Are We Seeking Truth, or Convenience?

Frank Bruni has an op-ed in the New York Times about a friend of his who left the Catholic faith. The piece is a conversion story of sorts, detailing how this man went from being a faithful Catholic to a nonbelieving doctor and abortion provider. It reaches its crescendo when Bruni recounts this story, told to him by this friend:

He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “wh**e” at every woman who walked into the clinic.

One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”

“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”

A week later, she was back on her ladder.

John Cook at Gawker beat me to it when he asked: Umm…really? She wouldn’t have found a different doctor, instead of going to the place where she’d be recognized?

Anyway, let’s say the story is true. In his post at Gawker, Cook rounds up a bunch of other equally questionable cases where pro-lifers supposedly end up having abortions themselves. Let’s say they’re all true too. Would that change anything about the abortion debate? It shouldn’t.

In his Times op-ed, Bruni seems to have reserved that anecdote as a trump card, a story that demonstrates once and for all that the pro-life viewpoint just doesn’t make sense. It comes after a paragraph in which his friend is quoted as saying he “was appalled at the behavior of the church while it presumed to teach all of us moral behavior,” so presumably the example with the pro-life protester is meant to flesh out points about religious hypocrisy as well.

Assuming that it did actually happen as described, let’s take a closer look at what this protester’s situation tells us. Certainly her behavior toward the women entering the abortion facility was deplorable. But, in terms of her decision to get an abortion herself, did the woman say, “I am here because I saw compelling evidence that convinced me that life within the womb is not human”? No. She said, “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.” In other words: All we know is that she found living out her pro-life principles to be hard.

Too often, we examine a moral precept, determine that it is hard, and then leap across a logical chasm to assume that it is therefore false. Stories like the pro-lifer getting an abortion aren’t any kind of coup for the pro-choice movement, just as stories of Christians violating the beliefs they profess don’t indicate anything either way about the validity of Christianity. These examples are often cited with an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) conclusion along the lines of, “See? Your beliefs are extremely difficult to follow!” Yet there is another, far more important question that should come next, one that is too often left unasked: “But are these beliefs true?”

Stopping at stoplights is difficult, especially if you urgently need to be somewhere. Even people who are pro-stoplight-stops sometimes go on through the intersection. But that doesn’t mean that we should toss out all laws and moral dictates about not running red lights. We must ask ourselves what is true, not what is easy.

Confusing “inconvenient” with “false” is dangerous, because it tempts us to optimize our lives around what is convenient. When we concoct for ourselves a moral code that is easy to adhere to because it never challenges us, it sets us on a trajectory toward a cold and selfish worldview devoid of generosity. After all, what is a life of perfect love toward our fellow human beings, if not inconvenient?