Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spiritual Revolutions

I've had to reflect much lately on the subjectof conversion. It's not just because of stuff like the recent Newman beatification either. In a more personal sense, I've been seeing a lot of people moving in and out of the Church. It's been a lesson in how fragile a thing one's beliefs can be. For example, you encounter cradle Catholics who have come up under the tutelage of very orthodox priests and caring parents abandoning the Faith in favor of milquetoast indifferentism.

On the other hand, you've got committed atheists or various varieties of heretics shedding their errors to take up the Cross instead.

What all this goes to show us is that we should never presume the fidelity anyone, nor should we consider anyone to be beyond God's grace.

As an exhibit of this latter thing, here is a wonderful article from America Magazine (yeah, I know; go figure). Mrs. Fulwiler gives a fantastic look into the mind of an atheist and how much of an obstacle pride can be to a potential convert. This makes the subsequent revolution for Christ all the more inspiring. We probably don't adequately appreciate the work of grace in reforming these kinds of folks.

Read the whole thing, but here are what I would hold out as the highlights.

One night I was discussing the topic with my husband, who was re-examining his own pro-choice stance. He made a passing remark that startled me into reconsidering this issue: “It just occurred to me that being pro-life is being pro-other-people’s-life,” he quipped. “Everyone is pro-their-own-life.”

His remark made me realize that my pro-choice viewpoints had put me in the position of deciding whose lives were worth living, and even who was human. Along with doctors, the government and other abortion advocates, I decided where to draw this crucial line. When I would come across Catholic Web sites or books that asserted “Life begins at conception,” I would scoff, as was my habit, yet I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with my defense. I realized that my criteria for determining when human life begins were distressingly vague. I was putting the burden of proof on the fetuses to demonstrate to me that they were human, and I was a tough judge. I found myself looking the other way when I heard about things like the 3-D ultrasounds that showed fetuses touching their faces, smiling and opening their eyes at ages at which I still considered abortion acceptable. As modern technology revealed more and more evidence that fetuses were humans too, I would simply move the bar for what I considered human.

Making these kinds of calls is naturally the province of God alone. And so we return (again) to the original lie that deceived our First Parents:

You shall be as gods.

Genesis 3:5


I recognized that I too had probably told myself lies in order to maintain my support for abortion. Yet there was some tremendous pressure that kept me from objectively looking at the issue. Something deep within me screamed that not to allow women to have abortions, at least in the first trimester, would be unfair in the direst sense of the word. Even as I became religious, I mentally pushed aside thoughts that all humans might have God-given eternal souls worthy of dignity and respect. It became too tricky to figure out when we receive those souls, the most obvious answer being “at conception,” as opposed to some arbitrary point during gestation. It was not until I re-evaluated the societal views of sex that had permeated the consciousness of my peer group that I was able to release that internal pressure I felt and take an unflinching look at abortion...

My pro-choice views (and I imagine those of many others) were motivated by loving concern: I just did not want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Since it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with “hang-ups” eventually has sex, and that sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I was lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: the enemy is not human. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendency to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize their fellow human beings on the other side of the line in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized what we saw as the enemy of sex.

Ideally I would have taken an objective look at when human life begins and based my views on that alone, but the lie was just too tempting. I did not want to hear too much about heartbeats or souls or brain activity. Terminating pregnancies simply had to be acceptable, because carrying a baby to term and becoming a parent is a huge deal, and society had made it very clear that sex was not a huge deal. As long as I accepted the premise that engaging in sex with a contraceptive mentality was morally acceptable, I could not bring myself to consider that abortion might not be acceptable. It seemed inhumane to make women deal with life-altering consequences for an act that was not supposed to have life-altering consequences.

Given my background, the Catholic idea that we are always to treat the sexual act with awe and respect, so much so that we should simply abstain if we are opposed to its life-giving potential, was a revolutionary message. Being able to consider honestly when life begins, to open my heart and mind to the wonder and dignity of even the tiniest of my fellow human beings, was not fully possible for me until I understood the nature of the act that creates these little lives in the first place.

The entry ends with a comparison between our own societal mentality and that of the ancients who saw no problem with leaving their children to die of exposure simply because they didn't want to put up with raising a child who might be less than fit.

Returning to the point, though, we should never despair about the conversion of others. Mrs. Fulwiler is a good example of how even the most reluctant or recalcitrant can be taken by grace into the Church. We are called to help them with our own prayers and fasting. However, just because we don't see the results doesn't mean that things aren't happening.

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