Here's problem three:
our inability to imagine and hope. Americans have never been ideologues.
We're pragmatists and tool-makers. We respect results. Therefore it's no
surprise that we have the strongest economic machine in the world, and that
we excel at science and technology, and that these disciplines enjoy such
esteem in our culture. But as the writer Edward Tenner once observed, technology
always carries with it a "revenge of unintended consequences"
and one of the unintended consequences of our science is that we've
now become its objects and its victims. One of the costs of our science
has been a decline in our vocabulary of the soul, a rise in a purely materialist,
determinist view of the world, and a decline in our sense that humanity
is somehow unique in creation. Hope and imagination flow out of a belief
in a higher purpose to our lives. If all we are is very intelligent carbon,
then hope and imagination are just quirks of the species. And so is any
talk about the sanctity of the human person.
Problem four: our
inability to live real freedom. Freedom is not an endless supply
of choices and options. Choice for its own sake is just another
form of idolatry. Freedom is the ability to see and the courage
to do what is right. But if, as a people, we begin to doubt
that any absolute principles of right and wrong exist, then how
can we even begin to discuss things like freedom, truth and the
sanctity of the human person in a common vocabulary? How can we
agree on which rights take precedence, and who has responsibility
What we get
in place of freedom is a kind of anarchy of conflicting pressure
groups and personal agendas held together by just one thing: the
economy we all share . . . and that's not the basis of a community
or even a useful conversation. In fact our economy, more than anything
else in modern American life, teaches us to see almost everything
as a commodity to be bought or sold. This is what Jeremy Rifkin
warns about when he describes American culture as increasingly a
"paid-for experience" based on the commodification of
passion, ideals, relationships and even time. If we want freedom,
we buy it by purchasing this car or that computer; if we
want romance, we buy it by purchasing this cruise or that
The trouble is, the
more our advertising misuses the language of our dreams and ideals to sell
consumer goods . . . the more confused our dreams and ideals themselves
become. We delude ourselves to the point where we no longer recognize what
real love, honest work, freedom, family, patriotism and even life
itself look like.
Now these four problems
we've just outlined act as a kind of background noise in American
culture that can screen out much of the work pro-lifers do. And
. . . that can be discouraging. The Prophet Jeremiah certainly struggled
with discouragement when God sent him to preach repentance to his
people. He was treated with contempt and disbelief, and I know that
pro-lifers are as well. But he was faithful and because
he was faithful, the truth was served and God remained alive in
the hearts of the Jewish people. Mother Teresa once said that we're
not called to be successful, we're called to be faithful, and in
due time, God will ensure the victory.
We need to remember
that. But we also need to take joy and confidence in the fact that,
in the long run, right makes might, not the other way around. A
friend once shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers.
It's in Texan, not English, but it goes like this: Little man
whup a big man every time if the little man's in the right and keeps
a-comin. I probably like that because I'm short but I
also believe it's true.
All of us have a freedom
given to us by God, so in the near term, no one can stop an individual
or even a nation that consciously chooses to die. But in the long
run, life always wins; right always wins; God is always glorified
and nothing is more beautiful or more powerful than the simple,
single person who witnesses the sanctity of life even in the face
of his or her own destruction. Nobody remembers the party hacks
or police thugs at Tienanmen Square. But we all remember
the single young man who blocked the line of tanks.
lie of the modern age is that individuals can't make a difference.
But it's exactly individuals who do make a difference, men
and women who refuse to cooperate with evil and insist on doing
good. Human beings make history, not the other way around,
and we do it day in and day out, one by one, in our choices of whom
and what we love, what we build, what we live for, and what we fight
I began my remarks
by quoting a brother bishop. His name was Clemens August von Galen. He was
quite an extraordinary man because he was one of the very few German religious
leaders who publicly, forcefully and courageously condemned the Nazi regime
at the height of its power for murdering the mentally and physically handicapped.
Bishop von Galen delivered his homily almost exactly 60 years ago this week
August 3, 1941 and his message is just as urgent today as
it was then.
The difference between
1941 and 2001 is that America, perhaps unlike Germany at that time, still
has a deep reservoir of goodness in its public life. The struggle for the
soul of our country can still be won, and pro-lifers are all von Galens.
They are working to create something better and more humane a future
worthy of the human person as a child of God. And in John Paul's "The
Gospel of Life" and the American bishops' "Living the Gospel of
Life" we have tools that can guide us in the task.
Little man whup
a big man every time, if the little man's in the right and keeps
a-comin. Be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. And know
that in saving one child, you save the world.