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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Of Living Wills

Pope John Paul II was schizoid. At least, that’s what George Negus said in his interview with Cardinal Pell. “There was this man who was incredibly conservative on social issues, domestic church issues - like celibacy, like abortion, like birth control, like marriage, married priests, like AIDS, like homosexuality, that was one Pope John Paul II. The other Pope John Paul II was this man who was very aggressive on the international stage. He's opposed the war in Iraq. He's said that the pre-emptive strikes are not morally justifiable, etc. He's spoken out against the Third World debt. He's campaigned against racism and world poverty. So there were - he was almost a schizoid figure and I use that term advisedly.”

How do we reconcile these two faces of the man? The question is rather reminiscent of one posed by James Thurber, “ ‘I don't understand’, said the scientist to the lemming, 'Why you lemmings all rush down to the sea and drown yourselves.’ ”

“ ‘How curious,’ said the lemming. ‘The one thing I don't understand is why you human beings don't.’ ”

We can make the point more bluntly. It is certain that there is schizophrenia in the world. The question is, who suffers from it: the Pope and his people or George Negus and his associates or both?

An objective observer might find it initially difficult to choose between the two. On the one hand, we have a man whose Christian Faith finds the sense of his guiding document (Scripture) forbids things like contraception, abortion and homosexual marriage while it embraces things like indulgences, the sacrament of confession and the Real and Substantial Presence of God in the Eucharist. On the other hand, we have men whose secular humanism finds the sense of their guiding document (this or that national constitution) requires contraception, abortion and homosexual marriage while it denies God’s central relevance at all.

In both cases, people have asserted that the documents themselves deny what the men involved claim they teach. For instance, many assert Scripture says not a word against contraception or for indulgences, while others assert the US Constitution, for example, says not a word requiring legal abortion or denying God’s grace. What to do?

There are many ways to differentiate one group from the other, but one way is compelling: the assignment of purpose. The Pope and his people believe that both the Church and every human being have an enormously important purpose to accomplish. The purpose is single, that each person accomplish it is of the highest importance and that the Church is necessary to each individual’s accomplishment is unquestionable.

From John Paul II’s point of view, he was the head of an organic whole that has to exist. If the Church did not exist, no man could attain what he needed to attain: heaven. John Paul II knew he existed in order to assist every man, woman and child alive. He knew the purpose each person fought to attain was critically important, and he was a critical part of attaining it.

George Negus and associates believe in purpose as well, but the purpose is not single. For some, the purpose is to maximize pleasure, others mean to maximize wealth or power, none have purpose beyond the grave. Because of this, each who carry Negos’ worldview believes his own purpose to be the most important. Those who agree with him are better men. Those who do not are not. Consequently, some men and women are more important than others.

The Pope opposed contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and simultaneously opposed racism, world debt and poverty. He knew each of these things to be a stumbling block to attaining the only important thing. Negus and company, in contrast, oppose racism, debt and poverty only insofar as they reduce the chances of attaining personal objectives, whatever those objectives might be.

The infamous example of seven people in a six-man lifeboat comes to the fore. In the Pope’s understanding, it is better that he himself, or all aboard, starve than that any one aboard treat another one as expendable or less important than another. For Negos, it is different. He would never volunteer to die. He would expect someone else – someone who does not share his principles, someone less important – to die in his place. For John Paul, each of us was as important or more important than himself. For Negos, each of us is less important than himself.

In a certain sense, the Pope doesn’t understand why the rest of us would commit suicide. Negos and his friends don’t understand why the rest of us won’t.

Thus, the ACLU helps a husband kill his injured wife. She can find no more pleasure in life, and he can; indeed, he already has, so she must be thrown overboard. The judges who look to a national constitution instead of a living God will always make sure it is so. They can do no less. They must act so because they are themselves expendable.

You see, in Negos’ worldview, the US Constitution, any national constitution, does not need to exist. I can, if I am smart enough, obtain my goal of maximizing sensual pleasure, wealth, power, even in anarchy. The laws, the judiciary, these are tools to help me get my way. Insofar as they assist me, I will allow them to exist. Insofar as they do not, I will crush them. The executive branch, the legislature, the judges know this. If there is no God, no single purpose, then each must bow to Negos and company or be crushed.

Because they are one with Negos in worldview, they are each prospects for enforced suicide. The only way to avoid being forced to open one’s own veins is to open someone else’s first. Christianity sees a Great Chain of Being, in which each lower creature supports and glorifies the one above it. Secular humanism sees a Great Chain of Being in which each higher creature consumes the lower.

The Scriptures, the US Constitution, and a living will have this much in common: each embodies a purpose. The purpose of each is known only through the interpretation given to it. If each man is his own Pope, if each man ultimately seeks to be free of the intrusion of all government, then each man will interpret these documents as he will. But, if there is only one Pope, if Church government is necessary, then there is but one purpose, and each document will be interpreted to contribute towards that purpose.

As one of the documents points out, there are ever only two choices, thus, for the objective observer there can be only one question: who would you rather have as the interpreter, John Paul II or George Negos?


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