The sacred family and anti-abortion attitudes

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The sacred family and anti-abortion attitudes

For centuries, Christianity has played a significant role in shaping Western culture. One important influence of Christian faith relates to attitudes on abortion. The sanctification of life involved in Christian teachings logically leads to pro-life attitudes. But how does the sanctification of the Christian family relate to anti-abortion viewpoints?

The sacred family

In Christianity, the family is perceived as the most fundamental institution of society. According to traditional Christian views, the family is upheld by marriage between husband and wife. Christian marriage is ordained by God. This means that it is ascribed a sacred status. The bearing and rearing of children within marriage is likewise considered to be sacred.[1] This Christian view on familial relationships reveals how the traditional family is declared holy or ‘sanctified’.

This sanctification of the family has a bearing on Christian values. It implies that family values are often prioritised over individual values. In line with this idea, Christianity takes family roles to be incredibly important. Each family member has a particular role they are expected to fulfil. This role is God-given and therefore especially weighty. The traditional Christian family is a nuclear one, consisting of a father, a mother, and children. Their commitment to the family makes up a significant part of their identity.[2]

Motherhood or abortion?

The Christian notion of the sacred family has important consequences for the position of women. In this particular context, women are viewed as wives and mothers primarily. Their role in the family is considered to be more important than their individual identities. They are wives and mothers before anything else. This is because emphasis is put on the value of family. The family, not the individual, is taken as a moral starting point. For this reason, women are expected to give up certain individual freedoms to serve the family.

This ties in with the issue of abortion. In a framework that views motherhood as sacred, abortion is logically frowned upon. Access to abortion represents an individual freedom that conflicts with the value of family. As we know, Christianity grants the bearing and rearing of children a sacred status. Terminating a pregnancy undermines this sacred commitment. Pro-choice attitudes are essentially individualist. The idea of the sacred family, on the other hand, prioritises family values over the individual. Therefore, this Christian notion is at odds with the right to abortion.

The rise of individualism

Christianity traditionally promotes family values. Nowadays, however, Christians around Europe are becoming progressively individualist. They are disconnecting from conservative ecclesiastical institutions. Traditional forms of Christian religiosity are replaced by more individualised forms of believing.[3] According to the Pew Research Center, most European Christians are non-practising. They still identify as Christians but never or rarely attend church services. As a result, their political and cultural views differ from those advanced by the Church.[4]

Changing outlooks on abortion

Individualism is changing Christian attitudes towards abortion. According to recent data, 85% of non-practising Christians in Europe are in favour of legal abortion. For Church-attending Christians, this is only 52%.[5] In the Netherlands, we see a clear change in abortion-related perspectives among Catholics. Most Dutch Catholics go against the position of their Church by supporting abortion.[6] This appears to be an effect of the individualisation of belief. As individual belief is disconnecting from ecclesiastical institutions, Christians are growing more tolerant towards abortion.[7]

The turn to the individual affects views on abortion in another interesting way: by undermining the sanctification of the family. Because of the rise of individualism, Christian family values are eroding. Today, most people prioritise individual values over family values. Marriage is no longer viewed as a sacred bond ordained by God, but as a contract between independent individuals.[8] Having children is seen as a personal choice rather than a sacred dedication.[9] This is obviously contrary to the idea of the sacred family. But it is very much in tune with pro-choice perspectives on abortion.

In this new framework, individual freedom takes precedence over family values. The right to abortion represents an individual liberty that ought to be respected. The bearing and rearing of children now rest on individual choice. And the identity of a woman no longer depends on her role as a mother or wife. Christians are increasingly taking the individual as their starting point for moral reasoning. As a result, they are more likely to support abortion. The sanctification of the family has long contributed to anti-abortion attitudes. But now that individualism has taken over, Christians are becoming more tolerant towards the issue.

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[1] Christianity and Families

[2] Christian relationships

[3] The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality

[4] Being Christian in Western Europe

[5] Being Christian in Western Europe

[6] Katholieken in Nederland veel progressiever dan leiding kerk

[7] Being Christian in Western Europe

[8] Decline of the family ‘due to individualism’

[9] The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood