‘They are clearly descried crowding their hands with flesh, meat which is of their own family, holding inwards with entrails, a pitiful burden, which a father has tasted.’ (Aeschylus’Agamemnon, ll.1220-2)
IN VIRTUE OF HIS FREE WILL man is able to turn away from God; in virtue of his fallen nature he is indeed inclined to do so (cf. Genesis 6.5)141. This form of apostasy, assuming a public dimension in Christendom at least as early as the Renaissance142, fomented by the French and Industrial Revolutions, and at the present time by increasing material prosperity and technological sophistication, has led Western man finally into a proud self-exaltation to contempt of God and into sin, which is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become like gods, knowing and notwithstanding man’s radical orientation to the True and the Good – see the discussion of the natural dignity of man in the determining good and evil (cf. Genesis 3.5).
Now since God is the source and ground of all objective truth and good, all objective moral principles and meaning, this contempt of God involves a contempt of all objective good, most notably the dignity of man himself, and all objective moral principles and meaning.
In such cases man’s pride places him in a world devoid of goodness, morality, and meaning: no longer under the guidance of what is objective, he finds himself under the dominion of what is subjective, namely feelings, or passions, which, as Plato would say, he finds more compelling than the necessary truths of logic.
Passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline the agent to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil. The principal passions are love and hatred, desire, aversion, joy, sadness, courage, fear, hope, despair, and anger. The dominion of the passions is particularly evident in the arena of adultery and abortion: in the former case the passion is sexual desire, the desire for an experience which does not amount to marital love (cf. chapter 6); in the latter case the passion is typically the aversion or fear of the pregnant woman.
We see then how rejection of God leads to adultery and abortion. In a similar vein, St. Paul writes in Romans I, verses 24-5: ‘Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their heart, to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.’ St. Paul restates this thesis in more detail in verses 26-27 and 28-32 using all three times the same verb: ‘gave up’ – paredoken – by which he expresses the fact that when men are deprived of Divine Grace, they are overcome by their passions (viz. Summa II I q. 87 a. 2).
Before examining adultery and abortion more closely, let us consider the reasons why they may be considered together. The primary reason is that they are the two crimes most diametrically opposed to the goods of marriage, namely to marital love and to the procreation of children: adultery is the perversion of the first good; abortion is the contradiction of the second. They are also related as follows: abortion typically results from sexual immorality; both abortion and the type of adultery from which it typically results are hostile to life; both have a destructive tendency (as is explained below); both manifest extreme hedonism: one seeks extreme pleasure; the other, in seeking to avoid pain or suffering, wreaks extreme evil.
It is in fact in the form of hedonism that the passions are manifest in this area, so let us begin by analyzing hedonism.
To repeat the definition of hedonism given in chapter 8: Hedonism is the system ‘that affirms that only pleasure is intrinsically desirable, and that only displeasure (or pain) is intrinsically undesirable’. According to this system the only good is pleasure (or happiness), the only ill is pain (or suffering).
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The human being has no dignity in himself, but only a derivative value, or utility (see the beginning of the discussion on the dignity of the person in chapter 2) according to the pleasure or pain that he might give or enjoy. For this reason a human being is treated as no more than a body; he is treated as an object, a thing like any other. Crass and shallow though this system may seem when stated thus baldly, it does in fact exert a certain influence on Western man, as may be clearly seen by reference to the themes treated in this book (cf. especially chapter seven. One of the notable organs exercizing this influence is embryo research143).
See for instance the document „Donated Ovarian Tissue in Embryo Research and Assisted Conception’ produced by the „Human Fertilization and Embryo Authority’ early in 1994, which proposed the use of ova (mature or immature) or ovarian tissue taken from a living woman, or deceased woman, girl, or foetus, in order to generate human beings to be raised by infertile parents or for experimentation – for experimentation, in other words, on living human beings, whether at the embryonic, or indeed foetal stage. Any analysis of these proposals would need to address their evil, the torture of infants, and the trauma that a person would suffer from discovering that he had been conceived from a donated ovum, particularly if it had originated from a dead female, who may even have been an aborted foetus. Those who compiled the document are not however prepared to concede so much, preferring to leave it an open question how this discovery might affect a child (as though it might even be beneficial): ‚The particular implications of finding out that their genetic mother had died before they were conceived, or was an aborted foetus are unknown. It would be necessary to consider further how to assess the likely effects on children…’ (s.23). In short, the proposals rely on utilitarian hedonism, according to which the human being is simply an object, a means to an end. This view is clearly manifest throughout the document which treats human beings on a par with mice, sheep, and guinea pigs (s.13), and treats human ova as a commodity, referring to them consistently as ‚eggs’, and proposing a ‚positive’ use for them: The use of material from an aborted foetus for infertility research and to create children is, ‚it could be said, a positive use for material from a foetus which would otherwise be discarded.’(s.26). What is the difference, one might ask, between this attitude and that put into practice at Auschwitz, where the authorities treated their prisoners as objects, in a camp set up by a chemical company with the express intention of using parts of their bodies for commercial purposes?
