Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dealing with a Controversial Issue

It's time to get back online. Time waits for no one, and keeps on moving along. Hence it's appropriate to renew my good intentions and back them up with the discipline that all good intentions require. The item below was recently published in the local Napa Valley Register as a letter to the editor. It was written in response to another letter to the editor entitled "The Largest Provider of Abortions?) in which the writer wrote that “If Planned Parenthood can’t murder the unborn, then why should the Holy Trinity? For It to be cut slack just because It is God or Gods is hypocrisy.” For proof, he cited the great number of “natural abortions” that occur as a result of miscarriages, where the cause was attributed to “It or God.” He then complained about those silently praying the rosary in front of the local Planned Parenthood office, offering silent witness and support, if desired by those seeking an abortion. My response to his letter was what follows:

Any search on the Internet will, indeed, confirm that miscarriages – which are called that for a reason and may be generally defined in various ways – outnumber successful births by a large amount. But to equate a natural result due to nature to an unnatural result due to intention undermines what it means to be a human being. You might as well say that any murder should be allowed because people die naturally all the time, or that any sexual act is allowed because it occurs in nature.

Without the conscience that vilifies the atrocities of ISIS, Pol Pot, or Hitler, or indeed any other intentional victimization or known deliberate oppression, we would hardly be worthy of calling ourselves distinctively human. We respond to some things because we cannot not do so. Doing so aligns with the “It or God” part of the conversation. That part of us that radically distinguishes us from the rest of nature is precisely the “It or God” piece that we much too easily ignore at our peril.

We don’t say “Oh darn, I’ve done it again!” about essentially good things but rather about things that we essentially know are not good. Our conscience comes from something larger than our capacity for understanding it.

The error in equating abortion with miscarriage is one of mistaking a difference in degree for a difference in kind. Abortion is a different kind of thing than a miscarriage; not merely a different version of the same thing. We cannot in all good conscience equate intentional abortion to natural miscarriage, except in the most unreflective, materialistic, and mechanistic sense. There is so much more involved in both abortions and miscarriages than “merely” the physical.

Women know well, or come to know well, the personal echoes of both, either now or in the future. People don’t have abortion celebrations or are ecstatic that they’ve had a miscarriage.

The intentional momentum of our nature is in favor of life, of realized potentiality, of building the better. In the case of abortion – which is called that for a reason – the direction and effects lead elsewhere, and rarely if ever, when wholly and deeply considered with honesty, toward happiness, joy, emotional well-being, or positive advocacy.

It all comes down to the strange mystery that there is something in our human nature that lies beyond the scope of being simply an extension of the natural world. We have built families, laws, cultures, fashions, friendships, and Facebook pages – a whole universe of relational realties – upon the foundation of the deep-seated but often unacknowledged conviction that wonder, charity, embraced paradoxes, humor, goodness, and a host of other internal mysteries dwell at our center.

The evidence floods in on all sides of our common experience. We are not just improved-upon apes. We see our life as a different kind of thing, essentially, and this leads us to see the beginning and end of our lives as being different than solely biological. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet, 1.5.167-8) This is the impetus that draws us forward into mystery, instead of away from it.

Using the example of art and early cave painting, G.K. Chesterton puts it well, stating that with human beings there is “something that is absolute and unique; that belongs to man and to nothing else except man; that is a difference of kind and not a difference of degree. A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.”

That line is all the more important in making the distinction between abortion and miscarriage.

Those reciting the rosary in front of clinics, I would venture, do so with sadness, concern, and a genuine interest in providing alternative options. Nobody is perfect, as all of us are reminded of again and again. You could do much worse than say some prayers in quiet witness, offers of comfort, charitable intent, and sincere hope in favor of life – actual and potential. Someday I’ll get the courage to do so myself, but for now a letter to the editor must suffice.