In reflecting upon the Lord’s Prayer, the last line for me been the easiest to overlook. The ideas that God’s name is to be revered, that we’re to look forward to the reestablishment of his Kingdom, that we’re to seek his will, that we’re to depend upon him to provide for our needs, to ask for his forgiveness and his assistance in forgiving others and to rely upon his help in avoiding temptation…all reflect daily struggles each of us experience. But “deliver us from evil?” I can’t say the need to be delivered from evil has been an everyday concern… until recently.
The presence of evil has felt less immediate. The atrocities committed by combatants in the Middle East and Africa seem half a world away. The recent act of terrorism in Chattanooga, the vile, racially-motivated attack in the church in Charleston, shooting at schools and theaters could be dismissed as isolated, random acts of evil. I’ve found the evil portrayed in the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress capturing the process through which Planned Parenthood staff procure and sell body parts of aborted infants profoundly unsettling.
The perpetrators of acts we recognize as evil aren’t typically part of our day-to-day experience. I don’t know any adherents to Islam whose actions suggest they would seek to kill others who don’t share their beliefs. Despite my line of work, I can’t remember the last time I saw a teen who led me to fear their potential to carry out a mass shooting. The depravity captured in the investigative videos from the Center for Medical Progress could easily have come from the mouths of friends, neighbors and colleagues. I’m also horribly unsettled by the ease with which the leaders and opinion shapers of our culture so readily ignore the abject evil in front of their faces and proceed as if it doesn’t exist.
The videos capture several Planned Parenthood medical directors negotiating prices with undercover reporters for body parts of aborted babies. One physician uses the term “intact” to refer to babies they permitted to die when delivery occurred before they could perform an abortion…babies who were also sold for body parts. In one video, a Planned Parenthood employee is heard to say “it’s a boy” as a clinic “doctor” chops up the body of an abortion victim to procure the desired body parts.
I couldn’t help but think as I watched the videos that the physicians from Planned Parenthood could have easily come from my medical school class, or the faculty of either of the schools where I teach. I strongly suspect the vast majority of my colleagues in child and general psychiatry wouldn’t be the least bit troubled by anything they saw in the videos and suspect many are among the most ardent supporters of Planned Parenthood. I haven’t attended a state or local psychiatric society since the late ’90s after my colleague and I resigned from the American Psychiatric Association when the APA president authored a front-page editorial on behalf of the Association endorsing partial-birth abortion. General psychiatrists cannot belong to state and local societies without holding membership in the national organization.
I’m frightened by the ease with which a highly educated person who dedicated ten or more years to attain the required education and training to save lives could so utterly and completely abandon any sense of right and wrong and demonstrate such contempt for the value of life. Sadly, the value system and worldview of the physicians and support staff in the videos are shared by the people in position to influence healthcare-related public policy decisions related and to make determinations regarding medical treatments you or your loved ones may access.
Those who shape and influence the culture appear to be doing their very best to ignore the disclosures from the Planned Parenthood videos. They repeat talking points from the crisis communication company hired by Planned Parenthood claiming that videos have been doctored or altered, despite the availability of unedited video on the Internet providing what Big Ten football officials used to refer to as “indisputable video evidence” of the involvement of high-ranking Planned Parenthood staff. Thanks to PP’s friends and allies in the media, the death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe received more media attention in one day than the Planned Parenthood videos received in two weeks! Remember that while you’re currently reading this post on your computer, tablet or smartphone, large segments of our population obtain their news exclusively from broadcast television or newspapers where daily papers are still available. If the media doesn’t cover it, it’s as if it never happened. A devout physician colleague of mine who is “technologically challenged” wasn’t at all aware of any of the videos until I asked him his opinion of them yesterday.
There’s nothing new under the sun. God allowed the people of Judah to be taken into captivity for reasons including their worship of pagan gods through ritual prostitution and child sacrifice. As with Planned Parenthood, the ancients sought to distract from their most heinous practices…
Molech worship occurred in the Valley of Hinnom…this was located at the South end of Jerusalem, just outside the walls of the city. Jesus references the place during the Sermon on the Mount of the destination of people who harbor anger against their brothers.
