Forming a new generation of pro-life leaders

Forming a new generation of pro-life leaders

Patrick Langrell

Patrick Langrell is Student Body President, Student Association, at The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus. In June he is taking up the position of Director of Young Adults in the Archdiocese of New York.

The following are extracts from his address at the NSW Right to Life Annual Conference on 18 April, titled "The Next Generation of Leadership and Advocacy."

We young people have to be willing to be, in the words of John Paul II, a "sign of contradiction" to the culture and modern times - to stand up and call what is wrong, wrong.

We have to build upon the wonderful work of the previous generation and carry the truth to the young people of Australia.

Part of engaging in battle means that we need the right weapons, and in today's age, just as in every other, one of the most powerful weapons is our own minds. Why so? Because in a lot of ways, the battle begins and ends there. What we think and what we believe have profound consequences on how we act.

What has been happening in the United States at the moment, and for the past few years in Australia, in terms of the radical new laws being passed (including the area of embryonic stem cell research), is a consequence of bad ideas, which in turn result in bad laws.

When reasoning about how we ought to act, which is inherently a moral question, we cannot turn to science for answers. Science can tell us what a thing is, but it cannot tell us what we ought to do - no more than studying nuclear physics could tell us whether we ought to drop a nuclear bomb on a city.

We need to be able to communicate to young people that we cannot turn to mere scientific results or consequences to judge the morality or justness of a particular sort of act.

Good ethics and good science have to move forward together and this is something young people should strive for.

We're not merely trying to win a numbers game here with the pro- life movement; we're aiming to win people's hearts and minds since we believe it is bad for them to believe such things - indeed hurtful. We're here to build up a culture of life where all members of the human race, irrespective of age, size, and stage of development, can grow and flourish in all the basic goods of life.

We should resolve our national debate over embryo-destructive research on the basis of the best scientific evidence as to when the life of a new human being begins, and the most careful philosophical reasoning as to what is owed to a human being at any stage of development.

The next generation should be aware that the best scientific evidence is very much on our side that human life begins at conception.

Religious conviction can motivate us to stand up and speak out in defence of human life and dignity. But we need not rely solely on religious authority or any theological speculation regarding "ensoulment" to tell us whether a human embryo is a new living member of the human race or whether all human beings, irrespective of not only race, ethnicity, and sex, but also age, size, stage of development, and condition of dependency, possess full moral worth and dignity.

This is not to deny religious authority. Rather it is to assert the scientific and philosophical credibility of our position in the public square as sufficient for establishing the issue at stake.

Natural law

The application of philosophical principles in light of facts established by modern embryological science is more than sufficient for this task. The next generation of leaders and advocates for the pro-life movement must know this and be able to articulate it if we are to be effective.

Drawing from the rich intellectual tradition of natural law, we see that there are things that are intrinsically good, good in themselves, irrespective of their instrumental value. There are a range of basic human goods, including life and health, friendship, knowledge, marriage, religion, leisure, and others which are constitutive aspects of our well-being and flourishing.

Other goods are only instrumental, like money and medicine. These two things are only good for some further reason since you cannot pursue money for the sake of money or medicine for the sake of medicine. But you can pursue the good of life and health for no further or ulterior reason.

Life, truth, love and family matter because of what they are and what we are and not because of what they give. In other words, we can identify, preserve and protect things like human life, because it is intrinsically good and not merely instrumentally good.

Life being a basic human good also means that it is good not just for me, but for all human beings. It is universally good and as such something that we should protect and preserve in all other human beings.

It is crucial for the next generation of leaders and advocates to critically engage with the broader culture in debate and discussion, to take our arguments to those with whom we disagree on profoundly important moral questions.

We also need to be willing to learn from others on the opposing side while remaining ever willing to give our reasons for the beliefs that we hold, especially those pertaining to fundamental issues of moral significance like human life and well-being.

The WYD08 generation has learned much from the previous generation. We will do all we can to build upon this with our minds and our hands, taking up the task commissioned to us by the late Pope John Paul II and now by Pope Benedict XVI to build up a "civilisation of life and love".

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