Below the embedded video of the speech is a transcript of Monica’s remarks at the Make Noise! youth rally held in Bakersfield, CA on August 29, 2014. The transcript also includes sources and graphics not available during the original speech.
I’m Monica Snyder, I’m from the group Secular Pro-Life, and I’m an agnostic. My group is interested in making a space for pro-life atheists, agnostics, humanists – any pro-life secularists. We also are a group for people of faith who are interested in using secular arguments. And tonight I want to talk about why I think you should make sure you are able to do that, and how you can do that.
But before I do that, I want to do a kind of audience participation thing…though you guys are kind of hard to see. I’m going to ask you some questions, but in case anyone is shy, I’m going to ask you to go ahead and close your eyes again. Seriously. Okay, now: raise your hand if you’re against abortion. Don’t open your eyes. Put your hands down. Raise your hand if you consider yourself a Christian. I was going to count but I can’t see you so – don’t open your eyes,put your hands down. Alright, open your eyes.
Okay, before I tell you what it kind of looked like, raise your hand if you think that at least 60% of California is Christian. [Few people raise their hands.] Interesting! Alright, what about 70%? If no one’s going for 60, no one’s going to go for 70—oh, a couple people. How about 80%? Alright, okay. Raise your hand if yoy think at least 10% of California is not affiliated with religion. [Most peopleraise their hands.] 15%? 20%? Okay – 25%? Alright, okay.
According to the Pew Research Group, 72% of Californians are some type of Christian, and 22% [I misspoke – it’s 21%] are not affiliated with religion:
So roughly 1 in 5 of all Californians is not affiliated with religion. Do you think 1 in 5 of you kept your hands down when I asked how many were Christians in this room? It wasn’t. It wasn’t literally everyone, but it was almost everyone [who raised their hands]. I’ll try to keep it in mind for those of you who didn’t.
And that’s not surprising! Polls consistently show that Christians are more likely to say they’re pro-life than other groups. And polls consistently show that non-religious people are more likely to say they’re pro-choice than many other demographics. You can break it down by race, by income, by education, geographic region – and nothing predicts being pro-choice like being non-religious.
Why do you think that is? Some people tell me it’s because secularists don’t have a reason to care about abortion because secularists don’t have a reason to care about morality. If you don’t believe in God, then why should you care what’s right and wrong? You can’t be good without god.
I’m not going to get into a heavy theological debate about that tonight. I only have 20 or so minutes. But I will say that I know a lot of atheists and agnostics, and we care a lot about things. We love our families, we love our boyfriends and girlfriends and our friends and our husbands and wives. And we care a lot about social issues too. You’ll actually find if you talk to a secularist that many
of us care deeply about a whole bunch of political and social justice topics. People care a lot about women’s rights, gay rights, the death penalty, the environment, education – you name it! And you might not agree with their stances on some of these issues (or maybe you do, I don’t know) but the point is we are not indifferent. We have strong opinions about what is right and wrong and many of us work hard to shape society according to what we believe is right. We care!
And yet, where are we in the pro-life movement? I do think that to some extent, secularists – because most secularists don’t believe in a soul, and they don’t believe in the image of God that we were just talking about – it’s not so terribly obvious to talk about what makes human beings valuable. There’s not that straightforward explanation you could apply to everyone. And I’m going to talk more about that later.
But not all secularists are pro-choice. Polls show that at least 15% of people who say they have no religion also call themselves “pro-life.” If you do the math on that, that’s millions of Americans – at minimum 6 million Americans. That’s what these pictures are about. These are all secular people who call themselves “pro-life.” My group, Secular Pro-Life, is trying to do this solidarity thing where if you are secular and pro-life, send us a picture saying you’re one of us, because it’s easy for us to feel like we’re the only one.
So at least 6 million Americans are not affiliated with religion and still consider themselves “pro-life.” But where are they? When you go to pro-life events, when you do pro-life activism? I’ve had several situations where people tell me I’m literally the first secular pro-lifer they’ve met. And I’m talking tonight about secularism because I’m a secularist, but everything I say tonight keep in mind for other non-traditional pro-life groups, okay? Whether it’s liberals or gay people or even in some cases nonwhite people. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen people from all of these groups do pro-life activism, but it’s often atypical, for some more than others. You may have noticed that too. We get stereotyped (we being pro-lifers) as conservative Christians and it’s not totally ridiculous because there is a correlation to a lot of that.
