Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Human Dignity, Steve Jobs, and Why You Shouldn't Call Me A "Pro-Life Advocate"

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Well, it's been a while. And since I realized that little old Coffee Talk has just been sitting here collecting virtual dust, I decided to hop on tonight and write a little something for you. (I did briefly check my blog stats for the first time in weeks before writing, and made a totally weird discovery -- my last post on "Pro-Life: What Does It Mean to You?" got nearly 1,000 page views, over 800 of which appear to have been from Egypt. Strange.)

Anyway, thanks to those who responded. Your feedback on your views of the pro-life movement were very helpful to me, and I was able to whisk away an article that will apparently be published soon. I'll be sure to remember you all when I start raking in all those bags of money! ;)

When I was asked to write an article about being involved in the pro-life movement with a new perspective than the same old stuff (this magazine has an annual pro-life issue), I first thought of a good friend of mine from college having confided in me her experience of having an abortion. So I wanted to use that experience as a starting point for my article -- my personal reflections on ways that I could be more active as a pro-life person as inspired by this discussion with my friend. Some of my ideas were definitely outside of the box of traditional pro-life activities, and included things as simple as being a better friend to people and supporting single moms, to let others who may end up in that situation themselves know that it is not unbearable and that a loving community will help to support that mother and child. I also reflected a little bit on how many people who are 'outside of the pro-life movement', so to speak, might have a really negative and distorted view of what it means to be pro-life, based on the inappropriate speech and actions of a few. I could easily imagine that, to some people, those who claimed to be 'pro-life' seemed rather harsh, judgmental, and unkind to those who are currently living, which does little to promote a spirit of human dignity, love, and mutual respect.

And then I had a fascinating and unfortunate exchange with someone that really confirmed this for me. A certain well-known "Pro-Life Advocate" (henceforth referred to as PLA) made some very negative posts about Steve Jobs, very shortly after his death, on their "pro-life" Facebook page, and many people were (understandably) offended by the posts. I decided to write to PLA, in the hopes that I might appeal to this person's goodwill and decency, and while the PLA did eventually remove the most offensive post (the one in which PLA compared Steve Jobs to Margaret Sanger in a tasteless, irrelevant, and unnecessary way), the exchange that we had in the meantime made me realize that, unfortunately for the whole pro-life movement, some of the movement's leaders do little to represent a spirit of compassion and love. Also, when people cannot articulate their own arguments well, or engage in a rational debate with another person (especially with someone who largely shares their own point of view), we have little hope of winning over people from the 'other side' to our way of thinking. I would like to give a very special thanks to my friend who read this exchange and so wisely advised: "Don't write back; PLA is crazy." Honestly, this exchange even made hard-core Catholic Coffee Talking Leslie feel that if this kind of attitude is part of what identifies someone as a "pro-life advocate," I hope people will never call me one. I hope they'll call me a friend and a defender of human dignity, but not a pro-life advocate if it means being a hateful and illogical idiot. (And for the record, I think that I may have been a bit of an illogical idiot myself for engaging in this discussion in the first place, especially online. It is much easier for people to know your intention and the spirit of your words when you are speaking face to face, in a spirit of friendship, than in the emotionless forum of the virtual world.) In any case, here's the exchange:

LESLIE: Hi, PLA! I hope you'll forgive the boldness of this unsolicited message, but I saw your recent posts from your "PLA: Pro-Life Advocate" page, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

First, let me say that I am so happy for the good work the Lord has done, and is doing, through you and your experience of conversion. I have a copy of your book (excellent so far), and even looked into the possibility of having you come as a speaker for the parish/diocese in which I work. Unfortunately, the costs were much too high for an area of rather modest means, but I was happy to know that you must be doing very well in terms of speaking engagements and spreading the important message of the sanctity of all human life. I am also blessed to hear of you and your family coming into the Catholic Church. Welcome!

All of that said, I am really disappointed by your last two posts about Steve Jobs. I am not suggesting that anyone should celebrate the fact that Apple may have ever supported Planned Parenthood, "even one cent" as you said, but I am shocked that you would post such strong statements without having any hard facts at all to back up what you are saying, especially in the wake of someone's death. I think it's clear that anyone spreading the message of Steve Job's adoption is doing so as a way of illustrating the significance of every human life, and I'm sure that's not a message that you're opposed to. I know that you have been on the receiving end of so many mean-spirited comments and even threats, and I thank God for protecting you and your family as you continue to do good work. Still, I have to hope that you have not let the attacks get the best of you and resorted to baseless attacks and mean-spirited comments yourself. I'm sure you are above that. You have a very large and captive audience -- over 14,000 people on Facebook alone -- and I hope that you'll use this forum boldly, but responsibly. I think your last two comments are inappropriate, and it's my personal hope that you'll delete them, or issue some sort of apology for making such remarks in the wake of a man's death without any hard evidence of his (or his organization's) support of Planned Parenthood. And even with hard facts, it seems that the timing is really less than tasteful -- can we not let people mourn, and celebrate what was good in the life of Steve Jobs without making this some sort of rhetorically snappy platform for the pro-life message?

