But within recent months, my neck of the woods has been rocked by a series of senseless, brutal murders, the kind we’re completely unaccustomed to. Late last year, a gunman, reportedly irate over a romantic breakup, walked into a local home and started shooting, killing three members of the family living there and injuring three others.
Then, a mother was convicted of shooting her three young sons in their sleep as a means of revenge against her philandering husband. Recently, a young man confessed to murdering a 20-year old college student with a rifle during an intended kidnap and rape.
Long-time residents of our county have never seen anything like this. Growing up, murder was a shocking and rare event, something that happened in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, but not around here. Those of us who have lived here a while can only ask: What in God’s name is going on?
Well, what’s going on locally is what has been going on in this country for nearly the last thirty years or so: the specter of what Pope John Paul II aptly calls “America’s culture of death.”
D-Day for the culture of death occurred 29 years last week when, in a legal travesty known as Roe v. Wade, seven members of the Supreme Court “discovered” abortion rights hidden somewhere in our Constitution, unbeknownst to every previous Supreme Court jurist, all 50 states, and the American public at large. Not only were the abortion laws of every state struck down, but any measure providing even minimal safeguards for the unborn was henceforth illegal. In essence, the Court was saying the Constitution somehow made the fetus unprotectable.
Some hailed the decision as a momentous victory for civil and women’s rights. The most profound change, though, was unforeseen by abortion advocates. This revolution – for it was nothing less – ushered in a new way of thinking about human life: that life’s value is not inherent, but instead is determined according to the judgment, however flawed, of another person.
From time immemorial, life was considered to be a gift from God and therefore sacred. It was not left to the imperfect reasoning of man to determine when and where an innocent life should end. To do so was tantamount to murder. A new life might be untimely, troublesome, even dangerous to the health of its mother, but, because created in the image of God, he or she was intrinsically precious and thus worthy of protection.
The philosophy of abortion rights is radically different: a woman maintains the right to determine what happens to her body, even if that destroys another’s existence. Implicitly, the life in the womb has no innate worth, only the value its mother ascribes to it. And, as they say, who’s to judge?
If she loves the child, the tiny being is of inestimable worth, beyond any material riches the world can offer. On the other hand, if inconvenient, a threat to career or in any way bothersome, that same fetus has no value. It is dispensable at any time during a pregnancy. No longer considered precious because he or she was “made in God’s image,” the baby’s continued existence depends entirely on the mother’s transitory “feeling” toward the child. Amazingly, some consider this to be a step forward – human “progress.” It is actually a reversion to uncivilized barbarism.
To this way of thinking, “terminating a pregnancy” has no more moral consequences than a tonsillectomy or appendectomy. In the ethos of abortion rights, there is nothing more tragic than “unwanted” children – kids literally thought better off dead. Aborting unwanted children becomes an act of conscience.
Unfortunately, the category of “unwanted” has a nasty habit of continually expanding. It logically follows that if human life has no intrinsic value inside the womb, then it has none outside of it either. Our culture of death now reinforces this: we seem all too eager to extend the “right to die” to the sick, the handicapped, and the elderly.
From here, it’s only a stone’s throw to conclude that in this new calculus of life no one’s existence has inherent worth; only the value you or I place on it. Other people exist merely as tools to enhance our power or pleasure. So if your life stands in the way of my getting what I want, whether it be money, or sex, or love . . . again, who’s to judge? This is known as a slippery slope.
Don’t believe it? Well, just pick up any newspaper.
We are only beginning to feel the whirlwind created on that wintry January day in 1973 when, with one monstrous decision, this nation’s leaders cheapened the value not only of the unborn, but of all human life. Civil society rests on our having a decent respect for each other’s humanity. By failing to protect the weakest among us, we blindly tore the delicate fabric of civilization that safeguards us all, unleashing forces we cannot now control.
When Roe v. Wade was decided, the most wild-eyed alarmist never envisioned it would eventually lead to murder happening in our own backyards. But so it has happened and so it will continue, until we walk back from the darkness that began twenty-nine years ago and return to the light.
James Bemis is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News, and has been published in many other Catholic and secular publications. His five-part series, “Through the Eyes of the Church,” about the Vatican’s list of the 45 “Most Important Films in the Century of Cinema,” was recently published in The Wanderer and he is writing a screenplay for a film based on the sixteenth-century English Reformation.