Dr Norman Maclean has strong views on abortion. He expresses those views through his leadership of Southlanders for Life, a group opposed to the new abortion clinic in Invercargill.
With long experience as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, he has rich, life giving experience to offer. His spiritual commitment is also apparent through involvement with a Christian energized group, The Making of a Masterpiece, a group that educates school groups about the wonder of the human fetus.
Although expressions of religious belief have been muted in the Invercargill abortion situation, the involvement of parish priest Father Vaughan Leslie as a Southlanders for Life spokesperson seems to indicate a strong religious influence.
Catholic teaching on the human fetus is clear. The Nathaniel Centre, the Catholic Ethics group states that there is an 'inviolable right to life from the moment of fertilization to death.' It's not my view and might not be yours either, but that's not the point.
The Catholic position is a reasoned perspective, honed over many years of painstaking ethics work. It's a position that springs from a belief system, which means it's not prejudice free but none of our views are. They are all contextual in some way or another.
Context matters and is significant in the formation of our opinions and beliefs, whether they are religious, economic or political. In New Zealand we have created a context in which being a secular country is valued. But an outcome of that identification has been to almost eradicate God language from our vocabulary.
This absence of language to navigate the deeper reaches of human existence makes it difficult to talk to our friends and family about spirituality. Trying to take the conversation further into the public marketplace of ideas without appearing religiously deluded is even more problematic. It's no wonder then that groups like Southlanders for Life sometimes talk at cross-purposes when trying to say what they mean.
Andrew Bradstock, Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at Otago University highlighted this problem in his presentation Theology and Values in a secular society.
He notes that scholars now argue for all forms of reasoning to be treated with equal respect in the public square and quotes Yale law professor Stephen Carter,
'what is needed is not a requirement that the religiously devout choose a form of dialogue that liberalism accepts, but that liberalism develops a politics that accepts whatever form of dialogue a member of the public offers . . . What is needed . . . is a willingness to listen, not because the speaker has the right voice but because the speaker has the right to speak.'
In the complex sea of human endeavour, we'll all get it wrong at some time or another, over forcing an issue here, or holding on to a grievance there. Sometimes forgetting that spacious acceptance of difference needs to be central to our lived experience, instead of an optional extra.
The key to this is not to take turns talking and see that as dialogue, but to learn to listen, to listen deeply to unfamiliar languages, stories and experience, and be prepared to change our views. That's the mysterious rhythm of human flourishing. In another dialect it might also be called entering the heart of God.