This is just one humble opinion, of course. And in any case, be assured of my prayers for you and your family.

Peace and all good,
PLA: I won't be deleting them. I think it needed to be said. And I do have the links that show contributions from Apple to PP. I also know first hand of the donations...since I saw them come in to my affiliate. I am not attacking anyone. I am simply stating that it is bothersome to see some in the pro-life movement forget what our primary stance is...LIFE. His company supports abortion. Period. I think it is interesting to see how people will defend things or people that are tied to abortion if they have benefited their family. It is sad, really. I have seen pro-lifers with the Apple logo as their profile pic. That is not celebrating Jobs' mother...that is celebrating the Apple Corporation...the same corporation that donates to PP. Shame.
LESLIE: I'm in no way defending Apple, PLA, but I am defending Steve Jobs as a person, and his family and friends as they mourn this loss. Yes, our primary stance is life, of every single person, regardless of who or what they support. I am glad that Steve Jobs' mother chose adoption rather than abortion, and I'm glad that people are sharing that message. And I hope they continue to do so, despite your messages. I doubt that many of the pro-lifers with the Apple logo as their profile pic know about their support of PP, so yes, that could be an important message to share. Apple supports Planned Parenthood, so if you support life, then sure, go ahead and celebrate Steve Jobs' adoption, celebrate his accomplishments even, but don't celebrate his organization's support of Planned Parenthood. I think some so-called pro-lifers lose a lot of people with the brashness of their message, full of rhetorical devices and hitting people over the head, but devoid of the kindness and love that are truly necessary to win people over. Thanks for the reply, anyway. It's interesting to know more of the thinking behind what you post. Peace be with you.
PLA: I didn't say not to share the adoption message. I didn't say not to talk about the sacrifice his biological mother made. I said to not turn him into a pro-life hero. He was not. That is no "brash." That is truth. Sometimes it is hard to swallow.
LESLIE: I haven't seen one example of anyone trying to turn Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero, and I do not at all find the truth hard to swallow. God bless.
PLA: Hmmm...I have, multiple times. ie, the Apple logo on people's profile pic. The overly gracious articles about his philanthropy and "oh, where would we all be without Apple Computers????" That has nothing to do with his mother. That has nothing to do with her choosing life for him.
LESLIE: Nor do any of those examples have anything to do with turning Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero, in my opinion. How do you think that they do? Just because a person is pro-life and they post the Apple logo as their pro-file pic -- this represents turning Steve Jobs into a pro-life hero?

As for all of the "where would we all be without Apple Computers????", I agree that some people may have gone a little overboard with this. Even before the death of Steve Jobs, there's been a certain mania regarding Apple computers, so it comes as no surprise to me that this kind of hype would follow his death. I personally do not own a single Apple product.

Still, I think their products are of such high quality and ingenuity that every other computer has followed their lead, and I do think that Apple has made certain technological advances which have directly influenced those things which are good, true and beautiful. For example, I studied music as an undergraduate student, and the only decent computer programs for musicians and artists were to be found on Apple computers. And then, while studying theology as a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I learned from several different professors of Scripture and language that they could really only use Apple computers to have access to the appropriate fonts and programs for ancient and Biblical languages. Trust me, these guys were about as much of the real-deal in terms of pro-life as you could get -- these were men with doctorates spending all of their meager wages on their huge Catholic families and driving old beaters to teach at one of the most pro-life universities around -- and still, they had a real appreciation for what Apple computers could do to promote the study of ancient and Biblical languages, of art, of music; in short, of things that are the most beautiful in life, and that are at the heart of the Church.

I don't know that these people knew of Apple's support of Planned Parenthood, and I don't know if they would have continued to buy Apple products if they had known. Still, even if they switched to PCs to find similar products, they would have found something modeled on Apple's original work, and a creative vision that could originally have been attributed to Steve Jobs. So I actually don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the world would be very different without Apple computers -- especially with the era of technology in which we now live. And in any case, I don't think that celebrating what was good about Steve Jobs life equates with people making him a pro-life hero. Do I think Steve Jobs was a pro-life hero? Hardly. But do I think he was a man who made a difference in the world, a difference for good based on what he knew and believed, and am I glad that his mother chose life for him? Most certainly. And I sincerely believe that this is where most pro-lifers are coming from when they make posts about Apple or Steve Jobs since his death.