Now here’s the question: should you care? Let’s say that you’re doing a great job – and here I’m speaking to the Christians in the room, obviously, not necessarily everyone – let’s say you guys are doing a great job of getting your churches more involved and your youth groups more involved and a lot more activity on the Christian side. Which is great, I’m all for that. Should you care that there’s sort of this drop in participation from these other groups?
Yes! Yes! You should care, okay? What is our goal here? Why are you here? We are against abortion! We think abortion is a human rights violation. And it doesn’t just harm the preborn who it kills, it’s also mothers and fathers and siblings and families and communities that will never meet those children.
We want to live in a society (I would say) not just where abortion is illegal, but where abortion is unthinkable. What if you lived in a society where abortion was like cannibalism? Where it’s such a travesty that not only does nobody do it, you’re not even debating the legality of it! Nobody would even take you seriously if you brought it up. What if you lived in that society?
But if we want to make abortion unthinkable (and we should!) then we need a stronger voice. We need a more persuasive, larger movement, and we’re going to need everyone. And when you’re talking about “everyone” in a country as diverse as the United States – in a state as diverse as California! – “everyone” is going to include people that, at least in one way and sometimes more, are very different from you. So how do you talk to those people? How do you talk to people that come from such a different place and reach those hearts and minds?
However you do it, we better find a way to bridge those gaps, because the people unlike us? They’re not going anywhere! They vote. They have friends and family that they influence, who care what they think. And this is especially true of secularists! Polls show church and synagogue attendance has been decreasing and more people in the country are saying they’re not affiliated with religion, including calling themselves “atheists.” And this trend has been going on for years – including the youngest generation! (And for polls, the youngest generation is 18 – 29. They don’t poll below 18.) But they are more likely to say they are not affiliated with religion than the older groups.
And however we might feel about that trend personally – and I’m sure there are very strong feelings about that trend – it does mean there’s a growing space for secular outreach in the pro-life movement. So how do you do that? How do you begin to reach those people?
I think that pro-life activists are very used to – often without even meaning to – talking about their pro-lifeism in terms of their faith or their religion. And you know what? There’s a huge place for that, because most pro-lifers are Christian. Most of the country is Christian! So remember Josh was talking about finding common ground? If you share common ground on your faith and you have a shared basis of understanding with that, then by all means, talk about it in terms of your faith! That makes sense. Not only do I think there’s nothing wrong with that, I think it’s the strategically smart thing to do. You take what you have in common with people and you build from there. That’s great!
The problem is when you start to think that everyone you’re talking to (especially when you’re at a pro-life event or pro-life activism) is Christian. And you know what? It’s not just Christians who do this. I’m an agnostic, and I talk to everyone like they’re Christian! I was doing a presentation at Stanford in the spring, and I just – without even meaning to, while I’m lecturing other people about being more inclusive – I talked to the whole room like everyone was a Christian. And when it was over, an atheist came up to me and he was like, “You suck, man. You didn’t even think about including me and you’re an agnostic!”
So it’s an easy mistake to make. You’re used to everyone being a Christian and if there are non-religious people in the group – as there may be tonight – many times they’re not super excited about letting everyone know they’re not religious. It can be awkward, okay? It can bring awkward conversations. So it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking everyone around you is Christian.
That’s understandable, but it’s a problem. To give you some examples, just in my experience: a few years ago I tried to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. And they would not accept volunteers unless they signed a paper saying Christ is lord and savior. And I’m not willing to lie about that, so I couldn’t work with them. And a couple months ago I was at a conference: about 300 young people, college age, maybe not as much high school, but the same kind of thing. And two different speakers during the day made a point on stage of talking about how pro-life atheists can’t really defend their views. So I was super excited about that. And a couple months after that I went to a pro-life summit with between 100 and 150 major pro-life activists in California. And at one point early on in the summit, a guy with a microphone said that he thinks the best way to help the pro-life movement in California is to “get the pagans out of political office.” And when he said that, the room burst into applause! How welcome do you think I felt? Not especially. And then a couple weeks ago a guy told me that working for Secular Pro-Life mocks God by stealing his glory.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t think this is typical behavior. We have a lot of Christians that work with our group. Some of our biggest supporters are Christian pro-lifers: some of our bloggers and people that help us with a lot of things. And in my experience, most Christian pro-lifers are kind and welcoming and they’re glad we share common ground and they’re happy to work together.
So don’t mistake me in saying that this is normal behavior. But when the vocal minority gives off this idea, you might be able to understand how some secularists would feel like you don’t really want us here! You don’t understand us and you don’t like us and you don’t want us here. And that can be a problem.
Now I think most people have the common sense and the diplomacy to not go on about “pagans.” In fact I’ve almost never heard anyone use that word in real life before that one guy. But I think that the problem can be a little bit more nuanced than that sometimes. Just to give you some insight: Josh talked about finding common ground, right? I cannot overemphasize how useful that is. And sometimes people feel like – whether it’s with a secularist or someone with different politics than you or different sexuality or whatever – you might feel like “I don’t even know how to start.” But you’d be surprised how much you have in common. There are a lot of people that think abortion is wrong, and there are a lot of people that think it should be illegal, from lots of different walks of life. And if you go to a pro-life event and you talk about abortion, and you talk about why you think it’s a problem and what you can do to help, that’s actually very inclusive.
But sometimes I find that at pro-life events, people – for example, they might get into debates about bigger pro-life issues. You guys have probably heard some of this. If you’re “really” pro-life, you’ll have certain opinions about the death penalty or euthanasia or even veganism or the welfare state. There’s all sorts of stuff. And the more you bring up other things, the more you make people think that the only way they’re allowed to fight abortion with you is to agree with you on other topics, the more you take the pool of people who are against abortion and chop it up and make it smaller.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have opinions on other topics. Totally you should, and if you feel strongly about them than do something about it. I’m all for that. But when you bring it up is crucial. That’s just another example of a way that you might be alienating people without realizing it. Not you guys personally – probably none of you have ever done that, but in the future as you go forward as pro-life leaders you can keep that in mind.
So I’ve given you a whole list of things not to do – talking about “pagans,” talking about other political topics. If you are going to talk about the pro-life message, what do you say? What arguments do you use?
Before I even get into this, I’m going to tell you right now I’m not going to have enough time to really tell you. And so if you want to know, I have all these cool business cards that I made with our website on them and all sorts of information. If you’re curious I would be delighted to give you tons of information on arguments you can make from a secular perspective. But I find that most Christian pro-lifers already do that. Most of the stuff you say is usually pretty secular.
We go with four major premises, okay? The first premise: the zygote or embryo or fetus – whatever stage of development you want to talk about – is, from a biological standpoint, a human being. And that’s the first premise. I can talk to you about how to make that more comprehensive, but that’s the beginning.
The second one gets more philosophical: there’s no consistent, objective distinction between a human being and what many refer to as a “person.” You can get into all sorts of things about cognitive ability or ability to feel pain, and I’m not going to go into that right now, but the point is that you can say that they are a human being, and that’s what matters.
The third one – which is where people sometimes get tripped up when you’re talking between Christians and secularists – is that human beings deserve human rights. And sometimes I have Christians talk to me about how you can make that argument to a secularist. Because if you believe that human beings deserve human rights because they’re made in the image of God, how are you going to talk to a secularist about that?
It’s a very good question. And, again, I don’t have a lot of time to go into it. I will say that in my experience – and not everyone has had this experience – but in my experience secularists aren’t wondering why human beings should have human rights. They already agree that human beings should have human rights. They don’t know if they agree that the preborn are valuable human beings, and that’s what you have to talk about. But if you talk to them about how they feel about born human beings, you’ll find that they completely think human beings should have human rights. So your question is a matter of consistency. How do you get them to apply that feeling consistently?
You will occasionally get people who are like, “Well, why? Why should anyone have human rights?” And that’s a whole different ball game. And I can give you resources on that if you want to talk more about it. There are philosophical points of view from a secular standpoint of why that should still matter. But most of the time if you happen to be talking to a secularist, don’t jump into all that philosophy unless they ask you to, because a lot of times you’ll find that they’re like, “Yeah, human beings get human rights, but is the preborn a human being?” Different topic.
And the fourth premise. Again, don’t have a lot of time. I think this is very important. I think pro-lifers often overlook this and I want to emphasize it, okay? So (1) the fetus is a human being, biologically speaking, (2) there’s no major difference between a human being and a person, and (3) human beings deserve human rights. That’s usually where we stop. The fourth premise: bodily rights – my body, my choice – is an important argument. There are many situations in society where bodily rights take precedence. It’s not enough to justify abortion. And if you’re really interested in getting into debates and discussions and dialogues, you should look into this so you can talk about it. Because at least the pro-choicers that I know, the most intelligent pro-choicers, this is one of the first things they’ll go to: bodily rights.
