The Culture of Death: The Fruit of False Intellectual Ideals

In his encyclical Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII sought to advance the restoration of Christian philosophy against the modern trends of secular philosophy, emerging from Enlightenment rationalism. The critique of modern intellectual errors and the way in which such false thinking manifests itself in the world has deeply shaded my personal reflection on the tragedy of legal abortion.


In the dawn of each new year, pro-life Americans pause to mourn the loss of innocent unborn human life. Every year on January 22nd—the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton to impose unrestricted legal abortion—the pro-life movement recommits itself to the reversal of this tragic Supreme Court decision.

In 1970, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee decided to file a lawsuit to attempt to reform Texas abortion laws; at the time there was no formulaic strategy for liberal lawyers. The ultimate aim was to have the law struck down in its entirety, so the two chose not to base the case on Norma McCorvey’s report that she had been raped. The rape would have been difficult to prove given that there was no police report filed. Even if the Supreme Court ruled in their favor with an emphasis on the rape, at best they could hope to win legal abortion for women in the circumstances of rape.

Weddington and Coffee filed a class action suit on behalf of “Jane Roe” and all other women “similarly situated” (that is, pregnant and seeking an abortion) and they challenged the constitutionality of Texas abortion laws on the broadest possible grounds. This lawsuit, of course, is the infamous Jane Roe et al. v. Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County.

The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Texas appealed its previous loss in a U.S. district court in Dallas. Weddington who argued the national case was aided by a number of liberal lawyers, including lawyers from Planned Parenthood who regarded Roe as the appropriate sequel to Griswold (The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger who opposed abortion was already deceased).

Weddington argued that “pregnancy to a woman can completely disrupt her life.” Many schools in Texas required that a teacher resign if she became pregnant. Employers often forced women to leave their jobs early in pregnancy, and the state provided no unemployment compensation or welfare for them. So Weddington concluded “pregnancy to a woman is perhaps…the most determinative aspect of her life…[and] is a matter which is of such fundamental and basic conern to the woman involved, that she should be allowed to make the choice as to whether to continue or to terminate her pregnancy.”

Weddington added, “The Constitution, as I see it, gives protection to people after birth.”

Jay Floyd defending the Texas law asserted “there is life from the moment of impregnation.” To which, Justice Thurgood Marshall asked, “…do you have scientific data to support that?” Floyd replied that his legal brief began with the development of the human embryo from about seven to nine days after conception.

Marshall, then asked, “Well, what about six days?…This statue clearly goes back to one hour.” It is evident that Marshall saw no basis for the claim that a fetus had full constitutional rights.

In fact, what to any reasonable mind is the most central question was nonchalantly dismissed. There was no “need” to “resolve the difficult question of when life begins…we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.” The state’s interest in protecting “potential” life was not “compelling” until the so-called vague point of “viability.” After that point, the state could prohibit abortion except under the circumstances in which the life or “health” of the mother were in danger. It was within this framework, so to say, that abortion was legalized throughout the nine months of pregnancy.

An understanding of the deeply flawed thinking that created this travesty, I think, is essential for pro-life Americans to convince a majority of their brothers and sisters of the incoherence of supporting abortion as well as its innate injustice. The “right” to legal abortion was advocated behind the smokescreen of a “right to privacy.” Yet one of the most striking things about the “right to privacy” is that no one has a clear idea of what it is. Is this “right” absolute? Surely it cannot be. It would be unreasonable to assert that immoral acts—especially murder—should be legally permitted, or even advocated, so long as they are done in private.

So what precisely does the “right to privacy” entail? In Roe it was said:

The Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas of zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution…only personal rights that can be deemed “fundamental” or “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”…are included in this guarantee of personal privacy…This right to privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

It is difficult, if not altogether impossible to determine the understanding of “privacy” that is operative in Roe. Eight years earlier in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court overturned laws prohibiting the use, distribution, and advocacy of contraceptives. The anti-contraceptive laws had never been enforced against married couples or even vendors of contraception—the laws were perceived as hostile to Planned Parenthood, previously known as The American Birth Control League, which was at the time in the business of distributing contraceptives.

The concept of “privacy” is too unclear in Griswold. The Court expressed disapproval at the idea—that no one was advocating—of the law invading the bedroom.

Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship…we deal with a right to privacy older than the Bill of Rights.

No reasonable mind would disagree that most activity of a married couple should be beyond the reach of the law. Yet the law also forbids, for instance, marital rape or the sexual molestation of children even when it happens in the bedroom. The “sacred precincts” in such situations cannot be a place of absolute legal immunity.

Though the Court suggested a sacredness of the bedroom in Griswold, there is no concession to such a thing in Roe, in fact, just the opposite. States could legitimately regulate the practice of abortion within given strictures that did not altogether override a woman’s “right” to choose.

The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Mental and physical wealth may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress…associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases…the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved.

The Court went on further to say:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer…In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life…[we] may override the rights of the pregnant woman at stake.

Roe never considers the humanity of the unborn child. Instead, the undefined “right to privacy” receives more attention and is judged to be a matter of greater importance. From then on the atrocity of abortion on demand became the status quo.

Twenty years later in 1992 the issue of abortion came before the Supreme Court again, as pro-life Democratic Governor Robert Casey disputed with Planned Parenthood over Pennsylvania abortion laws. The major tenets of Roe were upheld and the Court repackaged the “right to privacy” in the name of liberty.

