SPidge Tales

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Party of Death

The early 5th century saw the beginning of what historian Edward Gibbon would call the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Why would this empire, the greatest the world had ever seen, at one time stretching 1000 miles, begin to show cracks? It had survived over a millenium, and had been an empire for four centuries. What was the problem?

Emperor Constantine had sanctioned Christianity a century earlier. Followers of the civic pagan gods increasingly blamed the demise on Christianization of Rome. After, it could hardly be a coincidence that the barbarians were at the gates soon after Rome had given up asking protection from the pagan gods. Right?

St. Augustine, hearing these fears and rumblings, decided to respond with his extended work that would come to be called De Civitas Dei (City of God). Augustine said, no, Christianity is not responsible for the fall of Rome. The civic pagan rites were flawed in their own right. And, even if Christianity was responsible for the impending fall of Rome, it would not matter. For, it is not Rome that we are to see as our salvation, but rather the Heavenly Kingdom promised by God.

There are two "cities", Augustine says: The City of God and the City of Man. The City of God includes all of the angels in Heaven, the souls of the virtuous people who have died and gone to Heaven, the faithful members of the Church who are still alive on earth, and, possibly, virtuous living humans who are not members of the Church. The City of Man includes the fallen angels, the souls of the wicked who have died, as well as wicked men and women still alive on earth. The City of God is not to be strictly identified with the Church, since there are baptized members of the Church who are not virtuous, and there maybe people who are not members of the church but are nonetheless virtuous. The City of Man is NOT to be seen as Rome, or any other particular human community, since there are citizens of Rome who are virtuous and are part of the City of God. We need to see Rome, and any other human society, Augustine says, for what it is: a city that we are citizens of, that we should work to make virtuous, but ultimately only a temporary home on our way to our heavenly reward. Work to make society better, while at the same time remembering our human existence on earth is not the be all and end all.

The late Pope John Paul II coined the phrases "culture of life" and "culture of death" to describe those in our society who respect and protect human life versus those who, for whatever reason, deem some humans as inconveniences who can be disposed of for some 'greater good.' To cut through the euphemisms, what the Pope meant was those who support or condone abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty (when other means of protecting society are available) are contributing to a 'culture of death' that treats human life as below things such as pleasure or subjective happiness. Recently, author Ramesh Ponnuru wrote the attention grabbing title, Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596980044/sr=8-1/qid=1156259289/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-8551716-7195300?ie=UTF8 ). The title is polemic, and it doesn't help that he has a blurb praising the book by Ann Coulter on the cover, but his writing and arguments are careful and reasoned. His two main theses points are:

(1) Roe V. Wade was a poorly handed doown case, Constitutionally and ethically. People do not really understand what is says. In effect, it leaves abortion legal for all 9 months, since it leaves it to the whim of the doctor to determine whether the fetus has a claim to life in the final two trimesters (what do you think an abortion doctor would say?). Further, our Constitution is silent on the issue of abortion, and implies nothing in any way or form about it, despite all this talk about "penumbras." Would it not be better to let the legislatures deal with such a divisive issue than have a Supreme Court rule down from on high, with the authority of a Constitution that says nothing in any way about the issue? The fact that the issue was taken out of the hands of the people, unlike in European countries where national consenses have formed giving some leeway to pro-life and pro-choice forces, leads to the divisiveness in our nation over the issue.

(2) The Democratic Party has largely become the abortion party, alienating its traditional bases of the working class, unions, Catholics, African-Americans, and others, by putting support for legal abortion as the number one objective of the party, the one issue among all issues that no Democratic with aspirations for high office can stray from orthodoxy. Also, just as Rome cannot be seen strictly as the City of Man, the Democrats cannot be seen strictly as the Party of Death, since there are a number of Republican pro-choicers, and there are Democratic pro-lifers, but the Democrats, sadly, have largely embraced the abortion cause.

Is Ponnuru right in painting the Democrats as the 'Party of Death'? Wilfred McClay, writing on the First Things blog on August 21 (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=418 ), does not "find much merit in the idea that there is a 'party of death' at work in American politics." He sees it as a wrong formulation, for "our biotechnological enthusiasts are nothing if not partisans of life, infinitely extensible." It is based on the idea that each of us should be able to have mastery over our lives, and "manufacture a world [we] can live in without let or hindrance." But, we are not in complete control. We live in communities, where we have responsibilities to one another. We are called to care for the helpless, to, as Mother Theresa said, give until it hurts. Let us close with some final thoughts from McClay's blog entry:

Life is unfreezable, and complete independence is a sterile fantasy, incosistent with our human nature. That nature speaks to us continuously of the organic interdepency of things, of a world churned and roiled by the endless process of aging and decay, and the miraculous generation of new life out of them--the ebb and flow of what the ancients called "generation and corruption." The recognition of these things, and the acceptance of our place in them, is precisely why we care for the infirm and the weak and the hopeless among us, rather than feed them to the sharks, particularly when they are flesh of our flesh, and we of theirs.


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