The past few weeks have shown me that (fortunately) I am still capable of being shocked. First, I was stunned at the two recent ISIS inspired terrorist events in France: the murder of 84 innocent men, women and children by a man who mowed them down with a truck in the city of Nice; and the murder of 85 year old French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, at the altar while he celebrated Mass.
Then, I heard the speech by Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, at the Democratic National Convention, proudly recounting to a national audience of how she aborted her first child: “To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path. I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time. I made the decision that was best for me – to have an abortion – and was able to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community. Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.” Watching the speech with others, someone remarked, “I wonder if her children ever think about that older brother or sister.” Some commentators later gushed over the speech as part of a push to destigmatize abortion. One of them tweeted: “Abortion is normal, moral, respectable, and responsible. Abortion is health care!”
While it might not be readily apparent, these things are somewhat related. They are examples of evil being called good. In the first instance, ISIS terrorists perversely attribute their violence as a manifestation of divine will, often shouting in Arabic, “God is great!” as they carry out the carnage. An error about God leads to further errors about humanity and our relationship with God and one another. In this world of deep error, evil becomes “good.”
In the second instance, evil becomes good because “I say so.” God is not involved at all. This relativistic worldview was described in Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s infamous opinion in 1992 in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” In other words, each person is free to create their own world, including what is good or evil. In such a world, I may choose to kill an unborn person if it is the “wrong time” and “best for me” and then call it “health care.” When this is facilitated by an unjust law and reinforced by court decisions, embraced by political interests and the big money attached to them, the evil is institutionalized.
I suppose my shock lay in the fact that abortion has for the most part always been portrayed as a “necessary evil” by its staunchest advocates. Now, it seems, we are facing a new propaganda, that abortion really is “good” or, as the commentator put it, “normal, moral, respectable, and responsible.”
Since 1992 we have seen the unfolding of Justice Kennedy’s vision in a variety of other ways; to freely impose one’s own meaning to a host of other things that lie at the foundation of any society: marriage, gender identity. In a world where there are no real absolutes that we can agree on, a world that is malleable to every person’s individual will, chaos and conflict ensue. Undermined are the common good and the delicate bonds of solidarity that are so important for a just and peaceful society. Pope Benedict foresaw the dangers associated with this, warning: “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
In spite of this, there is great hope to be had. It is Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He is with us always. Part of our witness as Christians (our duty in fact), difficult as it may be at times, is to point to Jesus as the one who, contrary to Justice Kennedy’s opinion, gives every person the truest concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life. Even for those who are not Christian, we can point them to what is “written” in creation itself: a meaning that is not of our own making; one that is true, good, beautiful, and over us . . . in which good really is good.