[A] woman’s liberty, because they involve personal decisions concerning not only the meaning of procreation but also human responsibility and respect for it. As with abortion, reasonable people will have differences of opinion about these matters. One view is based on such reverence for the wonder of creation that any pregnancy ought to be welcomed and carried to full term no matter how difficult it will be to provide for the child and ensure its well-being. Another is that the inability to provide for the nurture and care of the infant is a cruelty to the child and anguish to the parent. These are intimate views with infinite variations…

The Court went on further to state that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.” Far from saying there is a meaning to life that we are to discover and live in accord with, rather the Court implies that we are free to define, or invent, our own understanding of reality—however false it may be. This stands as one of the greatest enshrinements of relativism in history. The talk of “privacy” and “liberty” merely represents a cover-up for personal autonomy—the right to do whatever one wishes. This cosmic definition of liberty really unveils the unmitigated irrationality of liberalism (Anyone who thinks that he can refuse to pay his taxes based on his own “concept of existence” is in for a rude awakening).

The greater fight for the right-to-life is not merely a legal battle; it is a fight against false ideologies, against cultural vices, and ultimately against injustice.  Victory will require courage, consistency, and compassion—a willingness to stand up for the unborn and to stand with pregnant women. Most importantly, it will require a conversion of heart, mind, and will—to not be an agent of any evil that perpetuates abortion, but rather a remedy. A true culture of life will require us all to change.

“The saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr: he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age…. It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” – G. K. Chesterton

41 Responses to The Culture of Death: The Fruit of False Intellectual Ideals

  • Another fine post, my friend.

    I do question, however, the extent to which the ‘Enlightenment’ – which I am plenty critical of myself, of course – can be blamed for the modern scourge of abortion.

    After all, the Anglo-American Enlightenment is, roughly, a 300 year old project. It never seemed to occur to the American founders, or their British precursors for that matter, that abortion ought to become legal again, as it was in the ancient world. That is because they were still mostly Christians.

    In early America, and I think up until the 20th century, it was the time of “the quickening”, the first stirrings in the womb, that was the line of demarcation for abortion. Before the quickening, abortion was legal, since it was presumed that there was nothing alive until then.

    The reasoning we might question, but the point is that earlier societies based on “Enlightenment” ideas still saw the beginning of life as the beginning of the right to life.

    It is more the influence of that strand of the Enlightenment that raced through continental Europe and later Russia that is responsible for the mess of abortion. There really were “two Enlightenments”, so to speak – one of them gave us liberal capitalism, which for all its flaws could never compare to what the other one gave us – communist tyranny in Eastern Europe and Asia, and Social Democracy in Western Europe. Their differences aside, they agreed fundamentally on the necessity of abortion as a means of liberating women from “domestic drudgery.”

    Under liberal capitalism in the United States, both the communist fifth column as well as the ever-pervasive influence of consumerism through mass production and mass media were responsible for abortion; consumerism prepares the culture for its acceptance, while the communist fifth column engages in subterfuge to enshrine it as law.

    Just look at the testimony of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who as a founder of NARAL admitted that they fabricated a campaign of lies based on false statistics about botched abortions in order to scare the public into accepting the need for abortion (and they do this in EVERY country, and are doing it in Latin America as we speak).

    As he put it, the lie was not seen as immoral – it was in the service of a greater good, the liberation of women. The ends justify the means. A few eggs must be cracked to make an omelet.

    In any case, I think the sexual revolution owes more to Marxism or neo-Marxism than it does to any principles of the Anglo-American Enlightenment. It isn’t John Locke’s Second Treatise but Engels writings on the family that these types draw their inspiration from.

  • “It never seemed to occur to the American founders, or their British precursors for that matter, that abortion ought to become legal again, as it was in the ancient world. That is because they were still mostly Christians.”

    I am curious, Joe, where do you get the idea that abortion was legal in the ancient world?

  • Joe said: “Just look at the testimony of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who as a founder of NARAL admitted that they fabricated a campaign of lies based on false statistics about botched abortions in order to scare the public into accepting the need for abortion”

    Nathanson is old news. Here’s a trailer for a new movie just released that goes inside the industry with even newer information:

  • “Weddington argued that “pregnancy to a woman can completely disrupt her life.” Many schools in Texas required that a teacher resign if she became pregnant. Employers often forced women to leave their jobs early in pregnancy, and the state provided no unemployment compensation or welfare for them. ”

    Well, most or all of those things have been dealt with through anti-discrimination legislation, so by Weddington’s own rationale, abortion is far less “necessary” today than it was in the 1970s. Yet it continues unabated.

    Trivia note regarding Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County: you can see him in some of the old clips of news coverage of the JFK assassination. He would have had the unenviable job of prosecuting Lee Harvey Oswald for murder had Oswald lived. I’m sure he never imagined that his name would go down in history for a lawsuit over a closed abortion clinic, rather than for putting a presidential assassin behind bars.

  • “I am curious, Joe, where do you get the idea that abortion was legal in the ancient world?”

    Wasn’t it? I mean, it wasn’t like today, where it was a “woman’s right to choose” – it was a social policy, as Aristotle indicates in book VII of Politics, to limit the size of the population.

    I suppose I took for granted that the infanticide I always read about, the exposure of infants, and all of the abortion inducing herbs and oils, were legal. Were they prohibited but just widely practiced anyway?

