Friday, June 17, 2011

Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

Over at Cinema Catechism, we have been studying how Sophie Scholl and the White Rose confronted the great evil that was National Socialism.

Despite the cries of "never again" after World War II, there are some who seem to think that Hitler and the Nazis so epitomized evil that if a situation does not rise to the level of exterminating six million Jews and millions of others, then it is not really so great an evil. As such, they acquiesce in any number of horrors and "never again" becomes "once again" because, although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, as has been said here repeatedly, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

What are these "other evils"?

Among other things, practically the entirety of what was a few years ago called the "New Biology," from frozen embryos to embryo-killing stem cell research to other embryo and fetal experimentation to attempted human cloning to organ harvesting to baby selling to the medicalized "aid in dying" of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and withholding of care, to eugenics to, of course, abortion, including abortifacient pills (falsely called emergency "contraception") and that species of death which nearly fully delivers the baby before jamming a pair of pointed scissors into the baby's skull and sucking her brains out to collapse the head, which, as gruesome as that is, still nevertheless leaves militant advocates for abortion. All of these, and more, contribute to a culture of death -- death not only of the physical body, but death of conscience and death of the soul, and eventually death of society itself.

At one point in time, they were all recognized for the immoral and evil attacks on the sanctity of life that they are (especially since many of these things were pursued under that same Nazi Germany that perpetrated the Holocaust - Rudolph Hess said in 1934 that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology"). But no longer. Today's bioethics fully embraces as virtuous what was rejected yesterday as reprehensible. Today's bioethics experts
"produce evermore sophisticated rationalizations for turning the unthinkable into the routinely doable. The prohibited becomes the permissible becomes the expected. 'But that would be murder!' is an objection that loses its force the second time around." (Richard John Neuhaus, "The War Against Reason," National Review, Dec. 18, 1987)
However, despite the imprimatur given by bioethics "experts," despite the legal approval of judges and legislators and politicians, there is a higher law than their utilitarianism, than their law of the supremacy of the will. That higher law, which is knowable to all by reason and good conscience, is objective moral truth, including the inalienable diginity of the human person -- that all human beings are inherently equal and entitled to be respected as persons, subjects, and ends in themselves, and not as things, objects, means, or resources to be manipulated by others, regardless of stage of development, cognitive ability, "quality of life," or contribution to society.

Unfortunately, sense of the higher law has been largely lost by our legal system because sense of transcendental Truth has been ignored in favor of a utilitarianism, enforced and protected by positive human "law," that appeals to the will and considers truth and human life to be merely values to be weighed in the equation of what adds or subtracts from another's pleasure. But the unjust statutory and judicial "law" decreeing the wholesale violation of fundamental human dignity is no law at all. And we have a duty under the higher law, as a matter of good conscience, to oppose and resist the evils of today: the attacks, in thought and deed, on the instrinsic dignity, value, and sanctity of human life.
28. This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life." We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. . . .

71. Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence," which is that of ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defense of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. . . .

In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that
"it is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ‘to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.’ Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force." . . .
74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. . . . In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.
(Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae) (emphasis added)

No comments: