A friend of mine once asked me why all student newspapers are left wing. Although he might have been exaggerating somewhat, he nevertheless had a point. It may be, I thought, as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once opined, that “The deepest definition of Youth is life untouched by tragedy.” I believe, by this assertion, that he was referring to an idealism that is prevalent among young people in which the belief abounds that there can be a world without tears. If we could only remove life’s hardships and obstacles, we would be able to enjoy a lasting Utopia. This is liberalism in its most naïve sense, the delusion that God limits us, that parents oppress us, and that morality restricts us. It is Hugh Hefner’s world in which there is no need for the boy to overcome difficulties in order to reach man’s estate. It is an inverted world in which students lecture to their teachers, children reprove their parents, and parishioners preach to the clergy. Anyone, therefore, who is against abortion, is placing an unreasonable obstacle in the path to a paradise on earth. But it is the tragic element in life, including death, disease, deformity, and defectability, that brings us back to reality.
My mind returned to this notion while reading a student newspaper published by our local university. In one particular edition the crossword puzzle feature offered the following word clue: “a local anti-choice organization”. The presumed correct answer: “Birthright”. There are two things wrong here, I mused: one is political, the other is philosophical. Crossword puzzles are supposed to be about facts. Birthright affirms the choice of a woman who wants to carry her pregnancy to term by offering her support. It is decidedly not a fact that Birthright is “anti-choice”. In fact, it is slanderous to this charitable organization to distort its nature so that it can be squeezed into a politicized pigeonhole. Was this a bit of left-wing levity, or liberal larceny? I decided that it was the latter.
The second problem is the philosophical accusation of being “anti-choice”. Was Bernard Mandelbaum being “anti-choice” when he wrote Choose Life? Life is certainly an object of choice. It is astonishing how, being cloaked in a shroud of political correctness, a university student, especially one writing for student newspaper, cannot grasp the meaning of a word. “Anti-choice” means being opposed to another person making any kind of choice, whether it is for life or for abortion. This is a pathological state described by the word “catatonic”. Pro-life people are not catatonic. As a matter of fact, abortion advocates would like them to be less aggressive and more invisible.
Francis Thompson, in his poem, “The Mistress of Vision,” reminds us that we “canst not stir a flower without troubling a star”. He is alluding to the fact that all things are interconnected, a notion consistent with the celebrated “Butterfly Effect,” and that we cannot isolate our choices from their consequences. No choice is merely a choice. As the poet explains, “All things by immortal power,/ Near or far,/ Hiddenly/ To each other linked are.” In choosing abortion, what else does one choose in the process? This thought gives one pause, as Hamlet stated, reflecting on the realization that in choosing death, he might also be choosing damnation.
While Thompson is suggesting that we choose realistically and responsibly, another poet, T. S. Eliot, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” describes the catatonic person who cannot choose at all. He is the “patient etherized upon a table,” who desires inaction because he fears the results of any choice he might make. “Do I dare disturb the universe?” is his signature declaration of a pathological inability to choose. He is truly “anti-choice”. He is hardly a role model for pro-life advocates. He is unable to choose life. The final word of the poem, “drown” reveals his ultimate fate. He quietly entered the Culture of Death by not choosing anything. His chronic indecisiveness constructed his casket.
The truly great choices in life–marriage, children, one’s vocation, one’s form of education–require both faith and courage. We do not know exactly what sequence of events will flow from our choices. Only the “immortal power,” God, is in a position to know. Organizations such as Birthright, are not only pro-life, but also pro-faith and pro-courage. They should not be reduced to a political stereotype. Justice, too, demands their fairer appraisal.
Nonetheless, the crossword puzzle as an instrument of propaganda fascinates me. Its cultural acceptance suggests that the abortion issue is settled, and opponents of abortion are, indeed, anti-choice. It is now a crossword puzzle fact, like the capital of France or the name of the person who invented the steam engine, that agencies such as Birthright are anti-choice. Education, of course, should enlighten, not enshroud. In opposing abortion, one is also opposing culture. To teach the fundamental importance of the triad of life, faith, and courage is a daunting task and not one for those who have never been touched by the tragic elements of human existence. As the poet John Keats stated in a famous letter to his family, we need a world of pains in order to transform a mere intelligence into a soul, into a real person.