  • Direct infanticide was definitely practiced in the Roman empire.

    However, there were really no herbs, oils, or other ingestives that didn’t result in the death of the infant by killing the mother.

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/08/recycling-the-myths-of-abortio

  • I disagree. I won’t go into all the many problems I have with this post; but here are a few:

    “No reasonable mind would disagree that most activity of a married couple should be beyond the reach of the law. Yet the law also forbids, for instance, marital rape or the sexual molestation of children even when it happens in the bedroom. The ‘sacred precincts’ in such situations cannot be a place of absolute legal immunity.”

    Eric, are you actually saying that the decision a couple who are deeply in love makes about birth control is in the same category as the man who rapes his wife or 13-year-old daughter, all because they took place in the same room? You do realize that “the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms” is just a metaphor, don’t you?

    As much as conservatives deny it, I think we all agree that we should have a strong “right to privacy.” This site says it “want[s] to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on American politics and culture, in order to form a more perfect union,” and so let me ask you a mature question, Eric. If someone from the dreaded “state” knocked on your door and asked “Do you masturbate, and if so how often?” I’m assuming you would be highly offended. (I used that question because it was the subject of a previous post here.) We all would be offended, and so the common practice of putting “right to privacy” in quotes is highly ingenuous.

    Of course there is a difference between right to privacy and abortion. Conservatives like to focus on late term abortions, but as the personhood vote in Colorado shows, most people don’t consider embryos to be “persons.”

    Ontologically, I do agree with one statement in this post,

    “The greater fight for the right-to-life is not merely a legal battle; it is a fight against false ideologies, against cultural vices, and ultimately against injustice.”

    but I think its interpretation is 180-degrees wrong. Abortion, secular vs. religious, sexuality, immigration, health care, economic justice, liberals vs. conservatives, … most if not all of these subjects are not what we are actually debating. Underneath all of them we are instead fighting over a very simply question: Is our innermost self good, and we should become it completely? Or is our innermost self bad and perverted, and we should reject it, everything about it, and get our knowledge of who we are and how we should live life from outside us?

    I’m in the former, and traditional Catholics are in the latter.

    On my blog I describe myself as “anti Catholic,” but not “anti-Catholic.” Anti-Catholics like John Hagee and his Whore of Babylon thoughts mean nothing to me. I disagree with the Catholic Church now because it has become one of the main organizations that is aggressively promoting ontological alienation, and that alienation causes profound harm to all of us.

  • Wasn’t it? I mean, it wasn’t like today, where it was a “woman’s right to choose” – it was a social policy, as Aristotle indicates in book VII of Politics, to limit the size of the population.

    I suppose I took for granted that the infanticide I always read about, the exposure of infants, and all of the abortion inducing herbs and oils, were legal. Were they prohibited but just widely practiced anyway?

    As with many things, the story with abortion was (from what I’ve read) rather different in the ancient world than today.

    Infanticide was accepted, though not necessarily reputable. It was a “conservative” practice to allow the pater familias to approve infanticide, and in the Greek world it was similarly most prevalent in “conservative” Sparta. By the empire in the West or the Hellenistic period in the East, it was seen as faintly barbaric or retrograde, but it wasn’t illegal. You’d expect to see it most among the slave population, somewhat among the poor, and very little among the aristocracy, by that period.

    Abortion was used with varying degrees of success — herbal approaches were often very dangerous for the mother, but the ancients at least believed that it could be successful a certain amount of the time. They also had physical means of abortion, though again things could be fairly dangerous. Physicians had it in their code of ethics not to perform abortions, so generally people would seek help from people (usually women) who were effectively witches. The Greeks and Roman both used witchcraft extensively, and also feared it. It was definitely disreputable, and if you had buyers remorse of if a woman died because of an abortion, it was easy to try a witch for poisoning for for casting curses upon people.

  • Underneath all of them we are instead fighting over a very simply question: Is our innermost self good, and we should become it completely? Or is our innermost self bad and perverted, and we should reject it, everything about it, and get our knowledge of who we are and how we should live life from outside us?

    I’m in the former, and traditional Catholics are in the latter.

    Huh?

    You think that Catholics are against abortion because the Church believes the human person to be inherently bad? And that if someone believed the human person to be inherently good, than they would support abortion?

    I can’t see how that follows at all.

  • Scott,

    My dear fellow, with regards to this statement of yours,

    “As much as conservatives deny it, I think we all agree that we should have a strong “right to privacy.”

    Please don’t mistake our total and utter rejection of the right to murder children in “private” as a “denial.” I deny nothing. I reject as false and immoral.

  • Abortion was common in the ancient world as was infanticide. Most large cities would have places on the outskirts where newborn infants were left to die. Jews and Christians were noted for not aborting and abandoning their young.

    “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.”

    Tertullian

  • I do question, however, the extent to which the ‘Enlightenment’ – which I am plenty critical of myself, of course – can be blamed for the modern scourge of abortion. […] The reasoning we might question, but the point is that earlier societies based on “Enlightenment” ideas still saw the beginning of life as the beginning of the right to life.

    Joe, it seems plausible to me that the inner logic of the Enlightenment has taken time to work itself out in American society & culture, and that the earlier opposition to abortion rested on the Christian influences on our country’s founding. Over time, though, the former has continued to work itself out, to the detriment of the latter.

