My article in today’s Headline Bistro.
If there is one potential social-scientific study that cries out to be performed, it is the measure of the Culture of Death’s activities in a nation as a function of Christian belief and practice. In formulating a hypothesis for such a study, it would seem the anecdotal evidence suggests that as faith and its related activities decreases, there is a proportional increase in the activities of the Culture of Death.
This shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Rejection of our fundamental identity and great dignity, which is inherent in Christian anthropology, leaves the human little more than a sentient animal on the taxonomic tree in any biology classroom.
By way of example, the Netherlands appears to be a bellwether. Religion overall has declined there throughout the twentieth century. While several studies give varying percentages, the most reliable indicate 61% of the population has no religious affiliation, with that number climbing to 69% for those under 35 years of age. In that period of decline, legalized prostitution, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia have been adopted and taken deep root. Far from a grab bag of licentious issues, these issues share an organic unity in purpose and function.
They are the foundations of an anti-Christian “civilization.”
As Saint Augustine teaches us, heterosexual, sacramental marriage is meant to be an earthly icon into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, where the radical and reciprocal self-donation between the Father and Son in Love generates the Holy Spirit of God. The completeness of this Love forms the oneness between the three persons in the Godhead. So it is supposed to be between spouses in God’s design. The two become “one flesh” both literally and metaphorically, whose radical self-donation produces new life, which is both a product of that love and the object of that love.
Artificial contraception represents a fundamental rejection of complete self-donation, and has taken millions one long step toward abortion when the contraception fails. Prostitution builds on the use of contraception and further distorts conjugal appetites and expression by making sex and the body of the prostitute a mere commodity, as opposed to the priceless treasures that they are.
Enter the perversion of science.
Having rejected God’s wise design for His creation, children have come to be regarded as a right of possession, rather than a blessing issuing forth from sacramental mutual submission. The mentality of rights demands further distortions of the created order through scientific machinations such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood. In the latter, a child may rightly claim up to five parents: sperm donor, egg donor, gestational mother, and adoptive parents.
Finally, having entirely redefined the parameters of marriage, family, conjugal expression and life’s beginning, the last area of radical autonomy is over life’s ending.
In the Netherlands, this began with the Dr. Jack Kevorkian model of physician-assisted suicide for patients in end-stage terminal illness, driven by fear of unimaginable pain and suffering. It rapidly degenerated into a system where the fear of suffering in those terminally ill, but not yet in end-stage, was sufficient to merit the consent of two physicians. Now, physicians routinely sign the death order, without the patient’s knowledge or consent, if the physicians believe the patient is “suffering.” This process now encompasses the mentally ill. Such cases of “involuntary euthanasia” number approximately 550 per year.
It’s cold-blooded murder, and it’s spreading across a European continent increasing marked by atheism, agnosticism and hedonism. On May 17, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that in Belgium, cases of euthanasia were up 40% in 2009 over the previous year, and in one region of the country 30% of cases were performed without the patient’s knowledge or consent.
It is noteworthy that Catholicism represents 75% of Belgian religious affiliation, and that Sunday Mass attendance has steadily declined from 42.9% in 1967, to 22% in 1985, to 11.2% in 1998, to 7% in 2006. After weekly Mass attendance dipped below 25%, the following were adopted in rapid succession: abortion, 1990; euthanasia, 2002; gay marriage, 2003.
Last week the Federal Court of Justice of Germany legalized euthanasia.
According to Gallup, here in the U.S., Catholic Mass attendance has steadily declined from 75% in 1955, to 55% in 1973, to tie with the Protestants at 45% in 2008. The narrow margins between pro-choice/pro-life voters, pro-gay marriage/traditional marriage are reflected in those attendance data.
There is reason for hope in all of this. We are without a doubt in a period of great disintegration. So was the world of Saints Peter and Paul, whose solemnity we celebrate today. Rather than curse the darkness around them, these men rejoiced in their sufferings, and saw the world about them as a harvest waiting for workers to bring in the sheaves. They looked upon the pagans as utterly bereft and boldly proclaimed their dignity and true worth. We must do the same.
Catholicism has become the fodder for comedians who ceaselessly riff on our faith as being nothing more than a compendium of rules to be obeyed mindlessly. Our most persuasive arguments will not be intellectual apologias of dogma and canon law, which seem parched and lifeless to the parched and lifeless. Rather, our evangelization must target people’s hearts, address the issues of isolation, meaninglessness and despair that drive people to contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and the rejection of sacramental marriage. We must appeal to the fruits of faith and not its rules. People buy the rules only when they desire the fruits that follow.
The letters of Peter and Paul and the Acts of the Apostles form the template that these two extraordinary men have laid down for us to follow. Their feast is a perfect day to rededicate ourselves to a new evangelization of a world desperately seeking meaning in all the wrong places.