The Hidden Agenda of Choice: The Abuse
of Language in Politics
by Charles Colson
During the past several weeks of this campaign,
the expression "anti-choice" has been used repeatedly in commentaries, political
ads, and talk shows. For instance, The New York Times recently used the
expression in an editorial, and Planned Parenthood often uses it in their
This use of the word "anti-choice" is an
illustration of the political mischief caused by the misuse of language. If you
think about the expression "anti- choice" for a moment, it’s clear that it is
nonsense. It is used to obscure rather than illuminate the truth.
First of all, what does it mean to be
"anti-choice"? Are we supposed to believe that a candidate is against someone
making choices? Of course not. Everyone makes hundreds of choices every day.
Some of them are insignificant, like whether to have eggs or cereal for
breakfast. Others involve choosing between right and wrong, such as whether or
not to tell the truth. No one running for office opposes this kind of human
And not only is calling someone "anti-choice"
nonsense, it’s hypocritical. The very same people who are clamoring for the
protection of "choice"— so called—are working overtime to restrict other
people’s choices. They want to restrict smoking; they argue for laws against
talking on cell phones while driving; and they lobby for more restrictions on
So, if the expression "anti-choice" is
nonsensical and hypocritical, why continue to use it? The answer is to divert
our attention from what is being chosen. "Choice," you see, is a morally empty
concept. The morality of a choice lies in what we choose. No one wants to say
he’s "pro-abortion," so he simply says he’s "pro-choice."
Likewise, calling people "anti-abortion" focuses
our attention on the reality of abortion, so it’s better to call them
This use of words like "choice" and
"anti-choice" is a smokescreen, a twisting and warping of perfectly good words
to make a political point. A similar process was involved when the word "gay"
became a code word for a particular sexual lifestyle. Co- opting a term with
generally positive connotations made it easy on those on the other side to label
people who hold a biblical view of homosexuality as bigots.
Someone who understood this process well was
George Orwell, author of the famous book, 1984. In his essay, "Politics and the
English Language," Orwell said "the great enemy of clear language is
insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one
turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a
cuttlefish spurting out ink." Well said.
Well, nowadays, instead of long words, the
insincere turn to euphemisms and obscure phrases. But the effect is the same as
in Orwell’s day:
Corrupt language leads to corrupt thought.
So, as we look at the candidates in the upcoming
elections, Christians need to help clear away the linguistic fog that obscures
what’s really at issue. More than anyone else, we understand the power of words
and the need to treat them with respect. After all, it was not without reason
that our Lord was called "the Word."
So, when you hear the word "choice" in public
debate these days, remember that nobody is objecting to choice—but rather to
what is being chosen. And remember that with the freedom to choose comes the
responsibility to choose justly. That’s a distinction you ought to point out to