    In any case, I think the sexual revolution owes more to Marxism or neo-Marxism than it does to any principles of the Anglo-American Enlightenment. It isn’t John Locke’s Second Treatise but Engels writings on the family that these types draw their inspiration from.

    I agree. Nonetheless, while they may differ, they remain siblings and hence children of a common lineage.

  • Scott I think you misunderstand what ontology means. It’s also not true that all of our moral disagreements follow directly from a disagreement about human nature. That has something to do with it, but it’s not simply that we disagree about human nature. It’s that we disagree about what is moral. this is another way of saying that people who agree about human nature can disagree about morality.

  • Chris, is it fair to say that Hegel and Marx and Engels perverted what was good in the Enlightenment intellectual tradition?

    (I hesitate to say that the Enlightenment brought anything that was good to humanity, but there were a few things)

  • Chris,

    I consider that as well. Whether or not modern technology necessarily serves as sort of catalyst for the eruption of these tendencies is an important part of the problem.

  • Well, we have to realize that there were two Enlightenments – one that began in England and continued in America, and one that began in France and continued in Germany and Russia. That’s very simplistic but also accurate I think.

    I think the Anglo-American Enlightenment has more in common with Christianity than it does its Continental counterpart. The Jacobins were atheists, perverts, egalitarians, and destroyers. The Bolsheviks were all of that and much worse.

    Meanwhile the American body politic retained Christianity alongside liberalism and classical republicanism in a delicate balance. Catholicism was able to thrive in America for several generations, while in Europe the Church was ground under the boot of modern Republicans, fascists, socialists and communists.

    So the comparison is not simple and easy to make. The Anglo-American Enlightenment is certainly no replacement of Thomism, but its a heck of a lot better than some of the alternatives. And that’s what I’ve had to come to terms with over the last year.

  • Thank you Chris for saying what I was going to say about the Enlightenment’s logic playing itself out — it is not so much that people of the time consciously supported or wanted the modern ills that we’re facing today, but the philosophical paradigm shift that occurred created a breeding ground for these things to happen; if anything, with some of the false anthropologies of that era, some of the modern issues we face is the logical conclusion of such false thinking, e.g. personal autonomy taken to an extreme.

  • This is why conservatives seek to correct liberalism’s excesses. I find myself asking, what was the philosophical paradigm that governed human societies before the Enlightenment, and was that policy as conducive to the common good? I’m not a historian, but I think that the general state of mankind (materially) has improved substantially since the Enlightenment. Of course, the Enlightenment spiritually was murder-suicide, and this problem deserves our attention, maybe.

  • Well, probably part of the history it’s important to remember there is that in many ways classical liberalism was a reaction to the ideas of absolute monarchy which sprang up in the 1600s, which were in themselves an innovation in relation to the feudalism of the high Medieval period.

  • DarwinCatholic wrote:

    “Huh?

    You think that Catholics are against abortion because the Church believes the human person to be inherently bad? And that if someone believed the human person to be inherently good, than they would support abortion?

    I can’t see how that follows at all.”

    DarwinCatholic, first of all, everyone needs to become conscious of what’s taking place ontologically. Many young adults now, as young adults have probably always done, are struggling with questions such as “Who am I?” “What should my relationship be with other people?” “If I call my innermost self my ‘realself,’ then how do I develop a realself-to-realself relationship with the person I love?” And there are whole ranges other kinds questions, such as “I don’t feel as if I am 100% in the day-to-day world, as if it is ‘my world.’ Why is that?”

    But unfortunately, most young adults fail to make progress in this area–it becomes too difficult–and they end up rejecting what I call ‘realself life,’ the life where we are all being our innermost selves–the best we will ever be–with each other. (FWIW, I am not being all that self, I am only conscious of it.) I think it is somewhat of a compliment, even though he may not take it as such, but Joe’s stating that he changed from an atheistic socialist to left-wing Catholic to, I’m assuming, a conservative Catholic shows this ontological failure in a person. (This is not a personal criticism; it’s an explanation of why we each choose the beliefs and values we choose.)

    Conservatives regularly say that abortion is the worst act that can be committed. But if they really thought this, that nothing else is in its league, they would do everything they can to stop it, such as strongly promoting contraceptives so that very few women would have unwanted pregnancies. But the Church doesn’t do this, which shows that it considers contraceptives to be equally as bad as abortions. And what this does is change the argument from Abortions are bad to We want to control your worldview, and by doing that indirectly control the self you are being.

    Skipping over a few points, what has developed is that people who, from their own fear, reject ontological authenticity have come up with a great way of defending the alienated life they have been forced to accept by calling those with whom they disagree “Baby Killers.” Thus, they say “baby killers,” but really what they mean is “those who want me to become who I truly am.”

    The real problems here, which I’ve only touched upon, is that conservatives have turned abortion into a pawn in the ontological war. They are exploiting abortion to defend their flawed understanding of self and life, and by doing that they actually increase the number of abortions.

  • Uhoh Joe, you’ve failed ontologically! What does it feel like? :)

  • Zach: “Scott I think you misunderstand what ontology means.”

    I do realize that I use ontology in a different way. The connection between the human self and human existence–which has a greater influence on our lives that probably anything else–needed a name, and I chose “ontology.”

