Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dignitas Personae

It may seem strange that an American Baptist pastor would place a link to a Roman Catholic Document. But I have long felt that Catholicism offers the most clear and concise thought available in regards to bio-ethics especially in the area of Abortion. The document 'Dignitas Personae' offers an excellent summation of Catholic thought in regards to these bio-ethical issues. Note especially under the heading 'Faith and human dignity' the statement; 'God has created every human being in his own image, and his Son has made it possible for us to become children of God.' Nothing new I suppose, but profound when compared to a recent post on 'The Nation' which is meant to lend a 'down to earth' approach to thinking about abortion. While in Dignitas Personae the unborn child bears the image of God and is therefore to be highly valued, in the Nation, the unborn child is a 'threat.'

the problem with the argument that Katha Pollit offers is two-fold, the first of which is the subject for today. First of all she vastly over-simplifies the perspective of those who are 'anti-choice'. Notice how she describes the perspectives of those who disagree with her in negative terms. The perspective of those of us who feel that abortion is the ultimate violation of the image of God that the unborn infant is created in, do NOT think that this child is 'one of life's little challenges.' As a matter of fact Dignitas Personae takes the conception and birth of a child in the most serious of terms. Under the heading 'The two fundamental principles' we read' 'The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-a-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage.' The child is not a slight inconvenience, but a gift that is to be treated with the utmost respect, care and responsibility. Under 'Faith and married life' we read; 'God, who is love and life, has inscribed in man and woman the vocation to share in a special way in his mystery of personal communion and in his work as Creator and Father...' Nothing could be taken more serious than the birth of a child for it is a mysterious cooperation between humanity and God in the process of creation.

I think that protestants could learn a thing or two from this Catholic document. That a man and woman are cooperating with God's creativity through conception may not be very romantic, but it does lend theological clarity to the sexual act, a necessary corrective to the 'purely recreational' view of sexuality that is rampant in our culture. And it reminds us that there is something sacred in every child. Every child bears the mark of the Creator, whether its life is viable outside the womb or not.

If you read Pollit's article carefully you find the second problem with her thought process. There a young woman, pregnant, who stands the very real risk of physical abuse from family, should she return home as an unwed mother. Pollit is admittedly a 'pro-choice' thinker. Being 'pro-choice' means assuming that sexuality is the choice of the individual, as is procreation and giving birth. Pollit hopes that we will support this womans personal choice to have an abortion. But her argument for abortion shows the weakness of the whole idea that ther is anything personal about sex, conception and birth. It requires the concent of a community, whether that is the community of father and mother in the act of conception, or the concent of the family is helping to raise the child. A child is not the choice of the individual, but the responsibility of a community, parents, family and yes, God. The family does not consent to this child, and so Pollit offers us an illustration of the weakness of her perspective. having a child is NOT an idividual choice.

Pollit offers the support of a community in her article... a community that will pay for an abortion. This is where the church must be more active in my opinion. It is not enough for us to be simply against abortion, but to be for the family, even the mother and unborn child that has no supportive family. We have to offer our consent to life by offering support, safety, home, and help to this mother who is in such danger. I am particularly reminded of Mary. We do not know exactly how her own parents felt about her pregnancy. We do know that her husband, despite some doubts and fear, consented to the child in her womb... and then the Holy Spirit created a supportive community around her; her cousin Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Magi. I see in the gospels the creation of an alternative family for the Holy Family that would support them in birthing and raising an unexpected child.


Ian said...

Your last paragraph I think is particularly signficiant, and there's another angle to it: that of adoption.

I've heard it said several times by churchfolk that unwanted babies should be put up for adoption because plenty of parents out there can't have children, so it would bless them and the child would be loved.

Unfortunately this isn't true here in the UK, and statistics seem to suggest it isn't true there either. Actually there are thousands of children who never find an adoption place, who are passed between foster care and institutional care for years.

While it is true that there is a general desire among adopting couples for young children, there is a huge disparity between the number of adopters and the number of children needing adoption.

So I think the church needs to be honest with itself. If that argument is going to wash then, en masse, good Christian families need to be willing to enter adoption programs and make sure that every child in the country who needs a loving home, right now, has one. Then, I think, and only then, can the 'put them up for adoption' line be anything but hollow hypocracy.

PS: Thanks for facebooking me, btw, I've subscribed to the blog.

pastormalone said...

I'm assuming that you are agreeing with the Catholic Church that the main purpose of sex and of marriage is to have children. This is the end towards which the acts point. Just want to be clear on that point. If that is the case then you should read Humanae Vitae, which explains why one should not use contraceptives because they get in the way of the natural end of sex and marriage. Not just get in the way, but obstruct God's desire - thus is sinful. Just want to make sure you are clear on this when getting in bed with the Catholics.

On another point, and this is where I struggle, ideally the community should come together and help the single mom (or dad) to raise the child. Somone once said, "it takes a village..." but as Ian remarked above, the reality is that churches do not have their sh-- together enough to provide that community and some people are left in a no-win choice. Remember the debate between the Niebuhr brothers about going to war. One was an idealist (H. Richard) saying that we must stay out of war, while the other (Reinhold) claimed that the reality of the situtation calls for us to be involved recognizing that the greater sin would be to stay out if the war.
You can take the idealist approach and say that all abortions are wrong in every case, but how does that minister to the mother in the impossible situtation? The danger with such an idealism is that it leads to a critical legalism of categorical oughts and shoulds. I don't think you want to head down that ecclesiological road. On the other hand, you don't want to ascribe to a pansy postion of saying that all we need is love and to work off of a "love ethic" (a'la' Fletcher). This puts a good Christian like yourself in a tough situtation. Fun, fun!