You are perhaps used to seeing Ellen Wilson Fielding’s essays bringing up the rear of featured articles; indeed, I am used to placing them there to assure a strong close. But this time our senior editor takes the lead, and what a brilliant one “Descending from Paganism” provides. Here is a writer at the top of her game, grappling with sometimes uncomfortable and little-noticed truths. Like this one: “Some very thoughtful writers and thinkers go partially wrong,” Fielding writes, “in speaking of the re-paganization of our formerly Christian civilization. Although they rightly draw our attention to all the major indices of religious, moral, and familial collapse, not all of them seem to sufficiently appreciate how de-Christianizing differs from re-paganizing.” And therein begins a bracing review of pagan culture (“‘pagan’ does not mean addicted to orgies”) that may have you wishing for an actual pagan revival as the West spurns the Christian ethos and with it “the fecund source of its creativity, vitality, attractiveness, and inspiration.”
Our elites are hell-bent on obliterating Christianity—why? Could they be “seeking to fend off their own participation in evil”? In “Another Disquieting Suggestion,” longtime theology professor Charles Bellinger conjures up a dystopian tale (after Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue) about a society where “evil must always be viewed as external to the self,” and “the notion that the line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart is the one piece of deep understanding that must never be allowed.” Of course, this denial of human nature and agency is the antithesis of the Christian proposition, and to Bellinger’s point, produces instead an “‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ mindset,” one primed to tune out the selective dehumanization that politicians and other powerbrokers impose on whole classes of people to justify moral aberrations like abortion—and slavery, and the Holocaust.
And euthanasia, which Western elites have brazenly worked to rehabilitate in the decades since, as Edward Mechmann observes in our next article, “it was utterly discredited by the Nazi program to kill people with disabilities.” In “Stealth Eugenic Euthanasia of Disabled Infants,” Mechmann, an attorney, argues that “eugenic euthanasia of disabled children is already permitted by inadequacies in American law,” while “the medical community ignores the federal law that was designed to prevent it.” In a study concerning “assessments of quality of life for children with disabilities,” he reports, “59 percent of neonatologists and 68 percent of nurses rated some conditions as being worse than death.” This is the mindset that opts for so-called mercy killing over humane treatment and hospice care—for infants, and indeed for any of us it deems not “okay.”
The extent to which elites are running the cultural show is excruciatingly apparent, but in reality they have been in command of our most formative institution— education—long enough to have pumped out at least two generations of acolytes. The American theologian and author James Likoudis, subject of William Doino Jr.’s latest profile of a counter-cultural warrior (“Courage and Clarity”), was born in 1928. Doino relates that, while Likoudis was studying history and philosophy at the University of Buffalo in the forties, his “[Christian] beliefs came under sustained attack from professors hostile to organized religion. Traditional faith and values were portrayed as enemies of enlightened thinking, and obstacles to democratic progress.” Likoudis, who converted to Catholicism (from Greek Orthodoxy) in 1952, has spent over five decades working to counteract “the long process of moral and cultural decay,” which, he believes, “preceded the Woodstock generation . . . and grew out of the social fragmentation and moral disorientation provoked by two World Wars.”
Much of what is considered “enlightened thinking” today eschews logic and common sense in favor of morally disoriented, emotion-based arguments that serve individual will. But should emotion be altogether left out of our advocacy for life? Our opponents, writes Christopher Reilly in “The Truth about Human Life Is in the Heart,” often disparage emotional appeals as irrational, “overly sentimental,” and irrelevant to the issue of abortion; sometimes even those on the pro-life side encourage fellow travelers to stick to the facts and focus on rational debate. But this is a critical mistake, writes Reilly, who turns to the great Catholic moral philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand’s work to explain why. For Hildebrand, a fully conscious and engaged person will be motivated by intellect, will, and the “heart.” The heart, “with its deep feelings,” is the most important center of the person. We grieve what we know in our heart is the gravely unjust killing of the unborn, and our sorrow motivates us to fight for them.
Christina Francis, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is fighting for the unborn in the increasingly hostile world of medicine, where an ascendant quality-of-life ethic is trumping the age-old sanctity-of-life ethic in medical schools and hospitals. “One of the main challenges,” she explains in the interview that follows, “is the significant pressure placed on [doctors and other healthcare workers] by medical professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) . . . [which] staunchly support unrestricted access to abortion—not because the science demonstrates any health benefits, but rather purely for ideological reasons.” According to Dr. Francis, these elite groups are leading “an effort to push pro-life professionals out of health care,” one which recently included ACOG barring her own organization from exhibiting at one of its conferences, “a decision they openly admitted was due to our pro-life views.” Still, she says, prolifers looking for careers in medicine can take heart, because these “radical agendas . . . do not reflect the views of most medical professionals.”
Christianity, as recent popes have insisted, is not an ideology, but a relationship— which explains its rejection by ideology-addled elites, and the concomitant waning of the reverence that Christian culture, modeled on the sonship of Christ, has traditionally shown the child. In our next article, Edward Short writes of “The Blessings of Children”—blessings, he says, “we need to recapture and celebrate in an age in which the detestation of innocence has become so ubiquitous an evil.” Even the Aztecs, he observes (as does Fielding in her review of pagan culture), “sacrificed their victims as a result of a defective understanding of what would be pleasing to the Godhead, whereas our woke brigade sacrifice theirs out of a mania for power.” As always, readers will appreciate not only Short’s perspicacity, but his refreshingly original way of expressing it.
William Murchison contributes a strong finish to our featured lineup with “Listening to Hadley Arkes,” a review essay on Professor Arkes’ important new book Mere Natural Law: Originalism and the Anchoring Truths of the Constitution, which, our senior editor quips, “isn’t Aquinas re-fashioned for James Patterson readers.” He advises “listening intently” to Arkes now that “we’re having at last . . . a good old . . . national scrum over what it means to destroy life in the womb.” Roe v. Wade is dead, the legal crowd cleared out, and “what we have got here is a moral issue,” writes Murchison, one Arkes “refers to as ‘that commonsense understanding of ordinary people, in which the Natural Law finds its ground.’” Ordinary people putting elites on notice? About time.
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In this edition of Booknotes, Wesley J. Smith reviews a new and “generally uninteresting” collection of essays by Australian philosopher Peter Singer, notable, Smith says, for what the toast of Princeton “omits,” that is, “transgressive ideas”— such as his support for post-birth infanticide—“that made his career as a writer, professor, and international public speaker.” In From the Website, Jason Morgan introduces Kanazawa Shoko, a highly acclaimed Japanese calligrapher who has Down syndrome, and a persona non grata in Singer’s utilitarian calculus. J.P. McFadden had Singer’s number long before the author of Animal Liberation became the darling of the burgeoning field of bioethics. In “Toward the New Future,” the 1983 article we reprint in Appendix A, our late founding editor identified Singer as “the prototype ‘ethicist’” for medical review boards questioning “Who shall live? and Who shall decide?” We close with two articles that discuss the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision: Richard Stith, in an adaptation of a University Faculty for Life talk he gave last spring, focuses on elements of the Court’s opinion that could have worldwide appeal; while Leah Libresco Sargeant, in a piece originally published by National Review magazine, reminds us that the “compromise” 15-week ban now being promoted by Donald Trump and other Republican politicians “would leave nearly all children in the womb at risk.” The Roe regime is finished, GOP leaders are headed for the exits: “Pro-lifers can win only by making their case on the merits,” Sargeant insists, “directly to their neighbors, not just to judges.” According to a 2020 Notre Dame study, she goes on, most people “have never had a conversation face-to-face about abortion.” We need to change that.