"Every year, x number of Americans die from lung cancer."
"For every puff of smoke you inhale, you are ingesting 3,147 difference carcinogenic chemicals."
Most smokers know it is killing them. They know the stats and the negative health consequences. They know how much money they throw away on cigarettes. They've seen the black lungs and the warning labels and experienced the logic and endured the pleading from their family to quit. Yet they continue to smoke. Arguing by logic or by statistics does not help people to quit. Enticing them with how much money they will save by quitting does not make them quit. Scaring them into quitting does not work. It's not that these things are not true--it's just that they are not effective.
So, what is keeping people smoking, and why do these tactics fail to work in the end?
I think it is a matter of perception.
Here it is: Smokers perceive that they need nicotine to function normally; they cannot live without it., and that it is an enjoyable pastime. There is a large amount of fear tied up there that keeps them dependent on nicotine, a fear perpetuated by an industry (Big Tobacco) that makes a good amount of money off keeping them dependent. Nicotine Replacement Therapies like the gum, the patch, lozenges, etc, is merely an extension of this mindset that says, "We know your health is important to you. That's why we want you to stop smoking. But nicotine is so powerful, so essential to your life, that we don't want you to have to live without it. So take it in this form. But be sure to keep taking it or you will die (or at least feel like you will).
The reality, though, is that nicotine's efficacy is extremely short-lived. It is in your system for a maximum of 3 days, which means that if you go three days without smoking, there is no nicotine left in your system, at which point it becomes a head game and not a physiological dependency. Smoking itself had ceased to be enjoyable years ago, and is no longer about gaining pleasure, but avoiding discomfort (the discomfort of habitual withdrawal). Your mind (and the industry which helps feed the habit) convinces you you are powerless over it, that you will surely die without it, or that at best your life will be insufferable.
But in fact, when you quit, you realize (with the right mindset/perception) that life is pretty good without it, and that everything keeping you smoking--the "pleasure", the fact that you will die without nicotine, or that its absence will leave a hollow hole in your heat--were all a lie. Far from dying, you've escaped a kind of slavery that is liberating. You can breath easily, and you do indeed seem to have more money in your pocket. You don't have to go out in ten degree weather to feed your habit. You don't smell, you aren't a social leper. Your family is happy. Your doctor is happy. You are happy.
My point is that perception is important, and what seems like obvious reasons for change are not always so obvious to those caught up in the lie.
Which leads me the topic of abortion.
Planned Parenthood is kind of like the Big Tobacco of the abortion industry. Their tactics are similar: they are based in fear and lies, they make money off something that is harmful, and their product kills people. You don't make money giving out free condoms or providing mammograms--abortion is the bread and butter that keeps the doors open and people employed. Given the fact that there is so much access to contraceptives thanks to PP you would think abortion would be a tragic consequence of failing to "be smart" and use them. But the fact is that 54% of women receiving abortions had used a contraceptive method during the month they got pregnant.
Contraceptives in this sense are akin to the patch or gum. You cannot live without unrestricted sex; you simply are not capable of being abstinent. When the contraceptives we provided fail, come see us. We have a backup.
The PP narrative is that we are better off as a country, as a world, with abortion than without it. You cannot live without abortion. This country cannot support 59 million more Americans being born. An unwanted pregnancy should strike fear into one's heart and short-circuit any chance of ever living a successful, fulfilling life of one's choosing. As we saw at the DNC, abortion as "safe, legal, and rare" is no longer the case--it is, instead, a right to be celebrated.
* * *
For many years the pro-life movement has mobilized people to make a stand and fight for the rights of the unborn. They tirelessly organize marches and work to influence legislature; gather for vigils outside clinics; and hold signs and placards in public displays that to raise conscious awareness of what is going on. There is an 'abortion clock' (1.4 billion worldwide; 59 million in U.S. since 1973 as of this morning) that offers the cold hard death count. As a whole, however, the movement has not yet won the fight in what would be the pinnacle of perceived success: the overturning of Roe vs Wade, and the ending of legalized abortion
When David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress came on the scene with their undercover video operation exposing Planned Parenthood's harvesting and sale of fetal body parts, I thought it was going to be a game changer. I admired this young man's courage in putting himself on the line for what he believed in and attempting to bring to public consciousness what this industry engages in. It would only be a matter of time before people were face to face with the undeniable truth of what was going on, would be unable to logically and consciously support this kind of industry, and it would just be a matter of time before legislative action was taken to overturn R v W.
That didn't happen.
