“Who are you, a straight, white, male, to tell me what to do?”
A common objection that is often raised on the college campuses in America today is often leveled at male pro-life advocates as a way to simply silence the pro-lifer into submission. I was listening to a presentation by Gregory Koukl recently, on the material in his book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, when this realization came to me. When this objection(which isn’t even a legitimate response to the argument being made against elective abortion) is raised, it is simply a way to silence any disagreement. (I also recommend Douglas Groothius’ excellent book Truth Decay, as a tool for critiquing relativism and postmodern thought)
One other example of this happening, during a college campus outreach in the San Diego area a couple of years ago, a similar response was raised when I was speaking to a crowd of students who had come to our display to hear what we had to say. After laying out a brief case for the pro-life view, one student simply said, “Well, that’s a male’s view, let’s get a woman’s view on the issue.” I was dumbfounded.
How is one to respond? The best way I can think of is to simply turn the question around: “Who are you to tell me I can’t?” Or more along the lines of “So what if it’s a male’s point of view? How exactly does that undermine everything I just said?” Wait and see what the response is; I can guarantee it isn’t something most people have though much about. Let me explain.
First, what does one’s racial, sexual, or any other characteristic have to do with whether or not their point of view on a particular matter is correct? The statement is based on the worldview of postmodernism, and it’s descendent, cultural relativism. A cultural relativist holds to the view that all moral, social, religious, or other views are relative to the culture that produces them. With this in mind, it is helpful to see where the postmodern mindset leads to this type of thinking. As a variation of the “Who are you to say?” answer of the relativist, this one puts values as relative to the members of a particular community group, whether they be racial minorities, gender minorities, or anything else. So, many times, when a feminist group at the local college is putting on an event with the title of “A Feminist Perspective on (Fill in the social issue here)” this is precisely what we are seeing happen. “Why is a man telling me what to do?” is as similar a response as the rhetorical question “Says who?”
The biggest problem with this line of reasoning, based on truth claims and values claims being relative to particular communities, is that it also undermines anything any particular group has to say. After all, if it is all just perspectives and opinions based upon the socio-environmental experiences of the members of a particular group, then no one has anything remotely useful to add to any discussion whatsoever(Including the correction of run-on sentences). There is no real difference then between a women’s rights group and their views and any other group. The mantra “You’re just a white male!” can be equally applied to the person making the statement “And you are just a female.” Why is one perspective automatically superior to another? The postmodern worldview can’t pass it’s own test. This ends up meaning that no one is obligated to take a feminist perspective on anything seriously to begin with, up to and including abortion.
Some might say, “Wait a minute, women are human beings to, and deserve to be listened to!” Precisely. To acknowledge this statement as true is to reject the relativism that leads to a valuing of a view on the basis of which community it comes from, as opposed to the reasons for that view. It is because women(and minorities) are equally as human as everyone else is what grounds out obligations to respect them as persons, not necessarily as a way of thinking. A man can be just as mistaken as a woman, and vice versa.
This leads us back to the conclusion that there are some objectively true ideas that can be held independently of community experiences. Questions like, “Are all human beings fundamentally equal?” “Do all human beings deserve equal rights?” and “Are human rights worth striving for and upholding?” Don’t seem to be questions that should be left up to the individual or the group to decide how to answer. In fact, we can take this a step further: Do human beings cease to be worthy of justice and protection when we leave earth? If we were on another planet, like Mars, Pluto, Vulcan, or Tatooine, would the statement “All human beings have inherent worth and dignity” suddenly cease to be true? What about a mathematical claim, like 2+2=4; would that suddenly cease to be the proper formula if we left our own solar system, or traveled to another country? Thinking this way gets pretty goofy upon further reflection.
So, now that we’ve arrived at the conclusion that there are indeed objective, universal truths that transcend cultural and subcultural experiences(To deny this is to admit there is one objective, universal truth that transcends cultural and subcultural experience. There is no escaping this conclusion. It cannot be done), how does this correspond to the issue at hand, the morality of abortion?
The argument against abortion, as laid out in logical form below, is either valid or invalid; sound or unsound:
1. It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.
This argument is no more undermined or refuted if presented by a straight, wealthy, Republican, Christian, white biological male than if it was articulated by a talking parrot. Anyone who objects to the pro-life position needs to show how the syllogism fails, not merely get angry that someone who has a characteristic they happen to dislike is arguing it. Anything less is an insulting way to say “Just shut up” when there is a needed dialogue to be had.
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