On Palm Sunday in 1972 a Michigan Congress for the Unborn met on the Detroit waterfront. Russell Kirk, who had argued for several years that “a people who demand the inalienable right to destroy their own young are far gone in decadence,” gave an address that was quite ignored by both the Detroit newspapers and the Catholic Archdiocese.
He urged, among other things, that:
I propose that we vote in legislators who know reverence for human life, and vote out legislators who take baby-killing for the newest form of social emancipation. I propose that we employ every reasonable means to turn out of office those public men–and public women–who would approve the slaughter of babies; just as we ought to turn out of office such persons as might assent to genocide against Negroes or Jews or any other category of people. If we Americans have become too decadent to defend even the right to life of the innocent and the helpless–why, a sentence will be passed upon us all. ‘And the house fell; and great was the fall of that house.
And later that year, just before Michigan voters soundly rejected a pro-death amendment to their constitution, Kirk called a Republican abortionist doctor a “son of a bitch” to his face in a public meeting.
Rarely was Russell so, what would he call it, intemperate?
Dr. Bernard Nathanson died a few days ago, a man who, like Paul, had done great wrong and lived to do great right. I hope you get to read Father Gerald Murray’s funeral homily for the man who traveled the road from Jewish agnostic abortionist to the man behind “The Silent Scream,” and who came to Jesus in the Catholic Church in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he also was put to rest.
Fr. Murray finds the connection between Dr. Nathanson and Whittaker Chambers compelling: the silent scream of the unborn and those communists who one night heard screams. As Chambers became Witness, Dr. Nathanson became a witness for the most helpless of our neighbors. Both suffered for their sins, and both came back to the “weight of glory” through the saving grace of Jesus.
Dr. Kirk never had a Dark Night of the Soul on baby-murder, as did Dr. Nathanson and Whittaker Chambers (on communism) whose own demons were every bit as real and every bit as murderous. But all of them deliver to us a message of hope that is so, so profound, even if expressed, well, intemperately.
Communism killed–millions upon millions, still incompletely counted after its supposed death two decades ago. Abortion continues to kill, at the rate of about 6.27 million babies a year worldwide. We don’t need precise statistics to understand the horrors that ideology, fueled by nihilism, bolstered by relativism, has bequeathed to this young century. The last century gave us more death by ideology and the wars it inevitably produced than all other centuries combined, almost all in the name of Progress of one sort or another.
All other things, however, pale in comparison to the killing of unborn children that we have allowed and encouraged and participated in since the last quarter of that bloody century. Abortion has accounted for more intentional killings than all wars and all terror and all natural disaster in all of human history. At 1.359 million each year (thank God it has gone down in recent years!) that means we in the United States have killed twice as many unborn babies each year as people were killed in the Civil War of 1861-65, about which we write more books every year even today than have been written about abortion all together.
The saddest and most criminal thing is that the highest rates of abortion are in the “Christian” West, the civilization toward which so many of us conservatives argue is the direction God meant the world to go. One would expect Russia, the meeting place of communism and abortion, to lead the world, which it does. One might be surprised to find that the three countries often supposed to be the most “religious” in the world–the United States, Poland, and India–following the predictable pattern of lower baby-killing. Not so. While India seems to value its children and Poland allows only about 200 abortions a year, the good old USA is right up there with Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, and Israel. Nasty Chile, in the eyes of progressives everywhere, with a population of 17 million, had 67 abortions in the last year that gives us reasonably reliable numbers.
Numbers, of course, do not mean much. We all know how difficult moral choices are in any country and in any generation. Dr. Nathanson, Whittaker Chambers, and probably you and I meet somewhere on that road to Damascus. The fact that that there are Bernard Nathansons gives us hope that the road is leading somewhere other than to Washington, D.C. Russell Kirk, as usual, is a guide in the other direction.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.