Adeodatus: Unplanned Gift of God
(Opinions expressed herein belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Fides Quaerens, its editors, or any associated organization.)
Here at the Public Life section of Fides Quaerens, we are committed to publishing excellent political writing wherein students apply the truths and illumined insights of creedal christianity to the political questions of the day. For that reason, we are explicitly committed to avoiding political homogeneity. Theologically orthodox christians hold opposing views on nearly every issue from immigration and tax policy to education and healthcare, and Fides Quaerens is eager to publish christian writing from a variety of perspectives. The one area where orthodox believers approach a consensus and in which this publication will harbor no substantial diversity is the issue of life.
Whatever their other ecclesial and partisan differences, millions of christians have, in the past half-century, linked arms in the fight against legalized abortion in these United States. Discontent to be simply anti-abortion, this movement has predominantly embraced the moniker of pro-life. However, attentiveness to recent pro-life rhetoric might make one ask whether the movement has lost sight of this important distinction.
In 2005, then Senator Hillary Clinton implored pro-choice and pro-life activists to work together on achieving what she perceived to be their common goal: the prevention of unplanned pregnancies. As the past decade plus has shown, the pro-choice wing of American politics ignored this advice, continuing to further polarize voters on the abortion issue; but the pro-life movement, it would seem, has embraced the former First Lady’s counsel and has increasingly incorporated the ‘reduction/prevention of unplanned pregnancies’ into their rhetoric and agenda.
One need only attend a pro-life event to hear those posturing as moderates recite the prevention tropes. Just in the past three years, both Mississippi and Arkansas have passed legislation －spearheaded by pro-life Republicans－ requiring colleges and universities to develop ciricula and other resources for the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. Collaborating with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, these efforts are often explicitly associated with the promotion of contraceptive use. Commending realism and decrying the －albeit, statistically verifiable－ ineffectiveness of abstinence-only sex-education, these politicians and activists reason that the majority of abortions are performed in response to unintended conceptions, therefore, less unplanned pregnancies will equal less demand for abortion services.
The logic of this argument is sound: a reduction in the number of unwanted conceptions would, in fact, result in a decreased number of abortions. The ‘prevent unplanned pregnancies’ agenda is, therefore, anti-abortion; but does this actually comport with a pro-life ethic informed by a christian conception of human life? Here, as nearly everywhere else, St. Augustine is instructive.
In Augustine’s view, life is a positive good. “Eternal life” －in contrast to “eternal death[,] the supreme evil”－ is, according to the north-african saint, “the supreme good” in God’s City (City of God xix.4). After all, Christ came to earth that men might have life and have it abundantly; indeed, the blessed hope of all believers throughout the millennia has been the physical resurrection unto life everlasting. In deeming peace the first and final state of humanity, Augustine proceeds to include as articles to his multi-faceted definition of peace, “The peace of the body then consists in the duly proportioned arrangement of its parts” and “The peace of body and soul is the well-ordered and harmonious life and health of the living creature” (City of God xix.13). Even more basic than biological life, Augustine’s claim that “The more you love being, the more you will yearn for eternal life” (On the Free Choice of the Will iii.7) sets forth existence itself as a virtue, laying the groundwork for Anselm of Canterbury to later argue for God’s existence on the basis of this virtue.
In contrast to this Augustinian ethic of ontological virtue with human life as a positive good, the contemporary ‘prevent unplanned pregnancies’ worldview pales. It would seem that this view, far from seeing life as a good, treats pre-born life as a neutral commodity that has the potential to be used towards either evil (abortion) or good (birth). Yes, the child’s conception is a sinful mistake, but it can be redeemed by a responsible decision. This anti-abortion logic is functionally equivalent to President Trump’s utilitarian opposition to abortion based on each child’s potential for success.
What then? Ought pro-life christians actively promote promiscuity and teenage-pregnancy?
Of course not, christians ought always hope to see the law of God upheld, working towards this goal in their respective spheres of influence. But insofar as illicit sex is taking place, the best possible outcome is life!
Augustine, remarking on the life of his illegitimate, concubine-born son Adeodatus (Gift of God), confesses “I had no part in that boy, but the sin” yet proclaims to God, “Excellently hadst Thou made him” (Confessions ix.6). Instead of portraying the unplanned conception of his son as a redeemable error, Augustine sees the very conception of life itself as the redemption of error. If we are to be consistently pro-life, we must follow Augustine in making absolutely clear that the sin is the mistake, but the conception is a miracle.
The consistent application of a christian pro-life ethic will mean a shift, not only in rhetoric, but in outlook and action. Christians, embodying this augustinian worldview, will work against the distribution of contraceptives in schools and other publicly-funded avenues; pro-life pregnancy centers －continuing the noble work that they already do－ will meet mothers of unplanned pregnancies, not in a mentality of crisis, but in jubilant celibration of God’s miraculous working; far from the Scarlett Letter stigma that －surprisingly－ still exists in many congregations, christians will seek to provide loving and godly influence in paternal absence, lauding single mothers as the bearers of Adeodatus, God’s gifts.
As the child of an unplanned pregnancy, joyously married to the child of another unplanned pregnancy, raising the one-month-old daughter of a much prayed-for pregnancy; let me say: to be pro-life is to be for all life and every pregnancy, especially the glorious redemption of un-planned parenthood.