“Culture of life” is a term Blessed John Paul II highlighted in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae. The Pope wanted to address the civilizational struggle afoot between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death,” the latter understood as having embraced a quality-of-life ethic that endorses the destruction of those deemed to have a “poor quality” of life. In contrast to the sanctity-of-life ethic, which regards every human life as sacred and entitled to protection, a quality-of-life ethic deems some lives (usually other people’s) not worth living.
Although John Paul showcased the “culture of life” eighteen years ago, another author was talking about it 170 years ago, and a film director was depicting it 67 years ago. The book and the film are favorite American Christmas classics. John Paul, meet Charles Dickens and Frank Capra.
A Christmas Carol is popular with children today because of its ghosts, but when Dickens wrote the novella in 1843, his audience was adults as well as children. It is a polemical work: Dickens was sparring with laissez-faire capitalists whose influence in industrializing Britain sought to limit concern for the poor to running poor houses and treadmills. But Dickens was not only taking on Adam Smith. His other target was Thomas Malthus. Malthus, the intellectual granddaddy of zero population growth, had argued that population increase would inevitably lead to disaster. Of course, it’s only a short step from concern about population growth to, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg worried in a New York Times story a few years ago, concern about “growth in populations we don’t want to have too many of.”
Scrooge gives voice to the elite opinion of his day when, in dismissing businessmen who come to his office seeking charitable contributions, he opines that those who would rather die than go to a poorhouse “had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Lest we think that ridding the world of “useless” people is but a modern phenomenon, recall what Malthus himself wrote nearly 210 years ago: “‘A man who is born into [the] . . . world . . . if he cannot get subsistence from his parents, on whom he has a just demand, and if society do not want his labor, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At Nature’s mighty feast, there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone.”
Scrooge exhibits at least some degree of humanity when, faced with the crippled Tiny Tim, he pleads with one of the Ghosts for the boy’s life. (In today’s world, some bioethicist would solemnly pontificate that Tiny Tim’s “quality of life” justifies euthanasia. Luckily, the story is set in London, not Brussels.) Despite that glimmer of tenderness, the Ghost of Christmas Present throws Scrooge’s words back at him. “What then, if he be like to die, he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Dickens writes that Scrooge “hung his head with penitence and grief.” (Today that Ghost would be dismissed as “judgmental” and “extremist.”)
The Ghost continues: “if man you be in heart, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.”
Consider the spiritual message Dickens’ otherworldly emissary imparts: Aware of our own limits and sinfulness, God’s gift of life should elicit in us a sense of wonder, awe, and solidarity, especially with the least of our brothers. How often today the least—unborn babies, handicapped newborns, incapacitated elderly, the terminally ill—elicit not our solidarity but our spleen? Can’t they just go away and stop burdening us? Stop driving up healthcare costs? Stop futilely consuming limited medical resources?
In A Christmas Carol a child is the catalyst of conversion. And Scrooge’s conversion is incomplete until he embraces that child, discovering his own spiritual paternity (“to Tiny Tim he was a second father”). The 20th century psychologist Erik Erikson recognized this when he spoke of “generativity”—taking responsibility for the next generation—as one of the highest stages of human maturity. Often overlooked in the Dickens classic is the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Past reminds Scrooge of Belle, his fiancée who breaks their engagement because “another idol has displaced me.” He subsequently sees what becomes of Belle: She is a mother of many children whom, for a moment, Scrooge considers “might have been his own,” a thought that pains him not because he would have sired those children but because he didn’t.
A similar message appears in another holiday classic, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. What makes the film’s protagonist, George Bailey, so special is really mundane: He’s a good husband and father. (How many young women today ask, “Where are all the good men?”) Bailey’s salvation comes through these roles: It’s the vision of his beloved wife Mary as a terrified old maid who doesn’t recognize him, along with the return of his daughter Zuzu’s petals, that leads George to shed his self-indulgent despair (“I wish I’d never been born”) and pray from the bridge on which he had pondered suicide, “Please God, let me live again.”
