By Dave Andrusko
Last night I took my first pass at Christmas shopping. All our children are adults now, so the list of presents is considerably different. But I enjoy every second, even if much of it is online.
Paul Stark once wrote a brief but poignantly tender and observant story about “Three things Christmas tells us about human life and dignity,” including this paragraph. Christmas tells us
The weak and vulnerable matter just as much as the strong and independent. God himself chose to enter the world in the most vulnerable condition possible: as a tiny embryo, and then a fetus, and then a newborn baby lying in a manger. This turned ancient “might makes right” morality on its head. It suggests that human dignity is not determined by age, size, power or independence.
Talk about counter-cultural!
Speaking of contrasts, on May 14, 2004, then-president George W. Bush delivered a powerful commencement address to Concordia University graduates. (Concordia, located near Milwaukee, is the largest Lutheran university in America.)
These are my two favorite passages:
A person shows his or her character in kindness and charity, and what is true in our lives is also true in the life of our Nation. You can fairly judge the character of society by how it treats the weak, the vulnerable, the most easily forgotten. Our own country, at its best, strives to be compassionate, and this isn’t easy. Compassion is not merely a vague feeling of empathy; it is a demanding virtue. It involves action and effort and deep conviction, a conviction as old as Scripture and present at the founding of our country. We believe that everyone has a place and a purpose in this world, that every life matters, that no insignificant person was ever born. …
America needs your good heart in meeting a basic responsibility, to protect and honor life in all its seasons. A compassionate society shows a special concern for those at the beginning of life, those at the end of life, and those who struggle in life with disabilities. Most of you, at some point, will be called to care for a dying relative or a frail and aging parent or someone close to you with a terrible sickness. Often, in their pain and loneliness, they will feel they are nothing but a burden and worthless to the world, and you will need to show them that’s not true. Our worth as human beings does not depend on our health or productivity or independence or any other shifting value the world might apply. Our worth comes from bearing the image of our Maker. And the hardest times of your life may be the most important, when you bear witness to this truth by your sacrifice and loving kindness to another soul.
Collectively, what are Mr. Stark and President Bush reminding us of? Dozens of important truths, but in light of the Christmas season, here are three.
1.) The more powerful we are, the greater our obligations, particularly to those who are at our mercy. What a fundamental difference it makes whether you believe that your more powerful position obliges you to look after those in your care, or whether you have persuaded yourself this frees you to do what you want to because….you can.
We make a million excuses, chase down a trillion rabbit holes. But hiding behind self-delusionary, debasing rhetoric to pretend the unborn is not truly “one of us” doesn’t change that we are simply saying might makes right.
2.) The unborn, the child born with disabilities, the elderly woman who has clearly (but falsely) learned the lesson that she is a “burden” are “the most easily forgotten.” Are they invisible? No. We choose to look aside.
And if, morally speaking, our peripheral vision is blurry, or virtually non-existent, it is easy to forget they have claims on us that are independent of “health or productivity or independence or any other shifting value.” Each and every one of them is of infinite value simply because they are. For Christians, as Mr. Bush noted, “Our worth comes from bearing the image of our Maker.”
3.) Pro-lifers do not live in a world that is hermetically sealed off from pain and difficult times and immense challenges.
We understand that an unplanned or untimely pregnancy can present extraordinary challenges. Many-to-most of us also have or will experience caring for aging parents. Contrary to what our anti-life opponents insist, we are fully in touch with the “real world.”
But as President Bush said of “the hardest times of your life,” they “may be the most important, when you bear witness to this truth [that we are made in His image] by your sacrifice and loving kindness to another soul.”
Of course not only pro-lifers “bear witness,” by their sacrifice and loving kindness to others. That is in the genes of the American culture as evidenced by our generosity to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and churches and the legion of voluntary organizations that step up in crises small and large.
But for many people, that “gene” of self-sacrifice and loving kindness is not “expressed”–or turned on, to borrow from biology. For pro-lifers, it is who we are.
With that in mind, let me close with something I wrote many years ago which is more relevant today than it was then. I have substituted dismemberment abortions in the passage for partial-birth abortions.
While it is not my intention to idealize pro-lifers, it would be false modesty to ignore that they demonstrate a tremendous capacity to truly “see” what others either cannot, or choose not to, see. It is no accident that pro-lifers defend unborn babies. Love and concern for the downtrodden, the dispossessed, and the marginalized is what gives their lives a rich unity of purpose.
The great hope of the pro-life movement is that despite our nation’s descents into inhumanity and indifference, the self-image of Americans is deservedly of a good people, blessed in a unique way. And it is because Americans are fundamentally decent people that when the debate over dismemberment abortions is truly joined, it will be almost impossible to exaggerate the importance.
People needn’t be anywhere near where we are to be virtually sent reeling. Viewing a graphic of this abomination can turn opinions upside down.
A pseudo-serious support for “choice” in the abstract cannot coexist for very long with the concrete reality of this brutal assassination of helpless children. For many, many people, head knowledge will become heart knowledge and ambivalence will be transformed into empathy.
Our culture has chosen to willfully suppress what it always knew–that unborn children are children yet to be born, a classic example of what historian Russell Jacoby once called “social amnesia.” But the monstrous evil that is dismemberment abortion that has the potential to shear away the excuse people have used from the time immemorial to explain away their complicity in evil: “I didn’t know.”
And because eyes are being opened, ears unstopped, and hearts unshackled, what William McKenna once called our “unforced revulsion” at abortion is finding a wider audience. These telltale signs suggest we are cutting through the static of lies and distortions, establishing a clear channel to convey our message of love and hope for mother and unborn child.
We pray that one day soon, the ethos of discrimination and brutality toward the unborn will prove itself to have been an aberration, a loathsome interim ethic.
And that glorious day will come in large measure because you have proven yourselves to be the antidote to the poison of inhumanity, indifference, and injustice.