The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Superseding the Culture of Death Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Tuesday, 26 October 2010

At the end of World War II, J. Robert Oppenheimer the director of Los Alamos (the labs that built the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan), said at his farewell: “If you are a scientist, it is good to find out how the world works. . . . It is not possible to be a scientist unless you believe that the knowledge of the world, and the power which this gives, is of intrinsic value to humanity.” He also described the need to deal with the consequences of such knowledge. This picture of the moral imperatives attached to technology, and the power that accompanies it, rapidly got lost in the post-war fascination with the sheer exercise of power.

The historian Tony Judt has observed that “by 1945, many Europeans had lived through three decades of military and political violence. Young people all across the continent were inured to a level of public brutality, in words and actions, that would have shocked their nineteenth-century forebears.” Although we didn’t have a war on our own soil, many Americans experienced something similar, or at one remove, by fighting in the Atlantic or Pacific theatres, or having someone in the family who had. In the East, Stalinism and Maoism were built on power. Missing in both East and West was any large-scale awareness of a profound fact underscored at the Second Vatican Council: “the greater man's power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends.” The terrible corruption of the human spirit that comes from being surrounded by such violence, participating in such violence, and being too shocked, numbed, or even too blasé, to lessen violence, left many people without the ability to appreciate this fundamental axiom of human life.

The atomic bomb and the two World Wars II  split world history into a “before” and “after.” So did ideologies like Communism and Nazism, which killed over 100 million people, a figure unprecedented in human history. Such vast exercises of power and the consequent carnage seem to have even horribly scarred the survivors, much as slavery not only diminishes the humanity of the slave but the master as well. Violence, even exercised for the right reasons, in a just war, “puts the brakes on authentic development and impedes the evolution of peoples towards greater socio-economic and spiritual well-being.” (Benedict XVI) Put aside – if such a thing is even possible – the dozens of subsequent wars of liberation, the proxy wars, the wholesale massacres (Rwanda, Cambodia etc.), the ethnic wars in places like the Balkans, the terrorist acts, and we can see that vast currents of violence and death continue to be unleashed within the cultures of the world.

And let’s not forget: Contraception and abortion are further examples of such violence. Contraception does terrible harm to the human spirit. If one does not conceive of the human spirit as God-given and imaging God, then one can turn a blind eye to the appalling damage done by structuring one’s life around contraception. It is indeed a “structuring” because if offspring are allowed to live, the man and the woman having intercourse would have far richer and more fulfilled lives. They would have to care for real human beings, which is the foundation of all growth.

Abortion kills tens of millions of human beings annually, but in the cloud of death that clings to the world owing to widespread violence and in the deliberate cloaking of the reality of abortion by the media, it does not look like much. Certainly in abortion there are no bullet-riddled corpses, no blood – unless one is present for the “surgery.” Labeling the culture of death (John Paul II) was an important first step, but now there needs to be a profound effort to rebuild a culture where positive human values come to the fore again. And for that to happen, the cloud of death has to be faced, not skated over. Which parents, teachers, news outlets, politicians will speak about the ongoing violence? The recent popes have tried to keep the truth before the eyes of the world. But even the majority of Catholics have simply gone along with the culture of violence and the accompanying resignation.

How do we get past the culture of death in practical terms? The answer lies in the question: the dead need to be mourned. It’s only human to do so. In the United States, there has been virtually no effort to mourn, or to teach, or to make a different culture by a deep appreciation of what has happened – to others and to us. Couldn’t we say to everyone who wants to abort that the Catholic Church will take on the care of that child? This would also be a concrete way of expressing the truth of the teaching against abortion because truth always becomes concrete in actual human existence, just as the Son of God (the Divine Truth) became concrete in Jesus of Nazareth. The billions of dollars spent on the recent scandal certainly would have helped a lot of men and women reach adulthood. But this is not primarily a crisis of money, but of will. And if the Church does not lead the way, who else will? 

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

(c) 2010 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (13)Add Comment
0
...
written by Chris Yarsawich, October 27, 2010
"Couldn’t we say to everyone who wants to abort that the Catholic Church will take on the care of that child?"

I believe Mother Teresa did say this, when invited to speak by the Clintons at some event while they were in the White House. I've often wondered why something so simple as paying for pre- and perinatal care, and adopting newborns, isn't just done, and done publicly and on a large scale, by the Catholic Church. Fr. Bramwell, as a priest, do you think the impetus for such an effort of will would need first come from the clergy (bishops, I suppose), or the laity? If the clergy led, would the laity follow?
0
...
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 27, 2010
Great question Chris. Leadership in this kind of issue can and should come from whoever shows up. Leaders lead and that means others will fall in behind. Personally I think that laity should lead the charge. However it would need some bishops to be involved because there would have to be things like large scale collections, building of orphanages etc. Religious orders would have to be involved because some of them were founded for the care of children. Catholic truth needs to be incarnated and this is the way to incarnate the truth of the teaching about the sheer horror of abortion.
0
...
written by Brian English, October 27, 2010
"Couldn’t we say to everyone who wants to abort that the Catholic Church will take on the care of that child?"