The film’s pro-life orientation is present from the start. When a heavenly voice summons Clarence, his childlike guardian angel, to save George, the message is clear: “At exactly ten forty-five P.M., earth time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God’s greatest gift.” Notice that the voice doesn’t say George Bailey’s life—something that’s his—is at risk. It’s “God’s greatest gift”—something that’s His—that is at stake. Clarence makes the same point humorously when everybody is drying out in the bridge keeper’s hut after George fishes the angel out of the river. When Clarence chides George for wanting to kill himself—believing his family would be better off with an insurance policy than with him—the bridge keeper cuts in: “It’s against the law to commit suicide around here.” It’s against the law where I come from, too,” adds Clarence. “Where do you come from?” “Heaven.”
Capra shows that George Bailey’s foolishness is in thinking he could fathom the true meaning of so great a gift as his life as to dare to pronounce, “I suppose it would be better if I was never born at all.” It’s a sad commentary on our “progress” that in 2010 the New York Times feted a book by the contemporary South African philosopher, David Benatar. In Better Never to Have Been, Benatar argues that anytime anybody becomes a parent, he does his child an incalculable harm by bringing him into a world of suffering. Benatar even claims that the progressive extermination of mankind would benefit not just the earth’s environment, but even man himself.
One really hopes Clarence wings his way to Cape Town.
 See Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, especially ## 12, 21, available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html (accessed September 1, 2012, 22:00).
  Emily Bazelon, “The Place of Women on the Court,” New York Times Magazine, July 9, 2009, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/12/magazine/12ginsburg-t.html?pagewanted=all, quoting incumbent U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
 Hearn, p. 24, see also his note 50 on the same page.
 Malthus, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” quoted in Hearn, p. 24, note 50. This text only appeared in his second edition, which Malthus had revised in response to reactions to the first edition. Subsequent editions drop the phrase, which suggests that—like contemporary anti-lifers—Malthus found it desirable to dissimulate on some of the less palatable implications of his thinking. [Paul Greenberg identifies this phenomenon in his masterful Another Line Crossed (New York: Human Life Foundation, 2012), noting, “the trick is never, never to recognize those being killed, uh, terminated as human. Call them anything but. Verbicide always precedes homicide.”] Garrett Hardin, the contemporary ecologist whose “tragedy of the commons” ethic defends the same anti-life philosophy, argues in defense of Malthus’s position in his “The Feast of Malthus: Living within Limits,” in The Social Contract, Spring 1998, pp. 181-87, available at http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles_pdf/feast_of_malthus.pdf (accessed September 1, 2010, 22:30). Hearn (ibid.) adds that Dickens repeats the same sentiments in one of his later Christmas tales, “The Chimes,” where Mr. Filer declares that the poor “have no earthly right or business to be born. And that we know they haven’t. We reduced that to a mathematical certainty long ago.” See Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Stories (New York: The Modern Library, 1995), p.136. Hearn also notes that Dickens named one of the negative characters in Hard Times “Malthus.” Pope Paul VI’s message to the United Nations, when he visited in New York in 1965, could be regarded a reply to Malthus, when the Pontiff urged world leaders “to ensure there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not . . . . diminish the number the number of guests at the banquet of life.” See http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pope/UN-1965.html (accessed September 1, 2012, 22:40).
 Wesley Smith speaks to this issue in his Winter-Spring 2011 “The Bioethics Threat to Universal Human Rights,” The Human Life Review, available at http://humanlifereview.com/index.php/archives/59-2011-winter-spring/175-the-bioethics-threat-to-universal-human-rights- (accessed September 1, 2012, 22:45). The present author noted the paradox that “[h]uman life is, after all, what should stand at the heart of bioethical discussion. Should but not always does. “Bioethics,” etymologically, is the ethics of bios, “life.” The paradox,however, is that most secular bioethics maintains an epistemological agnosticism about the very subject matter of the discipline. Oftentimes, the question of life is evaded or readers are treated to a survey of mutually contradictory opinions
about it, without ever resolving the key question which ought to illumine the whole bioethical enterprise. There are, of course, those authors who resolve the question erroneously and then proceed to construct an entire bioethic on those flawed foundations.” John Grondelski, review of William May, “Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life,” in Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, 24 (Spring 2001)/2: 31, available at http://2786.datatrium.com/fcs/PDFFiles/v24n2spr2001.pdf (accessed September 1, 2012, 22:50).
 Hearn, p. 105.
 Hearn, ibid.
