For some years now, Catholics have become habituated to referring to the abortion- infanticide- euthanasia- contraceptive agents and movements in our culture under the label “ culture of death.” This phrase found its way into the parlance of the Church in great part because of the very effective leadership of Pope John Paul II who galvanized and strengthened the forces for family and marriage within the Church and among those in the wider culture who share the scriptural teachings and Christian Revelation about the dignity and rights of the human person.
Pope Benedict, also, has been known to share a preference for this phrase as a way to categorize all the elements in our culture aligned against the dignity and sanctity of the human person from the moment of conception until natural death, in all its stages and conditions.
I could not and would not question the wisdom of those far wiser and more experienced. I do, however, think that the agents and elements in society, the academy, and the government aligned against life would be better labeled a “cult” and not a “culture.” I argue so because the word “culture” itself is a pro-life term.
The word “ culture” originates from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “ to cultivate.” One cannot cultivate dead beings — only living things can be nourished, fed, and guided toward their natural end. The word “ cult” better denotes what we mean when we refer to the death movement. Cult is defined as “ a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner.” This is true of the death movement because of its adherence to the taking of innocent, unborn human life and its aggressive pursuit of abortion on demand, no matter the dangers to and damaging effects on the mother of the aborted child, including the risk of breast cancer. Cult, the worship of a false god and the offering of sacrifices to appease the false deity, applies very well to the motivation and mission of the agents of death.
The idea that the anti- life proponents better deserve designation as a “cult” rather than as a “culture” is reflected in a 2004 article at MelaniePhillips. com. Writing in the Daily Mail, Phillips employed the phrase “ cult of death” to describe the extremist doctrine of Baroness Warnock, in which this public philosopher “ went far beyond even euthanasia, commonly thought of as a ‘right’ to expect doctors to end a life. It was instead, she said, the duty of people to kill themselves — not only if they were terminally ill, but merely frail — in order not to be a burden to others.” This lends credence to a belief in the growing banality of evil and the power of the cult of death that such unhinged advocacy for killing no longer shocks people, even though it is a page lifted right out of Hitler’s doctrine.
Margaret Sanger, also, reflected this “worship” of death, so characteristic of cult behavior, in her advocacy of killing those human persons whom she designated the “ unwanted undergrowth.” Few would need a philology lesson in order to understand that this vague phraseology could quickly be twisted to justify ending any life for any reason whatsoever, simply through the hegemony of the strong over the weak. It is, however, the orientation toward death as a good in itself for those individuals judged useless or undesired that best shows the cultic nature of the death movement.
The culture of life draws upon all the forces for good to provide a societal and family life that respects the dignity of every human person and seeks in justice to defend every life. These elements are necessary for any environment or society that nourishes life, at the heart of which must be enshrined true “ cult”: the worship of the one, true God. This the Church offers as a service to every human person, to the family, and to the world. It is only necessary that the Church begin by engaging those who would reason together and recognize the right to life as fundamental, the precondition for every other right and responsibility.
Mary Ann Glendon, the former U. S. ambassador to the Vatican, gave a very public witness to the culture of life, as founded upon basic principles of justice, when she explained her reason for declining the Laetare Medal at Notre Dame, when the university hosted President Barack Obama. She witnessed, as we all must do, that the right to life is not “ marginal” as the world defines matters of religious faith. Rather, human life is the foundation of, and starting point for, every other condition for the flourishing of human persons and belongs at the heart of the culture of the world, which must be a culture of life and for life at the service of the good of every human person without distinction.
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