I heard some terrible things this past week or so, after sweeping new abortion laws passed in several states. The laws are designed to be contested, and they are not yet in effect. But they have already let loose monsters from deep within our national psyche.
I heard, of course, that if women would just keep their knees together, the problem would take care of itself. I heard that women who have abortions should be thrown in jail, maybe hanged, for murder; and women who have miscarried should have no problem being examined because their uterus might be a crime scene. I heard that women with no good choices simply do not understand what love is.
I heard that foster children, abused children and special needs children are only here because their mothers were not given the choice to put them out of their misery (and to save the taxpayers money). I heard that if abortion is murder, then so is masturbation; if embryos are humans, then ultrasounds are child pornography. I heard that I am self-righteous, cruel and full of hate because I am pro-life. And I have seen dozens of people mock pro-lifers by putting comical hats and mustaches on a photo of a miscarried baby.
How can I persuade your mind to accept something even your body has known since before it was born?
Somehow worst of all was something I hear more and more often, as an argument for abortion on demand, without apology: “If my mom had aborted me, I would not even know it because I would not be here. So what does it matter?”
How can I persuade your mind to accept something even your body has known since before it was born? The body knows that life is better than death. People who attempt to drown themselves will tie their own ankles together because they know that even in the very act of self-extinction, their bodies will fight hard to live. I wonder if we are on our way to reprogramming our brains to evolve past our body’s involuntary thrashing toward life. It does seem like we are trying.
We are trying to persuade ourselves—and worse, to teach children—that life does not mean anything. That there is no such thing as meaning, only consciousness; and once that consciousness is snuffed out, nothing is left. So what does it matter? This is the howlingly bleak idea that makes a “no harm, no foul” abortion possible: No one is around to kick up a fuss, so did anything even happen?
We are trying to persuade ourselves—and worse, to teach children—that life does not mean anything.
I do believe the willingness to extinguish life is learned from a growing culture of nonsense. Nonsense is intensely popular right now. Look at the computer-generated backgrounds to dancing games: One shows women in wedding dresses dancing with a cossack, then with a panda, then with a giant carrot. Why? No reason at all. They are so randomly, senselessly bizarre; at first you are fascinated, then you are repelled.
If you want to work up a good sense of dread, read the essay “Something is wrong on the internet,” which describes the “infrastructural violence” being done to children and to us all through algorithms that create YouTube videos filled with anything that sells, from Peppa Pig cartoons to torture porn, all set to soothing nursery music. With everything nonsensically—and sometimes violently—mashed together, how do we find meaning?
Even things that do mean something are all crammed together in an indiscriminate, ever-scrolling feed that endlessly refreshes itself and offers less and less refreshment, less and less meaning. It feels like someone is trying to drive us insane. It feels like someone is trying to tell us: Here is everything because nothing means anything.
In all that swirling storm of nonsense, we are supposed to take the time to worry about a tiny zygote we cannot even see? What does it matter?
And in all that swirling storm of nonsense, we are supposed to take the time to worry about a tiny zygote we cannot even see? What does it matter?
Let us change pace. Joseph Ratzinger says of the kingdom of heaven:
It is like a grain of mustard, the tiniest of all seeds. It is like a leaven, a small quantity in comparison to the whole mass of the dough, yet decisively important for what becomes of the dough. It is compared again and again to the seed that is planted in the field of the world, where it meets various fates—it is pecked up by the birds, or it is suffocated among the thorns, or else it ripens into abundant fruit.
The kingdom of God, “God’s being-Lord,” as Ratzinger calls it, is so small, so strangely vulnerable. So liable to be flushed away, withered, suffocated, undone, as if it did not matter, as if it did not mean anything. God himself was a tiny zygote, minuscule, secret, a single word in a swirling Babel. The kingdom of God itself is tiny now, as we are tiny.
Let us stop, stop the Babel for a moment, and just be glad that God thinks we mean something, thinks we matter.
Tiny—but not nothing.
I have heard terrible things this week. But the best thing I heard was on Sunday, when the tiny-seed-kingdom-of-God put himself in a cup for us to eat and drink. Why? Because we matter to him. Why do we matter to him? I have no idea. What does it matter to the Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One if the whole world throws itself away? What does it matter? He does not need us. But every Sunday I show up, and so does he. I must conclude that we matter.
Here is the paradox: Because we matter, he threw his life away for us. How different this death was from the unmaking we so casually allow for each other. How different is death for love than death from nonsense. Death to self for love brings meaning to life.
Christ’s death for love is for everyone: everyone who has suffered, everyone who lolls in privilege, everyone who chafes under the patriarchy and everyone who seethes over feminism. Everyone who rages for the poor lost babies, everyone who rages for the poor perforated women, their wombs pierced by a careless legal scalpel or a desperate back-alley assault. Everyone who has been wounded by abortion and by the terrible accusations flung at them this week and by the dreadful pains of life itself. And most of all, for everyone who does not know it is good that they exist.
Let us stop, stop the Babel for a moment, and just be glad that God thinks we mean something, thinks we matter. He is the Word that calms the storm of nonsense. Remember his death when we speak to each other.