 Karol Wojtyła, the future Bl. John Paul II, speaks in a similar vein when he discusses the human meaning of physical and spiritual paternity in part IV of his Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981).
 “. . . [W]hen he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise [as Belle’s daughter] might have called him father, and been a spring time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew dim indeed.” Hearn, p. 77. Contrary to the English proverb that a “child should be seen and not heard” Dickens, describing how Belle’s children burst into the house when their father returns, writes “. . . they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care . . . “ (Hearn, p. 75).
 Indeed, in an example of how generativity fosters maturity, there is a play on words in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George goes on declaiming about the great things he would do, including to “lasso the moon” for Mary, and she brings him down to earth (and up to heaven) by announcing her pregnancy as “George Bailey lassos stork!” For Mary, George’s greatness lies not in artifacts he might build, but in who he is and will be: again, when he is running himself down about his lack of achievements, Mary tells him she married him because “I don’t want anybody else to be the father of my baby.” In “It’s a Wonderful Life” it is those characters that have children—George and Mary Bailey and George’s parents—that are the most developed.
 Cf. Dickens’s “Chimes,” in which the Alderman (a buffoon who simply parrots the orthodoxies of his day) intends to “put down” the vices of his day without addressing the vices that give rise to them. So he tells Trotty’s daughter, Meg, not to marry because “’[y]ou’ll have children—boys. Those boys will grow up bad of course, and run wild in the streets, without shoes and stockings. Mind, my young friend! I’ll convict ‘em summarily, every one, for I am determined to Put [sic] boys without shoes and stockings, Down. Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely) and leave you with a baby. Then you’ll be turned out of doors, and wander up and down the streets. Now don’t wander near me, my dear, for I am resolved to Put all wandering mothers Down. All young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it’s my determination to Put Down. Don’t think to plead illness as an excuse with me . . . for all sick persons and young children . . . I am determined to Put Down. And if you attempt, desperately, to drown yourself or hang yourself, I’ll have no pity on you, for I have made up my mind to Put all suicide Down. It there is one thing,’ said the Alderman with his self-satisfied smile, ‘on which I can be said to have made up my mind more than on another, it is to Put suicide Down. So don’t try it on.” Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, p. 137.
 The approving New York Times commentary was, of course, penned by Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer (who is ready to provide protection to the life of most beings except human): see his “Should This Be the Last Generation?” in the June 6, 2010 issue at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/ (accessed September 1, 2012, 23:00). To give some sense of the consistent alienation of New York Times writers from the culture of life, consider the dissenting review of “It’s a Wonderful Life” penned by Wendell Jameson on December 18, 2008 (“Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life”) : “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/movies/19wond.html?pagewanted=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1346513822-S0ZSJ5AI4w/Jz/IFFbbkog, accessed September 1, 2012, 23:05). Jameson may finally be “choked up” by the film—and may even like it–but only after first paying homage to all the revisionisms of a quality of life ethic that makes him appreciate the film “for the wrong reasons.”
 David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006). This chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town also ponders the merits of “phased extinction” for humanity. The current author finds it interesting that while many scholars today score German institutions for failing to denounce the insanity of the “scientific” exponents of Nazi genocide, writers today calmly discuss the merits of human destruction in the pages of university presses that use their centuries-old academic pedigree to give contemporary insanity a platform. In rejecting an argument put forth in a professional bioethics journal defending infanticide [Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” Journal of Medical Ethics (2011), available at: http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/03/01/medethics-2011-100411.full (accessed May 19, 2013, 0140 GMT)], Princeton’s Robert P. George rightly argues that academic freedom is no excuse for barbarism, even when dispassionately discussed as an alternate policy view: see his “Response to “Is the Pro-Choice Position for Infanticide ‘Madness?’”Journal of Medical Ethics, 39 (2013): 302, available at http://jme.bmj.com/content/39/5/302.full?sid=51f368a8-0b99-4c32-8bbb-2b32ac88bed8 (accessed May 25, 2013, 1600 GMT). As George writes: “I think that killing infant children, or promoting the moral permissibility of doing so, is moral madness, and that we should say so, rather than treating infanticide as just one more legitimate, albeit in the end morally mistaken view. We owe this to potential victims of the potential mainstreaming of support for infanticide.”