  • Joe, as a suggestion, you should spend more time thinking vertically and less horizontally. By that I mean that if you are looking for the truth, as many of us are, you should look deep inside yourself instead of looking outside at the world from the self you have, to a certain extent, unconsciously become. You’ll find that the innermost self in each of us is the true engine of human existence–of how we perceive all of life.

  • Scott, I think it would be depressing to so imprison yourself. I’m happiest when I give myself to other people. Have you ever had that experience?

  • Scott,

    Okay, let me see if I can unpack all this a bit.

    In your first two paragraphs, you discuss the important of being who we really are, a “realself”, which you consider to be ontoligical success. What you leave to assumption is the question of what exactly the “realself” is. You’re insisting that people be faithful to their ontology without talking about teleology: the question of for what purpose people exist.

    It sounds a bit like you consider restriction of desire to be a failure of ontology — and that you consider fulfillment of desire to be a success of ontology. Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but it certainly the sense I get from what you’re writing in your comments here.

    But really, this isn’t very helpful in forming our behavior, because our desire are often in conflict. To take a very simple example (though one which I imagine young people — a group which at thirty I begin to flatter myself I no longer belong to — spend a fair amount of time on): I really enjoy eating good food and drinking good beer. To add to this, I happen to cook very well, as does my wife. And I brew very good beer. I also enjoy very much spending large amounts of my time reading books, writing, and watching movies. And yet: I also desire to have a certain level of physical fitness, and not overweight. So I have to choose: should I enforce restrictions on how much I eat and drink, and force myself to workout regularly, even though it would be a greater satisfaction to my desires to eat as much fine food and drink as much fine beer as I would like while while never bothering to exercise.

    I could decide this strictly based on weighing my subjective preferences (do I want to eat more than I want to look good) but weighing subjective desires is difficult, especially when short term denial is required on a long term basis to acquire a long term result. A better way to achieve resolution might be for me to address the question, “What is eating for? Is it appropriate for me to eat when I am not actually hungry? Or is eating more than I need for nourishment acting in defiance of the purpose of eating?” Similarly, I might ask myself, “What is my body for? What is my body? Is my body a part of my person, which it is as important for me to hone and exercise as my mind, or is it simply a vehicle for my mind and only important to take care of to the extent that I desire to do so?”

    Answering these questions of teleology help me to understand my nature better, and help me to act more in accordance with my true nature and purpose. To ignore that anything has a purpose is to both hide from ourselves the nature of things, and to make it very difficult for us to know how to act.

    Now allow me to lay into a few of your concrete points:

    Conservatives regularly say that abortion is the worst act that can be committed.

    Actually, I’m not clear that conservatives regularly say this. Certainly, as a conservative, I do not regularly say this. And I’m not sure that I have ever heard it said. However, something need not be the worst act that can be committed to be pretty evil. I wouldn’t necessarily say that rape is the absolute worst act that could possibly be committed (evil has a wide imagination) but that in no way means it is okay.

    But if they really thought this, that nothing else is in its league, they would do everything they can to stop it, such as strongly promoting contraceptives so that very few women would have unwanted pregnancies.

    This does not necessarily follow. You’re assuming that promoting contraception and avoiding “unwanted pregnancies” is the best way to prevent abortion, but these will only seem to be the best ways to prevent abortion if you think contraception is generally a good thing and that abortion is a natural response to an unwanted pregnancy.

    I would assume that we both agree that racial lynchings are a pretty horrible thing, but neither of us would suggest that strict segregation and outlawing interracial marriages is the best way to prevent lynchings, because we don’t think that lynching is an appropriate response to seeing an interracial couple or interacting with people of another race socially.

    But the Church doesn’t do this, which shows that it considers contraceptives to be equally as bad as abortions.

    No, that doesn’t follow either. For instance, I don’t think that segregation or banning interracial marriage would be as bad as lynchings — but I wouldn’t support either of those as an alleged way of preventing lynchings, because I think that they are in and of themselves wrong, and should not be required in order to prevent lynchings. The Church does not consider contraception to be as bad as abortion, but it does consider the use of contraception to be something which falsifies the sexual act — and thus is contrary to its telos. Indeed, using contraception would be pursuing a false ontology.

    And what this does is change the argument from Abortions are bad to We want to control your worldview, and by doing that indirectly control the self you are being.

    I don’t see how it’s a matter of controlling worldview. It asserts a worldview, certainly, but then, your thought also asserts a worldview, and I assume that you don’t think that you are trying to control anyone’s worldview.

    Now, it’s true that Catholics, just like everyone else, try to form the norms of society based on their worldview. We seek to ban abortion because we consider abortion to be the killing of another human person. To ignore that would certainly be morally bankrupt.

    But in that same sense, you yourself doubtless act the same way. If you support banning rape, you are imposing your worldview on any perverts out there who think rape is just fine. I myself see no problem with imposing one’s worldview this way. Do you?

    Skipping over a few points, what has developed is that people who, from their own fear, reject ontological authenticity have come up with a great way of defending the alienated life they have been forced to accept by calling those with whom they disagree “Baby Killers.” Thus, they say “baby killers,” but really what they mean is “those who want me to become who I truly am.”

    Again, you’re assuming that you know who people really are, and how they’re really meant to act. And on what basis, exactly? Why should I assume that your understanding of this is right, and that mine (which happens to agree with that of the Church) is wrong?