Some people were surprised and upset for a while at what was going on, but like many things in the social media age (Rachel Dolezal, Police Protest, the Orlando massacre), people soon forgot. Meanwhile the clock keeps ticking.
I'm afraid we are coming to a place of fulfillment in which the prophet Jeremiah's words ring out as a mortal indictment:
"When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. Therefore say to them, "This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips. Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath." (Jer 7:27-29)
But what to do? Are we beyond hope? Is the pro-life "message" an ineffective one, like the anti-smoking crusader working to get people to quit and rid the world of nicotine once and for all by carrying around placards of black lungs and a death count clock, or handing out $100 bills in exchange for their last pack?
Now, let me say first off that I have not been on the front lines of the pro-life movement. I have been to one vigil outside an abortion clinic which hardly warrants me any clout to speak about such a charged issue. The 'troops on the ground' who have been fighting the good fight year in and year out are tired. It's been almost 50 years since Roe v Wade. Like the war on poverty, abortion is not going anywhere, and if anything it seems to be on the rise. I don't think that's cause to give up or give in. But maybe it is time (if I may be granted the liberty) to re-evaluate just what the end game is.
* * *
When the Syrian refugee crisis started in 2011, the extent of displacement (over 11 million, half the country's population) was so large it was just a number to us here in the U.S. This is often referred in the psychology of charity as "scope insensitivity." I prefer Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the front-line foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, observation: "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." When we are presented with the opportunity to help just one--one man, one woman, one child, whose face we see and who moves us to compassion and action--it becomes possible.
And so maybe, rather than tackling the mass, we limit our scope, and focus on the one.
When I am faced with praying to end abortion, maybe instead I can work to encounter one person--one woman in crisis, one doctor, one clinic worker, one child in the womb--and focus. Talk to her. Share with him. Pray for them, daily, and intensely. Do not let them go. Offer assistance, financial and otherwise, to the one. Do penance. Plead with the Father, do not relent, do not stop knocking.
I think of Abby Johnson, a former clinic worker who experienced a conversion at the hands of those who were relentlessly praying for her, and who is now doing amazing things in the Pro-Life movement. When I read her testimony, my eyes welled with tears at God's goodness and mercy, and at the power of one:
Six years ago today, despite not having a job or knowing what I would do outside of working at Planned Parenthood, I quit. I decided to trust God...something I had never really done before.
I called my parents who were on vacation and told them the news. They had to pull the car over, they were overwhelmed and crying tears of joy.
At 4:25pm, I faxed my resignation to the HR department, put my security badges and keys in my supervisors box and walked out that heavy door for the last time.
There was a young man from the prolife group that I had gone to the day before out on the sidewalk when I left. He wanted to make sure I was able to leave without incident. I waved to him, told him I would come to their office the next day, got in my car and pulled out of the driveway for the last time.
He didn't know that I could see him, but I remember looking in my rear view mirror and seeing this man raise his hands to heaven and fall to his knees.
You see, there had to be days when they thought to themselves, "She's never going to leave." But then I did. Never doubt God's love for the sinner. Oh, how He loves us all.
* * *
Let me end by saying this: Years ago, before I got serious about my faith, I was reading a book on human sexuality based on the teachings of St. Pope John Paul II and Humanae Vitae by Christopher West at a Christian bookstore in Phoenix when I was visiting some friends. I got about half way through gritting my teeth, but eventually physically threw it across the room. Save sex for marriage. Don't use the pill. Be chaste. Entrust your sexuality to God. Complete unrealistic nonsense. It has taken me almost ten years to digest what I read. It has been a hard pill to swallow. But, like quitting smoking, there is a freedom that comes with submitting to God's design that is not immediately understood or comprehended, a freedom that once tasted has you never wanting to go back to what you came from. It takes a lot of trust and a good deal of reasoning, and it can be hard to digest. Your perspective starts to change, and then other things, and before you know it, your life is transforming. When you see God's design for human flourishing not, in the words of Chesterton, as the walls of a prison but those of a playground, keeping us from falling off a cliff, it changes your perspective.
Do I know what it is like being forced with the choice of getting an abortion or not? No. Do I have any right to speak on the topic? I'm not sure. But one thing I do know: Fear is a powerful force. But it is not more powerful than Love, the perfect love that casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18).
If we are busy loving, there is little time left for judging. Women faced with this choice do not need stones thrown at them, do not need to be yelled at or scared into compliance. They need love and support and prayer. For a moment, lay aside the masses, and pray for just one. And maybe things, then, will start to change.
"Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you." -Mother Teresa