Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Atlas Shrugged?

I don't normally share personal correspondence on my blog, but this e-mail is so well-written that I immediately texted D. to see if I could. The writer is a dear friend; a goodly Protestant with a wise mind. I am not going to supplement this with anything, because I haven't the time and I don't want to distract from his fine words. Without further adieu, my friend:

early morning
11 January, 2011

Dear Julie,

Regarding your comment today (yesterday?) about individuals and uniformity I have two thoughts. I think the question was something along the lines of "why are people so caught up with being idividuals while demanding uniformity?" (actually, I know--thanks, chat logs!). Somewhere--and I cannot for the life of me remember where--I have heard a fairly good argument on this. Essentially the idea is that our modern idea of individuality is so touted and built up, but ultimately and more likely early on lacking for any individual who pursues it. But think about this a minute longer--where do the standards or credentials of 'individuality' come from? For almost every American schoolboy they come from his culture and peers or particular group. "I gotta be me" is actually a twisted form of "I gotta be cool...like him" in most cases.

For those few who actually have enough consciousness to think on their own, individuality starts to be defined in negative terms, like a body count or target tally. If I'm not like 99% of human beings in my immediate sphere in dress, habit, musical tastes and so on, then that leaves 1% that I either need to differentiate myself from or make allies. The old Goth kids were just like this. We're special and depressed and on drugs unlike you preppy kids that outnumber us 10-to-1, so we'll stand over here with 'our own exclusive kind.' I probably underestimate their numbers, I only saw them in malls, and don't get me started on 'indie' people. It's just another form of pride in the group, not the individual. And without Christ, it is very hard to have a noble pride in oneself. Moreoften sports or sex or money with be the void source.

Our dear French friend de Toqueville called this the democratic tendency of equality. In our quest to be equal in our worth as citizens/political items, we impose that standard upon all areas of life, creating the same baseline standard for everyone else. Human greed is such that if I cannot have, you must not have either, and if I cannot be brought up, you must be brought down to my level. This leveling tendency is everywhere in American society, even 180 years after de Toqueville's visit.

So why can't there be Catholic hospitals? I have two best guesses. First is the common argument, that abortions have become, to our national shame, the accepted standard of 'normalization' and 'progress.' Thus Catholic hospitals stand against America and her principals, freedom, future, etc. Many people hold this view, whether they know it or not. Even those who argue about a woman's right to choose murder really mean that Catholics are just behind the times and that Humane Vitae is anti-American liberty. Hence the noxious Catholics must be put out of the medical business, lest they corrupt the American ideals any further. Catholics might as well be communists with their demanding rules and expectations that entangle the individuals.

But my second argument goes far deeper into the human heart. Abortion is still a deeply uncomfortable thought to the American mind. We have managed to bury and paper-coat it some, but despite the best efforts of "Planned Parenthood" if you scratch the surface most people will admit it with shame as medical murder. Their shame might be because they go against the expected norms, but more likely it is that they fear that God is just. Catholic hospitals and the Catholic Church stand as temples, memorials, reminders to this moral conviction and fear. More importantly, they stand on their own as testaments to righteousness. These 'temples' people cannot abide, for they remind us of their deficiencies. But rather than seek the mercy of God for themselves, and perhaps climb to the true altar, they would tear down those who offend our shame and call us to something higher. Human pride, even in the lowest of ditches, would rather trample the pearls into the mud that covers them all.

Pax Christi,


For those interested, more reading: 

1. Humane Vitae by Pope Paul VI, the Holy See (7/25/1968)

2. "Catholic Hospitals vs. the Bishops" by Annie Hendershott, Wall Street Journal (12/31/2010)

3. "Threats to religious freedom abound, including in West, pope says" by Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Services (1/10/2011)

and from yesterday's readings: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then." Deuteronomy 30:19

"Beside the river that watered the garden of Eden, God offered the first couple the choice between obedient love and self-seeking death. The choice remains ours to make each day." --reflection in The Magnificat

Happy Tuesday! Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!