Monday, March 3, 2008

Who is more a person?

It seems to me that the abortion debate boils down to the question, "What is a person?" and then a second question, "Are some persons more human than others?" As Catholics, we speak of those who are "pro-life" and "anti-life," but I think that these labels obscure the argument, because we aren't really speaking of life, so much as we're speaking of human life. And again, we're not really speaking of human life in a scientific sense -- proving when human life begins doesn't seem to convince those whose political beliefs are different from ours. No, the real problem seems to be that we need to get to the bottom of the question: "Is some human life more valuable, more human, than other human life?"

I think it might be very useful to those on each side of the political divide to really take this question seriously. We have so many unexamined attitudes and unconscious motives that become a part of the way we face our lives.

So, for example, are my life and the lives of my own children more important, more valuable, than the lives of others? Are the lives of Catholics, or baptized Christians, more valuable than the lives of Muslims or Hindus? How about the lives of those in countries far removed from my own; do their lives matter to me? Are criminals or drug addicts or the chronically superficial or the doctrinally incorrect or those who appreciate ugly liturgy or those who vote "pro-choice" less worthy of life? But we must be careful when we answer these questions. Just because we don't believe that whole categories of people should be taken out and shot, doesn't mean that we value their lives. Are these people worthy of our attention? Do we need to share our lives with them, listen to them, invite them into our homes? If asked to give our lives for another, would we hesitate or refuse for some but respond whole-heartedly for others?

I think that at the heart of the "pro-choice" position is the assumption that the lives of adult women (or teenage girls) are more valuable than the lives of unborn fetuses. It isn't that those who vote for legalized abortion are anti-life, or that they want to destroy the unborn. Many of them feel saddened by the deaths of fetal children, but they feel that since the lives of the mothers are more valuable, the babies must be sacrificed. For those who desire legalized abortion, abortion is not necessarily a good, just a lesser evil.

If we really want to change anyone's heart, we have to first take into account what is in it. We also have to understand why they believe what they believe and how they came to believe what they believe. So, why do many in our culture believe that an adult woman's life is more valuable than that of an unborn child? Our entire society views adults as more valuable, more worthy of attention, than children. Even many who are passionately anti-abortion do not notice whether or when a child enters a room, do not believe that a child could teach them anything, think of children primarily as objects that reflect well or poorly on the adults who have charge of them or as creatures who need to be controlled in order not to interrupt the adult conversation. If I were to try to list all the ways in which children are taken less seriously and their humanity slighted in our culture, this post would quickly become way too long. Unless a person recognizes, examines, and rejects the assumptions formed by the low opinion that society has of children, he will never see an ethical problem with a pro-choice position. Those of us who vote against legalized abortion while treating children as less worthy, less interesting, less deserving, or less in any sense, do nothing to undermine the assumptions that buttress the pro-choice votes of our neighbors.

Let's ask ourselves the tough questions.

1 comment:

Marie said...

Last night I watched the French movie about St. Vincent de Paul and was quite shocked by the part where he brings a foundling newborn to his rich helpers and the sisters of his order, and not a single one could overcome her repugnance at a "child of sin" to offer to help. Not even St. Louise de Marillac, at that time. I usually don't feel like we are living in an enlightened time, so this was an eye opener.

I agree wholeheartedly about our need to keep examining our attitudes and motives. Boy, can that be uncomfortable work. But necessary, if we aren't going to become just pompous windbags.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."