Reflections on St. Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae

Structure of Sin

“. . .  it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be called a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’ This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency . . . .  a war of the powerful against the weak.” (#12)

What is a “structure of sin,” a phrase that suggests a building with a foundation, several levels or stories, and a pinnacle or highest level? From the topmost heights of legal authority and the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court issues the Roe v. Wade decision that legalizes abortion and makes it the law of the land in all fifty states. Below the Supreme Court one of the two political parties in the United States endorses this ruling and adopts it in its political platform as “a woman’s right to choose” and as a matter of her reproductive freedom. The Democratic Party and other lawmakers reinforce the original decision in the name of progress, women’s emancipation, and the will of the majority of people.

In the tier below the lawmakers, the universities and the educational establishment join their voices to a defense of the new law and give their stamp of approval. Planned Parenthood, funded by tax-payer money, gains approval to teach “health” courses in public schools that indoctrinate adolescents in the “right to privacy” to end unwanted pregnancies without parental consent. Colleges, in the name of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and preventing the spread of AIDS, provide free contraceptives to students that enable promiscuous relationships that, in many cases, inevitably lead to pregnancy and then abortion.

On the next level the liberal print media (The New York Times, The Washington Post), notorious for their animus to religion and traditional morality, editorialize on behalf of Roe v. Wade and adopt a party line in support of liberal abortion laws that protect women from unsanitary conditions and unskilled medical personnel in “back-alley” abortuaries. The print media, in turn, gains support from other media outlets like the talk-show hosts who repeat the liberal ideology that morality is relative and no person has a right to impose his morality on another person. Hollywood’s productions of films with its ratings of “R” and “X” also promote the sexual revolution unleashed by Supreme Court decisions that presume to equate the legal with the moral by removing all stigmas and prohibitions from contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and, now same-sex marriage.

Another part of the structure of sin involves the economic factor, the $500 million allocated to Planned Parenthood and its lucrative business as the nation’s greatest abortion provider. Abortionists and their personnel earn handsome salaries that afford them lives of luxury and affluence at the cost of corrupting vulnerable youth and the slaughtering of innocents. Indoctrinated in the convenience and availability of abortion to solve the crisis of unexpected pregnancies and assuaged by the knowledge of its legality, all involved in the structure of sin pretend and imagine they do good by means that are evil. This avarice even extends to the trafficking of human organs of aborted fetuses. This structure of sin is indeed a massive edifice with many floors, rooms, offices, and authoritative voices supported with many strong pillars and buttressed with stone walls.

It imagines it is invincible and formidable because of its massive weight and imposing force composed of the major institutions of a society from the courts to the lawmakers to the educators and the pundits of political opinion. It rests its self-assurance on the reaffirmation of Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that argued that nowadays all modern people organize their personal and social lives on easy access to safe, legal abortions. However, this “war of the powerful against the weak” (the destruction of 60 million lives since 1973) underestimates the greater power of the Church that survived Roman persecution, the French Revolution, and Communistic atheism. No structure of sin, built upon lies, profits, and infanticide murder can withstand the rock of truth and God on which the Church is built.

A Hedonistic Mentality

“Still, in very many other instances such practices [contraception and abortion] are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.”  (#13)

What is “a hedonistic mentality”? The sexual revolution separated love from responsibility, rendering asunder what God joined together—the unitive, procreative, and pleasurable unity of sexual acts.  The hedonistic mentality rejects what John Paul called “the gift of self” or “self-donation” that love demands, the totality of love’s surrender in its openness to life and God’s will,  reducing the conjugal relations between man and woman to a matter of carnal lust. As Pope Paul VI explained in Humane Vitae, the hedonistic mentality depends on the availability of contraception and abortion to prevent or terminate pregnancy, and it views the  man or woman as merely a body without a soul, a mere  instrument of pleasure to be used and exploited without respect for the personhood of the other or the design and purpose of God’s plan for love, marriage, and the family.

This is the “self-centered concept of freedom” that underlies the hedonistic mentality, the license to do as one wishes without any moral inhibitions or limits. Sexuality loses its natural, God-given purposes for the unity of marriage and the procreation of children and uses the body in a disordered, irresponsible way never intended by Mother Nature or God the Father. Instead of the acceptance of moral responsibility for the life-giving act of true love, the hedonistic mentality turns to chemicals, barriers, and pills to provide “safety,” protection from conception. Contraceptive acts, then, lie. They only feign love, pretending to give without truly giving, pretending to surrender and give all in the abandonment of self only to take and use rather than give without calculation and precaution. Hedonism is the ultimate act of selfish lovelessness because real love is always fecund, generative, generous, and abundant.

Nothing can be more unnatural and perverse than to sow seed and destroy the fruit– planting only to reject and destroy the harvest of love. Instead of obeying the natural law of sowing and reaping and experiencing the true fulfillment of a completed process from beginning to end that cooperates with natural and divine laws, contraceptive and abortive acts have no purpose, meaning, or accomplishment. They amount to exercises in futility in which the result is literally “nothing,” that is, barrenness, infertility, or death. The hedonistic mentality, then, that pursues pleasure at all costs in the pursuit of happiness only produces death as its bitter fruit.

Promethean Attitude

“On a more general level, there exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands.” (#15)

What is a Promethean attitude? Prometheus is a mythological character who stole fire from the gods and suffered the punishment of a vulture devouring his liver in the Greek underworld of Hades. A Promethean attitude designates the sin of pride known in the ancient world as hubris, the presumption that man is a god independent of higher divine powers that he can defy at will. John Paul II refers to man’s overweening arrogance that imagines that human beings rule as the arbiters of life and death “by taking the decisions about them into their own hands.” Invoking the right to privacy and the health of the mother (including psychological health), judges give legal rights and permission for doctors, fathers, and mothers to abort the lives of pre-born children in the womb. The 60 million babies subjected to legalized killing in the United States since 1973 reflect a godless society that disregards the sanctity of life as a gift from the Creator.

When man adopts a Promethean attitude, he values nothing above man-made law or judicial decrees as sacred or authoritative, dishonoring divine law, natural law, tradition, the wisdom of the past, the accumulated experience of the generations, and the documents and encyclicals of the Church. A Promethean attitude neither respects nor venerates any greater source of truth than man’s individual independent thought separated from all the traditional sources of knowledge—history, Nature, and revelation.

Private judgment, subjective feelings, and personal choice carry greater weight than universal moral laws and objective truths. C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, for example, lists a number of these universal moral principles that transcend time, place, and culture. Under the category of “Duties to Children and Posterity,” he records the following moral precepts found in the sacred writings of all religions and in the thought of wise philosophers:

Children, the old, the poor, etc., should be considered as lords of the atmosphere. (Hindu. Janet, i.8)

Nature produces a special love of offspring. To live according to Nature is the supreme good. (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. iv, and De Legibus, I. xxi)

The Master said, Respect the young. (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix, 22)

The Promethean attitude, then, denies the light of the past, the greatest achievements of noble thought, and the Perennial Philosophy of the ages of ages that Lewis calls “the Tao.”

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Dr. Mitchell A. Kalpakgian is a native of New England, the son of Armenian immigrants. He was Professor of English at Simpson College (Iowa) for 31 years. During his academic career, Dr. Kalpakgian received many academic honors, among them the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Fellowship (Brown University, 1981); the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship (University of Kansas, 1985); and an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Institute on Children's Literature.

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