In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Family Values

One of the saddest things one sees these days--and regrettably, one of the most prevalent--is the disintegration of families. In western countries divorce is now rampant, to the point that stable, long-term marriages are a distinct minority of adult relationships. But even in "whole" families it is disturbingly common to see parents, children, and siblings (even as adults) deeply alienated from each other, always squabbling over things great and small, and doing their best to avoid meaningful contact. I know too many members of other families who live right around the corner from each other but haven't spoken in years, and some in which a sibling left home at the first opportunity and was never heard from again. In how many others do family members share little more than a mailing address, all caught up in personal pursuits and rarely, if ever, really communicating with each other or chatting around the dinner table?

God instituted the family for many reasons, not least of which is to provide us with guidance, support, and comfort in times of trial, or just to enrich our day-to-day lives here on earth and make us happy. Family is where we are meant to teach, learn and practice commitment, caring, self-sacrifice, patience, faith, and love--all of which are vital to reaching our full potential here on earth, and to attaining eternal life with the Lord and each other in Heaven. Indeed, we should strive to make our families a microcosm or preview of Heaven itself--especially since, if you believe as I do, that we'll still be together as family in that beautiful world! Our material circumstances in this life may be meager, but our lives can be richer than any king's if we share love one with another.

Certainly this is not an easy task, but how could we grow without challenge and perseverance? No two or more human beings can live together in a small space without friction and some conflict. We're weak and fallible beings, and are bound to say and do things, now and then, that may hurt or disappoint our loved ones. So, repentance, patience, and forgiveness become a way of life in strong families. For them, love means ALWAYS having to say you're sorry--and always saying, "That's OK--I forgive you." Faith and prayer are indispensable for all family members, and when shared hold them together like nothing else.

Scripture is such an important and inspiring guide in this work. The Bible is permeated with wisdom concerning families and their generations, and how family members should live together (see, for example, Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This wonderful passage condenses it into a nutshell (Colossians 3:18-21):
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
These lines immediately follow Paul's characterization of a true Christian (Colossians 3:12-17):
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
This is the formula not only for a strong faith community, but for making and keeping a strong family!

I was immeasurably blessed to have grown up in a loving, resilient family. Working together peacefully could be difficult, and we often had to ride out storms of conflict. But thanks to the teaching and good example set by our parents, we hung together and grew in love over the years. We learned what a strong family looks like and how to build and maintain one, and hopefully are modeling those things to our own children so they can have the same blessings. My siblings and I are scattered about the USA now, but we've never been "closer" to each other.

If your family is less than what it should be, start rebuilding it TODAY: recommit to your spouse, reconcile with your children and with your own parents and siblings--don't let ANY past wrong or hurt stand in your way. With a contrite heart ask their forgiveness, and forgive them freely and eagerly. Involve yourself actively in their daily lives. Make the tent as big as possible, and welcome grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins under it. Find humor and the joy of discovery in everything. It's never too late to start over, on the right road. For the road to Heaven is paved with family love.

NOTE: This post was adapted from another of mine on Faithful Feet, a collaboration of people from around the world dedicated to sharing the Good News and simple insights into a life of faith and joy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Infanticide: The New Abortion

"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
Matthew 2:16-18 (referring to the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod the Great ordered the slaying of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ)

A few days ago I read an article that made me literally sick to my stomach--and genuinely frightened for the future of mankind. In the early 21st century, Western "civilization" seems to be reaching levels of depravity not seen since the hideous Nazi regime of the 1930s and 40s. I didn't live in Germany back then, but I've read enough about it to understand something of the moral wasteland that produced such demented monsters as Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz--and that it's in the process of happening again today, on a global scale.

The very title of the article, published February 23 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, makes the blood run cold: After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live? The authors, medical "ethicists" Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne, Austrailia and Dr. Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne, take the position that in circumstances in which the abortion of a fetus would be legal, what is termed "after-birth abortion" should also be permissible, even where the newborn is perfectly healthy. In other words, whenever it's all right to kill a fetus, it should be all right to kill a newborn baby. Consider this chilling explanation in the authors' own words:
A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.

Such an issue arises, for example, when an abnormality has not been detected during pregnancy or occurs during delivery. Perinatal asphyxia, for instance, may cause severe brain damage and result in severe mental and/or physical impairments comparable with those for which a woman could request an abortion.

[. . .]

[While] people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy . . . [n]onetheless, 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.

Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. . . . If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.
The authors reason that the moral status of a newborn is equivalent to that of a fetus--on which abortions in the traditional sense are performed--rather than that of an older child, because neither a fetus or a newborn can be considered a "person" in any “morally relevant sense." This is why they believe the practice they advocate is better described as "after-birth abortion" than as "infanticide."

To Giubilini and Minerva, not all human beings--which apparently they acknowledge fetuses and newborns to be, at least in a genetic sense--can be considered "persons" entitled to rights. They explain as follows:
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.


Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.
To the authors of this paper, an individual's own ability to understand the value of a different situation--which depends on some level of consciousness and mental development on his or her part--determines personhood. They reject any argument that as “potential persons” fetuses and newborns have a right to reach that potential, stating that such a right is “over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because . . . merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.” The overriding interests of "real people" likewise should control the choice of adoption, the authors suggest, stating that if the mother were to “suffer psychological distress” from giving up her child to someone else, then "after-birth abortion" should be considered an acceptable alternative. Giubilini and Minerva therefore conclude that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Responding to widespread criticism and outrage over its publication of the article, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics stated that
[T]he novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favor of infanticide . . . but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands . . . The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible.
What the editor finds disturbing is "[n]ot that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement."

It seems that the authors of this paper, as well as the editor of the journal in which it was published, have unwittingly done the pro-life movement an inestimable service. This cold, dispassionate argument for the legalization of infanticide lays bare the sterile, inhumane reasoning that leads directly from a justification for the indiscriminate termination of prenatal life to the brazen murder of newborn babies--and perhaps to the utilitarian killing of older children or even adults who, for various reasons, are incapable of forming personal "aims" or of appreciating the difference between their current life situation and any other, including death. This is the alarm that pro-life advocates have been sounding for years, and they now have this paper to show as Exhibit A in support of their position. Moreover, the journal editor's indignation at the understandable outrage prompted by a naked argument for infanticide clearly shows how twisted are his and the authors' priorities, and how morally bankrupt are those who would frankly advance such an idea.

At the core of Giubilini and Minerva's argument for infanticide, as well as that for justifications of abortion "on demand," is a concept of the universe in which there is no God by whose creation, law, and love human life is endowed with value. For adherents to this view, being genetically "human" and having the "potential" for a full and independent existence cannot be accepted as the source of value entitling one to a right to life, as that might impinge on another's freedom to terminate a pregnancy. So, a higher level of humanity--"personhood"--must be posited as the crucial point at which one gains sufficient dignity to enjoy any right to continue living (does this not echo the "human/subhuman" dichotomy upon which Nazis and slave owners rested their theories of racial superiority?) Giubilini and Minerva define personhood in this sense as the "self-consciousness" that enables an individual to appreciate life (or to distinguish it from oblivion) and to formulate and pursue personal "aims" or goals. Any other source of value, they suggest, is merely an irrational and impermissible "projection" of others' subjective values onto that individual. This is an entirely "me-centric" measurement of humanity, as it is devoid of any thought that a higher (that is, Divinely-established) set of values, transcending the individual, society, or even mankind generally, might apply. If the individual-- the first level of "me"--is incapable of self-consciousness and self-actualization, the theory goes, it has no moral significance and may be casually destroyed at the whim of its parent or the community that would otherwise be responsible for it--the next and highest level of "me." Again, in this view, life has no value beyond its usefulness to itself or to the community. This is true for both fetuses and newborns, as neither has developed the level of consciousness and independent will that constitutes "personhood."

This paper makes crystal clear that abortion and infanticide are barely-separated steps along one continuum of soul-less, anti-human utilitarianism. And its views actually threaten millions of lives today--indeed, in the Netherlands and Belgium, the killing of terminally ill and disabled newborns, as well as euthanasia generally (the next step along the continuum) are already practiced. If the views of Giubilini and Minerva gain traction in the American medical ethics community, such horrors could well become the norm here, and soon.

The moral shortcomings and terrible implications of this paper are almost beyond counting, but here a few of the most important:

First, the authors do not address the question of the age at which an infant should be considered a "person," nor do they suggest any way to reliably determine when a particular newborn has reached this magic moment. Are we to trust the subjective judgment of those who feel "burdened" by the child, or of those who work for them, and have a vested interest in being rid of it?

Second, not only disabled or terminally ill newborns, but also perfectly healthy babies who haven't yet developed to the point of "personhood," would come within the class of those who can be killed with impunity. In fact, the authors' definition of "personhood" would render expendable anyone, young or old, who never developed or has lost meaningful self-awareness and self-direction, including many of profoundly retarded and Down's Syndrome children, the severely brain-damaged, late-stage Alzheimer's sufferers, and persistently comatose patients. To Giubilini and Minerva they are not people and have no value or right to live, and should therefore be disposed of so as not to burden others.

Third, and especially in connection with the point just discussed above, one commentator asks:
[I]f babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life,” then why is it only their parents who are entitled to kill them? Shouldn't they be fair game for anyone? In particular, as the authors note, the state has a legitimate interest in the cost of dealing with disabilities. So does the state have a right to mandate an “after-birth abortion?” If not, why not?
If the state can promote or compel infanticide and homicide of the insensate, directly or indirectly through incentives or regulation, the practice can be used for population control, eugenics, scientific experimentation, or to ration and manage the expenses of health care and public welfare, among other government purposes--just as in Nazi Germany a few decades ago; just as in communist China today. Is this the kind of society that any feeling human being would want to live in?

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sums up the matter eloquently:
This article in the Journal of Medical Ethics is a clear signal of just how much ground has been lost to the Culture of Death. A culture that grows accustomed to death in the womb will soon contemplate killing in the nursery. The very fact that this article was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal is an indication of the peril we face.

The only sane response to this argument is the affirmation of the objective moral status of the human being at every point of development, from fertilization until natural death. Anything less than the affirmation of full humanity puts every single human being at risk of being designated as not “a person in the morally relevant sense.”
Let us pray that "after-birth abortion" never gains acceptance and becomes another, larger-scale Massacre of the Innocents.