If there’s one issue Christians should be single-issue voting on, it’s life, according to Scott Klusendorf, a pro-life activist and speaker.
On Tuesday night, Hillsdale College for Life hosted Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute, an organization of pro-life advocates, to teach students how to make better arguments for the pro-life cause.
In the 2020 election, Klusendorf said, Christians were led to believe they couldn’t make abortion a single-issue motive. They also believed they could vote for a pro-choice candidate in spite of their support for pro-life.
“We are facing a situation where what it means to be pro-life is being hijacked, right under our noses,” Klusendorf said. “And we’re going to have to reassert not only what it means to be pro-life, but we’re also going to have to be brutally clear about what our argument is.”
Klusendorf explained his strategy in four basic points: assertion of the nature of moral reasoning, clarity and consistency in the pro-life view, appropriately responding to opposition, and re-engaging in the political sphere.
Klusendorf began by describing the moral reasoning of intrinsic value in humanity.
“There is a difference between stealing a pencil and ripping a child’s face off. And if you don’t see that difference, something’s wrong with you,” he said. “Yet we had a lot of people who thought we could justify putting in power a government that would help us avoid contingent evils, but we’re perfectly fine with that government affirming and promoting intrinsic ones.”
Klusendorf explained the pro-life position by contrasting two views of human life, what he called the “substance” and the “endowment” views. The first argues that though physical bodies change over time, humans have “an underlying nature or essence that grounds your identity through time and change,” Klusendorf said. This means life has intrinsic value in all stages, he said.
The rival view is the “performance” view.
“It says that you are not identical to the embryo you once were, or the newborn you once were, that the real you has nothing to do with your body,” he explained. “It is strictly your mental self. That’s it.”
The problem with the performance view, Klusendorf said, is its promotion of body-self dualism. When self-awareness is the source of human value, it divides a man’s soul and mind from his body.
“If we can kill newborns and fetuses because neither is self aware — if self awareness grounds our identity and our value, and you have more of it than me — what follows?” he said. “You have more fundamental rights than I do, and human equality is out the window.”
Klusendorf said a common objection to these pro-life arguments is to point out other areas that pro-life proponents seemingly don’t focus on as much, such as adoption or caring for the poor, but they should refuse to play defense.
“Suppose we’re that awful that we will never adopt a child ever care for the poor. All we care about is children before they’re born,” Klusendorf said. “Would our arguments still be valid and sound, even if we didn’t act like we say? Yes, it would be. You have not refuted the pro-life argument by an ad hominem attack on the people you think ought to be doing more.”
Those who object on the basis of rape are two kinds of debators: the inquirer who acts out of good faith and empathy and the crusader who aims to make the apologist look bad. Klusendorf emphasized that victims of rape have suffered a great injustice and trauma and deserve empathy; however, one’s pain does not justify killing another.
“How do you think a civil society should treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful moment? Is it OK to intentionally kill them so we can feel better?” Klusendorf said.
Pro-lifers need to push their activism to the political sphere but don’t, Klusendorf said, often because they wrongly believe that they must change hearts in order to change politics.
“The purpose of law is not to change everyone’s heart. In fact, doesn’t the existence of law presuppose that some people’s hearts won’t be changed?” he said. “That’s why we need to constrain them through law.”
Pro-life activist Adelaide Holmes ’20, a mentor to apologists on campus, said Klusendorf has been her personal mentor in the pro-life movement but has not been able to speak at Hillsdale until now.
“Scott just has a really good knowledge of the philosophy of some of the best pro-choice arguments out there and then why the pro life argument is stronger than that,” Holmes said. “Hillsdale students really latch on to the academic philosophical side of the pro life movement, so he’s just a really great guy to bring in to kind of talk about that and really cater to what Hillsdale students really want to talk about.”