Battling the Death Ethic
Abortion is just one manifestation of a culture of death that denies God and His laws
The U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, in which the "right" for a woman to abort a pregnancy -- and thus terminate the life of her unborn child -- was discovered on the basis of some supposed constitutional provision guaranteeing privacy, understandably caused great astonishment to conservative observers when it was foisted on our nation in 1973. Where in the U.S. Constitution, they asked, was such a right either explicitly or implicitly set forth? It appears nowhere, of course, and the decision by the Supreme Court justices is merely an example of the spreading influence of a philosophical school of thought known as "utilitarianism."
Traditionally, law in America has been rooted in Christian moral teaching. English common law, which was adopted virtually in toto by the newly formed United States, was at its most fundamental level derived from a combination of Church Canons and a Christianized blending or Roman and tribal law.
Therefore, when advocates of unrestricted abortion "rights" say that abortion opponents wish to force their own religious and moral views on everyone, they miss a most salient point: Nearly all prohibitions in law in Western nations come from scriptural and Christian teachings. We do not murder, we do not steal, we do not lie, and we do not do other things that harm the innocent, rend the social fabric, and disturb the peace and good order of the community because, ultimately, we believe that God forbids such behavior. Moral law, as set forth in Holy Scripture and Christian tradition, underpins the entire body of secular law in the U.S., and, accordingly, one cannot separate law from its religious and moral base. When witnesses appear in court in this country, it has been the custom to call on God to bear witness that their testimony is "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." To fail to tell the truth in such circumstances is to bring down divine judgment on one's head for lying in God's name. Until quite recently, in fact, court testimony was generally trustworthy because most people took biblical injunctions very seriously. We see then, that without Christian and biblical foundations, the very idea of a free people governed by law becomes a nightmare of capriciousness and rising chaos, followed by dictatorship.
Our forefathers understood this very well and would have been as appalled at the notion that it is possible to sever the law from its moral taproot as they would have blushed in shame at the thought that their beloved Constitution was to be used by unprincipled liberals to warrant the killing of children. For example, distinguished lexicographer Noah Webster wrote: "The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitution and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from, vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible." Likewise, George Washington said, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." In his famed Farewell Address, Washington asserted: "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.... Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles."
That Christianity is the foundation on which rests the great edifice of American law was acknowledged even by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1892, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the High Court examined the constitutions of all the states of the union, the writings of the Founders of this country, and what they called a great "mass of organic utterances," and declared, "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.... This is a religious people ... this is a Christian nation." Only with the ascent of liberals in our society were these clear waters of truth muddied by the legal and moral chicanery of utilitarianism. Let us examine this idea for a moment and consider its implications for our country.
In contrast to a body of laws founded on Christian moral absolutes [a/k/a principles], the utilitarian system holds that law and the interpretation of law should be built on the shifting sands of what they call "utility" or "usefulness." Actions, advocates of this system contend, should be judged by their consequences, not by whether they are moral or immoral in themselves. We reduced this philosophy to its epitome when we say that utilitarians firmly hold that the end justifies the means. If there is some imagined social utility in aborting millions of innocent babies, so be it -- let them die. If maintaining the elderly becomes too costly and inconvenient for society, and to save that cost makes society more prosperous and thus "happier," then euthanasia -- voluntary or involuntary -- is the obvious and ultimate answer. "The greatest happiness for the greatest number" is the well-known slogan of the utilitarian movement, and must be palpable to all, such an outlook amounts to a kind of "moral democracy" in which right and wrong are weighed quantitatively.
Thoughtful men and women know that this kind of thinking is merely a form of sophistry, for everything is dependent on how one defines "the greatest happiness" and determines "the greatest number." Happiness, in the Christian sense, is synonymous with blessedness, a quality derived from blameless behavior as defined by moral law. True happiness may be found only within the confines of Christian moral teaching and virtue. Other varieties of "happiness," especially those predicated on materialism, are nothing but rank delusion.
Before the Christian era, the ancient Greek philosophers spoke of the "ultimate good" as a state of "happiness," and thus utilitarians are sometimes disposed to claim some connection between their position and that of the ancients. But the fact is that ancient philosophers referred to inward happiness, to a condition of the psyche which flows from the contentment that would be sought by wholly rational, perfect men. The ancient Greeks always tended to look to an unattainable ideal that would point the way for a less-than-ideal mankind. Their concept, though not so elevated as later Christian thought, was nevertheless not carnal or materialistic. On the contrary, it had a certain spiritual dimension.
In opposition to the modes of thought advanced by classical and Christian luminaries, "happiness" in the modern utilitarian sense refers to brazen hedonism, that is, to egoistic and materialistic gratification. According to that theory, men are empowered, for the sake of the "greatest happiness," to ignore moral law and to disregard those obligations that spring forth from family, friendship, and citizenship, and most importantly, that come from God. So we see that the definition of "happiness" in the case of the utilitarians is irredeemably flawed.
Flawed too is their idea of "the greatest number," about which they make a completely subjective judgment since they usually have no way of measuring what will bring happiness to their hypothetical multitude. Invariably, they mistake their own proclivities for the wishes of some fanciful "majority." Stalin claimed to believe that he was bringing a paradise of happiness on earth to a majority of his countrymen and therefore rationalized the murder of tens of millions of innocents whom he characterized as "wreckers" and "enemies of the people." Yet Stalin's paradise never arrived and the agony of the overwhelming majority of the Russian people only multiplied and intensified to gargantuan proportions. Mao's communist "experiment" in Red China produced identically savage results. Consistently, utilitarians think either in terms of the present and of the immediate future, or else of some murky future that remains ever beyond the steadily retreating horizon.
The histories of the Soviet Union and Red China are typical of the experiences of all nations controlled by men bewitched by humanist ideologies, since in such circumstances the sovereignty of God is always disavowed, and His laws -- and the sacredness of human life -- repudiated. The all-powerful state steps in to assume a role rightfully belonging to God alone. Presently, the power over life and death comes to be exercised by government in a wholly vagarious manner. Today one group of individuals is stripped of its dignity as human beings or wiped out, tomorrow another, and the next day yet another. The killing never stops.
At the height of the Age of Kings, no ruler dared assume such absolute power over his subjects. Philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel writes: "The consecrated king ... was a power as tied down and as little arbitrary as we can conceive. He was simultaneously constrained by standing human law, i.e. custom, and by Divine Law, and could hardly trust his own reading of his duty about anything. The court of peers was there to compel his respect for custom, and the Church took care that he continued as the assiduous viceregent of the heavenly king, whose instructions in their every point he must obey." Jouvenel recounts that Henry I of England, after his coronation, was admonished that "you are the servant of the servants of God and not their master; you are the protectore and not the owner of your people."
Yet, a supreme authority that no Louis of France, Henry of England, or Ivan of Russia ever imagined in his wildest dreams, the liberals, supported by their utilitarian philosophy, take as a matter of course. As a matter of course they dismiss God and His authority over mankind; as a matter of course they disparage the sanctity of innocent human life, regarding people as merely subjects for use in their experiments in social engineering. These things they do in the face of the plain and undeniable truth that without the sovereignty of God, and the concept of human life as a gift from God, there can be no defense against totalarianism or against any exercise of arbitrary power by government.
So we see that a so-called moral system based on utilitarianism is not really a moral system at all, but merely a labyrinthine justification for immorality. It beguiles the present with a siren-song of specious alibis
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Fr. James Thornton