PLA: I am glad his mother chose life for him as well. I just wish he would not have lived his life supporting immorality.
LESLIE: Of course. What God-fearing person would wish that another lived their life supporting immorality? Still, two things come to mind here:

1.) Does the life of Steve Jobs really strike you as essentially one that supported immorality? Is that the way in which you would sum up the little we know of his life? Can you not even celebrate the positive achievements in this man's life because of his support of an organization which you have now turned away from? I would certainly hope not. Yes, supporting Planned Parenthood is supporting an organization whose philosophical underpinnings are in many ways a serious attack on human life and dignity, but many people are unaware of this. You do well to educate people as to the true objectives of the organization. But while making such possibly educational commentary during the course of a person's earthly life could certainly be the potential for conversion and positive moral change (as in your own story), making the same type of commentary shortly after a person's death could easily be misconstrued as taking a step toward the judgment which is left to God alone at worst, or defamation of character at best. Yes, we can know with certainty the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, but judgment of an individual soul is based upon that person's conscience, a knowledge of which is left to the Almighty alone. I'm sure that's not the type of judgment you are trying to pass.

2.) Being pro-life means that we wish that ALL pregnant mothers would give their babies a chance at life, and that means that every single one of those lives would have opportunities to choose right from wrong, good from evil, again and again, and they would always have the chance for and hope of mercy and redemption up until the moment of their death. The reality of our fallen world is that many people, at some point or even during most or all of their earthly lives, will choose immorality. This is the result of free will and the fall of man. While no pro-life person hopes that anyone will live an immoral life, one of the most bold and unthinkable things about the pro-life position is that we truly support ALL HUMAN LIFE -- regardless of 'being wanted' or having a lot of money or material resources or of how they are going to end up living their lives. I think that most people do NOT see Steve Jobs life as essentially one lived supporting immorality, and rightly so. He did a lot of good things with the gifts and talents he was given, and he will be judged accordingly, just as he will for any evil in which he participated or contributed. And of course, this will all be based upon what he knew, and the graces that he was given. I don't believe that he was a Christian person, so to be honest, those of us who have the gift and burden of Baptism will be judged more strictly and at a higher standard -- to whom much is given, much is required. May the Lord have mercy on us all.
PLA: You are totally not understanding my point. You are making a big deal out of nothing. I don't like going back and forth. You think whatever you would like...doesn't matter what I say anyway. You have decided that I am saying something I am not. It's fine. People do that all the time. People LOVE to put words in my mouth. :):)
LESLIE: Well, you must like going back and forth at least a little bit, because you keep responding! Maybe you could give a simple clarification of what point it is that I'm missing, if you feel so strongly that I am "totally not understanding" it. It does seem strange that, as a fellow Catholic and pro-life advocate myself, I could be entirely missing whatever point it is that you're trying to make, PLA. I have hardly decided you are saying something you are not, but I'm sorry that you believe that 'people' love to put words in your mouth. I am not one of them. I've tried to avoid that, in fact, by messaging you directly and not discussing this in a public forum. I was rather surprised that you responded at all, but I have to say that each time you do reply, it doesn't seem to correspond to what I've said. And with your responses being rather brief, and not really addressing what I'm saying, I guess I've tried to clarify. My mistake. I'm sure that this would be a better conversation in person, and I'm sorry that you seem to have taken things so personally. All the best, PLA!

P.S. Does ending a message with a smiley face emoticon make it okay for you to accuse me of putting words in your mouth and grouping me with all the people who have formerly done so? I don't really appreciate it. Thanks!
PLA: Funny that I am the one who keeps going back and forth...ummm, you keep responding, too.

Steve Jobs supported Planned Parenthood (abortion) and homosexuality and all homosexual legislation. Yeah, I'm going to say that is pretty immoral.

You say I condemned his soul. NEVER. I have not done that ONCE. See, you putting words in my mouth.

Since when can we not comment about how someone lived after they died? We do it ALL the time! Margaret Sanger was a racist. Ooops...should I not say that??? I mean, maybe she wasn't a racist? Maybe she didn't support immorality?? I don't know. Maybe we just aren't supposed to say that. Now I don't know what to think, since we supposedly can't make comments about the way people lived their lives. Gosh, the pro-life movement is in trouble.

I never said I didn't value his life. NEVER. I never said I didn't appreciate his adoption story. NEVER. You are going on and on about those two things as if I didn't appreciate his life or the fact that he was adopted.

People keep going on and on about how "brilliant" he was. I don't really care a thing about that. And I think there has been far too much emphasis put on that. If we want to really "honor" his adoption story, then let's make this about his mother...not about ipads, ipods and Jobs' innovations. Who cares? There is nothing pro-life about the ipod. But there is a pro-life story in his adoption. But I honestly haven't seen that much emphasis on that. And, trust me, I have been looking. You may not see the pedastal he has been placed on, but I have.

I also think it is interesting that you say "supporting Planned Parenthood is supporting an organization whose philosophical underpinnings are in many ways a serious attack on human life and dignity, but many people are unaware of this." So, we shouldn't tell the truth because people are unaware of what PP does? What? That is what I do! I educate people about PP AND the people they are associated with.

My responses don't make sense?? hmmm...

And so ended the conversation. I thought of so many responses, but as none of them would have proved fruitful, I decided to let it go and try to commit more firmly in my personal life to be more loving and not be a moron. I think that this is the best way that I can represent and act on behalf of the pro-life movement.

As always, thanks for stopping by! Be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,