Friday, June 17, 2011

Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose confronted the great evil that was National Socialism.

Despite the cries of "never again" after World War II, there are some who seem to think that Hitler and the Nazis so epitomized evil that if a situation does not rise to the level of exterminating six million Jews and millions of others, then it is not really so great an evil. As such, they acquiesce in any number of horrors and "never again" becomes "once again" because, although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, as has been said here repeatedly, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

What are these "other evils"?

Among other things, practically the entirety of what was a few years ago called the "New Biology," from frozen embryos to embryo-killing stem cell research to other embryo and fetal experimentation to attempted human cloning to organ harvesting to baby selling to the medicalized "aid in dying" of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and withholding of care, to eugenics to, of course, abortion, including abortifacient pills (falsely called emergency "contraception") and that species of death which nearly fully delivers the baby before jamming a pair of pointed scissors into the baby's skull and sucking her brains out to collapse the head, which, as gruesome as that is, still nevertheless leaves militant advocates for abortion. All of these, and more, contribute to a culture of death -- death not only of the physical body, but death of conscience and death of the soul, and eventually death of society itself.

At one point in time, they were all recognized for the immoral and evil attacks on the sanctity of life that they are (especially since many of these things were pursued under that same Nazi Germany that perpetrated the Holocaust - Rudolph Hess said in 1934 that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology"). But no longer. Today's bioethics fully embraces as virtuous that which was rejected yesterday as reprehensible. Today's bioethics experts
"produce evermore sophisticated rationalizations for turning the unthinkable into the routinely doable. The prohibited becomes the permissible becomes the expected. 'But that would be murder!' is an objection that loses its force the second time around." (Richard John Neuhaus, "The War Against Reason," National Review, Dec. 18, 1987)
However, despite the imprimatur given by bioethics "experts," despite the legal approval of judges and legislators and politicians, there is a higher law than their utilitarianism, than their law of the supremacy of the will. That higher law, which is knowable to all by reason and good conscience, is objective moral truth, including the inalienable diginity of the human person -- that all human beings are inherently equal and entitled to be respected as persons, subjects, and ends in themselves, and not as things, objects, means, or resources to be manipulated by others, regardless of stage of development, cognitive ability, "quality of life," or contribution to society.

Unfortunately, sense of the higher law has been largely lost by our legal system because sense of transcendental Truth has been ignored in favor of a utilitarianism, enforced and protected by positive human "law," that appeals to the will and considers truth and human life to be merely values to be weighed in the equation of what adds or subtracts from another's pleasure. But the unjust statutory and judicial "law" decreeing the wholesale violation of fundamental human dignity is no law at all. And we have a duty under the higher law, as a matter of good conscience, to oppose and resist the evils of today: the attacks, in thought and deed, on the instrinsic dignity, value, and sanctity of human life.

Evangelium Vitae
Blessed Pope John Paul II
21. When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence. . . .

23. The criterion of personal dignity -- which demands respect, generosity and service -- is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are," but for what they "have, do and produce." This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.

24. It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life, is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness. But it is also a question, in a certain sense, of the "moral conscience" of society: in a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or fosters behavior contrary to life, but also because it encourages the "culture of death," creating and consolidating actual "structures of sin" which go against life.

The moral conscience, both individual and social, is today subjected, also as a result of the penetrating influence of the media, to an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. A large part of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. It is composed "of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth" (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can build the earthly city without him, "they became futile in their thinking" so that "their senseless minds were darkened" (1:21); "claiming to be wise, they became fools" (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and "they not only do them but approve those who practice them" (1:32).

When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good evil" (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness. . . .

28. This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life." We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. . . .

Nothing helps us so much to face positively the conflict between death and life in which we are engaged as faith in the Son of God who became man and dwelt among men so "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). It is a matter of faith in the Risen Lord, who has conquered death; faith in the blood of Christ "that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Heb 12:24). . . .

71. Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence," which is that of ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defense of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. . . .

In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that
"it is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ‘to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.’ Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force."
72. The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. This is clear once more from John XXIII's Encyclical:
"Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience...; indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse."
This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that
"human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence."
And again:
"Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law."
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. . . . Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. . . .

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions.

Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.

Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law.
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1 comment:

Mandy said...

Excellent article. I appreciate the truth on this site. Thanks so much! I am a big WWII and Sophie Scholl fan.
God bless.