Culture shapes how we think of ourselves and others. The current culture is one of the most prominent causes of dehumanization of people everywhere. We are called to shape the culture in a way that respects life at all stages.
By Sonja Morin, MCFL Intern
This week, pro-lifers everywhere are celebrating the anniversary of one of the most significant documents to grace the movement: Evangelium Vitae, or The Gospel of Life.* It has been referred to as one of the best summations of the beliefs of the pro-life movement, not only citing its concerns but creating a structure for activism. The document gives a particular focus on culture, demonstrating the importance of culture to upholding human dignity, as well as a culture’s instrumental role in shedding light on how society dehumanizes many of our most vulnerable members today. Evangelium Vitae spurs on those of us involved in the culture to challenge and change the norms that are present in our world today, so that a culture of life may be restored.
Evangelium Vitae was written by Pope John Paul II, a stalwart of the pro-life movement during the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Pope John Paul II used his experiences and belief in human dignity to advocate for those without a voice throughout his papacy, and this encyclical is a shining example. Ever a masterful writer, John Paul II identifies the issues that plague the world as a result of a cultural dehumanization of our vulnerable, and reviews underlying causes of these attitudes, and what may be done to remedy them. While it is a document created by the leader of the Catholic Church, Evangelium Vitae is truly a document meant for “all people of good will” to consider in terms of human dignity and rights.
What does this document have to say for us, twenty-five years later? It turns out that Pope John Paul II’s words ring truer still for our current situation than perhaps they did upon the first release of the encyclical.
- Culture shapes how we think of ourselves and others.
When Pope John Paul II identifies culture as one of the root causes of dehumanization in the modern world, he recognizes the force of culture in shaping minds and hearts. Culture is not just a system of products and creations; rather, it is a set of beliefs shared by people. These beliefs then stream into the literature, art, and other works people can experience and partake in together. Whether good or bad, these cultural norms and their effects shape our national and global community in how we perceive ourselves and each other.
2. The current culture is one of the most prominent causes of dehumanization of people everywhere.
It is in this document that Pope John Paul II refers so prominently to the “culture of death” the world has inherited. The international culture promotes the idea that value is not objective; rather, it can fluctuate at any time based on anyone’s belief or emotion. If one does not have consistent value, then it does not matter whether someone disregards their dignity or not. One does not have to relate to others, or help them in times of need. One can control life and its effects. One can decide whether the life of another is worth continuation or not. These sad beliefs are the reality of the culture which has taken root in our world.
3. We are called to shape the culture in a way that respects life at all stage.
In the last sections of Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II begs that the people of the world reinstate a “culture of life” for all. This comes first from reversing the beliefs that have too long held grip in our institutions. We must always seek to promote the dignity of life, not only in what we say, but also in how we act towards others. Our love for all people will certainly speak louder. No matter what stage of life we are in, nor what our occupation in life is, we can certainly incorporate these attitudes into our lives. Our action on a day to day basis can - and will - impact the culture.
Cheers to this twenty-fifth anniversary of Evangelium Vitae--a document that does not merely point out the issues of our time, but offers concrete solutions by which anyone may promote the pro-life message of human dignity and value. May the words of Pope John Paul II continue to inspire us as we move forward into such a crucial time for the defense of all life.
We invite you to join MCFL today and begin to challenge and change some concrete aspects of our society in Massachusetts, and restore respect for women, the unborn, and the elderly, vulnerable, or differently abled.