Ethics Professor at Rome's Holy Cross University Discusses Humanity's Loss
ROME, 27 JUNE 2011 (ZENIT)
Abortion is a warning of something pervasive and deeply rooted in our society — the loss of human identity, so that men and women no longer see themselves as called to participate in God's creative power.
This is the observation made by Father Robert Gahl, an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Father Gahl spoke with the television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, about the history of abortion and what it means for the future.
Q: Abortion is a universal suffering: More than 53 million abortions are carried out every year worldwide. In some countries, more than 70% of women have had an abortion. Why are these questions suddenly so prevalent today: abortion, euthanasia?
Father Gahl: Well, it is a sad paradox, which is evocative ultimately of Original Sin. With Original Sin, Adam and Eve really tried to supplant God by being gods in his place. When humans today try to take divine power — the power over the origin of life — and supplant him so that they can control the beginning of life in a way that is contrary to God's design and therefore contrary to the design of love, they feel powerful for a moment. They may even see themselves as successful in the product they have achieved. Yet shortly thereafter, they experience frustration and even a denial of their own identity because their identity is one of love, because we are made for love.
Our hearts are made for love. So, rather than people who are in love, instead of our family bonds, we become simply makers — people who are in control of products. It becomes a denial of our own dignity because if our power to give life is simply that of producing elements that entail that "I've been produced" and "I'm simply the end line of a mechanized production system," this will be a denial of my own dignity as a child of God — as the son of my parents.
Q: If we were to look back in history, what was the moment, the trigger if you will, that allowed us to take a step where, for example, abortion and stem cell research has become accepted and euthanasia is on the horizon?
Father Gahl: Abortion is sadly all over the place to the extent that many today, and documents of the U.N. even, see it as a reproductive right. The origin of this is the sexual revolution, which was not a revolution of liberation but a revolution of narcissism, of demise, of cutting bonds, affection, friendship, and of love with others. And central to the sexual revolution, which acted as a kind of a catalyst — like pouring gasoline onto a wild fire — was the development of chemical contraceptives, which allowed people to have sex without having babies so people could enjoy sexuality as simply a selfish pursuit. They were able to disconnect that intrinsic ordering toward the gift of life, and in doing so, they disconnected sexuality from serious commitments of love, from forming a family, and of course from becoming a father and a mother — a diminishing of human dignity really.
I think the problem of abortion is like a warning light. It is a very severe warning light in which lives are being taken, but it's indicative of something even more pervasive and deeply rooted in our society which is deeper that one might think.
Q: And what is that?
Father Gahl: That is this loss of the identity of one's self as participating in God's creative power and being called to being Mother and Father.
Q: Abortion has often been justified as the right to choose but it has also been justified as an appeal to love. For example, I would prefer to abort my child than to raise it unloved. How is it that we have come to this inverse situation where death is justified by love?
Father Gahl: True human love is unconditional. It is when you love someone no matter what. No matter what happens to them you will take care of them. If they get sick, even if they are in a car accident and paralyzed, you take care of them the rest of their lives. Another kind of love — maybe a selfish kind of love — is where you give yourself to someone only for as long as you like it. Abortion becomes this instrumentalized kind of love — as a means for a way out. We need to turn the whole issue around and say that we need to accept everyone, all human life, the way Mother Teresa said, there are no unwanted children. If there is a child that someone said is unwanted, bring that child to me and I will take care of that child because I love that child.
And this is the truth of the matter. So if one were to make a claim that abortion allows us to act out some kind of altruistic care for other people by avoiding hardship, that logic leads tragically, I'd say murderously, to claiming that handicapped people shouldn't exist. Once you do that, it's the denial of all human dignity.
Q: We have moved from life as inherently important to an emphasis on a quality of life. The shift to a quality of life then begs the question: What is my quality of life? Am I enjoying my quality of life? This then points to the handicapped: Are they enjoying the quality of life they should be enjoying, which in fact places their very life in question?
Father Gahl: Exactly. Part of the abhorrent logic that is inherent in what you just described also leads to judgments of each of us according to our performance; my worth is based on what I can do in society. If, at some point, my results would disappoint due to sickness, mistake, or being in a sector of the industrial economy that is no longer desired by the consumer, I would feel no longer desired and therefore I am no longer important. This structure of judgment also comes up with mothers who give birth to babies who, for instance, have Down's syndrome. These mothers are judged severely and negatively; this is horrible, as though it was a bad choice to bring into this world their baby, which is a beautiful human being. This is eugenics, which has been substantiated in Western societies where nearly 90% of Down syndrome babies are aborted before they are born because of this perverse logic.
Q: God's greatest gift to humanity has been this gift to co-create life with him. What is abortion doing in the breaking down of this relationship between man and God?
Father Gahl: Sometimes we forget because of "scientism" — which reduces everything to scientific fact — that a beginning of new human life doesn't just come from man or woman, it also comes from God. It requires three people to be involved because the human soul is immaterial. It is a spiritual soul that is created directly and immediately by God. So when a man and women come together to have a child it's also — and as much or even more — God's child. Therefore, if we can recover this respect for life it will be on account of our being aware anew of God's role in the giving of life and therefore this power that we have within us, which is actually a divine power and is transcended. It is a creative power whereby we almost have God in the palm of our hands because we can, in a sense, tell him when to create a new human soul. So if we renew that respect for God's intervention it will also help us to respect one another as images of God, even as another Christ.
Q: In countries like Russia, more than 70% of women have had an abortion. Abortion rates in some of the Russian provinces can be as high as eight or 10 per woman because it is used as a means of birth control. In China the one-child policy has obliged women to abort. What spiritual and psychological impact does this have on a society?
Father Gahl: In Eastern Europe where we see these high rates of abortion, which is often associated with high rates of suicide, alcoholism and severe depression, there is a sense of nihilism, of total loss as to what life is all about. That occurs in a society that is not built upon love for their children. That needs to be renewed. Thank God that some of these countries have, in fact indicated a tendency in a positive direction. In the Russian Federation, in particular, there has been a recent increase in their birth rate. The abortion rate is still very high but let's hope that this increase in the birth rate will continue in such a way that the abortion rate will be reduced.
Q: What more can and should the Church do with these issues?
Father Gahl: First of all, when we think of "The Church" we tend to think of the hierarchy — we priests, bishops, the Pope — but really, the Church is the whole of baptized Christians. The Church is a family, so we need everyone — all baptized Christians — to accept life with love. We also need to help in crisis pregnancy centers. Of course the magisterial Church, the hierarchical Church also needs to be coherent with the principles of Catholic moral theology in this matter.
The Church needs to continue in following the example of Karol Wojtyła, who as the archbishop of Krakow, opened centers to help women in situations of crises. But what it really comes down to is this: God is love. I'm a child of God. I'm made in the image of God, so I too need to make present among other human beings the face of God, which is the face of love. If we do that in all of our human interaction, if we really show respect for human dignity, if we show respect and love for people who are suffering then we can begin to recover these principles that are needed so that all of human life will be accepted. Life will then never be seen just as a product, like designer babies to be made in a test tube according to the desires of some manufacturer.
If I can just step back, I'd like to also add that our own sexuality needs to be recovered as well as our awareness that sexuality is sacred and therefore our patterns of modesty and respect regarding our sexuality and sexual desires need to be lived with chastity and fortitude in a way that is preparing to give life within a structure of the family.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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