Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From Death to Life: Building a Culture of Life, One Soul at a Time

By now, the Late Pope John Paul The Great's term for a society addicted to abortion and euthanasia-the famed "culture of death"-has become common currency in the socio-political vocabulary of Christians involved in the "culture wars". This, of course, is usually followed up by appeals to vote for the right people-usually Republican-that would put in place legislation that would protect the unborn, appoint judges to the major federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court who would eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, etc.

As laudable as all of these endeavors are (and I have been on the front lines of such advocacy), I've come to realize that legislation is only half the battle, if that. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to the inevitable conclusion that legislation would perhaps only take care of a very small part of the problem.

Let's suppose, for example, that in two years, we bring back a Pro-Life Congress, filling up those House and Senate seats with good Pro-Life folk. We elect a Pro-Life President, who will eventually appoint strict-constructionist justices to the high court. Eventually, Roe-v. Wade gets overturned by a 5-2 vote. Victory, right?

Well, maybe not. Remember, all overturning Roe v. Wade would do will be to put the decision back to the states, where it belongs. Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was legal in my home state of California.

Imagine the scenario: abortion would continue to be legal in the so-called "blue states", and perhaps in a few "red states" as well. Residents of states where abortionis outlawed would have the recourse of travelling to the blue states, having their abortion, and be back in time for the Late Show. For those too poor to afford the price of a train/plane/bus ticket, no worries. Imagine a non-profit "charity," paying the price of travel-fare so that poorer women have their children sucked into a sink, compliments of the National Organization of Gals.

It is VERY unlikely that overturning a bad Supreme court decision, or even putting in place Pro-Life legislation, would do any good if the culture is still substantially a Pro-Death culture. How do we change this culture? Well, if Baylor Sociology professor Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity gives us any clue, the answer is quite simple: step by step, inch by inch, one soul at a time.

You see, opposition to abortion was definitely part of the Church's moral teaching. The Didache, an early 2nd-century "canon" of church teaching which compiles the instructions of the Twelve Apostles, puts before us two ways: the way of life and the way of death. It goes on to say "between the two ways there is a great difference". Elaborating as it does on the meaning of the fifth Commandment's prohibition of murder to include "murdering a child by abortion or killing a newborn infant," it is clear that the early church certainly thought about, and affirmed life by rejecting the "culture of death" in its day, where abortion and infanticide were legally sanctioned activities (http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html).

What is fascinating is that we find no attempts made to organize opposition to abortion and infanticide. there were no "Pro-Life" organizations lobbying the Roman Senate or appealing to the Emperor to get anti-abortion and anti-infanticide legislation in place. Instead, you have the Church being just that-the Church. She bore witness to the Gospel of Life through martyrdom, compassionate care for the poor, and even saving children who had been abandoned and "exposed". By the time Constantine stepped into the picture in the early 4th century, there were just too many Christians in the empire to justify continual persecutions. The Edict of Milan followed in 312, lifting the proscription against Christianity, and a whole empire and culture was soon transformed. The gory spectacle of death known as the gladiatorial games continued for a time, but, according to legend, a small monk by the name of Telemachus put an end to that when he intervened in an amphitheater to stop a gladiatorial fight, and the crowds stoned him. The Emperor Honorius, so the story goes, was so impressed by this brave act of this little ascetic from Asia Minor that he issued an edict in 404 which put an end once and for all to the gladiatorial games. The games did end in 404 A.D., but whether or not it was because of the Monk Telemachus, one thing is certain-Jesus Christ had a great deal to do with it.

The moral of this is that a whole society and culture was transformed to the point that infanticide and abortion were outlawed. All of this happened because the Church dared to be herself, affirming the sanctity and dignity of human life, to the glory of the author of life-the Blessed Trinity.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking political and legislative efforts at protecting the unborn. I myself support such efforts, and will continue to do so. The problem is that this is not enough. Legislative and judicial efforts, if successful, will only address a small part of the problem. We need to work at building a culture where, once again, the sanctity of human life, and the inherent diginity of EVERY human being, born and unborn, able or disabled, is, as my students are want to say, a "no-brainer". This is hard work, but it can be done, one soul at a time.

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