What a brilliant idea. Saving lives and, at the same time, depriving the pro-choice crowd of one of its favorite slanders: "The Church only cares about these children before they are born."

How do we get this started?
0
...
written by Other Joe, October 27, 2010
Yes! At a time when people pay huge sums of cash for babies suitable for adoption, the proposal could be a win/win/win program. A special collection one Sunday each month would be an interesting way to raise money for the required facilities. We do this for puppies and kittens, why not our future citizens? What an interesting mustard seed!
0
...
written by James, October 27, 2010
A laudable goal, but consider that 1 in 8 people in America are on food stamps; millions are homeless, have no jobs, mentally ill or otherwise incapable of caring for themselves, much less children.

Population control, however heinous in the eyes of the Church, is nonetheless reasonable in a pragmatic world in which half the planet is barely surviving.

Unless the Catholic Church has unlimited financial resources, which I suspect it doesn't, how pray tell are you going to care for those that would have been aborted? Better not to be born than to live a life of deprivation and misery.
0
...
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 27, 2010
Ah. The human beings are just animals argument. Thin the herd when there are more human beings than we like and we get to choose. Valuing people would cause a whole different atmosphere to develop. In the words of John Paul II" "Certainly there is a long and difficult road ahead; bringing about such a renewal will require enormous effort, especially on account of the number and the gravity of the causes giving rise to and aggravating the situations of injustice present in the world today. But, as history and personal experience show, it is not difficult to discover at the bottom of these situations causes which are properly "cultural", linked to particular ways of looking at man, society and the world. Indeed, at the heart of the issue of culture we find the moral sense, which is in turn rooted and fulfilled in the religious sense." (veritatis splendor)
0
...
written by Martin Snigg, October 27, 2010
I love this essay. I love this idea. All diocese should start planning right now - diocese wide foundling wheel. Count me in!

Episcopate ....... live up to your name and truly see what this could mean.
0
...
written by the moz, October 27, 2010
brilliant idea. should be declared slowly and should be allowed to grow organically. my wife and i are trying to conceive - right now it's too early to tell if we'll be able to - but we would love to adopt a beautiful baby.
0
...
written by James, October 27, 2010
Father, begging to differ with your interpretation of my comments, I would rebut that in a world where true justice and brotherhood prevail, where generosity and sharing of wealth is the norm rather than the exception, then the ideal that you espoused in your essay would be worthy of striving.

As a priest, you more than most must appreciate that the curses of disease, poverty and death, which was pronounced in the Old Testament and said to have been abolished in the New, still exist and no amount of high-sounding polemics, be they from your pen or that of the Pontiff, can overcome this simple fact of life. Words, then, fail, and what remains is faith and only faith, and to many it is something never to be grasped.

I would like to live in the world you envision, but if you were to add the millions unborn to suffer without hope, then to what avail do they live?
0
...
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 28, 2010
Good question James. The issue is that human beings have value. I cannot decide IF they have value, nor can I decide what their future might be. That is accepting a culture of violence and being resigned to it. I refer again to John Paul II's comments, we cannot be cowed or limited by situations caused by sin. The Church is the presence of Jesus Christ in the world and so is opposed to sin by every fiber of its being.
0
...
written by James, October 28, 2010
Thanks, Father, for words to ponder. I will leave the last to Dorothy Parker:

Razors pain you, Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you, And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful, Nooses give,
Gas smells awful. You might as well live.
0
...
written by Brian English, October 29, 2010
"Better not to be born than to live a life of deprivation and misery."

Speak for yourself. Do you actually believe that in the worst of lives there are not still moments of joy? And do you believe, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that no one ever escapes deprivation and misery?

" I would rebut that in a world where true justice and brotherhood prevail, where generosity and sharing of wealth is the norm rather than the exception, then the ideal that you espoused in your essay would be worthy of striving."

Father Bramwell's initiative would not be needed in the world you describe. It is needed in this world, which falls so far short of the world you describe.

"I would like to live in the world you envision, but if you were to add the millions unborn to suffer without hope, then to what avail do they live?"

Where there is life, there is always hope. "Better off dead" is simply an excuse for the living.
0
...
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 30, 2010
The issue is do we believe that the Church faces down evil wherever it finds it so that humanity has its best chance at being human? The trade-offs in which we only serve people who come to the Church door,or only do 10% of what we could to alleviate suffering, or accept that only most Catholics receive the sacraments but not all, are all signs of comfort, signs of resignation. Let's place humanity front and center in our vision of Church, Christ did.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US