Archive for January 10th, 2005

To expand a bit more on the question raised by f in the comments: what does the phrase "culture of death" really mean? Is it anything more than a partisan catch-phrase used by the pro-life movement?

I really ought to get out my copy of Evangelium Vitae, or find an online copy and link to it, and quote from JPII. But I have some other things I need to do tonight, so will limit myself to a couple of comments:

I think there are two main aspects to the cultural tendency we’re talking about here. One is in fact the increasing willingness to take innocent ife for utilitarian reasons: abortion and euthanasia. War and capital punishment obviously have some relevance here, too, but are not exactly the same thing, in that these at least in principle distinguish the innocent from the guilty, whereas guilt and innocence in their ordinary senses have no place in the thinking that justifies abortion. No need to belabor those; I think most people understand the moral issues involved there.

The other is more subtle and has to do with a increasingly widespread belief, which is pushed with evangelical fervor by some people, maybe most egregiously by that Singer fellow at one of the Ivy League schools–Princeton, I think: the belief, mentioned in the previous post, that human life is nothing special, no different from any other form of life. This can be seen, with reason, as a kind of death wish, a desire to have done with the moral and spiritual burdens we all carry by pronouncing them meaningless, mere illusions generated by the activity of our brains. Personally I think this is nonsense, but it can be argued very plausibly on purely intellectual grounds (like so many other dead-end skepticisms, e.g. Hume’s).

If there is in fact no such thing as the human, except perhaps in an elemental biological sense, then there is no reason to go to any particular trouble to save human lives that are unproductive or troublesome, and no reason not to–for instance–develop ways of manufacturing humans suited for specific tasks. It would be no more an ethical problem than breeding bloodhounds or bird dogs. I have heard such ideas propounded with an obscene enthusiasm.

The death of the human is the death of the moral.

Maclin Horton

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