Almost two years ago I read about twenty-one Coptic Christians whom ISIS beheaded. One of my Facebook friends shared the list of the martyrs’ names, and, as I read through them, I noticed that one of them, Samuel Alham Wilson, happened to have the same first and last name as one of my closest friends. Somehow that coincidence strangely humanized these brave Christians for me. I wrote on my own Facebook wall, “I work full-time trying to help people humanize the unborn, and yet until I read their names, I didn’t exactly think of them as human. They were mere statistics.”
Screenshot from CNN story.
Unfortunately, there’s an ugly side to this story that I didn’t even realize until recently. I was so appalled at the evil of the people who killed the twenty-one Coptic Christians, I referred to them multiple times as “animals” and “monsters.” I consciously humanized the Christians, and then turned around and subconsciously dehumanized their murderers.
I’ve seen many others make the same mistake. We have to stop doing this.
Are you frustrated with political polarization? Have you noticed that conversations between the opposite ends of the political spectrum are getting harder and harder? Do you wonder why it has gotten so ugly, and do you wish you could do something about it?
The human mind is naturally ordered toward making sense of things. It wants to come up with explanations. When we observe something we don’t understand, we go through a mental process of thinking about possible explanations for it. This is something you can dwell on consciously, but even if you don’t, you come to basic conclusions without even thinking about it.
For any weird phenomenon, there are many possible explanations. How do we narrow down the list to settle on something to believe? There’s no perfect formula for this, but there are some healthy tendencies that we should all have. For instance, Occam’s Razor (Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected) is a good place to start. Also, we should seek explanations that explain all of the data, not just some of it. There are certainly other principles of rationality for evaluating the plausibility of various explanations, but there is one in particular that is severely underrated. I think anyone who adopts it will have more accurate beliefs and much better dialogue and understanding of people with whom they disagree.
It was only two months after launching Equal Rights Institute last year before we facilitated our first outreach. We had our training seminar developed by then, but we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to design our own outreach tools. So we utilized our favorite poll table option that we learned during our work with one of our favorite pro-life organizations, Justice For All. The sign on the table asks “Should Abortion Remain Legal?” This sign always stops a good number of people who see it, giving us a chance to engage them in productive dialogue.
On September 26th, 2014, Equal Rights Institute trained a group of Biola University students. Then on September 30th we brought them to CSU Fullerton so they could put what they learned about dialogues about abortion into practice. We set up the “Should Abortion Remain Legal” poll table the way we have for years.
This spring my friend Dr. Charles Camosy reached out to me to ask me to preview his upcoming book, Beyond the Abortion Wars. It has now come out, and I would highly recommend reading it. We don’t always agree with his conclusions, but even the places where we disagree are well-researched, well-argued, and well-explained, and they help me to think more clearly about my own beliefs. Charles Camosy is a very unusual, very interesting voice in the pro-life movement and any pro-life advocate would benefit from wrestling with him.
While reading it I came across this section. These are excerpts from pages 26-29: (emphasis mine)
We’ve been talking about language in the abortion debate a lot lately. It’s a subject I’ve written on several times before as well. If we want to be as persuasive as possible, it’s not only our arguments that matter, but the words we use that matter as well.
It’s not always easy for a pro-life person to go from using the label they’ve always preferred to a different one though. When we talk to people we form habits, and getting out of habits is always difficult.
I want to tell you the brief story of a woman named Rhonda who decided to change one of the labels she used to favor.
The way our society uses the word “shaming” is complicated. In this post I discuss three different types of shaming and how they relate to abortion.
My views on this topic are the kind that if you only get a snippet of it out of context, there are many ways to misunderstand it. I don’t think my view is offensive, but my view improperly understood is definitely offensive several times over. It’s always good to read someone’s entire explanation instead of just part of it, but there are some topics where that’s more essential than others. This is one of the more essential cases. If you just want to skim, or you are not committed to trying to understand what my view actually is, then please don’t read this.