The Catholic Thing
Modern Lamentation Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 28 December 2013

One has only to think the words – “Holy Innocents” – to summon Herod to the world in which we now live. Let us consider numbers.

I smile grimly at modern writers pouring scorn on mediaeval estimates of how many were killed, in Herods name, in the hope of exterminating Our Lord in his infancy. This was the definitive “Massacre of the Innocents.” Was it 14,000 from Greek sources, 64,000 from Syrian, the 144,000 mentioned in the Apocalypse?

Or is it currently one million per year in America, or perhaps 40 million annually worldwide?

The number “worldwide since 1980,” from an Internet abortion clock I just consulted, was 1,319,465,700. It currently estimates around 110,000 daily – or, 486 since I loaded the page.

Are such numbers meaningless? Can they be disputed? Would it be bad taste even to discuss them (we do not dispute in polite society the received number for Hitlers death count of Jews)?

The modern “liberal” mind thinks numbers. It is a good way to dehumanize things. I know that mind-set, even in myself. It immediately calculates what the worlds population would be, had all of those abortions been avoided. It is seized by Malthusian visions of starvation through overpopulation, “by the numbers.” The solution to that problem will be a statistical equation.

This is the mind of Herod, and it needs to be quelled.

To this end, let me assert that we do not actually have a global starvation problem, or anything near it. Where people are indeed starving, we can easily find political causes, both direct and indirect. The truth is rather that as the worlds population has swelled, so has the production of food. We have the means to feed all, and many more.

At what I suspect is a deeper psychic level, urban people fear humans in themselves. Those who live in sprawling conurbations believe the world is unsustainably crowded. Outside them, however, on that 99 percent of land that is not yet urbanized, the population grows very slowly, and in the more developed countries has been shrinking for some time.

Let me further assert that numeration is rhetorical. It is not chaste science, and will not be, when any social or moral question is under discussion, from any side. The numbers may be true or false, and this may or may not matter. But what of numbers inconceivably large?

The (rather costly) paradox here is that any large number can be used to distract an audience from the very largeness. Should the number be a trillion, why not two? If two trillion, wouldnt one be acceptable? I prefer to consider the matter by looking in the face of a single real child, and asking myself, in a way not facetious, would it have been better had he never been born?

       Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens, 1611

Or, perhaps more appropriately, had she never been born? For as we all know perfectly well by now, the girls are often the first to be aborted in many cultures, as just “getting in the way.” Does this one little girl before you count, or does she not count, among the “surplus”? What is the cost/benefit analysis on raising her to adulthood?

And before shrugging that these are all, or almost all, non-Christian cultures in which this calculus is made, let us reflect on what “modern” Western Civ has exported to each of the “developing countries”: both the worldview of “cost/benefit analysis,” and the means to act upon it.

“The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” This is of course the utilitarian calculus: moral pragmatism accentuated by statistical reasoning. It is a method bound to produce a lie.

As one who has actually glimpsed the joy in life among the backward poor – the sheer joy of “scandalously” large families in the existence of one another, in material circumstances guaranteed to freak the hygienic and eugenic “family planner” – I can announce one obvious fact. We have a definition of happiness that has, quite pointedly, excluded joy.

So perfectly inverted is our “value system” that what was, in every culture, the womans glory – her own love, reproduced in her children; her own light in the light of their eyes – is pronounced an evil.

Yet has the sterility of the new, “emancipated” woman – emancipated, note, from her own nature – brought some new happiness to replace that immortalizing joy? “Freedom” this woman is offered, not only from the pain of childbirth, and the sorrows every mother must come to know, but also from the joys and sorrows of those mysteriously called – to the nunnery, in Christs espousal.

The honest observer must acknowledge that it is not happiness that awaits this emancipated woman. Already I see them warehoused in the nursing homes, waiting for their end, unvisited except by professional minders, and utterly alone. Nor was it happiness in that morning, I am told, when each ageing woman found in the mirror, that the dance of youth had moved on and passed her by.

“A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted because they are not.”

That, which I am told is “among the more elusive” of the Old Testament echoes in the Gospels, had from the beginning very many meanings, fused together in an unforgettable image. From Matthew it leaps back to Jeremiah; from Jeremiah to the book of Genesis, where Rachel was seen traveling to Bethlehem. But, too, it leaps forward to our times.

Consider this question, phrased in our modern, ridiculous, statistical manner: “For how many children does Rachel weep?”

Or, if you will, consider in our modern, Carthaginian way, or even our modern, Existentialist way – where a child can hardly count as essence until first brought into existence in the hard cold externalities of our world. For it is there where Rachel still weeps for her children; but will not be comforted because, “they never were.”

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Stanley Anderson, December 28, 2013
David Warren, this is an excerpt from an introductory section of a piece I’m working on that seems to apply directly to your comments. The excerpt refers to my thoughts as a teenager about a computer-generated “programmed” world (that teenager lived in the early 70’s, long before “The Matrix” or “Tron” or “The Thirteenth Floor”, but also long after, and typical of, the many sci-fi stories about computer-generated worlds, though at the time, of course, I thought I was oh-so-original in “coming up” with the ideas):

[My revelation then] was the realization that “distance” and “time” and even “physical experience” within the computer programmed world bore no “direct” relation whatever to the distance and time and physical experience of the actual computer programmer in his outside-of-the-computer “real” world. In other words, what kind of measurement in the actual physical world of the programmer would an inch of distance in the computer-programmed world correspond to? Or how long would an hour of time in the programmed world be “outside” in the real world? Or what would the impact of a programmed hammer hitting a programmed nail from “within” the computer programmed world sound like in the real world of the computer programmer? Indeed, what could “within” as used in the previous sentence here even mean, physically? It’s not as though the physical size of the black box that contained the computer itself would reflect “sizes” or “times” or “events” experienced by the programmed beings inside the computer’s programmed world.