  • Conservatives regularly say that abortion is the worst act that can be committed. But if they really thought this, that nothing else is in its league, they would do everything they can to stop it, such as strongly promoting contraceptives so that very few women would have unwanted pregnancies. But the Church doesn’t do this, which shows that it considers contraceptives to be equally as bad as abortions. And what this does is change the argument from Abortions are bad to We want to control your worldview, and by doing that indirectly control the self you are being.

    Sorry Scott, you just don’t get it. Leaving aside the point about abortion being the worst possible thing. Unequivocally opposing abortion and contraception does not in itself speak to the moral gravity or consequences of either act. God and the Church are far more positive approach. For every negative “thou shalt not…” there are a multitude of “thou can…”. So many that they need not be listed. More to the point though, the Church has a much better offering for the end to abortion. Live a life in accord to the natural and moral law. Treat sex as the wonderful gift that it is and only use it in marriage. Consider the product of that unifying act of love as blessing and love him or her, etc.

    This is the message of the Church, and that people don’t choose to abide by it, it’s their failing when the suffer undesirable, yet painfully clear and predictable consequences. That’s when the Church says, hey, the solution to the problem of your own consequences isn’t (and can’t be) to kill your child. One moral failing shouldn’t be used to justify a greater moral failing, nor should it be facilitated by yet another moral failing.

  • I’m going to take a break from posting, but after reading Zach’s comment I do want to correct what might be a misconception.

    To digress for a moment, I live in California, and sometimes while in “farm country” I’ll walk past a Mexican young man and a small part of me will think I am better than him. Maybe because I’m smarter, or more knowledgeable, or have a higher status in society, or whatever. But a bigger part of me knows thoughts like that are absolutely wrong and that everyone else’s innermost self or being is exactly equal to mine. A bigger part of me also knows that if I have more money than this young man, and if I were truly living in life how it should be lived, I would give him some of mine, if, for instance, he and his wife needed a new battery for their car. I know all of this because I have a sense of what a being-to-being relationship is, and that is how people who are living that kind of life will think and act.

    Earlier, I wrote that Joe had failed ontologically, and I was thinking mainly of moral issues. When I wrote that I had in mind to write more on the subject, which I want to do now. Last night I skimmed quite a few TAK posts and comments, and I thought that Joe was the most ontologically insightful and sensitive writer here. I thought this mainly because of his strong defense of a more equitable distribution of money, even though that is not a conservative belief. I also thought he had that idea and belief because he was aware at some level of being-to-being relationships with others, and his conscious intellect then came up with an economic explanation for that way of relating to others.

    Those of us who are moving forward ontologically regularly make mistakes, see that what we thought was the right direction isn’t, and then move forward again in a better direction. I hope that the ontological failure I mentioned turns out to be such a temporary misdirection.

    And Joe, I mentioned you here in the third-person somewhat because I am not talking about you, specifically, but about ideas and the reasons we choose one over another.

  • Scott,

    I sense that you meant your example about seeing a young Mexican man on the street well, so I’ll resist launching the tirade that I usually reserve for people who dis Mexicans. (I too grew up in California, and I’m half Mexican but look “white”, so people sometimes think it’s “safe” to share Mexican jokes or racist remarks with me.) I think I see what you’re trying to get at, though, and it’s a virtuous point.

    But what I do want to highlight is that what you’re reaching towards in your example, though human intuition, is precisely what the Church teaches in regards to human dignity and love of neighbor (a phrase so often heard we often fail to think in this often post-Christian age, what a radical teaching it is as Christ applied it.) As human beings, we all share an inherent human dignity and worth, a human dignity which is the result not of how educated we are, or how wealthy, or what we look like, or what language we speak, but rather which stems from our very nature as human beings.

    As such we are equal in God’s eyes (“There are neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, all are one in Christ”) and we owe others love and aid just as we do our own families.

    All this can sound trite and obvious and easy to come to in our post-Christian society because we’re so used to thinking “that all men were created equal” that we don’t bother to think about what justifies that belief. If there is no essential human nature, if there is not some human dignity by which we are of equal worth regardless of our personal possessions and abilities, why should we treat people as equal? Indeed, it’s no surprise that in the first materialist enthusiasms of the last century the idea of eugenics was wildly popular — nor that there is still a strongly eugenic sensibility to how birth control and abortion are targeted particularly towards the poor and racial minorities.

    Now certainly, the important of love of neighbor is not something which is a mystery to non-Christians. Indeed, the Church teaches that we have an inherent sense of what is right and what is wrong which is imprinted in our human nature by God — a sense of the moral purposes for which we were made. I wouldn’t try to suggest that no one would be aware of the insight which you express were it not for Christianity. But I would suggest that what the Church teaches is not a set of being-destroying rules handed down to alienate people from themselves, but rather a clearer and more perfect understanding of who we truly are, and for what purpose we exist, and thus how to life in true happiness by acting in accordance with our highest purpose.

  • Excellent post, Eric; excellent debating, Darwin.

    “I live in California, and sometimes while in “farm country” I’ll walk past a Mexican young man and a small part of me will think I am better than him.”
    It seems to me this points to a fundamental flaw in your character.

    Scott, you remind me of Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass:
    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.”

  • Scott,

    I was in the process of replying to you until I realized that I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.

    Nor do I care to engage in a discussion with someone who presumes so much about, and to critique so bluntly, a person he isn’t familiar with and has never even had a conversation with.

    Whatever your issues are, good luck and God bless.

