The Journey series
This week I find myself again looking at a blank page three hours ahead of my posting deadline. This reaffirms the interconnectedness of things in our lives. I've been preparing a large section of our back yard to grow vegetables instead of chafer beetles. Wedging my project in amongst the vagaries of Coquitlam's weather this time of year and family life any time of year has left this week's Mustard Seed on the back burner. Not everything goes as planned.
My mind is prone to wander as I work at simple, repetitive tasks such as digging. This week's topic, one should be free to do whatever they please as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, provided ample fodder for such musings. Many of my thoughts will remain buried alongside the pipes that will irrigate my new raised beds, lost even to myself. Hopefully, the few I recall are worth recording. I apologize that it's a bit of a ramble.
1) Give credit where credit is due. This theory's proponents at least recognize that our actions ought to be limited by the effect they have on others.
2) Not harming anyone else is an unobtainable threshold. We are, by nature, consumers. We must eat, drink, and breath to survive. We must have clothing and shelter. In any finite system, a gain in one area must be offset by a loss in another. We can't be without depleting resources. Whatever we consume is removed from the common pool, ergo there is a degree of harm done to others. Even acts of charity where we gain no personal benefit (other than transcendent), the good done for the object of our charity must be balanced by depletion distributed some way. Even when personally bearing the entire burden, there is an opportunity cost for those we didn't help.
3) Transactions can come close. The gain provided offsets the harm caused. This is complicated by valuation. Two people, or even the same person at different times, will not value all things equally.
We each have time, talents, and treasure which can be traded, invested, or squandered. Talents multiply time. A professional's time, quite fairly, is worth more than an amateur's or a labourer's. Yet we still ought question our relative valuations. Is a professional athlete, no matter how well he plays a game, worth thousands of farmers producing our food?
Circumstances also affect value. Labour is valued much differently from place to place. There is more benefit in cleaning a tropical slum but a janitor will be paid more to clean the Waldorf Astoria. The scion of a tycoon has far more opportunity to nurture their talents than does the seventh child of a sharecropper. To a large degree, a person's recognized worth is more accident than effort and definitely not intrinsic.
4) A tree standing in the forest has a different worth than the same tree stripped of its limbs and its bark and milled into lumber. To whom is the added value due? What percentage to the logger, the trucker, the sawyer? How much to the land owner and various corporate stockholders? Is any due to the common purse for social benefits? Do we compensate for soil erosion and loss of carbon sink — harms not even recognized a short while ago? Are there other effects we don't yet see?
5) Forests are replantable, but what of minerals? Can we truly measure the worth of non-renewable resources? If so, how ought the value be distributed between prospector, developer, common purse, and future generations?
6) Transactional relationships favour those who have over those who are desperate. A crust of bread is worth far more to a pauper than to a mogul.
We do many things without being able or willing to properly measure the costs. Our cost/benefit analyses are usually more generous to ourselves than to others. It is impossible to know the butterfly effects of our actions. Once done they can't be undone. The praise once heaped on Etienne Lenoir's internal combustion engine is fast turning to scorn in the throes of global warming. How many things we do for the good of mankind will wind up bane? Do, we must, but perhaps less is more.
Next week: Beyond me.
This week's Mustard Seed is off to a slow start. I've done much praying but, with less than three hours until my posting deadline, I'm just starting to write.
Catholics are maligned these days for their old fashioned teachings on marriage and chastity. We hold that sexual acts outside the life-long covenantal union of one man and one woman is sinful. We hold that artificial contraception and abortion are also sinful. On what basis do we hold so stubbornly to traditions?
To an egocentric secular society, all is born of desire. One can be who and what they choose. They can do whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. For Catholics, all depends on obedience to God's will. Secularists believe they are the best judge of what is good for themselves; Catholics believe God is. A society which treasures pleasure, power, prestige and possessions will come to different conclusions than one which seeks truth, beauty and goodness.
As with all things, our beliefs are based on our understanding of the Creator and the created. We believe all things were created as they were for a reason and discern purpose from nature. God created complementarity in sexuality, we see this as proper. Children are a natural result of sex, we see this as proper. Children require years of nurturing which is best achieved in a stable environment, we see this as proper. Stable environments take time and commitment to develop and maintain.
Catholic marriage is a commitment to build a stable environment open to children. The chastity of husband and wife will ensure there are no extramarital pregnancies to resolve. Avoidance of artificial contraceptives will necessitate greater understanding and respect for the wife's reproductive cycle, hence for her sexuality in general. Any pregnancies within the marriage will be viewed as gifts from God. A stable environment will already be in place. Children may be unplanned, but not unwanted. Once conceived, the child is a person created in the image of God — to be loved.
When sex is viewed absent this context, anything goes. Whatever pleasures a person is fair game as long as the other person consents. The commitment need last only as long as the act. All is reduced to the physical. Contraception is valid because it reduces the risk of the act becoming anything more. Abortion is a convenient way of removing unintended consequences, obligations, and intrusions. "It wasn't my plan."
The greatest gift is to be. The sexual act is a participation in being. We unite with our spouse to provide the physical accidents into which God breathes the substance of humanity. There is no denying that pleasure is a consolation from sex but pleasure must not become its end. Sexuality properly practiced within marital union yields fruitfulness and joy. Illicit affairs trade a few moments pleasure for heartbreak, hardship, and guilt. Catholic teaching on marriage and family may seem stuck in the past but, in truth, it looks to the future rather than restricting itself to the present.
