“I came that they may have life .,..” [Jn 10:10]
When Saint John-Paul II coined the phrase “culture of death”[i] he was talking about how enculturated and embedded attacks against human life have become in our human societies. He was especially calling attention to the increasingly widespread acceptance of, and even support for the deliberate and pre-meditated ending of human lives – through euthanasia, assisted suicide, induced abortions, and the lethal omission of ordinary medical care.
Death-dealing is not new …. let’s face it, such practices have been part of human societies and communities since the earliest days of human history. For example, virtually every culture in antiquity killed unwanted children using means such as abortion, exposure and/or abandonment, or direct post-birth infanticide. An interesting insight from the study of anthropology is that the prevalence of these practices within a culture invariably wanes as that culture becomes more ‘civilized’, and then waxes again as their civilisation decays.
We have seen that within the history of our own Judeo-Christian inspired Western civilisation. Now, our modern civilisation (so-called!), despite our ready access to thoughtful anthropological studies, seems incapable of learning from human history. We behave as if we cannot escape this terrible waning and waxing process.
“Just as a loss of memory in an individual is a psychiatric defect calling for medical treatment, so too any community which has no social memory is suffering from an illness.”John Briggs [ii]
It seems we human creatures are indeed ill and incapable of learning from history. In our ignoring past lessons we are prone to making the same mistakes over and over – and make them in spades!
Progressive pride in legalised killing
Advocates for the legalised taking of human life – particularly through induced abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide – generally proclaim such pro-active killing as ‘progressive’. Progressive? The only progress involved is the accelerating decay and ultimate demise of our civilisation!
The predominant mindset today seems to see procured abortion, euthanasia and/or assisted suicide, as somehow the only rational solution to age-old ‘problems’. There is even a kind of pride exhibited in the advanced medico-technological means by which we efficiently ‘achieve’ this legalised killing. The result however is the same as the most barbaric of methods – the deliberate destruction of human life.
On the other hand, people who promote and defend the sanctity of human life (and I readily include myself in this group) are seen as irrational, unrealistic, and out of step with what society ‘needs’. We are even labelled as cruel and heartless for purportedly ‘forcing’ suffering on people because we say the deliberate ending of human life is and always will be wrong.
The reality is that human life has always been sacred because its architect and source is God. He endows each one of us with a unique immortal soul at the very moment of our conception – the cause of our humanness! What God gives, we creatures have no right to reject or to deliberately end.
Alongside this truth is the awful consequence of being sons and daughters of Adam and Eve:
“Like a moth drawn to a candle flame, man deals in death. He always has. He always will. For that is his nature in this poor fallen world.”[iii]Third Time Round, George Grant
What can we do as civilisation decays before us?
What are we to do in the face of our human weaknesses, and the advanced state of decay of our civilisation? Turn to the Word of Life …. hold fast to Truth; cling to it! Speak truth resolutely, offer hope and practical support. Trusting always in Our Lord, we confidently pray, pray, pray.
As Pope (now Saint) John-Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae (on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life)[iv], let us pause:
“…… to contemplate the One who was pierced and who draws all people to himself (cf. Jn 19:37; 12:32). Looking at “the spectacle” of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:48) we shall discover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation of the whole Gospel of life.”Saint John Paul II
It is Christ’s death for all of humanity on the Cross that makes possible everlasting life for us. This great paradox gives us both the hope and the reason to keep on keeping on.
So onward, through the Cross to the Light – our mission is not yet complete.
[i] See paragraph 12, Evangelium Vitae
[ii] English author and lecturer John H.Y. Briggs – Quoted in Tim Dowley, ed., Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 2.
[iii] p10 of ‘Third Time Around – A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present”
by George Grant, Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Brentwood, Tennessee 1991.
[NOTE: This book is available as a free downloadable PDF here:
[iv] See paragraph 50, Evangelium Vitae (via link in Endnote 1)