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If you have not read part 1 already, I would highly recommend doing so.  This post will not make much sense otherwise.

That said, I’ll start by citing the reflection with which I said I would pick up:

If [a] lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I realize that this would be poo-pooed by many psychologists and philosophers of the last couple centuries.  What is more, I must acknowledge this attitude to be by no means limited to intellectual elites.  If it started with them, it has “trickled down” quite a bit.  This is probably why we, as a society, are so reluctant to affirm the inherent dignity of the human person as such — an affirmation that would require both opposition to abortion and the recognition that humans have greater dignity than animals.

With that dignity, after all, comes responsibilities that are decidedly inconvenient.  It is more convenient and more comfortable to reduce morality, and even choice itself, to animal instincts and determinism.  Under that rubric, dignity becomes synonymous with autonomy, or the ability to exercise personal freedom and choice independently of constraints — an ability that many people defend with the oft-repeated battle cry: “Just let me be who I am!”

And that, I suspect, explains why the one rule our society accepts is this: “Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”  If you are hurting people, you are infringing on their autonomy, after all.  Traditional morality becomes a problem according to this new “unum necessarium,” as it undoubtedly poses a threat to autonomy as we understand it.

abortionOkay — assuming that this worldview is true, abortion becomes doubly “sacred.”  The attendant notion of the mother’s autonomy takes from the human person the responsibility of being a subject while also assigning priority of life and prerogative to those able to exercise autonomy — namely, those already outside the womb, and able to survive independently.

CecilThe preference we give to animals over human fetuses is also explained.  When it comes to autonomy, we see a difference in degree rather than in kind between man and beast.  Beasts, after all, act according to that very thing to which morality and choice have been reduced in human beings: Instinct.

A lion has the wide open savannah to traverse, and in which to do whatever instinct bids.  The buffalo has the wide open prairie, and is not naturally constrained by anything against acting according to its inner drives.  The trout in the stream, the buck in the forest, the whale in the ocean, the goat on the mountain slopes, and every other animal you can imagine is likewise able to exercise “autonomy.”

FetusNot so the fetus (human or otherwise).  The fetus cannot possibly survive apart from its “host,” from the maternal microcosm it inhabits; much less can it exercise autonomy as we understand it.

I say all this by way of mere observation.  In part 3, I’ll go into the moral implications of this worldview.  Hope you’ll stay with me!

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Acknowledgements

  1. “RussianAbortionPoster”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg#/media/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg
  2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg
  3. “3dultrasound 20 weeks” by Staecker – My baby, my picture.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg#/media/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg
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CecilI don’t have to tell anyone very much about “Cecil,” the majestic lion (the “feline” referred to in the title) recently killed by an American hunter in Zimbabwe.  If the veritable deluge of media coverage, worldwide outrage, and criminal investigations haven’t done that for me…well, just go ahead and Google “Cecil the lion.”  You’ll find plenty.

black bearMeanwhile, in the state of Michigan, state officials are cracking down on the black market trafficking of bear parts.  For more on this, see “Black market in bear parts nets three in Kent County.”

Albino ChildDuring a recent address to young leaders from African nations, U.S. President Barack Obama openly condemned the practice — still existent in parts of Africa — of killing albino people and harvesting their organs for ritual purposes.  He employed very strong language against this deplorable practice, rightly calling it “crazy,”and “cruel.”

Finally, we have the series of undercover videos featuring Planned Parenthood officials discussing the trafficking of the body parts of aborted fetuses.  Doubtless, this has bothered a great many people.  But how do responses compare with the popular attention focused on Cecil?  Or with the governmental response to both Cecil and the bears?  Or with Obama’s strong defense of the equal dignity of albino people as human beings?

All around, they come up way short.  But the fact that all of these matters are entering the spotlight concurrently opens the door to a much needed and deeply significant discussion, to which I hope to offer some small contribution.