Next week: As Long as it Doesn't Harm Anyone.
I planned to write this week about Catholic marriage and unplanned pregnancy. The feedback I received last week has changed my mind, as discussion is meant to.
I received many angry comments insisting that legislation outlawing abortion must be the foremost concern in our fight. My response to these comment was often the bristling of my neck. I felt offended that these people could accuse me of being for the very thing I was arguing against. I actually penned a few very reactive and defensive comments which, thankfully, I didn't send.
Other comments I received pointed out and gave examples of pregnancy relief centres and homes that are providing the support, care, and love that I advocated in my blog. There are more of these than I realized. They go about their business quietly, helping those who need physical, emotional, and psychological help with their unplanned pregnancy.
I had a chat with a young woman (I'll call her Leah) who was riding a bus, alone, on her way to abort her child. Another passenger (I'll call her Rachel) noticed her crying and came to sit beside her. In the course of their discussion Rachel agreed to accompany Leah to a pregnancy relief centre. There Leah received counselling while Rachel waited patiently. When Leah emerged with the counsellor, Rachel agreed to go with her to a shelter the counsellor contacted. Leah wound up staying at the home. Her baby girl was also welcomed. She receives room, board, counselling services, and companionship. Her counsellor helped her sign up at college. She will soon graduate from the nursing program, able to support herself and her daughter.
My chat with Leah reminded me of the parable of the good Samaritan. I hope many who hear this story will be prompted to 'go and do likewise.' We may not be in a position to do as much as Rachel, but perhaps we might find a shelter or pregnancy relief centre to support with a donation. Perhaps we could lobby politicians to support such places. We can also pray for them.
My discussions after last week's post changed my mind about what to write, but not how to fight. Love is always the best weapon against evil. If I, who agree that abortion is a grave sin, wind up defensive and reactive from the comments of radical anti-abortionists, how much more so those who don't agree? Perhaps those same radical anti-abortionists will read this week's post and see that, though both may be needed, the carrot often outperforms the stick.
Toward the end of our chat, Leah claimed she is now a firm pro-lifer and vows to pay Rachel's kindness forward. She said Rachel still suffers from the abortion she had in her youth and vows to keep helping others avoid her mistake. Leah and Rachel both seem to be good women. They both made similar mistakes in their youth. Perhaps if more of us emulate the Samaritan, more unwanted pregnancies will end as Leah's and fewer as Rachel's.
Next week: Perhaps Catholic Marriage and Unplanned Pregnancy
The Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:29-37)
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This week's Mustard Seed is the first in a series exploring abortion arguments. Today, I write a general overview. Issues relating to coerced or forced intercourse, genetic abnormalities, and hereditary disease are beyond it's scope.
The most effective proactive approach to avoiding pregnancy is abstinence. Intimacy, however, challenges one's will. Odds favour a women not becoming pregnant from one random sexual act. "I might, but I probably won't," is a powerful rationalization in the heat of passion. Some version of St Augustine's prayer, "Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not today," was probably prayed just prior to many unplanned pregnancies.
Other unplanned pregnancies occur despite contraceptive precautions. Leaving aside all the moral, psychological, physiological, and philosophical implications for now, the pill, used as prescribed, is 99% effective. Statistically, using the pill as directed through 20 years of fertility yields a 20% probability of becoming pregnant at least once during that time. Because people make mistakes, the reported effectiveness is only 91%. Every year nine people of every hundred using the birth control pill become pregnant. Using this figure, there is an 85% chance that a woman relying on the pill for 20 years will have an unplanned pregnancy.
Unplanned pregnancy leaves three options: 1) Give birth and raise the child. 2) See the baby to term and put it up for adoption. 3) abort the child. Abortion is always a reactionary option. Nobody plans to get pregnant in order to have an abortion. The woman who chooses abortion weighs their anticipated life with their pregnancy against the life they anticipate without it.
I believe the unborn child, from the time of conception, is a person made in the image of God and intentionally killing them is expressly forbidden by the 5th commandment, Thou shalt not murder. At the same time, I must heed James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?"
Is it just for society to demand a woman, under force of law, must see her pregnancy through to birth without also ensuring her the means? In any situation, decisions must be made from what is rather than what should be. It does not help to claim the parents should have behaved differently, they didn't. that attitude will also be of little service to the child. Forcing a woman to bear a child does not of itself ensure a good outcome. It may be true that the child was conceived by a voluntary act and, therefore, the parents should be responsible for the child's upbringing. That does not guarantee they will or can. To demand the child be brought to term and surrendered for adoption is a harsh penalty for a moment's indiscretion.
We all make mistakes. Society fares better by helping us recover from our errors rather than insisting we pay for them, especially when the burden is onerous. Without helping people reach their full potential in spite of their unplanned pregnancy, we will never eliminate the scourge of abortion. Passing laws against abortion before providing the necessary supports will make criminals of some parents and condemn some innocent children to miserable lives.
Education along with pregnancy and child support are essential to the pro-life fight. I believe we assume moral culpability for the suffering of many families if we demand legal protection for unborn children without also promoting chastity, responsible family life, and social support for unplanned pregnancies with even greater vigour. We may, in fact, bear moral culpability for the abortions themselves.
Next week: Catholic marriage and unplanned pregnancy.
Peter T Elliott