When people with strong opinions talk to others with differing strong opinions, things tend to get heated, especially on the issues of life.
But that’s where Healing the Culture, a nonprofit organization based in Washington state, is different. Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, and Camille Pauley founded the group, which uses a new approach to teaching people why they should be pro-life. Rather than focus on statistics or appeal to faith alone, Healing the Culture’s program is based in philosophical teachings, beginning with concepts presented by Aristotle. Through rational argument, the organization seeks to provide a new kind of pro-life education.
Catholic Digest spoke with Pauley, who serves as the group’s president and CEO, and Mark Cerasuolo, director of marketing and programs. Cerasuolo became pro-life 12 years ago after being won over by Healing the Culture’s unique approach.
Q: How did Healing the Culture begin?
Pauley: We actually started this organization as a project of the state right-to-life office in Washington back in 1993 as a response to a culture that was becoming very empty of the kind of philosophical dialogue you need to have to be able to understand moral ethics. Fr. Spitzer began to develop a program to train speakers. We would try to engage people in more of a dialogue on the philosophical underpinnings of why you should be pro-life. It grew so big so fast that it became pretty obvious in the early 2000s that we needed to start a new organization. So in 2003 Fr. Spitzer and I broke off and founded Healing the Culture.
Q: What is the mission of Healing the Culture?
Pauley: The real purpose of our organization is to elevate the dialogue on why you should be pro-life. We have regular materials for different age groups, and we do training and offer public events and writings that explain the pro-life movement through reason.
We would try to engage people in more of a dialogue.
Q: What is unique about Healing the Culture’s approach?
Pauley: We get rid of all the emotional aggression, fear, anxiety, and attack mode. We go more into a common-cause dialogue on questions such as, “What do you think happiness is?”; “What do you think success is?” and “What do you think quality of life and freedom are all about?” Because if you don’t understand those issues, if we don’t come to agreement on those issues, you’re not going to even begin to understand what the pro-life movement believes and why.
And that’s where you get all the aggression and anger because people think you’re judging them, which of course we’re not. It’s just that we have very, very different views of what happiness is, what love means, what success and quality of life are all about, and what really makes you free. Our different interpretations of those words lead to a much deeper understanding of human rights and human ethics and the common good. And then from that point, when we help people understand the higher vision of those ideas, we can open the door to a principle that they otherwise would not embrace: the principle of inalienable right.
After we get through that, they really begin to understand why we are pro-life, and it’s a far more convincing argument than merely showing statistics. This is a much deeper way of engaging people’s hearts and their minds to conversion. This is what is unique about Healing the Culture compared to other pro-life organizations. The educational component is our focus. We are engaging people through philosophical evangelization. We’re engaging them in their mind through reason and in their heart through an appeal to their heart. That’s really different than what a lot of the pro-life movement does.
The educational component is our focus.
Cerasuolo: I became involved with Healing the Culture as a volunteer 12 years ago after I heard them speak in my parish. They presented a rational approach that made me think differently, and by thinking differently, I felt differently. And that’s kind of the core of what we do at Healing the Culture. To me, it was so much more effective than the emotional side of the pro-life movement that I’d seen.
Q: Does Healing the Culture have a target audience?
Pauley: Our target audience is everybody. We have programs to reach high schoolers; we have programs to reach them in a secular setting as well as a religious setting. We have programs, materials, and books for college students. We have programs for adults who are religious as well as adults in secular settings. Right now we’re developing a program for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade that will be released over the next three years as we develop the different parts of it. For the last 15 years, we haven’t really had anything for that young audience because the program kind of naturally lends itself toward a more intellectually sophisticated audience.
We’ve trained many teachers around the country who teach those ages and who have taken these ideas into the classroom very successfully. We’re using their expertise to build a case for a program where we can start to teach some of these sophisticated concepts and principles to very young audiences.
Q: What are some of your programs?
Cerasuolo: As one example, I am the director of the LAST program, which is Life Advocacy Student Training. It’s based on the premise that the pro-life leaders in college today will be the pro-lifers that will ultimately change the culture. Our job in LAST is to teach them to be more effective pro-life leaders so they can continue to be effective leaders even after college. We go to campuses, get several dozen pro-life leaders together, and train them in a daylong session on life principles and a philosophical foundation that can help them more effectively communicate and evangelize.
Pauley: And it’s not just Catholic universities that are really embracing this new methodology of pro-life evangelization. It’s very effective on secular campuses because it engages people more philosophically and rationally.
We also have the Principles and Choices program, our flagship high-school level program. It’s a classroom-based curriculum for Christian high schools, and it’s usually used as a two-week unit during a theology class. It comes with a textbook/workbook, and there are comprehensive teacher resources online with lecture notes and all the links you need for quizzes, homework assignments, and tools for class. There are curriculum pieces for each year of high school, and we are developing some new video essays on the peripheral issues for the 12th grade so that every time an issue comes up, we can respond to it with a three-minute video.
This will allow students to engage in some actual debate and dialogue using the principles they’ve learned. They might be discussing cloning, for example, or in vitro fertilization, or rape and incest, or war and poverty, or disabilities and how that all plays out in the abortion debate. The program is now in about 75 schools around the United States — mostly Catholic schools in 47 dioceses. We’ve also implemented it in schools in Ireland, Rome, Egypt, Africa, and Canada.
It’s very effective on secular campuses.
Q: How can someone support Healing the Culture?
Cerasuolo: There are a lot of ways. If they’re from a Catholic parish, for example, making our organization visible to the decision makers in the parish is a very important way to help. We do a mailing to a little more than 15,600 parishes in the United States listing all the resources we have available for parishes. They could use our Respect Life Sunday resources, or they could organize a Life Principles Academy class.
Pauley: We also have tools and resources for parish youth groups, young adult groups, and religious education programs, and we have video programs that parishes can use in their religious education classes. Individuals who are connected to a Christian or Catholic high school can help us get connected to the theology department in order to implement the Principles and Choices program in the school.
One of the best ways we get implementation in a school is when parents who have children attending those schools make a request to the principal or the theology department. Another way they can help us is by speaking at their local churches, parishes, and youth groups. We provide the training, which doesn’t take long.
People can also get on our mailing list; that not only gives people educational materials, but helps us to point them to video links they can help us spread. And, of course, we do all kinds of training at the diocesan level. We love to be invited to speak because inevitably there will be those in the audience who have never heard this before. The work we’re doing is not typical of the pro-life movement.
TO LEARN MORE:
If you would like to join Healing the Culture’s prayer partner team, make a donation, or get additional information, visit HealingtheCulture.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Catholic Digest. Cerasuolo has since left Healing the Culture.