…but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.
At least as far back as the late ’60s, some people on both the left and the right have exhibited a thrill that doesn’t seem entirely unpleasurable at the idea that some kind of apocalypse is at hand, that their opponents have taken some kind of step which at once reveals the true depths of their evil and cements their grasp upon the country. I partook of it as a left-wing student when I heard people scare each other with talk of the secret concentration camps Nixon was preparing for us. It was the thrill of children scaring themselves with ghost stories, and I gradually learned to turn a skeptical eye on that sort of rhetoric and emotion. A tendency toward hysteria is a feature of the American character and therefore of American politics.
Nevertheless, the boy who cried wolf was eventually correct. I don’t think that the almost certainly impending death of Terri Schiavo means that the government is going to start rounding up Christians or implementing a program of euthanasia for the disabled. But I am concerned that we have taken a decisive step in that direction, a step big enough that historians might one day see it as a useful marker, like the burning of the Reichstag, of a decisive change.
We are witnessing the government-ordered starvation of an innocent person. Whatever else may be said about the Schiavo case, that fact cannot be wished or explained away. One of the many choruses agitating for this act has been saying for a week or two now that "this sort of thing happens every day." That’s what they said in arguing for legalized abortion, too. And perhaps it’s true. But people have always done bad things on the sly, and people have always, in difficult circumstances, done, with good intentions, things that are objectively wrong. When we decide that, in the name of consistency, honesty, and efficiency, we are going to declare right that which we formerly believed to be wrong, that permissible (if not compulsory) which was formerly forbidden, we are in a different moral world.
That impulse has been given as the justification for a lot of our moral "progress" in the past thirty years or so. "Oh, it happens all the time, best to bring it out into the open." Well, no, it isn’t best. Prudence is a virtue and we don’t need to adopt the Wahabbist program of purifying society by force of all wrongdoing. But the abortionist belongs in legal darkness, as does the euthanizer.
Daniel Nichols and I have a standing disagreement about whether the U.S. is and has been "in general and on balance a force for good in the world," I taking the affirmative and he the negative. I’m not ready to abandon my position yet, but there is an undeniable potential for our nation to become the blasphemous and obscene empire represented in the Bible by the timeless image of Babylon. And they have achieved a victory.
There are many, many Americans who are simply misinformed and uncomprehending as to what is really going on in the Schiavo case. There are also many–I’m not sure how many, and the answer to that question is very important–who are taking what I can only describe as demonic glee in Terri Schiavo’s execution, and I’m not one to use the word "demonic" casually. Will this be the hour in which the balance tips their way, or will the extraordinary passion aroused among religious people, and indeed those of no religious persuasion who simply understand that it is wrong to kill a disabled person, lead to a definitive repudiation of euthanasia?
Earlier this week I sent my children a link to Fr. Rob Johansen’s compilation of reasons why Terri’s condition should be re-evaluated. I prefaced it with the observation that there was no reason why this should be turning into a liberal-vs.-conservative fight. And we’re seeing unexpected people on both sides–conservatives saying "let her die," and liberals like Tom Harkin, God bless him, standing firm against the killing. The light is flickering but it isn’t out yet. In what other industrialized nation would this case even be controversial?
I really had not intended to post during the Triduum, but the confluence of these events with the Passion of Our Lord has been so haunting that I’ve found it hard to stop thinking about it. The juxtaposition is so obviously full of significance that it hardly needs comment. With that I’m signing off until Sunday.
See this post at Dawn Eden’s for a Chestertonian reflection on the Schiavo case; some good comments from readers as well.