  • Rick, one reason I could never be a Catholic is I have a mind of my own. Even when I was young and at times felt lost ontologically, I never for a second thought I needed to go to someone else or to an organization to find the answers I was looking for.

    When I read your reply, and I don’t mean to be critical, it’s almost as if you went to a Catholic Encyclopedia site, copied 5 relevant paragraphs, edited them down to 2, and then pasted them into your comment.

    At this point, the real question for me is do traditional Catholics accept the church’s teachings in totality because they intellectually have come to the conclusion that each of those teachings is right, or have they accepted the church’s dogma because life’s a lot more pleasurable when one thinks one has found the right way to live, compared to feeling unsure of who exactly one is and what is right and good and what is wrong and bad.

    Read my comment to DarwinCatholic; there’s more on this broader subject.

  • Joe,

    Best wishes for your life,

    Kind regards,

    Scott

  • Hi DarwinCatholic,

    Thanks for your long replies. You bring up several interesting thoughts. What I’m trying to figure out is the format in which to reply. I don’t want to become what seems like an anti Catholic troll here, disagreeing with everything. But at the same time many of the subjects deserve longer answers …

    I do want to comment on a thought Rick brought up, but will reply to it more from the perspective of a better question you asked.

    A survey done of 38 Catholic colleges showed that 60% of the students “agreed strongly or somewhat that premarital sex is not a sin.” You would know where premarital sex rates in the church’s sin hierarchy, but undoubtedly the church would like the percentage to be zero.

    Focusing on one of those students, a 20-years-old man might strongly believe that premarital sex is moral and right, but 30 or 40 years later he is strongly against it. At 50 or 60, he might say “these darn young people now-a-days, they can’t control their urges at all,” and “they jump in the back seats of cars anytime they get the chance.” He believes that sex is mainly for procreation, and he may even believe that it should not be used for pleasure.

    The question then comes up, which of these opinions is right? Is premarital sex moral if the couple loves each other, or is premarital sex one of the many scourges of “modern” life?

    There is a myth that as people get older they become wiser, but that’s a myth that mainly older people believe. People become more knowledgeable about a lot of subjects as they get older, but they don’t necessarily become wiser.

    Part of the explanation for not becoming wiser is that many people fail ontologically. Perhaps this young man at 20 was aware on some level of a being-to-being relationship, and he wanted to develop that kind of relationship with the woman he loved. He probably wasn’t fully conscious of it, but at the time he might have liked sex as much for the ontological intimacy of it as for its physical aspects–he wanted to be very close to her in all ways. But after marrying, he and his wife were unable to achieve that level of intimacy, and so, along with many other reasons, he changed over the years from thinking that ontological intimacy in all its various forms should have the highest priority in life, to thinking that intimacy is superficial, inconsequential, and even pernicious.

    And so for him, the deep desire he had at 20 for a sensuous blending of beings and bodies with the woman he loved changes at 50 to a more or less mechanical act he uses to discharge his tension.

    Getting back to the question of which belief is correct, for those who are conscious of what takes place ontologically in this man, the changes of self he goes through over the years, there is no question but that the essence of his view at 20 is vastly better.

    DarwinCatholic, you asked how one person’s belief can be better than another person’s, and the answer is that the beliefs of people who are more who they truly are are almost always better (there are always qualifications) than the beliefs of those who are more alienated from that self.

    BTW, I never for a second thought I was dissing Mexicans; I used them as an example only because of the great number of “illegal immigrants” posts on the web.

  • I never for a second thought I needed to go to someone else or to an organization to find the answers I was looking for.

    Scott, presumably you were taught how to read & write, add, subtract & multiply, learn geography, etc. from others.

    The Catholic Church believes strongly in the power of reason… it’s among the few institutions in existence today which believe that the mind is able to actually know reality. It doesn’t *discourage* thinking among the faithful, but *encourages* it, just as any good teacher & mother does. I work for a bishop, and I’d *love* to see more rigorous thinking in the pews!

  • Throw in the fact that the Catholic Church operates the largest school and university system in the entire planet!

  • The premarital sex thought experiment assumes much, and most of it is incorrect.

    Church teaching on sex is based on the understanding that sex is both unitive and procreative–it serves to bond a couple and mirror God’s love for His creation as well as to produce offspring. Premarital sex and contraception are against Church teaching not because a bunch of sex-hating curmudgeons don’t want folks in love having fun together, but because both actions divorce the unitive from the procreative. The lack of a serious marital commitment inherent in an extramarital relationship dismisses the unitive aspect. Contraception in a marriage elevates the unitive aspect of sex over its procreative aspect; outside of marriage it not only does this but also facilitates the avoidance of a real commitment.

    Incidentally, the only viewpoint I can think of that regards sex in entirely procreative terms is that of evolutionary biology. As a model for that field of study, it’s useful. But evolutionary biology is concerned with species survival and those things that lead to it, not with a holistic view of the human person as a being with both a body and a soul (spirit, if you prefer.)

  • Chris and Tito,

    What’s odd to me about your line of thought is that at Catholic sites such as California Catholic Daily, Catholics are ripped to shreds if they don’t follow Catholic dogma to the letter.

    From where I stand, the Catholic church is all in favor of conscience, free will, and reason, but only if all of those lead a person exactly to the church’s position on many subjects. Otherwise, you’re a contemptible cafeteria Catholic, a “fake Catholic,” or one of Satan’s sinners.

