Physical science can tell us only about the bare fact of things. The “why” of things comes from the God Who orders all facts. Believe in God, and you live the truth; deny God, and you have to come up with lies.
All that we are is because there is a God — a Three-in-One and One-in-Three. To deny that is to enter into the biggest lie of all: that life itself is an accident. If we don’t understand that life is a gift, we will only be able to see death as a curse. We know the desultory grief of watching others die, and we know the anxiety of contemplating our own death. These can be overwhelming if we do not understand that death, through the rebirth of the soul, can be the entrance to eternal life.
If people do not trust that God offers us eternal life, they will become obsessed with death and its anxiety. And then they will begin to turn that death of the self into a death imposed on others.
We can try to live a lie, but the truth of death cannot be denied. Indeed, every attempt to sanitize death creates a culture of lies. In turn, we leverage that culture of lies into a culture of death. The contraceptive mentality, the abortion mentality, and the euthanasia mentality can survive only on lies.
Roe v. Wade was based on lies — lies about the Constitution, the right of privacy, the facts of biology, and life itself. In fact, the litigation that led to Roe was based on an admitted personal lie by the woman who was used to bring the case. This woman, Norma McCorvey, has since received the grace of Baptism, living a truth instead of a lie.
Many international organizations propagate the mentality of death by lying about population, by lying about the nature of laws and their potential to promote or to destroy life. The dire predictions from decades ago about population and the ability of civilization to handle more people were wrong. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae vitae, laid down basic truths that go beyond the statistics and predictions of so-called experts. Those who did not want to accept these truths simply covered their ears. If you don’t want to accept the truth, you have to smother it.
I remember standing at a pro-life meeting. During an opening prayer, a group of pro-abortion activists began to blow whistles in order to drown out the prayer. They could not contradict the fact that we were there; they could not contradict the fact that we were praying; and they could not contradict the fact of God. They could only try to cover it up by blowing whistles.
In the Second World War, Russian troops massacred hundreds upon hundreds of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. The Russians claimed afterward that the Nazis had done it, but now we know the truth. We also know that the soldiers who machine-gunned the Polish officers and threw them into mass graves were given extra rations of vodka. In other words, they were cruel, but they were human. They had a conscience. If the conscience is going to condone death, it has to live a lie; and if it’s going to live a lie, it has to anesthetize the truth.
Now, it is also easy to be so committed to the truth that one loses confidence in the ability of truth to survive on its own; we think and act as if it depends on us. The truth will always out in the end, but people committed to the truth can become so frustrated when they see lies against it that they lose their balance. This is how fanatics are created. Every righteous cause has had a fanatic (or several). There are fanatics in the pro-life movement just as there were fanatics in the abolitionist movement, such as John Brown, who attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
When I was a college student, I remember going to the opera with my parents to see Faust. In the climactic scene, a woman in prison takes her baby and dashes it to the ground. We were close enough to see that the baby was, of course, a doll, but when that diva smashed the doll to the stage, my mother let out a scream! I was young and naïve enough about life to be embarrassed by that maternal scream. Now I realize that in that maternal scream was the sense of truth that allowed me to be born and that has allowed, from all ages, every life to be born.
That holy scream was also heard in Bethlehem soon after Our Lord was born. An insecure willful king massacred the innocents because wanted to live a lie: He wanted to be the only king. But the lie did not last (no lie does), and he ended up dying a miserable death. In the meantime, many infants paid the price for his lie. Notice this characteristic of King Herod, which is typical of people like him: He was sentimental, and he played on sentimentality in others. When the three mysterious figures from the East told him that the Great One had been born, he responded, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matt. 2:8). We can almost see the saccharine look on his face, the pretense to devotion, while his mind was sneering and plotting.
Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern Catholic writer, pointed out many times that the cruelest people are the most sentimental. They don’t live by truth, but by a lie. And when you live by a lie, you are governed, not by fact, but by feeling. Indeed, the worst crimes against life are always cloaked in sentimentality.
Here’s another fact: The Holy Catholic Church is our Mother. In a culture of death, She not only preserves the spark of life but transmits that life to a dying culture. In the pope’s cathedral, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, a Latin inscription in the Baptistery says, as we might translate: “Here is born a people of divine lineage, generated by the Holy Spirit who makes these waters life-giving. Mother Church gives birth to her children within these waves.”
This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Rutler’s Grace & Truth: Twenty Steps to Embracing Virtue and Saving Civilization. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.