So I can’t get into all the details of why all this is true. I’m going to continue with something Josh said, though. You know I’m talking about dialogue and debate and stuff, and I find that a lot of people – whether it’s in pro-life work or any other political work – they might feel very strongly about a certain political topic but they’re not really sure what they can do to help. Because not everybody is confrontational. Not everyone’s ready to speak in front of a big group, not everyone’s ready to stand outside of a clinic, or even have a dialogue on a college campus. Some people aren’t comfortable with that level of face-to-face. What if someone yells at me? What if it’s awkward?
You know what? That’s okay. There are lots of ways you can help the pro-life movement. If you can do those things, do those things! You can find them very interesting and they can teach you a lot. But if you’re not sure you’re ready for that stuff – you’re not ready to hold clever picket signs – I submit that one of the best things you can do (especially young people!) for the pro-life movement is learn how to be good friends with people who are totally different from you. Seriously.
There are three ways this helps the pro-life movement. The first one is – especially for those of you about to go into college or those of you already In college – many women in crisis pregnancies (as we just heard a story earlier tonight) choose abortion because they feel like they lack support. It’s not that they can’t wait to necessarily get rid of their pregnancies; some of them would actually like to keep them. A lot of them would! And they feel like they don’t have the financial support and the social support. If you are friends with a lot of people you might find yourself in a position to be a voice of encouragement and comfort and resource, and that can be the difference between life and death. That’s the first thing, okay?
Second thing: when you become friends with people who are very different from you, you bust stereotypes. You want to be the “token pro-life friend.” They don’t know any pro-lifers besides you. You’re the first pro-lifer they’ve ever met in person, and they like you! You’re nice, you’re smart, you’re interested in a lot of things. So then when someone starts mouthing off about the pro-life movement, this person thinks of their friend and they’re like, “That doesn’t really fit.” They might even get defensive on your behalf because they don’t want people bashing their friends. Just by existing as a good friend and being out as a pro-life person, you’re helping show what the pro-life movement is like.
And it doesn’t hurt that you’re young! Because a lot of people think that the pro-life movement is just a bunch of people that have been fighting this since the 70s, grandmas outside of abortion clinics, and it’s all going to go away eventually. It’s not going anywhere! Plenty of young people are pro-life and we need to make that clear. Okay?
So the first thing is you help someone in a crisis pregnancy, bust stereotypes just by existing as a cool person – and if for some reason you’re not a cool person, you can just keep to yourself, but if you’re nice, okay?
Third thing: it’s not just about teaching them and showing them and swaying them. When you’re friends with people who are different from you, it changes you. You learn about people that are coming from a totally different place. I can’t tell you how different my relationships are because I have people I love dearly who are Christians and Catholics. And it completely changes many of my conversations with other secularists. And it can be the same thing for race, sexuality, politics, whatever.
The point is: try to understand why they think what they do, why they’re coming from where they are, and it helps you think about what you think – not just on abortion, on everything. Hone your own opinions – yes your arguments, but also really think about what you think. And you come to a place of confidence and knowledge about where you’re coming from. And then you can communicate with them too, and not just the ones who are your friends, who you’ve gotten to know, but other people like them also. It makes a big difference.
So if you’re not ready to stand outside of an abortion clinic, that’s okay. When you go back to school – if you’re already back in school? I don’t know – try to figure out how to just start slowly, get to know someone you would have otherwise never talked to, just out of curiosity! And you don’t have to start with “Hey, so what do you think of abortion?” You can just say “Hey! How’s it going? What are you reading? What’s going on?” You don’t have to lead off with confusing, controversial topics. If you want to you can, I don’t know how it will go over, could be interesting.
So yeah. So that’s pretty much my thing. If anyone wants to know, I could go on for hours about the details of secular arguments. If you want to know, if you want to be equipped, come talk to me. I’d be happy to talk to you about the details of the four things that I just mentioned very briefly. But if you don’t have time, that’s fine. If you’re not ready to get into that, that’s fine. If you don’t feel like reading philosophy, that’s fine. Then go out there and make some friends. Help an agnostic out, okay guys?