In Evangelium Vitae (EV 28), Blessed John Paul II said, “we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’” The culture of death is at work in liberal democracy, although its appearance is less harsh and less easy to notice than it was under communist or fascist regimes.
The politicians mask their commitment to death behind sophisticated phrases. But the culture of death leers at us daily: pornography and the degradation of sexuality, substance abuse, violence, broken families, children abused and abducted, and the growth of the abortion industry as it gobbles up lives, money, and the very future of our country.
Our economic system profits on the degradation of human beings and consumerism lulls us into an indifference to others; our judicial system extends the reach of degradation through the rhetoric of individual rights; our political system celebrates its utilitarian value; our educational system falls under the dictatorship of relativism so that no word can be uttered in protest; and the system of mass media rationalizes and even celebrates the activities which crush and mar the dignity of life. It is nothing less than a “conspiracy against life” (EV, 12). We must be neither silent nor idle; we must challenge the euphemisms masking the culture of death.
First, there is the mask of RELATIVISM. After having lived through and witnessed totalitarian oppression and the fall of the Soviet Union, Blessed Pope John Paul II strongly affirmed the value of political democracy. Democracy “ensures the participation of citizens,” holds the politicians accountable, and formalizes peaceful means of transition (Centisimus Annus, 46). Precisely because human freedom and dignity are protected through the democratic form of government, it is a fatal mistake to defend democracy on spurious grounds – “Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life” (46).
In writing Evangelium Vitae, John Paul called this attempt to use relativism a “sinister” approach that justifies the killing of the weak. Behind these attacks on life and the changing of a crime into a right, lies a cultural crisis “which generates skepticism in relation to the very foundation of knowledge and ethics, and which makes it increasingly difficult to grasp clearly the meaning of what man is, and the meaning of his rights and duties” (11).
And so the Supreme Court of the United States overturned laws restricting abortion on the grounds that that no one knows when human life begins. And the torrent of laws followed this landmark decision sweeping away any and all protection for the vulnerable little ones in the womb. The lawmakers hid behind the mask of relativism and the journalists would batter down and ridicule the voices of truth.
Blessed John Paul II appealed to the founding truths to admonish Lindy Boggs: “The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. . . . Whenever a certain category of people-the unborn or the sick and old-are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice.” Let us fight the purveyors of relativism as they subvert the very foundation of our constitution.
We must unmask them and show that relativism often hides a prior choice for self against others. The agent will shut out “the most obvious evidence for objective and universal truth” so that subjective and changeable opinion, or “selfish interest and whim” are the only point of reference for the concrete decision (EV, 19). The appeal to relativism masks an ugly selfishness bent upon murder.
A second mask covering the culture of death is REALISM. John Paul said that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 was “a warning to those who, in the name of political realism, wish to banish law and morality from the political arena.” Machiavelli taught that the prince must know how to do evil and allow the end to justify the means, however evil it may be. The appeal of political realism emerges whenever there is a sense of emergency or necessity.
It is argued that virtue and character are too weak or too scarce to count for anything regarding social policy. Great social benefits or utility requires the suspension of moral norms, the Machiavellians say. For example, the problem of teen pregnancy is considered a technical issue requiring nothing more than the right birth control methods. The challenge to live chastely is dismissed out of hand as impossible or ineffective. Termination of pregnancy through abortion is said to be a necessary policy for achieving personal progress or the overcoming of poverty and even crime! The response of conscience to the lack of love and the use of another human being is stifled.
Pope John Paul II warns that modern man is “threatened by an eclipse of conscience.” And in the address to Lindy Boggs he said, “there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability.” Political realism is but another such mask contributing to the culture of death and we must never cease to bring moral standards to the public square.
A third mask of the culture of death is MAJORITARIANISM. There is a danger when a society seeks to impose the will of the majority without reference to truth or an objective moral order: “’Right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism.”
In fact the state is “transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part.” Although the democratic system claims to follow the process for fairness, it is a “tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations” (EV, 20).
The support for abortion that appeals to a “mainstream” opinion or the force of the majority is nothing less than the velvet glove of a tyrant state.
We must stand firm in our commitment to protecting and promoting the good of human life and not back down in the face of the onslaught of the partisan attacks on the sanctity of life and media promotion of abortion.
We must tear away the masks hiding the culture of death.
We need public leaders who will not conspire with the zeitgeist of moral relativism.
We need leaders who consider themselves bound by and challenged by a moral purpose and not ready to compromise under the guise of realism.
We need public leaders who affirm our founding truth concerning the right to life and have the courage to shape majority opinion, not be cowed by it.