Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Before There Was Abortion, This:


 If you talk to people who work at pro-life pregnancy centers you will learn something that should have been obvious to all of us, but that gets swept under the carpet in the whole back and forth about abortion; teenage girls don't often drive themselves to abortion clinics. Often, very often, they are taken there by their parents. Women who  help young girls with difficult pregnancies know that the hardest part is often dealing with parents, who are often the main reason for many teenage abortions. Catholic or not, most parents want their daughters to go to college or finish high school, have  "careers", and become financially successful before they get married. And then, once financial stability and economic well-being has been guaranteed, maybe a child or two. And Catholic or not, since most of these parents have used birth control themselves, even though they do not want to contemplate the idea that their kids might be what is euphemistically known as "sexually active" at least they want to make sure nobody gets pregnant. The disaster they dread is not premarital sex, it is pregnancy. It connotes shame (even now) and implies a disruption of all their plans and dreams for their child's future.  There was one case recently of a daughter calling 911 from inside an abortion clinic because she did not want to have the abortion her mother had scheduled--and her mother was hitting her in the stomach--to help the abortionist along, I guess.
     We want our children to be safe and happy.  From the first moment we see them, that is all we want. The wonder and joy and awe we experience at the birth of a child are always accompanied by a feeling of terror; we know how dangerous life is, and we experience powerlessness in a more profound way that we had imagined possible. In America "safe and happy" have become very complicated concepts because we have a sense of entitlement that other cultures do not foster. Although nowhere in the Declaration does it say this, people think we are guaranteed  happiness by our political system. And we have watched our economy grow and progress and we still regard our armed forces as bringers of safety and justice to other nations; even though we now lack the political will to see our armed interventions through to their logical conclusions, we like to think that if we so desired, we could in fact civilize the rest of the world. We have gotten kind of cocky, in other words.
     Into this illusion  of security teenage pregnancy brings  something unlooked for and unwanted, an interruption of what we see as the normal pattern of life--something very very tiny and completely helpless which nontheless evokes a terrible and all consuming fear. But this fear is not for a child. This is the fear of a child. The more  well-ordered our lives, the brighter and more successful we are, the higher the expectations we have of our children's future, the greater the fear. Our love for our children--which has become idolatry-- becomes a rejection of our grandchildren.  In a Christian family there is the added prospect of shame---shame is one of the last Christian  sentiments we allow ourselves here.

    There has just been discovered in Tuam, Ireland the  mass grave of 796 children; their remains were disposed of  on the property of a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic nuns. They were orphans, and the bodies are evidence of a culture of hypocrisy and denial so  repressive that mothers  and children both were stigmatized, ostracized,  and treated with terrible cruelty.The children are said to have died of neglect. *
     There is a perversion of Christianity which despises the body and what is human, and in fact denies the infinite mercy of Christ in its abhorrence of certain kinds of physical sins.  Its practices tend towards abuse (or "mortification") of the flesh,and a rigid and compulsive approach to acts of piety. Interestingly, it combines both self-hatred and intense spiritual pride, and it relies on more external acts of piety and less on abandonment and acceptance.    I imagine the nuns (and the society) who treated these mothers and children with such great cruelty suffered from that kind of spirituality. It involves a desire for self-mastery and control of the outside world. It comes from fear, fear of damnation, and fear of being judged. It is a kind of piety often practiced by the rich and educated.
     In either case--a sense of false complacency, or a system based on a hatred of physicality, there is a fear of not controlling one's own destiny. Whatever the reality--and in reality we cannot even add one inch to our height by worrying--we spend our days trying to wrest control of our lives from Providence. Pregnancy is always a sign that the control was never ours to begin with.  And it is always--always--a gift from God.
     It is always worse when "civilized" people do terrible things because the very great evils committed by civilized Christian people are disguised as good.

The summer's flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

*more on the story of mother and baby homes in Ireland

  ok, it wasn't a septic tank...
still more on the story: Some people are claiming there's a strong anti-Catholic bias to the coverage, and that may be.But the defense of conduct of the nuns involved in what still appears to be a case of ostracism and neglect, is pathetic:
Let’s sum up by stating the obvious: the death rate at the Tuam institution was a national scandal. But the blame for that reflects badly on the whole of Irish society not just on the undoubtedly overworked Sisters of Bon Secours who ran the Tuam institution. The fact is that Irish orphanages were grossly overcrowded, largely unheated, and for the most part deprived of even the basics of normal healthcare. The Tuam facility moreover seems to have particularly overcrowded, a circumstance that greatly fostered the spread of disease. The responsibility for such dismal conditions lay primarily with society not with the nuns.
The conditions reflected a shameful effort by the whole of Irish society to ostracize and generally stigmatize children born out of wedlock. This effort was consistently made at every level. Political leaders were probably as guilty as church leaders, and the Anglican Church, known locally as the Church of Ireland, nearly as guilty as the Catholic Church.
Among the few people in the country who lifted a finger to help the victims of the stigma were the nuns of Tuam. Were they holier-than-thou harridans who looked down on the unmarried mothers who came to them? For the most part, probably yes. But they did do something for those mothers’ ill-starred children. The rest of society did almost nothing.

"They did 'something?'" Being not as bad as everybody else does not come across as a ringing defense.


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