. The authors write about these different aspects of the ethic in an admirably positive way. Rather than presenting the week’s theme as opposition to a particular injustice, each theme is presented as recognizing the humanity of a different vulnerable or oppressed group—“re-humanizing” those who are too often dehumanized. Each week’s theme begins with the introductory phrase “Who you will rehumanize:” with the focus of this rehumanization including groups such as “human beings at the embryonic stage of development,” “human beings who are or have been incarcerated,” “human beings victimized by human trafficking,” or “elderly human beings and those living with terminal illnesses.”
For almost every week, the authors have identified five different activities by which guide users can deepen their commitment to the relevant group. These activities are nicely balanced, combining direct service to those at risk from violence, lobbying for laws and public policy, learning more about these issues, and raising awareness. The guide also frequently encourages artistic expression. In the section “Who you will rehumanize: human beings living with mental illnesses,” for example, the week’s recommended activities are:
- Look into organizations to see where you can volunteer and how you can help. Some organizations to look at are: National Alliance on Mental Illness, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
- Write a song. Be creative and express yourself and the issues of mental health stigma or something else related.
- Find a song, share, discuss. Try to find something with a positive message, maybe about getting help if you need it.
- Look into how the government, state or federal, funds mental health care. Is it enough? Can it be improved? How?
- Call or write a government official about improvements. Maybe the Department of Health and Human Services could be doing more. You don’t have to know everything about an issue, just demonstrate that this issue matters to your representative’s constituents.
Activities under rehumanizing “human beings victimized by racism” include “Re-evaluate yourself and your thinking. Think seriously and don’t write off racism as not affecting you” and “Research influential court cases within the topic of America’s long battle with and fight for equal rights.” Activities under rehumanizing “preborn human beings and their parents” include “Invite your pro-life friends over to create handmade signs for a march for life” and “Volunteer with a [pregnancy resource center.]” Each week’s activities are also carefully structured, with the most challenging activity coming at the end of the week.
An aspect of the recommended activities that is particularly thoughtful and welcome is the frequent inclusion of self-care activities such as “Today take a bath or nap to rejuvenate” or “Rehumanize yourself. You could read a heartwarming story that will lift your spirits.” Quotations from notable people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the anti-death penalty activist (and Consistent Life Network endorser) Sister Helen Prejean are also interspersed throughout the book. A list of recommended reading and viewing appears at the end, with the Consistent Life Network’s book Consistently Opposing Killing included among them.
The guide will be a valuable resource for student organizations, faith communities, and other groups that want to promote the consistent life ethic in their communities. The diverse array of topics covered and the broadly defined activities allow different groups to develop their own unique activism that emphases the issues most relevant to them and their communities. The guide allows for such flexibility to the extent of leaving the book’s final week of activities blank: activists can decide for themselves which theme and activities to pursue that week.
I would offer a couple minor criticisms of the guide’s treatment of war. In keeping with Rehumanize International’s mission statement opposing “unjust war,” the guide refers to rehumanizing “human beings impacted by unjust wars.” The term “unjust war” is a controversial one within the consistent life ethic movement, as pacifists would reject the qualification “unjust” as implying war ever could be justified. Acknowledging and addressing this philosophical diversity within the movement would have been helpful.
Further, even if one accepts the concept of “just and unjust” wars, the book offers little information or guidance on how an activist should determine whether a particular war is unjust. A quoted passage reviewing two Just War Theory principles is certainly welcome (not least because it is a quotation from something I wrote!) but a full account of Just War Theory is lacking. Should the guide have a future edition, a summary of Just War Theory principles or a reference to resources that provide such a summary would be worth including.
These are quibbles, however. A Consistent Life is generally an excellent resource for consistent life ethic activists wishing to translate their convictions into practice. It deserves a wide distribution and readership.
For more book reviews on our blog, see:
A Way Beyond the Abortion Wars? / reviewed by Bill Samuel, book by Charles C. Camosy
Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life Movement Before Roe v. Wade / reviewed by Carol Crossed, book by Daniel K. Williams
The Tragedy of Carrie Buck: A Review of Imbeciles / reviewed by Mary Lou Bennett, book by Adam Cohen