The Life Cult

From the unseemly court battles surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo to the extraordinary efforts being made to prolong the life of Pope John-Paul ĺ which have included the virtual conversion of the papal apartments into a hospital ward, ĺ it almost seems like the Catholic effort to promote a "Culture of Life" has backfired into a kind of "life cult" that has increasingly lost touch with reality.

It is not too difficult to see how this has come about. John Paulís own championing of a philosophy of Christian "personalism", honed by his life-struggle against the totalitarian state, has been, at least in the USA, married to the late Cardinal Bernardinís efforts to see that the US Catholic Churchís fight against abortion be seen as part of "a seamless garment", that is to say, a battle to protect human life at all stages. This has been "a hard sell", especially in America, where a fundamentalistic religious mentality which seems to be more attracted to the Old Testament than the New, still tends to favor the death penalty for various crimes, resists any kind of national health care system, and continues to jail or harass peace activists who become too active or too vocal in their efforts to expose what they see as the hypocritical contradiction between US foreign policy and the repeated claim to be "a Christian nation." Nevertheless, the US Catholic Bishops have not given up. Although they (along with the Popeís special emissary sent to Washington for a last minute appeal that the US not invade Iraq) were largely ignored by the current administration, the bishops have recently announced a new campaign to abolish the use of the death penalty in hopes of bringing the USA, or at least Americaís Catholics, more in line with the rest of the civilized world. But will this latest effort work? I fear it may not, if for no other reason than what seems to be the public reaction to political or legislative attempts to protect life, by what seems to be useless or futile means, at any cost. If people have begun to feel that it is senseless to demand that a life be prolonged beyond any reasonable hope of recovery, I would suspect that they are going to be equally resistant to the idea that a murderís life should be spared, even if the murderer claims he is sorry and has undergone a religious conversion. Of course, the two situations are not the same. One is a case of prolonging a life that has ceased to be able to live on a level that we consider to be fully human. The other is a case of taking a life that may finally turn out to become capable of doing so. But there is a connection none the less. Turn the tables around and you might end up with a good justification for" assisted suicide or even "euthanasia".

All this goes to show, I think, that while sweeping broad-based principles, like "the Right to Life", are fine, noble, and uplifting, they have to be applied carefully, judiciously, and within common-sense reasoning. Otherwise we can end up "shooting ourselves in the foot" or proving againĺ unfortunatelyĺ that "the enemy of the good is the perfect."

R W Kropf 3/31/05 Lifecult.doc 05-03-31.html