One could imagine that the same computer-programmed world might theoretically have been programmed either “inside” an earlier warehouse-sized mainframe computer or a much later and much higher-tech desktop computer the size of a breadbox. The physical size of the computer – or the computer programmer himself for that matter – would bear no relation whatever to the “size” of the programmed world. There would be no “conversion factor” between inches or hours or decibels from the programmed world to the real world. They would be, as mathematicians might say, “incommensurate” with each other. A distance of “millions of light years” or a time of “billions of years” in the computer programmed world would seem no more “vast” or “ancient” or humbling to the computer programmer out here in the “real” world than, say, writing the digit “one” followed by nine “zeros” onto a paper napkin.
written by M. , December 28, 2013
written by Paul Roese, December 28, 2013
i totally understand the outrage on this issue but i have to wonder at by comparison the lack of outrage about how many children died of disease or starvation needlessly. is there a clock on the internet for this? this is the complaint by some of the opposition that the Primary concern for children is before they are born but once here they are on there own. i know this is not true but i have to say i don't see the same level of engagement from pro life forces when it comes to outrage over the cutting of food stamps, school lunches and other welfare items that impact the lives of children. i'd love to see someone say government budgets are moral documents and Paul Ryan's budget is obscene.
written by Bill Hocter, December 28, 2013
Very moving.
written by Allan Cheung, December 28, 2013
Reading the comment of Paul Roese, I'm reminded of a similar statement from literature:

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
written by CCR, December 29, 2013
The Church in general does more than anyone to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Having said that I also detect a certain indifference that may be the "loss of charity" predicted by Our Lord in the "little apocalypse" of Matthew 24-25. There is as much life in the unborn as in the marginal, the homeless, the unemployed, the suffering, the hungry. I have been lately a member of all those categories lately at one time or another. I have received occasional help with my bills, or gotten some food but that is somewhat limited and sporadic. I think I have been guilty of the same when I was affluent, now my point of view has changed. Being in dire straits is an incredible lesson on how grace works. Allow me to add that many who are leaders in one thing or another have gone out of their way to cause me (and others in my situation) harm and that includes some fellows you all read and know. That is not good and I am sure the Lord shall have a fiery conversation with those hypocrites sooner or later. Francisco Franco used to end his radio messages with the phrase "Pensad en los otros" colloquial for a call to action "Think of the needs of others." That should be our constant preoccupation, Mother Teresa of Calcutta being a good example. Such a huge Church and we had only ONE Mother Teresa? How come?
written by Louise, December 29, 2013
CCR, I have never been in dire straights but have had financial challenges and scares. It is so easy to think good thoughts and feel like you are living a good Christian life when everything is going well. When finances become a problem you find out the depth of your faith very quickly! It gives insight on what our Lord was talking about. Financial security can be seductive...a secret seduction because you are rarely aware of it. I'm not talking about great wealth even...just being financially stable can be seductive.
written by Avery Tödesuhl, December 29, 2013
@mr roese: the Church is you. As Lennon sang, "so it is Christmas, and what have you done?" Don't push it off to someone else even if it's a divine institution. It's your soul that's at stake, not the other guy's.

@CCR: I know how that feels. I lost a job 2 years ago and nearly lost everything else as well. Thank God it didn't happen, but I'm still struggling financially and can't pay my monthly bills. God bless you! You will be in my prayers!
written by CCR, December 29, 2013
@Avery Tödesuhl: I liked your comment on David's anti-blog which I frequent. I will pray for you also. In C.S. Lewis' words: "Experience is a brutal teacher but boy! How we learn!" Add to that another thought from Fr. Horacio Bojorge, SJ: "All moments of suffering and need are places of encounter with God." God is everywhere, that's true but if you get close to the Cross, HE IS YOURS. He allowed us to pin Him to our sufferings and there He stays, waiting. To be invited to the Cross is to contemplate reality as it is, no softening devices of any kind. Only Mary treats the Cross properly (of course she is perfect!) when she DESIRES the Cross for herself. Mothers understand that perfectly, men may understand it sometimes. I can attest to a great miracle because I have lived practically without any income since mid 2008 and yet here I am, my little bills paid, food, etc. taken care of by an incredible number of coincidences, good friends, timely donations to my blog, etc. God is teaching me to be less self-sufficient, that is to live like a son. When the lesson is learned thoroughly I will be given my former affluence but then I will also be able to use it for His glory. God bless you & let us pray for each other and for all those who struggle. Pope Francis is praying for us too.
written by CCR, December 30, 2013
@Louise, I agree. May be that is why poverty is required in some religious orders. In any case I agree -and God seems to agree in my case- that the poverty of Job gave him a new perspective on riches. Job was given back much more than he lost but that particular burden (feeling secure in his good fortune) was removed. King David was also made temporarily (and abruptly) poor before being made a king (2 Samuel 30). Having Christ is sufficient for all and also proof that God wants us to lack nothing.

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