I have been involved, on several occasions, in public debates on the issue of abortion. Ideally, the debate is a noble endeavor in which two sides, with different views on a subject, put forth their best arguments while respecting their worthy opponents. In my experiences defending life as a debater, the debate has been far short of this ideal. I recall one occasion in which I was expounding on a scientific point I had culled from the writings of Sir William Liley, the Founder of Fetology, when I noticed a peculiar reaction from the audience. I turned around quickly and observed my worthy opponent gesticulating with his hands and making funny faces. He was more interested in mocking his opponent than involving himself in the fine art of debating. In this case reason took a back seat to mockery.
My debating experiences have left me with the conviction that I was never debating with a particular opponent, but against culture in general. This is a losing battle, although it might win a few individuals who have respect for reason, science, and facts. An episode from Seinfeld, considered by many as the best TV comedy of all time, illustrates the point. Kramer enlists Poppie’s support for the zany idea of a pizzeria in which the customers make their own pizza. Their cooperative venture quickly turns to debating whether customers have the right to choose whatever toppings they desire. “On this topic,” Poppie insists, “there can be no debate”. Presumably, Poppie is pro-choice when it comes to the selection of toppings. The discussion then shifts to when does pizza become a pizza. Is it when you first put your hands into the dough or not until it comes out of the oven? The intended parallels with the origin and development of life are clear: kneading the dough with fertilization, the oven with the uterus, and emerging from the oven with birth. This is all done for laughs. But it is a mockery of the dignity that the formation and development of new life deserves. It is hardly a debate. Pro-life advocates, presumably, are trying to squeeze truth out of a joke.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, the evil Iago plants seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind about his wife’s faithfulness. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Here, the Bard may be referring to a cat who plays with the mouse before it kills the meat it feeds on. We were all, at one time, fetuses, though not in an oven, but in our mother’s womb. Are pro-abortionists mocking their own genealogy when they take abortion so lightly? Are they mocking the very meat they feed on?
We have isolated abortion from life, meaning, and justice, and reduced it to a choice, thereby making a mockery of new human life. Novelist D. H. Lawrence made the same point with regard to isolating love from all transcendent values. “We are bleeding at the roots,” he wrote, “because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.” For Lawrence, such isolation was a “catastrophe”. Love, like life, belongs to a network of supporting and interweaving values.
The typical debate involves two sides: the “pro” and the “con”. It should not be taken too seriously. It is merely a microcosm of a much larger debate that is going on throughout history. Mocking is a weak, momentary and ineffectual assault. In the end, truth and justice will prevail. In Galatians 6:7, St. Paul tells us: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that he shall reap.” God’s truths will not collapse under the weight of mockery. The correlative point is that those who mock Him should be concerned about where their philosophy is leading them.
We laugh when we see that things are out of joint, contrary to the right order. But when things are in their proper order, we admire them and are glad. Laughter may be the best medicine, but we do not want to be taking medicine all our lives. When we are healed, we can get back to enjoying life more fully. Seinfeld is funny. Nonetheless, the nihilism that undergirds the show has little to contribute to human happiness. One laughs until he cries if he cannot find anything to which he can dedicate his life. In another Seinfeld episode, George Costanza, brooding over the discoloration on his lips and fearing that he will never become a TV celebrity, says, “God will never let me enjoy success.” Jerry then asks, “I thought you didn’t believe in God,” to which George replies, “For the bad things I do”. Here is the tragedy of nihilism in a nutshell: in the absence of a God who can give meaning to our lives, we need to invent one to complain against. We cannot be entirely godless; one bad god is better than no god at all.
Seinfeld will not have the last word on the abortion debate, though it does appeal to the group mind that is formed by the Mass Media working in tandem with personal inertia. Friedrich Nietzsche, the founder of modern nihilism, once remarked that man laughs because “he suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter”. He was referring to himself, not to everyone. The best laughter, however, and there are many kinds, comes out of an abundance of spirit. Feasts days, birthdays, anniversaries are fine occasions for setting the mood for laughter and gaiety. We should not expect too much from a television comedy.
If debate has degenerated to mockery on the abortion front, there is no need for despair. We may still draw inspiration from a Russian proverb reiterated by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his 1970 acceptance speech for having won the Nobel Prize for literature: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”