Okay — at this point you may have read between the lines a little bit, and might therefore be thinking: “Hear we go — another Catholic stepping in to argue that human beings are more valuable than animals.”  And you’re right.  But I would also like to understand the cultural phenomenon I am addressing, so please don’t be misled into thinking this will be a diatribe of any kind.

I know the belief in human superiority can appear cruel and inhumane, and I understand the feelings of those who would make that argument.  So I’ll start with an explanation — why exactly do we argue that humans are more valuable than the beasts?

The best way to explain this is in light of the “degrees of being,” and what each degree implies in various circumstances.  If I strike and injure a rock, it’s no big deal unless it belongs to someone; the rock itself has no consciousness, and therefore cannot feel anything, and no real inner vitality, for which reason the action doesn’t make much difference.  Harming a tree or plant (which have vegetative vitality) carries a little more importance, but more because of the potential effect on surrounding wildlife and people than anything else.

man beating dogWhen it comes to the animal kingdom, there is much more of a sense of inhumane cruelty in mistreatment.  Why?  Because animals have sensory awareness, and they can feel it.

starving childHuman beings bring another dimension to the question.  A human person not only has sensory awareness and experiences, but also an “I” to tie it all together, a subject aware of the fact that “this is happening to me.”

We’ve all felt it, both for ourselves and, sympathetically, on behalf of other people.  It is our sense of the sacred inviolability of the human person.

There is, however, another side to this — that of responsibility and guilt.  If, or example, a lion injures or kills one of its own kind or another animal, what guilt does it incur?

None.

If that lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I want to leave you with that for now.  If you will bear with me, I’ll pick up with this reflection in the second post, in which I will explore the cultural phenomenon evinced by my earlier media references more deeply.

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Acknowledgements

1. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg

2. “Ursus americanusDetail” by Greg Hume – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ursus_americanusDetail.jpg#/media/File:Ursus_americanusDetail.jpg

3. “Albinisitic man portrait” by The original uploader was Muntuwandi at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albinisitic_man_portrait.jpg#/media/File:Albinisitic_man_portrait.jpg

4. “Stamps of Germany (Berlin) 1972, MiNr 420”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stamps_of_Germany_(Berlin)_1972,_MiNr_420.jpg#/media/File:Stamps_of_Germany_(Berlin)_1972,_MiNr_420.jpg

5. “Childwarsawghetto”. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Childwarsawghetto.jpg#/media/File:Childwarsawghetto.jpg

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This video is from a Youtube user named marcjohnpaul:

With all of the heated emotions that characterize the abortion debate, an essential element of the pro-life movement can easily get lost.  The element in question is celebration.

As I said in my November 22 post, “Celebration and Thanksgiving — Same Thing,” celebration is what life is all about.  The “March for Life,” the pro-life movement’s great annual event in Washington, D.C., brings this truth to the forefront.  It is a celebration of life — all life, whether of babies or mothers, born or unborn, young or old.

Now I know that we pro-lifers can easily be perceived as “finger-waggers,” as people bent on defending “outdated” worldviews without a shred of sympathy or understanding for women who face unwanted pregnancies.  But our message is, at the end of the day, an invitation to joy.

What it comes down to is this: Each and every one of us is responsible for each and every other…even — indeed, especially — for the weakest and most helpless among us.  The obligation to defend life at all levels is not a burden.  Rather, it is a reminder that in the grand scheme of things, not one of us is alone; in fact, interrelatedness goes deeper than we think.  To take responsibility for our fellow human beings is to live out our belief in this wonderful and liberating truth.

And for women facing unwanted pregnancies, the pro-life movement is also an invitation to hope.  While unwanted pregnancies can be terribly painful, we express our care for and fellowship with these women by pleading with them not to give into fear or despair.  We seek to empower them to choose life and thereby not only give the world more precious children, but also serve as beacons of hope themselves.

Here is another Fr. Barron video — if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, watch up until 4:30.  Fr. Barron offers a great explanation of the Catholic view of creation, the ontology of which explains the proper roots from which zeal for life should come.

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