What’s the rallying point?

November 17, 2012 § 11 Comments

In the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and his troops are landing on Omaha Beach at Normandy, in the midst of horrific machine gun fire from German bunkers. The movie is such an unprecedentedly realistic portrayal that actual veterans of World War II who saw it often ended up in counseling, having seen the horror again for the first time since they were young men.

There are plenty of memorable moments in the film. One that sticks in mind is when, under terrible gunfire and with men getting cut to pieces around them, a subordinate yells to Miller “What’s the rallying point!?”

Captain Miller yells back, “Anywhere but here!”

There are similar casualties around us, right now. Because of the peculiarities of the modern condition they hide in plain sight. But as I’ve observed before, the Nazis have nothing on us, objectively, in terms of raw horror and numerical body count.

People get frustrated at my writing, or misunderstand it, because I am mostly just diagnosing and observing facts. I don’t have a big plan or a big answer for how the levers of the big machine ought to be moved to technologically craft some idealized society. I am not recommending that we reverse women’s suffrage, for example: I see no particular reason why that in itself would do any good. In itself the action taken as some tyrannical imposition would have at best highly unpredictable effects. Even to say that a society where it becomes a thinkable action would be capable of reversing course on abortion oversteps the bounds of reasonable claims: such a society as a point B from today’s point A could easily be a horror show. The most I would suggest – as a matter of prescription not diagnosis – is that a society which pervasively views women’s suffrage as a basic requirement of justice will be incapable of opposing a “right to abortion”. So we ought to at least do what we can to call into question that basic error, and take what opportunities may present themselves to correct that attitude, if we care about the unborn.

I don’t have an answer to the question “What’s the rallying point?”, other than “Anywhere but here!”

§ 11 Responses to What’s the rallying point?

  • Gian says:

    Your Nazi comparison, while possibly theologically justifiable, is not politically true. Correct me if I am wrong but has there been any polity that has regarded abortion as murder per se?

    That is, abortion in its most Catholic sense, irrespective of the age of embryo, it has always been politically regarded as a different crime than murder and deserving of lighter punishment, e.g. Hebrew OT laws.

    I do believe that there is a sound political case of making first trimester abortions a matter between woman and her God and absolutely banning all later abortions.

  • Zippy says:

    I do get the sense that a nontrivial number of pro lifers don’t really believe what they say they believe.

    I don’t buy the theologically true versus politically true distinction. It is either true or it isn’t true that a person is a person, no matter how small.

  • Gian says:

    All that is sin is not crime. And absent individual conversion, it is not possible to politically ban all abortions, irrespective of the embryonic age.

  • Zippy says:

    It is true that not every immoral act must be criminalized. But I don’t have to answer those kinds of objections when it comes to the form of murder called abortion, because the Magisterium of the Church already has:

    58. Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an “unspeakable crime”.54

    But today, in many people’s consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as “interruption of pregnancy”, which tends to hide abortion’s true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.

    The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.

    60. Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in a position to act”.57 Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide “a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?”. 58

    Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”.59

    73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10).

    In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.98

  • Proph says:

    The point is not necessarily to reduce the number of all abortions everywhere to 0 (though that’d be nice). There is value in outlawing abortion simply for the sake of outlawing it, namely, ordering the polity toward the protection of human life. Yes, if abortion is criminalized, then criminals will have abortions. So what? That’s how it ought to be and understood, as the behavior of criminals.

    Re: “All that is sin is not crime,” maybe what you mean to say is “all that is sin need not be crime.” (Otherwise you’re just saying “the status quo is the status quo.”) But I can think of few sinful things that deserve to be crimes more than infanticide. Traditionally the Church has recognized that it is ideal for the state to outlaw those sins which have a public character, i.e., which can induce others to scandal. Thus adultery has often been illegal (or at least entailing ruinous consequences) while masturbation has not been. Does abortion have a public element? I’d say so.

  • William Luse says:

    All that is sin is not crime

    I’m going to try that one at the Pearly Gate and see how far it gets me.

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  • Felipe says:

    The rallying point is obvious, even if deeply political incorrect. The only political systems compatible with Christianism which are alternatives to liberalism are:
    1> Fascism -> Which pretty much died in the west, reduced to 1%-5% depending on the country
    2> Monarchy -> Which is 110% dead in the west, I doubt that even a candidate for illiberal king could be found
    3> Theocracy -> Which is deeply non-western, I personally don’t think I would have stomach for this option.

  • Zippy says:

    Felipe:
    By “rallying point” though I mean some clear practical place to gather right now. The ones you mention might be rhetorical or spiritual rallying points in which some find comfort; but as you suggest they are effectively inconceivable as practical, short or even long term objectives.

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