Modern Lamentation

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 in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: