I'm doing some work on a sermon for Right to Life Sunday and am reading the book Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present, by George Grant. This book is available as a free .pdf download.
One of the surprising things in reading this book is to note that the practice of abortion has been around for a long time, and the Christian church has consistently been pro-life throughout its history. And this pro-life orientation has not been in relation to abortion only, the church has stood for life wherever it was threatened.
Grant begins the book by discussing an incident where he was involved in a live televised debate with an abortion advocate and his opponent expressed exasperation with the pro-life movement.
In desperation as the seconds slipped away, he made one last lunging stab: "What I don't understand about you pro-lifers is where you've been all these years. The camera moved in to capture the high drama. Passion shone from his anguished features. Beads of sweat trickled down his brow. Women have been suffering for centuries. The pro-life movement didn't even exist until 1973. You're just a bunch of extremists, opportunists, and Johnny-come latelies."
My turn. The camera zoomed in to catch my reaction. I just smiled. "Ah, but once again, there is where you are so very wrong. The pro-life movement is not a recent phenomenon or innovation, I said. It is two thousand years old. You see, the pro-life movement was inaugurated on a rugged old cross, on a hill called Calvary-it is best known as Christianity. Caring for the helpless, the deprived, and the unwanted is not simply what we do. It is what we are. Always has been. Always will be."
George then goes on to give a history of abortion and the history of the pro-life movement.
Concerning the ancient practice of aborting children, Grant says:
It is no wonder then that abortion, infwticide, exposure, and abandonment have always been a normal and natural part of human relations. Since the dawning of time, men have contrived ingenious diversions to satisfy their fallen passions. And child-killing has always been chief among them.
Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children. Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients. Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures. Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness. Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical pressaries- abortifacients that were pushed or pumped directly into the womb through the birth canal. Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous torture~ their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies. Japanese women straddled boiling cauldrons of parricidal brews. Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disemboweling and dismembering them shortly after birth-their collagen was then ritually harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams.
None of the great minds of the ancient world from Plato and Aristotle to Seneca and Quintilian, from Pythagoras and Aristophanes to Livy and Cicero, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Plutarch and Euripides - disparaged child-killing in any way. In fact, most of them actually recommended it. They callously discussed its various methods and procedures. They casually debated its sundry legal ramifications. They blithely tossed lives like dice.
Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were so much a part of human societies that they provided the primary liet motif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables, and legends.
. . . Because they had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as natural as the spring rains for the men and women of antiquity to kill their children. It was as instinctive as the autumn harvest for them to summarily sabotage their own heritage. They saw nothing particularly cruel about despoiling the fruit of their wombs. It was woven into the very fabric of their culture. They believed that it was completely justifiable. They believed that it was just and good and right.
In contrast the Bible paints the picture of a God for whom life is sacred and central. Again, Grant says:
Life is God's gift. It is His gracious endowment upon the created order. It flows forth in generative fruitfulness. The earth is literally teeming with life (see Genesis 1:20; Leviticus 11:10; 22:5; Deuteronomy 14:9). And the crowning glory of this sacred teeming is man himself (see Genesis 1:26-30; Psalm 8: 19). To violate the sanctity of this magnificent endowment is to fly in the face of all that is holy, just, and true (see Jeremiah 8:117; Romans 8:6).
To violate the sanctity of life is to invite judgment, retribution, and anathema (see Deuteronomy 30: 19-20). It is to solicit devastation, imprecation, and destruction (see Jeremiah 21:8-10). The Apostle Paul tells us, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that he shall also reap (Galatians 6:7).
But the Lord God, who is the giver of life (see Acts17:25), the fountain of life (see Psalm 36:9), the defender of life (see Psalm 27:1), the prince of life (see Acts 3:15), and the restorer of life (see Ruth 415), did not leave men to languish hopelessly in the clutches of sin and death. He not only sent us the message of life (see Acts 5:20) and the words of life (see John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (see John 8:12). He sent us His only begotten Son the life of the world (see John 6:51)to break the bonds of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:54-56). Jesus tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9), actually abolishing death for our sakes (see 2 Timothy 1:10) and offering us new life (see John 5:21).
For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).
One of the earliest Christian documents - actually predating much of the New Testament-asserts that There are two ways: a way of life and a way of death. In Christ, God has afforded us the opportunity to choose between those two ways - to choose between fruitful and teeming life on the one hand; and barren and impoverished death on the other (see Deuteronomy 30:19).
Apart from Christ it is not possible to escape the snares of sin and death (see Colossians 2:13). On the other hand, If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
All those who hate Christ love death (Proverbs 8:36); while all those who receive Christ are made the sweet savor of life (see 2 Corinthians 2:16).
The implication is clear: The pro-life movement and the Christian faith are synonymous. Where there is one, there will be the other-for one cannot be had without the other.
Further, the primary conflict in temporal history always has been and always will be the struggle for life by the church against the natural inclinations of all men everywhere.
There is a basically a contrast of worldviews here. Throughout history wherever a Christian worldview has gained a foothold, a high regard for life has followed, and this high regard for life has always meant a high regard for the lives of children, born and unborn, women, and the elderly and infirm.
And while I don't offer this post as an argument against abortion, I offer it against the argument that the pro-life movement is new and novel. If you read through Grant's book he has illustration after illustration throughout all eras of history of how a low view of life has prevailed where Christianity was absent and how a high view of life prevailed where the Christian faith spread.