Any-one surprised by this document may wish to investigate in the internet the activities of the company ‚Senomyx‘ which uses parts of unborn children for food, in other words for the purposes of cannibalism. We see how far modern man’s practical capacities have outstripped his moral integrity, as a form of perversion becomes a public reality for the first time in the history of civilization, that has hitherto been the object only of mythology or satire (as in the Feast of Thyestes in Aeschylus‘ Agamemnon referred to in the quotation at the beginning of this chapter, the horrific, nightmare representations of Goya, and the colonial gentleman’s intimate dinner for two in ‚A Modest Proposal‘ by Dean Swift).
and terminal illness. In the first instance the person, or rather the body, is seen as only (derivatively) valuable as the vehicle of pleasure; in the second instance the person is seen as having no worth, only a disvalue as the cause of pain or suffering for himself and for those who look after him, and therefore to merit destruction (‘euthanasia’).
Now it is principally in two forms of hedonism that the passions are manifest in adultery and abortion: in outright hedonism and in hedonism tempered by benevolence.
Outright hedonism operates in sexual immorality as the pursuit of sexual pleasure, it operates in abortion as the avoidance of pain or suffering.
The sexual act is treated as a pleasurable game, the person is treated as a mere body, the mere vehicle of pleasure or passion. Such relationships are indeed a travesty, and the complete antithesis of marriage: the latter involving a selfless love until death for the procreation and education of children; the former a self-centred passion which lasts as long as the passion lasts, and hostile to children: attempting to prevent their conception, and tending to abort them if they are conceived and neglect them if they are born.
As at the date of writing, the most grotesque and shameful form of these travesties is the „homosexual marriage’. It would appear that homosexual acts and behaviour have been gaining acceptance in society.
With regard to abortion, it may be said more fully that since hedonism is based on feelings, it will typically not attach to a being who is invisible and whose status, and therefore whose suffering, seem at best embryonic and therefore questionable, nor will it engage in any analysis of his nature or personhood, let along appreciate his objective dignity. Rather it will attach to the parents, especially the mother, who is visible and visibly suffering or inconvenienced. If the child is considered at all, he is considered merely as a cause of their suffering or inconvenience, or simply as a ‘threat to their happiness’, as Cardinal Ratzinger puts it in the Ratzinger Report. In this way it addresses the superficial rather than the deeper issues of abortion: the temporary suffering or inconvenience of the mother rather than the life of her child and her own true interests: her need for support, understanding, and education in the nature of abortion and post-abortion trauma.
As we have already noted above, the hedonist understands man on the model of the beast, or, as one might alternatively say, on the model of the infant. In this regard we quote from Michael Davies’ admirable book ‘Pope Paul’s recent years because of the hedonistic view of sexuality (particularly enshrined in the „contraceptive mentality’) which regards all forms of sexual activity as equivalent.
New Mass’ (The Angelus Press 1980, referred to in a footnote to chapter 3 of the present book) in chapter VII on the ‘Cult of Man’: ‘Much is heard of contemporary man coming of age, of his maturity. What we are witnessing is a regression to infancy. The prime characteristic of an infant is that he must have what he wants and have it at once. That is the criterion by which contemporary man regulates his life. Contraception, abortion, and the glorification of sexual perversion are the most evident chararcteristics of mankind come of age’.
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A less obvious, but equally influential, form of hedonism is hedonism tempered by a sort of humanistic benevolence. Although hedonism and humanism, when considered individually as in chapter 8, are distinct approaches to moral reasoning, they may be combined to form a unified moral system as will now be outlined.
iii) Humanistic Benevolence
Benevolence is the will to do good to another. The other is seen either as subjectively good, as in the case of sensible love, or as objectively good as in the case of humanism or Christianity, although in the case of humanism particularly, where the existence of God is denied, this objectivity lacks any adequate foundation.
In order to appreciate the humanistic form of benevolence, let us contrast it with the stern Christian law of self-giving love. This law is stated by Our Lord in St. Mark 12.29 as: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind and with all thy strength… and love thy neighbour as thyself.’ It is elucidated in St. John 13.34 as follows: ‘A new commandment I give until you: that you love another as I have loved you.’ Humanistic benevolence, by contrast, as expounded by the atheist philosopher David Hume145 relates to the benevolent qualities which, as he states near the beginning of the chapter on benevolence, ‘universally express the highest merit which human nature is capable of attaining.’
Humanistic benevolence146 has sometimes a positive, sometimes a negative, tendency: It does indeed encompass a spirit of kindness, fairness, fellow-feeling, and respect for others; but also, since it lacks the depth and wisdom of love and refuses to recognise the realm of the spirit, it not infrequently addresses the shallower rather than the deeper issues involved in any situation.
Now when the hedonism of adultery is tempered by ‘Enquiries Concerning the Principles of Morals’, first published in 1751. as a veritable apocolocyntosis of „ niceness’. benevolence, the parties do not treat each other simply as objects of pleasure or passion, but also benevolently: with affection and with respect for each other’s feelings, and the relationship lasts for a longer period: for months or years, for as long as these more tender emotions last. But still the objective order is not respected and the deeper needs of the parties are not met: the need for a deep love, a love that is fulfilled and fruitful, a love that endures until death.
Whereas outright hedonism advocates abortion on the basis of mere inconvenience, when it is tempered by benevolence it advocates abortion only on the basis of genuine suffering: typically the mental or physical health of the mother or the prospective suffering of a child diagnosed as disabled or due to be born into conditions of hardship (probably the motivation, but certainly not the effect, of current English law, cf. chapter 7). Yet this latter form of hedonism does not address the deeper issues of abortion any more than the former: the issues that arise from the inestimable dignity of the person.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.