The ancients would heat a brass idol up with fire (appearing like a pot-bellied stove with a head) until glowing. A priest would put the infant child on the arms of the idol. A child sacrifice laid on the hands, would roll into the fire in the belly cavity. The area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the cries of the children being sacrificed should not reach the ears of the people.
Surely other manifestations of great evil take place all around us, day after day. Human trafficking. Sexual abuse. Physical violence directed at the weak and vulnerable. But you can’t forget what you’ve seen. If you were to encounter a helpless young child being cut into pieces for his or her body parts in the middle of the street, could you walk away without trying to help and pretend nothing had happened? Dr. Richard Selzer captured the experience in his essay collection, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery.
How does such evil continue? The people involved construct very elaborate defenses to ward off feelings of anxiety or guilt. The abortion industry has developed language to help…”fetus,” “pregnancy termination,” “women’s healthcare,” “reproductive rights.” Ultimately, they have to deny or diminish the humanity of the developing child.
Ross Douthat discusses the impact of the videos in an excellent commentary in the New York Times…
It’s a very specific disgust, informed by reason and experience — the reasoning that notes that it’s precisely a fetus’s humanity that makes its organs valuable, and the experience of recognizing one’s own children, on the ultrasound monitor and after, as something more than just “products of conception” or tissue for the knife.
Because dwelling on that content gets you uncomfortably close to Selzer’s tipping point — that moment when you start pondering the possibility that an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism.
That’s a hard thing to accept. It’s part of why so many people hover in the conflicted borderlands of the pro-choice side. They don’t like abortion, they think its critics have a point … but to actively join our side would require passing too comprehensive a judgment on their coalition, their country, their friends, their very selves.
For the reasons Douthat describes, the church would appear to be the ideal societal institution to take the lead on confronting this particular evil in our midst. Every woman who has made the choice to have an abortion is an image bearer of God, infinitely loved by his son, Jesus Christ. Many who choose abortion make their decisions during times of significant economic or emotional distress. Because of Christ’s work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, Jesus offers the prospect of forgiveness along with the peace and perspective to move on from the past.
Yet, so many of our spiritual leaders are afraid to confront the issue because abortion has been so prevalent in our society. By some estimates, as many as one in three American women has experienced at least one abortion…and the men who contributed to the unplanned pregnancies and often pressured or manipulated women into abortions. Impediments the church faces in addressing abortion include…
- The challenges we face in discussing a topic as emotionally-laden as abortion with the necessary grace and sensitivity.
- Church leadership is (for the most part) male-dominated.
- The fear of driving away many of the folks sitting in the pews each week.
- The risk of opening (or re-opening) some very deep wounds
We will all pay a price if we don’t face up to this issue. The longer we fail to defend the sanctity and dignity of human life, the greater the likelihood that all life will be devalued, including our own. We’ve already seen a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics that uses the arguments of abortion champions to advocate for “after-birth abortion.” Here’s a sample of the thinking in the paper…
Although it is reasonable to predict that living with a very severe condition is against the best interest of the newborn, it is hard to find definitive arguments to the effect that life with certain pathologies is not worth living, even when those pathologies would constitute acceptable reasons for abortion. It might be maintained that ‘even allowing for the more optimistic assessments of the potential of Down’s syndrome children, this potential cannot be said to be equal to that of a normal child’. But, in fact, people with Down’s syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.
Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.
In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.
The weakest and most vulnerable among us will pay the steepest price. Here’s a link to a fabulous talk on disability from the Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput. Archbishop Chaput cuts to the heart of the issue…
Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.
How shall we respond? I’ll leave that to Archbishop Chaput…
Pour your love for Jesus Christ into building and struggling for a culture of life. By your words and by your actions, be an apostle to your friends and colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life.
Changing the course of American culture seems like such a huge task; so far beyond the reach of this gathering today. But Saint Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer Him.
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