    “Think all you want, but if you don’t end up believing what we want you to believe, you’re wrong” is not at the foundation of the search for truth.

    Finally, of course, just because Catholic universities encourage creative thought in, for example, physics, engineering, and medicine has almost nothing to do with the discussion going on here—questions about how we should live our lives and who we are—other than to confuse the issue.

  • cminor,

    After reading this several times I still can’t make any sense of it:

    “Premarital sex and contraception are against Church teaching not because a bunch of sex-hating curmudgeons don’t want folks in love having fun together, but because both actions divorce the unitive from the procreative. The lack of a serious marital commitment inherent in an extramarital relationship dismisses the unitive aspect. Contraception in a marriage elevates the unitive aspect of sex over its procreative aspect…”

    and after a quick Google search that shows that somewhere in the 80% range Catholic couples use birth control or don’t think it is a sin, most American Catholics can’t make much sense of your/the church’s position either.

    It’s great that sex can produce children and it’s great that sex can also satisfy a deep ontological and sexual need (I never use the word “fun” to describe sex), but that doesn’t mean that all couples–Catholic and otherwise–want to have 14 kids.

    As I read your words of linking sex with unitive with procreative with commitment, any couple who has even the desire not to create a child at the moment is “divorc[ing] the unitive from the procreative.” There is no emotional or psychological difference between the couple who uses NFP as a means to not have another child and couples who use other birth control methods: in all cases in their hearts the couples do not want to have a child at the time, and so the divorcing of the procreative is there. (If you are going to try to make the case that NFP couples who want to have sex but are avoiding it so that they won’t have a baby are somehow not divorcing themselves from the procreative, which is exactly what they are consciously doing, please be very good at it.)

    Your position might make sense to celibate men, but it is not a position that most men and women who love each other take seriously.

    The best barometer of a society’s health is the ontological closeness that exists between its men and women, and so as far at “commitment” goes, the best thing the church could do for couples is to help them develop more of a being-to-being relationship. We would all benefit greatly from that.

  • Based on your repeated repetition of opinion polls, I have to conclude you believe morality to be whatever majority vote rules it is at a given time. I’m not even going to get started on what is wrong with that logic; it’s been dealt with at length by others more articulate than myself anyway and I don’t want to be up all night.

    Not that it’s likely to make any difference to you, but I’m a married woman, not a celibate man. I have no lack of firsthand experience with sexual theology or politics, for that matter. As I said, I’m not going to write a dissertation tonight: you’ve given me your opinion, so I’ll give you mine.

    First, I sense a bit of false prudery in your objection to my use of the word “fun.” Sex is fun. It’s fun when you’re absolutely mentally and emotionally bonded to the Other, even as it’s beautiful and meaningful. And those who pursue one-night stands sure as heck aren’t doing it because it’s deeply beautiful and meaningful.

    Second, I don’t think you understand NFP at all, and you’re trotting out a rather tired argument to try to class it with contraceptive methods. I suggest you actually study NFP and its theological underpinnings. I also suggest you read the views of actual married couples who make NFP part of their marriage.

    Third, the Church sees marriage as a sacrament, an occasion of sanctifying grace–look it up. It sees in each married couple a reflection of the Father’s love for His creation and the Son’s love for the Church. It sees marriage as a true vocation, on a par with the call to celibacy. To that end, it goes to some length to build up that being-to-being relationship. Is it always successful? Humanity being what it is, no. But do you honestly think that there’s something that falls short of the sacramental and vocational view of marriage that would do a better job of building being-to-being relationships between men and women? Please!

    Fourth, in my experience the strongest proponents of Church teaching on marriage tend to be married people, not celibate clergy. And while they may not constitute the majority of married people in the Church, I’d bet they’d be better versed on what Church teaching actually states than that majority. Ask around, the results may surprise you.

    Finally, I still think you’re using the word “ontological” to cover a whole lotta stuff it wasn’t meant to.

    Have fun with your debate, dude. Real life calls.

  • Scott,

    I’m not sure how to respond to you. You made a statement about the Church, abortion, and contraception that contains a number of factual errors and a flawed line of reasoning. I offered a correction and explanation specific to your statement. Instead of coming back and challenging the validity of my argument or the facts presented, you characterize it as something much different than it was and have the nerve to basically accuse myself an others of being unable to reason and relying on someone/something else to think for us.

    You also attribute certain characteristics or weaknesses to those who don’t come to the same conclusions as you do. Apparently it never crossed your mind that many people don’t have the same kind of hangups that you do (or have had) about knowing oneself, finding their place, working out a worldview from reason. No doubt you think you understand these things well, but it’s possible you’re really missing the boat. We can tell many things from our own experience, and one of those things is (or should be) that our own experience isn’t the sum of all that is. I think you’re making that error, friend.

    I’m not sure if you’re a total relativist or you’re trying to argue a particular truth. In case you’re trying to argue what you see as a truth (which is apparently based on opinion polls and your own unique take), I can only offer this at the moment. That I agree with my first grade teacher that 2+2=4 doesn’t make me unable to think for myself. As much as I may like 2+2=5, I am grounded in reality and choose to use my reason appropriately, whether I find agreement with everyone or noone. I will say this though, if I find myself disagreeing with everyone I will serious question my reasoning and go back and work through it again. However, when many seem to ignore the truth of a thing, I don’t abandon it just because the many has.

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