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What is meant by the term “Culture of Life”?

Aleteia - published on 01/17/13

Being pro-life is much more than just opposing legalized abortion, it's about promoting a "Culture of Life."

A "culture" is the living expression of a particular society's set of values. So a "culture of life" would be the lived expression of a society that values human life, respects human intrinsic dignity, and protects the inalienable rights of all human persons from conception to natural death.

Blessed John Paul II coined the term "Culture of Life" to underline the need to bring pro-life convictions to every aspect of life and society.
A "culture" is the living expression of a particular society's set of values. So a "culture of life" would be the lived expression of a society that values human life, respects human intrinsic dignity, and protects the inalienable rights of all human persons from conception to natural death. That living expression would be widely apparent in popular art, music, literature, and media. It would be reflected in that society's laws, political policies, and educational institutions. And it would (with rare exception) be naturally absorbed into the attitudes and habits of its citizens.

Blessed Pope John Paul II originally coined the term "culture of life." It's a great term because it points to our responsibility to bring our personal pro-life convictions into every aspect of culture. When the culture is pro-life, people's hearts will follow. But the opposite is also true.

A society that promotes a Culture of Life would work to protect life in all its stages.
Well, for one, the population in general would view abortion and euthanasia as fundamental evils, and our default drive as individuals would be to protect the lives of other innocent and vulnerable people above our own needs and wants. Most people would believe that real happiness and success is found in making a positive difference to others above ourselves, and finding fulfillment through the unconditional love of God. Love would be defined as a sacrificial gift of ourselves to others. Freedom would be seen as a condition that liberates us to pursue what is truly good and reject what is evil. People would understand that there is an objective reality to right and wrong, and that to break the rules of right and wrong will damage individuals as well as the whole society.

All of this would obviously affect the way that the media reports on issues like abortion, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. The presumption would be that these things are obstacles to a happy and successful life, and contrary to love and freedom.

All forms of artistic and literary expression in that culture would treat the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the terminally ill as full and worthy members of the human family. Political policies and laws would begin with the presumption that unborn children at all stages of development are full human persons, and that abortion is a fundamental violation of the inalienable right to life. Roe vs. Wade would have to be overturned and replaced with laws that equally protect unborn life. Assisted suicide and euthanasia would have to be summarily rejected as violations of human freedom, dignity, and rights.

Our current culture promotes anti-life messages through all the key channels of cultural expression, which has deeply affected many in our society, especially the youth.
The primary channels of cultural expression are deeply imbued with an anti-life philosophy. The media, politics, the law, art and entertainment, the public education system, and even many charitable nonprofit causes have been heavily influenced by philosophies that reject the intrinsic dignity of human life and promote materialistic notions of happiness and the belief that human beings are the sum of their physical parts.

The permeation of these philosophies into every avenue of culture has been extremely damaging to young people, as well as to older generations. Our youth have to be very courageous to fight against what seems to be an unquenchable fire, and they have to be willing to sometimes stand alone in the face of great evil. That's a tremendous challenge for most young people. It's our responsibility to set a good example, prepare them, pray for them, and support them in their battles.

For a society to take measures to protect the dignity of life, the culture must first value life.
Short of a monumental intervention by God – which He is not usually prone to do – you can't put an end to abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and other destructive practices without first changing the culture. God prefers to work through human freedom. It is natural for human beings to follow what their culture is teaching. If we want people to freely move to a pro-life ethic in their hearts, we need to surround them with a culture that lives that expression. To try to change individual human hearts without simultaneously affecting the culture in which they are living would be like educating your teenage son to be pure and chaste, and then taking him to a pornographic movie on the weekend. Human beings are fragile, and the culture can often be a much stronger teacher of "morality" and "values" than we can be by ourselves. We need the culture to partner with us in forming pro-life hearts and minds.

Building a Culture of Life is about more than having the best arguments; it requires a true transformation of hearts.
Having the best arguments is extremely important. And the pro-life movement does have the most sophisticated, intelligent, and compassionate arguments. But you also have to have a transformation of the heart. Without the heart, strong arguments fail us in times of crisis. And human hearts are strongly affected by the culture.

You can be a real promoter of a culture of life in your own vocation and your own career path. If you are involved in the arts or entertainment, consider how you might introduce a dignified vision of happiness, success, quality of life, love, freedom, or human rights in your work. If you love politics and the law, run for office.

If you see yourself as a leader, find a business, organization, or new mission that you care about and use it to promote more worthy definitions of words like success, quality of life, love, and freedom. If you like to teach, work these lessons into your lesson plans.

Healing the Culture has a huge inventory of resources to help you do that, particularly with high school and college students. You can check them out online at

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