Opposing the Mad Men of the Culture of Death

Our elites consistently exemplify how terribly misguided moral intelligence becomes when ignorant of or defiant of the laws of God

Flying back from London to New York recently, I was reduced to reading the Sunday magazine of the Financial Times, after I found that I had packed away the books I had bought for the flight in my luggage. I share this with my gentle readers because the experience opened my eyes to how aggressively the magazine promotes the culture of death.

In a piece on Marin Alsop, for example, the conductor of the Baltimore Symphony was asked what she thought of assisted suicide and she replied, “I believe in giving people the capacity to make ultimate decisions for themselves.” This seemed an odd question to pose in a celebrity interview, even a high-brow celebrity interview. And yet when I went online to verify the conductor’s response, I discovered that the Sunday magazine asks this question of all its celebrities, routinely, week after week. And every one of them replies in the affirmative. Jeffrey Archer, Felicity Kendal, Jamie Morrison, Joanne Harris, Amanda Wakeley and scores of others all sing the same macabre tune: they not only believe in assisted suicide, they champion it, they celebrate it. Ben Fogle speaks for all of them when he says, with a kind of sublime fatuity, “The ultimate human freedom is making your own choices.”

The magazine then asks its interviewees if they believe in an afterlife, and none of them responds in the affirmative. A few wish to imagine their own lives ‘spiritual’ in some unspecified, consoling, self-congratulatory way; but none of them is willing to go so far as to say that there is life after death. Indeed, Alsop gives the most eloquent response to the question of whether she believes in the afterlife when she replies, “Not really.” Here is the wisdom of the age hammered home week after week in one of the establishment’s most highly respected papers.

How should pro-lifers respond to such incessant agitprop? First, we must recognize that, when it comes to questions of elemental ethics, which go to the heart of contraception, abortion, and euthanasia, our elites exemplify how terribly misguided moral intelligence becomes when ignorant of or defiant of the laws of God. To oppose the culture of death, to oppose the sophisticated opinion-makers who have made contraception, abortion and euthanasia pillars of the new world order, we need a countervailing intelligence, one animated by God’s humanizing love, or we shall find ourselves in the same prison of “ultimate human freedom” of which Ben Fogle is so fond.

And to develop this intelligence, we must stop putting our belief in God to one side and imagining that we can reaffirm and defend the sacredness of life by simply invoking human rights or natural law. We must stop being silent on the direct bearing that our dogmatic belief in God has on our understanding of the inviolability of life. And we must stop worrying whether affirming that belief publicly will offend those who believe that killing children in the womb is somehow a requirement of advanced civilization.

Evelyn Waugh, who never passed up an opportunity to mock the progressive new world order, is a good case in point. Waugh, of course, was exceedingly civilized, but he was also a connoisseur of jungles. And he knew that the sworn enemies of primitive man are not always the bright bulbs they fancy themselves. On the contrary, when it comes to matters of life and death, they can be extraordinarily dim. In Black Mischief (1932), for example, Waugh has his European-educated Emperor of his small Ethiopian country commission “a large, highly coloured poster well-calculated to convey to the illiterate the benefits of birth control.” Copies are put up everywhere and “wherever the poster was hung there assembled a cluster of inquisitive, entranced Azanians.” Then, Waugh nicely describes the wonderfully tendentious advertisement.

 It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side, a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity—crippled, deformed, blind, spotted, and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child-bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?

 After relating the intense interest the poster inspired, Waugh observes how “Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.” The Azanians recoil from the scene of the husband and wife with only one child and revel in the other depiction of the poor man with the eleven children, including the mad one, whom they regard as “very holy.” The moral they take away from the poster entirely confounds the Emperor’s ad men: “And as a result, despite the admonitions from squire and vicar, the peasantry began pouring into town… eagerly awaiting the fine new magic of virility and fecundity.”

Here, the citizens of Azania echo the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who had no hesitation in seeing that “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish” Unfortunately, not all of the readers of the Sunday magazine of the Financial Times possess any comparable discernment. But Waugh shows how primitive men, for all of their lack of technical advancement, can often see what parvenus miss, and that is that human life itself is the greatest wealth.

Certainly, as a Catholic convert, Waugh would have seen this in his Church’s stalwart rejection of contraception throughout the 1920’s and 30s when Marie Stopes was agitating for birth control, with the connivance of nearly all of the English Establishment. But he would also have seen it in the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin, whom he praised for what he referred to as his “stupendous mastery of language.” In “The Veins of Wealth” (1862), Ruskin recalled encountering servants in a rich man’s kitchen who appeared “ill-dressed,” “squalid,” and “half-starved” and he concluded that the riches of any man who tolerated such a level of want in his own household must be of a “very theoretical” character indeed. But then he went on to make a much more fundamental point about the true nature of wealth, a point which the disciples of the culture of death must always find embarrassing, especially those who put the dictates of feminist ideology before the life of children.

 Since the essence of wealth consists in power over men, will it not follow that the nobler and the more in number the persons are over whom it has power, the greater the wealth? Perhaps it may even appear, after some consideration, that the persons themselves are the wealth— that these pieces of gold with which we are in the habit of guiding them, are, in fact, nothing more than a kind of Byzantine harness or trappings, very glittering and beautiful in barbaric sight, wherewith we bridle the creatures; but that if these same living creatures could be guided without the fretting and jingling of the Byzants in their mouths and ears, they might themselves be more valuable than their bridles. In fact, it may be discovered that the true veins of wealth are purple—and not in Rock, but in Flesh—perhaps even that the final outcome and consummation of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human creatures. Our modern wealth, I think, has rather a tendency the other way…

What those who promote the culture of death think when they read that is anyone’s guess, but surely, they cannot claim to have done much themselves to prosper the veins of wealth. On the contrary, they are guiltier than anyone of depleting that wealth, so much so that we now face a genuine demographic crisis, though our papers continue to groan under the grossest pro-death advertising.

Confronted with this growing assault against the very lifeblood of our civilization, Catholics must refute the proponents of death by showing them how nothing exposes the poverty of their new world order better than God’s abounding and gratuitous love, a love which extends even to those who would betray that love. Obviously, this is not a reality that will immediately sway the editors of the Financial Times; it may take a while before those obdurate souls come round to appreciating how preferable the culture of life is to the culture of death. But that is no good reason for Catholics to put off affirming the truth of God’s love, without which the culture of life would be impossible.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Edward Short 34 Articles
Edward Short is the author of Newman and his Contemporaries, Newman and his Family, and Newman and History, as well as Adventure in the Book Pages: Essays and Reviews. Recently, he chose and introduced the poetry for The Saint Mary’s Book of Christian Verse (Gracewing, 2022), as well as an Introduction. His latest book, What the Bells Sang, which includes essays on poets, moralists, novelists and historians, will be published by Gracewing this spring. He lives in New York with his wife and two young children.