What forces caused such a seismic shift in our culture that it became acceptable not only to view abortion as a moral but as an actual moral positive and good? At least two cultural beliefs have given rise to this trend.

Have you noticed that people today are speaking in starkly moral language? To listen to political pundits, you would think that almost every topic of public debate has become an issue that decides your moral legitimacy as a human being. Today, we hear of the “morality” of abortion, the “morality” of bathroom rights, and the “morality” of tax policy. I am a young man, but I am old enough to remember the saying “you can’t legislate morality.” This phrase was common parlance among the social left as they sought to discourage moral arguments from the (often religious) right from entering the political sphere. 

And then something happened. 

Somewhere along the way, the left in America determined that they were losing the morality battle in the culture war. Their solution? To co-opt the language of morality in order to advance even the most immoral of purposes. Indeed, I haven’t heard anyone say “you can’t legislate morality” lately. Have you? 

Where the practicalities of issues like tax policy and immigration reform may be debated, the supposed “morality” of abortion remains the most nefarious and pernicious expression of this new foray into social manipulation on the part of some. We are to believe today that abortion on demand, and in some cases up to the point of birth, is an essential human right, relegated to the cool privacy of a doctor’s office and decided solely based on the subjective desire for the child to exist.

But how did we get here? What forces caused such a seismic shift in our culture that it became acceptable not only to view abortion as a moral neutral – supposedly acceptable only in the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother – but as an actual moral positive and good?  At least two cultural beliefs have given rise to this trend.

Cultural Narcissism

Gone are the days of “safe, legal, and rare” (and pity to those who thought this language represented the extent of the blueprint of the abortionist left). We now live in the age of celebration. Recently, Saturday Night Live aired a “Salute to Abortion,” wherein Michelle Wolf, clad in American flag garb, proclaims the virtues of abortion. Replete with euphemism, Wolf encouraged viewers that “If you need an abortion, get one! If you want an abortion, get one! If you are not pregnant but think you eventually might want to order a ‘future abortion,’ get one!”

The subtext is clear: if you don’t want the child, you have no obligation to the child. Your subjective desire determines it all. Only a narcissistic culture can conceive as moral any doctrine that confers personhood to a child only if the child is counted among the wanted.

At least one World War was fought in some part to correct this very notion. So, the heart issue behind abortion seems to reveal itself: in a culture replete with iPhones and internet connectivity among even the poorest, abortion proves to be more a means to individual freedom and financial convenience. And only a narcissistic culture would trade the blessing of raising and loving a child for the convenience of shedding responsibility.

An Unbridled “Rights” Orientation

Today, the developed West seems drunk on the notion of rights. This trend represents one of the “problems of prosperity,” a privilege only afforded to nations with enough money to concern themselves with mulling constantly over how much they deserve. It has never seemed to occur to the younger generations in the West that the practicalities of the ever-multiplying rights they feel entitled to can only be satisfied in an economy of gluttony. 

When is the last time someone in the Third World demanded the right to free college? That kind of presumption is apparently reserved only for those who already have it all, globally speaking. Yet all of this is overshadowed by the greater reality: meditating on your rights seldom leads to meaning and happiness.

What Does Bring Meaning?

Jesus’ prescription for meaning and purpose in life seems radically different from the modern notions of “demanding your rights” or “expressing your individuality.” While the culture tells us that we are only fully human if we are actualizing our every base desire, the Scriptures say that it’s possible to gain the whole world and lose your soul and that the fullness of life is found in denying yourself. Indeed, while the culture exclaims the benefits of murdering a child in the womb, the Scriptures respond in the following way:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” – Philippians 2:3-7

In other words, there is great value, significance, and purpose found in losing yourself for the service of Christ himself by way of serving others. I would imagine that the thousands of volunteers at pregnancy care centers across the US know this truth all too well as they seek to minister daily to women pressured into abortions, regretting their mistakes and ridden with guilt. And for these women, there is an abundance of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that the church should be quick to make clear through tangible love and empathy.

It’s true that salvation cannot be found through works of selflessness, but those who are in Christ understand how being conformed to his likeness is not restrictive, but rather freeing. So let’s hold up this ideal. Let’s hold up this good and right morality of selflessness and sacrifice for the defenseless, to the benefit of our culture. Because after all, it turns out that you certainly can legislate morality. The only question is “whose morality gets legislated?”

Gregory Mathis is a graduate of North Greenville University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in South Carolina’s Upstate with his wife, son, and spirited Welsh Terrier. Follow him on Twitter here.

Reverend Gregory Mathis