This is Sanctity of Life Sunday.
The biggest life issue now is, of course, the killing of unborn children. This stands out for
- The huge number of victims, tens of millions, many times that of any genocide that I
- It is direct killing of the innocent. That is different in kind from capital punishment,
from killing in a just war, or from the indirect killing that accompanies many activities
(driving carelessly is wrong, and has resulted in deaths, but it is not the same as directly
intending to kill).
- Proponents have set apart a group they classify as untermenchen (a term used in
Germany in the early 20
th century, it referred to humans they consider lesser, and therefore
not as entitled to protection). This has been done in the past to Native Americans, to Jews,
to African Americans, and other groups. It is a tool used for the greatest human atrocities.
Some have even referred to unborn children as “non-living fetal tissue.” Where is the
science behind that?
That said, it is essential that we not neglect other areas where the sanctity of life needs to be
affirmed. Many see the lives of the elderly, the disabled and the infirm to be of less value,
and advocate for euthanasia. We must recognize that their lives are precious, and not only
protect them from being killed, but make sure they are not marginalized or forgotten.
We have a constant need to care for the hungry, the homeless, and those trapped in
poverty. There is room to disagree about how, but no room to say that it is not our
We must do something about human trafficking. I don’t know what, but we must do
The Catholic Church has long accepted capital punishment as a proper tool of law
enforcement, but, starting with Pope Saint John Paul II and continuing with Pope Francis,
there has been a movement away. There is a strong body of thought that suggests it does not
help deter crime, and with proper incarceration, it would not be necessary to protect
people. I suggest we can be a better society if we hold precious even the lives of vicious
murderers. That said, I have a very hard time being patient with those who say it is
contradictory to oppose abortion and favor capital punishment. How come I never hear
people saying that if we favor incarcerating criminals, we must therefore favor the
legalization of kidnapping? Honestly.
I recently listened to Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence. He speaks of the
“thingification” of other people, in which they are considered not in terms of their dignity,
their needs, their thoughts or their feelings, but only how they affect us. They are seen not
as people, but as things, as objects. Celeste Headlee in her excellent book We Need to Talk:
How to Have Conversations that Matter, mentions that studies show that empathy is on the
decline. It is easy to figure that the widespread use of social media rather than personal
contact makes things worse. The enormous use of pornography has to be a huge factor. I
see a lot of conversation showing contempt for people who disagree. That can’t help. How
do we build empathy in our society?
Final thought: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could
do only a little.” -Edmund Burke