Sunday, 14 November 2010

The secret of life

Goya, "The French Penalty", c. 1824
One of the important themes in Pope Benedict's social encyclical is the so-called "right to life", which has become a bone of contention in modern society. "When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good" (28). The reason is simple. Man is not "merely the fruit of either chance or necessity" (as the Pope puts it in the section of the right to religious freedom, 29). He is made in God's image, and his life belongs to God. We must not treat it as something over which we have dominion, either to manufacture or destroy, as he discusses in Chapter 6 on technology. Both abortion and euthanasia are fostered by a "materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life" (75).

Yet the pressures towards both cannot be overestimated. As we have seen with recent changes in sexual ethics, without a firm understanding of why these things are wrong, they soon become socially acceptable and then commonplace. Chesterton once joked that one might overcome the need for birth control by letting all the babies be born and then killing those one didn't like. He was attempting a reductio ad absurdum, but today influential philosophers are advocating infanticide in all seriousness.

So, what is intrinsically wrong with abortion and the "mercy killing" of human beings? We cannot understand this without some appreciation of the notion