For the last several weeks, I have been going to Oklahoma City for physical therapy. Don't ask why; it's a long story going back to high school. Suffice to say, I fell off a stage. Yes, graceful to the last is this priest. Pulling out of the 7-11 after stopping for a soda to bolster me for the trip back to the parish, I pulled behind a woman at the light. It was a long light and so I had enough time to read the bumper stickers on her rear bumper. After the one proclaiming her political allegiance, she had two more. The first said "War is not the answer." The second said, "Keep Abortion Legal." When the light turned it took me a moment to pull forward because of the obvious contradiction of the two statements. This is what gets me in trouble though. Because I saw this in OKC, I had an entire hour to think about it. If it had happened at the Love's just south of town I won't have remembered it.
Before you think me a bore, let me start by saying I can sympathize with the sentiment of the first sticker. As Pope John Paul II reminded us, war always represents a failure. War is a failure of reconciliation, can grow from a failure of justice, and generally is a failure of diplomacy. The sad fact is that people die in war. My father fought in WWII in the Pacific theater aboard the Ticonderoga. He could very easily have died and you wouldn't be reading this essay. When I think about war though I also recognize that war sometimes is necessary for the defense of others. The First Gulf War as well as World War II are good examples of such actions. Such a reality as defensive war led theologians of the Church to ponder when war may be engaged morally.
I don't know what exactly motivated this woman's placement of this sticker but I can make a reasonable guess. She doesn't want us involved in a costly war, a war with a high price tag of lives and dollars. She doesn't want America to act as a bully and try to build empires by imposing democracy on nations not ready for such a political system. She doesn't want young men and women thrown down like so much assorted meat for the grinder. All of this is a laudable goal. I would suspect that in the end the reason she wants the war to end is because she wants the killing to end. That is most laudable, indeed, if that is what she is after.
Move over to the next sticker and ask yourself why she might have that one on there. We must speculate because I didn't get a chance to pull her over and ask. But we know many of the stated reasons. A woman has a right to control her body. A woman should be free to choose whether or not this pregnancy comes to term. Sadly, most women, based on my experience working with post-abortive women, are forced into the position of having to have an abortion by someone else, be they partner or parent. Sometimes, women are violated and therefore, she should not have to carry this pregnancy to term. So in the end, you should keep abortion legal. Herein lies the contradiction that breaks the whole logic.
At the heart of both matters lies the value of human life. In the case of war, we are told war is bad and therefore must be stopped because people die. In the case of abortion, we are told abortion is necessary for social and personal freedom and therefore must be permitted, in spite of the fact that people die. And before someone tries to say that we don't know that this embryo is a person, please permit me to take a quick poll. Anyone who is alive today without being an embryo first, please raise your hand. I don't see any hands. Okay all you former embryos, are you persons? Okay, I think we sorted that matter out.
As former embryos, we rightly find the sanction of abortion repugnant. The foundation for a culture of life begins with protecting the child at its most defenseless. It has no where to go and no where to hide. But again, someone might ask, "But really the embryo is so small and it doesn't look like a person. How can we know it matters?" Fair question. How small does something have to be in a person before it stops mattering?
Start with your limbs. After all, the limbs aren't the whole of the person; they're just a small part. Anyone who has broken an arm or a leg knows well how important that one limb is. So that's not small enough. How about a skin cell on my forearm? Is that small enough? Well, no. A missing skin cell is a breach in the body's defenses and for some bacteria, that's all the invitation it needs to take over. Please see the flesh eating bacteria for example. So, the skin cell is not small enough. Okay, how about the DNA in the cell; perhaps that's small enough. The problem there is that the DNA is the drive for the cell. That's the stuff that regulates cell growth and protein development and when something goes haywire there, the next stop is disease, usually cancer. So, still not small enough. Okay, how about the smallest known quantum particle, an electron? Surely that's small enough not to matter. If you think that then you can stop eating all that food with extra antioxidants in them. An antioxidant compound is able to shed an electron without losing stability. It can shed those electrons to unstable structure, say in your DNA, and restores its stability and cohesion. Because the DNA is stable is less likely to go haywire and generate a cancerous growth. These sorts of cancerous growths, generally starting from one rogue cell, can jeopardize the health of the whole person. So you see, there is nothing too small when dealing with a person - from the very smallest stages of his development springs the full grown person you and I are.
Before you think I am blowing this out of proportion, I would remind you of my birthday. I was born January 23, 1973. I am the first survivor of a decimated generation. On one side of the calendar, I was safe in my mother's womb; on the turn of an unfriendly calendar page, I was safe nowhere. Some 4000 abortions are performed in the U.S. daily. That averages out to about 167 abortions a hour each day. Putting the effects of abortion into perspective is simple. In the two towns where I serve as pastor, if the populations of each town were wiped out in the same fashion, assuming you started at midnight, every man, woman, and child would be dead in Meeker before dawn and in Prague by three in the afternoon. Abortion is the violence of full grown people inflicted upon unborn people.
The truth be told is this. If I don't defend life at its most vulnerable, I won't defend it anywhere else. The person who claims that we as a society can denigrate the child in the womb through abortion and at the same time have a sensible policy related to war is living in a dream. If I won't respect the child in the womb's right to existence what makes you think I am not going to treat the soldier on the battlefield like cannon fodder.
The notion of Respecting Life encompasses a wide swath of issues including but not restricted to abortion, embryonic stem cell research, proper education and health care, proper use of war as a political reality, the proper implementation of the death penalty, and the proper care and support to the elderly. From cradle to grave, we must respect life, but the whole house rests on a foundation of defending the right to exist at all.
We come to this topic in a contentious time with a major election on the horizon. As your pastor, it is my responsibility to remind you that regardless of parties we must stand on the principles of our faith when we approach our turn to vote. Because we aren't going to find a perfect candidate we are called to begin by addressing those evils which strike against the greatest good. In this case, we return to abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Frankly put, if I don't make it out of the womb alive, the rest of that stuff simply won't and doesn't matter. We must take a politician's stance on those two issues into consideration first. Along with these issues, we must also address the question of same sex unions and euthanasia. Before someone says, euthanasia won't happen in our time, I would ask them to visit Seattle and find out what Prop. I-1000 is. It's a proposition on the ballot for the legalization of assisted suicide. In Arizona, a heated battle is underway to add a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. That this has to be debated is a sign of our times for us. I can't tell you for whom to vote; I can only guide you on the principles that in good conscience must form that decision. I teach these principles because they will remain valid for this election and every election to come.
In conclusion, I would like to quote from the noted theologian, Theodore Geisel. His work is very subtle so you might not be familiar with it. He's better known as Dr. Seuss. In his work, "Horton Hears A Who," Horton discovers a tiny city packed with many people, hidden in a dandelion fluff. It is so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye. Only Horton heard the tiny voice crying out for help from the dandelion. Everyone else in the forest harasses and torments Horton, trying to destroy Horton and the dandelion, simply because he won't let them have it. But Horton had the right of it: "A person's a person no matter how small."