Archbishop Chaput recently gave a talk addressing the right of pro life advocates to advance our beliefs in the public square. There is a lot of meat to gnaw on in the talk which is posted on the Public Discourse site. H/T First Thoughts (apparently there was some misreporting of the good bishops response to questions concerning pro abortion politicians and reception of Communion).
Archbishop talks about the dangers in making science into a religion whose goal is to end human suffering. I often opine that the only sin that many progressives believe in is suffering. Chaput points out the dangers in this ideology.
In Europe and the United States, our knowledge classes like to tell us that we live in an age of declining religious belief. But that isn’t quite true. A culture that rejects God always invents another, lesser godling to take His place. As a result, in the words of the great Jewish bioethicist Leon Kass, we live in an age of “salvific science.” In the place of the God who became man, “we have man become as god.” And in place “of a God who—it is said—sent his son who would, through his own suffering, take away the sins of the world, we have a scientific savior who would take away the sin of suffering altogether.”
The irony is this: the search for human perfection implied in modern science—or at least, the kind of science accountable to no moral authority outside of itself—leads all too easily to a hatred of imperfection in the real human persons who embody it with their disabilities. The simplest way to deal with imperfections is to eliminate the imperfect. In our daily lives, Kass warns, “the eugenic mentality is taking root, and we are subtly learning with the help of science to believe that there really are certain lives unworthy of being born. . . . [T]he most pernicious result of our technological progress . . . [is] the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of the idea of man as noble, dignified, precious or godlike, and its replacement with a view of man [as] mere raw material for manipulation and homogenization.”
Dr. Kass made those remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, itself a monument to the murderous and genuinely satanic misuse of science and politics in the last century. But he wasn’t speaking about genocide in the past, in some faraway, alien dictatorship. He was talking about the temptations we face today in our own democratic societies, the temptations to create “a more perfect human”—and, in the process, to pervert science and attack our own humanity.
He concludes thus:
This brings us back to politics and the devil, and also, to the very important question: How does one live as a Catholic in the world as it now is?
The great French scholar Jacques Maritain once wrote that “the devil hangs like a vampire on the side of history. History moves forward nonetheless, and [it] moves forward with the vampire.” The devil is condemned to work within time. He works in the present to capture our hearts and steal our future. But he also attacks our memory, the narrative of our own identity. And he does it for a very good reason. The way we remember history conditions how we think and choose today, in our daily lives. That’s why one of the first things we need to do, if we want to “live as Catholics,” is to remember what being “Catholic” really means—and we need to learn that lesson in our identity not from the world; not from the tepid and self-satisfied; and not from the enemies of the Church, even when they claim to be Catholic; but from the mind and memory of the Church herself, who speaks through her pastors.
Jacques Maritain and Leszek Kolakowski came from very different backgrounds. Maritain was deeply Catholic. Kolakowski was in no sense an orthodox religious thinker. But they would have agreed that good and evil, God and the devil, are very real—and that history is the stage where that struggle is played out, both in our personal choices and in our public actions; where human souls choose their sides and create their futures. In Kolakowski’s own words, “we are not passive observers or victims of this contest, but participants as well, and therefore our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.”
Politics is the exercise of power; and power—as Jesus himself saw when Satan tempted him in the desert—can very easily pervert itself by doing evil in the name of pursuing good ends. But this fact is never an excuse for cowardice or paralysis. Christ never absolved us from defending the weak, or resisting evil in the world, or from solidarity with people who suffer. Our fidelity as Christians is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of God’s creation. That means we’re involved—intimately—in the life of the world, and that we need to act on what we believe: always with humility, always with charity, and always with prudence—but also always with courage. We need to fight for what we believe. As Kolakowski wrote, “Our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.”
I have two final thoughts. First, nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter how small, is ever unfruitful or forgotten. Our actions touch other lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in this world.
Don’t ever underestimate the beauty and power of the witness you give in your pro-life work. One thing we learn from Scripture is that God doesn’t have much use for the vain or the prideful. But He loves the anawim—the ordinary, simple, everyday people who keep God’s Word, who stay faithful to his commandments, and who sustain the life of the world by leavening it with their own goodness. That’s the work we are called to do. Don’t ever forget it. If you speak up for the unborn child in this life, someone will speak up for you in the next, when we meet God face to face.
Second, a friend once shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fella that’s in the right, and keeps a-comin.” The message is true. Virtue does matter. Courage and humility, justice and perseverance, do have power. Good does win, and the sanctity of human life will endure. It will endure because if “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), then the odds look pretty good, and it’s worth fighting for what is right.
Get thou there to read the whole transcript.