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Who hijacked the culture of life?

Observer Viewpoint | Sunday, September 19, 2004

Some whose long lives are still being transformed by the culture of life as it was taught and modeled by a few Catholic prophets in the ’40s and ’50s are puzzled by the reframing of the basic premises of that culture in the last 30 years. The political and legal wars waged over Roe v. Wade have taken their toll on the culture of life. War can destroy cultures as well as nations and individual lives.Political campaigns and legal disputes of all sorts characteristically oversimplify profoundly complex issues. The world of the 24-hour news cycle and instant blogging highlights clever sound bites and graphic imagery. Gov. Mario Cuomo, in a famous address at Notre Dame, sought to avoid the trivialization of the culture of life for partisan political purposes by urging that one could be “personally opposed” to abortion, while denying it should be criminalized.That distinction misses the heart of the matter. For Catholic Christians, the heart of that culture is life lived in a community devoted to the imitation of Christ, crucified. Period. Full stop. In that context, and in the Abrahamic tradition more broadly, sexual reproduction is a sacred responsibility drawing two persons into participation with the divine creative plan for human life on earth. The culture of life must be rooted in of a community of faith whose members all recognize the transcendent value of each human person and live accordingly.One can learn much about the demands of such recognition by reading “The Irreducible Needs of Children, What Every Child Must Have To Grow, Learn and Flourish” by Dr. T. Brazelton and Dr. S. Greenspan, and “Parenting from the Inside Out, How a Deeper Self-understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” by Dr. Dan Siegel.The value of each child is transcendent, incalculable. The tasks of parenthood are not for moral cowards. They do not consist of transitory charitable episodes; they require dozens of years of continuous self-sacrifice. The lives of parents, those who fail as much as those who succeed, show us the real meaning of opening up a human marriage to acceptance of the divine will.Brazelton, Greenspan and Spiegel should be required reading at every pre-Cana conference preparing young people for marriage and parenthood. They foreground truths about human development the abortion wars have shoved into the fuzzy background of a furious debate over the mythical point at which human life begins.The political and legalistic formalisms crafted for the vicious in-fighting inspired by the abortion wars tell us nothing about human development or parenthood. Their slogans have no more real meaning than the chant of “We’re number one!” “Roe v. Wade has brought the holocaust to the United States!” “The morning-after pill is murderous.” “Fetal stem cell research must be prohibited!” “All abortion for any purpose is murder and should be punished by criminal sanctions in criminal courts!” “Human life begins at conception!” And equally, “Individual choice is the most important human value!”These epithets are war cries, calling us to the ramparts, to despise and deride those with whom we disagree. They destroy the spirit of agape love essential for any culture of life. They are all equally based on false premises, indefensible by anything but the method of authority.The early stages of human life constitute a continuous process with many equally crucial stages in the human gonads, particularly the ovaries and the human uterus. Research by human developmental biologists suggests that the moment at which a human sperm enters a human egg is an event whose near-term result has been determined by the microstructure of a developing egg in the last stages before ovulation. University of Colorado developmental biologist Jonathan Van Blerkom, among others, has accumulated evidence that the failure of most fertilized eggs to develop past the eight-cell stage is traceable to inadequate cellular respiration caused by accumulating mutations in maternal genes for the mitochondria providing the energy for orderly cell division. If human life begins at conception; it often ends, by natural causes, quietly and unmourned, very soon thereafter.It is a philosophic, legal and dramatic conceit to think human life is a concatenation of atomic points in time, the moments, as sportscasters love to tell us, at which the tide turns. Dogmatic insistence that “life begins at conception” is blinded by the metaphor of life as a race, started with the crack of a gun. This metaphor has hijacked the mandate to nurture all stages of every human life. It has tricked us into hating the Samaritans who do not worship where we worship.

Edward Manier is a professor in the philosophy department. He can be reached at A.E.Manier.1@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.