Last month, I awoke to the news that my home country had fallen into a state of emergency. To cut to the chase of this political drama, due to a complicated bureaucratic process, a coalition of left-wing minority parties overthrew the right-wing relative majority party that had won the recent Portuguese elections. Holding the absolute majority in the Assembly of the Republic, the socialist-communist coalition is now in power.
Among other things, the coalition demanded free and unfettered access to abortion on demand. Since the middle of November, some changes have already been introduced. Abortion is once again free of charge; women looking for abortions are no longer obliged to attend medical consultations beforehand and physicians morally opposed to abortion are not allowed to participate in those consultations.
At about the same time in America, news broke that the Supreme Court would be taking the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Under an executive mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the congregation of women religious is required to provide insurance to its employees that covers “CASC” services (i.e., contraception, abortion, sterilization, and counseling).
How did Europe and America arrive at the point where abortion is both legal and funded by taxes?
When one considers the advancement of the culture of death, a harrowing realization immediately strikes the mind. This is not a recent struggle. It long predates May 1968 in Europe and Roe v. Wade in America. Centuries ago, a desert people dwelling in today’s Middle East sought to respond to the moral aggression of their time, asserting in their first Christian catechism that “you shall not murder a fetus by abortion nor kill that which is born” (Didache II, 2).
But the history of our common cultural decay is etched on the human heart, as well.
For our Christian ancestors as for us, abortion is just one consequence of an illness latent deep in the heart of hopeless men. It is a sickness that plagues those without any vision of eternity, who live hedonistically for the moment. The hopeless subconsciously fear losing their white-knuckled grasp on the fleeting present moment. Thus, they fix their gaze on the physical, considering the splitting of the atom much more important than the splitting of the human spirit. They purchase their abortions with money bearing an ersatz spiritual message: In God We Trust.
To understand more deeply the moral crisis of our age, we can turn to the example of St. Thomas More, executed for his defense of the truth.
In his book Utopia, he presents the example of a perfect island community. Unlike today’s hopeless individual, the Utopians lack fear, but possess solace and satisfaction for everyday needs. Lacking fear, the Utopians boast with pride in themselves. They esteem anyone who keeps doing his share of work in society. Those who are “sick without hope of recovery” “become a burden to themselves and all about them.” Life is for the profitable and productive.
Whereas the perfect island never crumbles in More’s book, the real created order we inhabit was disrupted precisely by the pride at the origin of sin. Therefore for us, pride is conceived as the reason the devil rejected God and as the cause of Eve’s fall into temptation. But, the Utopians proclaim themselves “lords of pride.”
Unlike St. Thomas More’s Utopia, our society begins to crumble on this precipice of pride as it blends with fear. The avaricious grasp of the “perfect plan” leads, in the end, to our defeat. It clouds our vision of eternity and misdirects our orientation away from God. When we no longer see Him, we also stop seeing everything and everyone else as His beloved creatures.
Yet even the smallest cluster of cells, as some euphemistically call a fetus, is loved by God. A fertilized egg has the potential to become the most important human. Jesus was like that once; indeed, we all were. We were not cysts or cancerous growths. They can never become people. A cancerous lump or tumor will never love the ones who carry them.
The early Christians who composed the Didache knew this very well. And, St. Thomas More knew and predicted the dystopia we inhabit today. He forecast a world where everyone would be (coerced into) paying for someone else’s evil. That is the case with the Little Sisters of the Poor. If the Portuguese leftists succeed, it will be the case with my entire country. It was the case for St. Thomas More, who 480 years ago paid for the lies of Henry VIII with his life.
Although our time is far removed from that of “the man for all seasons,” we can hardly claim moral superiority. After all, we did not advance much in taking care of our own over the last several centuries, for the flag of selfishness still waves over this so-called civilized world. In fact, we see regression in the regimes of the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, Mao, and others responsible for the murder of so many.
One can say our world situation is different. In a sense it is: victims of abortion cannot run, they cannot yell or cry for help. But a fifth of the world’s population was slayed in the last 20 years. Our abortion rate today far outpaces that of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.
Are we somehow addicted to our egoism? In a way we are since we allowed the world to muffle the voice of God and we permitted ourselves to become senseless to moral evil through our habituation to the most violent and destructive images.
How can we escape this? By taking the same path that others have taken before: Christ’s path. In the words of a hymn from the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours: “I tied my arms with your law, O Lord, and never my arms reached so high! I blinded my eyes with your light, O Lord, and never my eyes have seen so far!” Only this way we can live fearlessly about what tomorrow can bring and give proper respect to what God gives us.