Is a life worth a dollar? Is it worth a hundred dollars? Is it worth a million plus dollars? These seemingly innocuous questions are frequently put to us by those advocating cause A, B or C. The only answer, and the one they expect to hear, is that life is priceless and, consequently, their cause is justified regardless of the expense, because,they assure us, it will save at least one life. And life is priceless. So, the answer is right. However, the question is wrong. The question we should ask is one we should each ask ourselves, “What can I do to save a life?” The difference between, “Is a life worth X dollars?” and “What can I do to save a life?” is profound and I believe that understanding the difference and choosing the right question leads us directly to Catholic teachings on life and the creation of life.
The first question is extrospective and implies an interrogator who usually sees both cause and solution in the world beyond himself. The dollars expected are not his. The question asked is actually, “What can I make others do to save the lives I see threatened?” Extrospection universalized creates a society where each member expects solutions, not from himself personally, but from other members at large. Such an attitude universalized will ultimately lead to a society comprised of those who coerce and those who are coerced. However, it is the second question I wish to pursue.
The second question, “What can I do to save a life?” is introspective. It implies an interrogator who sees both cause and solution residing within his own life. Now let me rephrase the question lest we be diverted by heroic thoughts of ourselves dashing into burning buildings to rescue damsels distressed, toddlers trapped on flaming balconies or grandmas gasping their last breath of air. Our question rephrased becomes, “How can I live my life so others may be saved?”
Our rewording changes the emphasis from a life periodically punctuated by moments of outstanding bravery to a life braved daily for the sake of others. We have now asked a question which defines an entire life and which we can spend an entire life defining. I would like to focus on saving the life of the unborn child. Specifically, our question becomes, “How can I live my life so as to save a child from abortion?” Or more positively, we can ask, “How can I live my life to ensure a child conceived is a child born loved?”
Participating in protests with placards and prayer at Planned Parenthood centers seems an obvious answer. When we protest we witness publicly to a belief. Such witnessing is certainly good. However, in today’s culture witnessing for a belief often substitutes for actually living that belief. We must ensure that our witness is our life. To live a life that does not contribute to a child lost or a child not loved begins not when we ponder the horror of the abortion clinic but when we reflect on many little things in our own lives that might contribute to a child conceived without love and without prospects. Every child aborted is the result of the unloving actions not only of the mother and father but the actions of many others that undermined and corrupted their inborn desire for true love. If we truly wish to see every child born loved, if we truly are pro-life, it is our calling to understand where we fit into and how we can withdraw from this matrix that destroys both love and child.
If a life is priceless, surely it worth more than anything of lesser value. With that in mind let us consider a series of questions that may help us relocate ourselves outside the matrix in which lives are extinguished: Is a life worth modesty? Is it worth dressing in a way that respects the weaknesses of other people? Is it worth the suggestive conversations we have? Is a life worth the salacious movies we watch and the immoral books we read? Is it worth patronizing the pornography that pollutes our e-waves and air-waves? For men, is a life worth seeing every woman as a means to a pleasurable evening rather than as a mother in waiting? For women, is a life worth seeing every man as a means by which you feel loved rather than as a potential father? Is a life worth going to bed before saying “good night” rather than after? Is a life worth doing “it” before saying “I do?”
If life is priceless then all of the answers to the questions must be a resounding “NO.” We cannot dress immodestly and claim innocence from the effect it may have on people we don’t even know, much less those to whom we want to be close. We cannot support an entertainment industry that encourages people to lead lives that end in the death of an innocent. We cannot say to ourselves, I am above the temptations of this movie, or this book or this TV show, because even though we may be (but probably aren’t) our consumption of these various entertainments supports a media complex that seduces and poisons many weaker than ourselves. We cannot see human beings as a means to our pleasure, whether physical or psychological. We cannot do “it” outside of a lifetime commitment. To do any of these things is to be part of the problem. We cannot distance ourselves. We cannot not love and live a life that saves the lives of others.
Saving the life unborn requires loving that life before it is conceived. We cannot love life yet born without loving those who create that life, whether they are related or distant. Whereas love is sometimes hard to define, what isn’t love is easier to see.
Women might ask: is it love to have your boyfriend father a child you may abort? Is it love to see your boyfriend as someone who is good enough to go to bed with but not good enough to actually share your life and raise your children? Is it love to bear a child thinking that he or she will do just fine without a father who loves them and their mother? Is it love to deprive your child of yourself as a mother who loves both father and child?
Men might ask: Is it love to subject your girlfriend to even the remote possibility of deciding whether her child yet born will live or die? Is it love to subject your girlfriend to the prospect of raising a child on her own? Is it love to assert that you will be responsible for a child of any liaison knowing that you only mean manning up to child support payments and weekend visits? Is it love to deprive your child of yourself as a father who loves both mother and child?
We all might ask: Is it love to risk having a child that will not be loved? Is it love to risk having a child that will not be loved by both a mother and father who love each other? Is it love to cast dice over the life of another by assuming your birth control is perfect, knowing that millions of children have died unborn because their parents also thought they controlled when life begins?
To ask the questions is to either know the answer or to not understand the meaning of love. Yet many of us will clearly see that all of the above situations are not loving, yet we will have trouble with the next question. Is it love to have sex knowing you are not fully open to and ready for the life it may create, to know that the child of such a union starts life with a “love” that did not include him or her? To answer “no” to this question, like those above, is to understand that the Catholic Church is not interested in ruling our bedrooms but only in showing us how to love. It is to understand that the decision to contracept is a decision to exclude a life from our love. We will see that when we contracept our love we have valued tomorrow’s life as something less than priceless, as something which can be bought for the pleasure of the moment or, maybe, the material possession of tomorrow.
G.K. Chesterton described the Catholic Church as a great truth telling machine. He found that every position he took against the Church fell when he truly took the time to understand the ground on which the Church stood. Such, I believe, is the case with the Catholic Church and contraception. Rather than a plethora of prohibitions, we who seek honestly will find a recipe for true love. We will begin to understand that a love that is not expansive, that is not committed for life, and that does not include the possibility of including new life, is one of love withheld. Ultimately, we will see that love withheld is not really love at all. Only then will we understand that a child born in such a relationship cannot have the love that his or her parents are missing. Conversely, we will understand that marriage can only stand true when a man and woman fully gift themselves to each other without reservation in a fully committed lifelong marriage. A child born to such a couple is not only loved but born into love.
Abortion is the total failure of love. It declares a life worth less than even a single dollar. It deems a life as garbage to be discarded at cost. To declare life priceless when we seek to place the burden on others and worthless when the burden is ours is to see a culture hopelessly lost. Only when we see ourselves as life that begets life, and that to love ourselves is to love the life we can create, will we see that we can no longer contribute to that culture and declare our innocence in the death of innocents. We will then comprehend that, all along, the Catholic Church has simply been teaching us how to love. And we will realize that, contrary to a popular cliché criticizing the pope for making rules for a game he does not play, it is not the pope who abandoned the game but ourselves.