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Getting Used to Things

The things we grow used to.  This piece in the New York Times this morning, on the difficulty of agreeing about how to remember the days when Montgomery, Alabama, was a center of the slave trade illustrates how “Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation,” and it reminded me of an interview with Shelby Foote, which I bumped into a few days ago while looking for something else.

Foote, a native of the Mississippi Delta, spoke mostly of William Faulkner (to whom, as a young man, he had boldly introduced himself while his best friend, Walker Percy, shyly cowered in a car parked in Faulkner’s driveway) but he included some searing, honest and fascinating comments about racism and the culture in which he grew up. Acknowledging the evil of it, he nevertheless remembers how that culture could regard a black person (though he doesn’t use that term) as “somewhere between an animal and a human being,” and admits that “I lived in a society that was filled with horrors…they were not horrors at the time.”

I can’t help but wonder if there will come a time when many of us will be speaking of the commonplace, unremarkable horrors of our own time and country, among them, the aborting of nearly a million unborn children annually and our evident nonchalance about it. 

We can get used to anything, it seems.

About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.



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The anti-abortion movement needs its own William Wilberforce, a voice (male or female) to champion the cause of the estimated 42 million human beings aborted worldwide each year. It took Wilberforce almost 30 years to open the eyes of Parliament to the moral reality of the British slave trade and its brisk and profitable business in the buying and selling of human beings as chattel.

We are used to women getting abortions because the men who impregnated them are not held responsible for the offspring they engender.

With all the advances in DNA, the men can be identified.  There would be fewer abortions if men were forced to support all their children through college.  (Odd how bishops, priests, editors of and contributors to Catholic publications, Catholic laymen, Catholic legislators, et al. do and say nothing to ensure that simple solution.)

(Another simple solution which so many Catholic men oppose or refuse to promote is contraception.)

 Plenty of "nonchalance" when it comes to men.  Plenty of "finding fault" when it comes to women.

Faulkner is one of the few 20th century American writers that I deeply appreciate. I doubt that anything beats "The Bear" in white writing for forcing a confrontation with the intricacy (and intensity) of white/black relations in the South at the tims. His white characters seem haunted and even dumbfounded by their relations (in more than sense of the word) with blacks. I think, though, that his black characters are sometimes treated as ciphers or totems (a sort of proto-"magic negro" phenomenon); I suspect that that is a manifestation of their white counterparts (and Faulkner?) inability to find them as more than inscrutable.

Perhaps one of the "commonplace, unremarkable horrors of our own time and country" that we'll contemplate in the future will be the way the Catholic church preached population growth and an end to contraception in the very face of the escalating ruin of our rnvironment.

It's the "of our time" that I object to, when it seems pretty obvious that the phenomenon of unwanted pregnancy followed by potions and mechanical interventions to terminate pregnancy spans most of recorded history.  Bill Collier, do you really believe women don't comprehend abortion? Or do you just disagree how and by whom the stakes and trade offs are weighed?

Come now, plenty of people are speaking out every day about things they consider to be horrors: not only abortion, but the horror of providing basic sustenance and insured medical care for infants, an adequate education for older children, and decent jobs for young and older adults. They are horrified that we have allowed a square yard of the Middle East to go unbombed, that citizens can vote unharassed, that a man who received substantial majorities of popular and electoral votes—twice—is serving as president, that the rich don't yet own everything, that people who love each other should be allowed to marry, and that some people are having sex that is not "open to life." (partial list)

Horror fatigue is a constant danger. People can only absorb so much horror before they turn away. Inveighers against horror might be more successful if they chose just one thing to denounce and fight against. But that would leave too much of humanity unrebuked.

Mr. Garvey - think I understand your opinion piece and your comparison but would suggest that you are mixing apples and oranges (it looks comparable but it isn't when you get down to the nuances).  There is no comparison (except in general) between slavery and abortion.

Abortion involves the only area (IMO) in which we have a situation of potential life that resides and depends upon the mother's life to survive.  Thus, you see the comments above which begin to reflect the complexity of the abortion debate.  (it makes your comparison simplistic and thus my comment that it is apples to oranges)

Issue - the typical statement is that life begins at conception (but, how is this understood?)  Science (genetics, biogenetics, bio-ethics, medical science) all point to a process for the beginning of life (just in nature itself 60% or more of all cells fail to be implanted and start development and we don't call that abortion).

An exclusive focus on abortion misses the fact that, too often, anti-abortionist forget about the infant, once born. 

So, some thoughts:

- US has about 1 mil abortions annually (which has decreased over time)

- US has about 50 mil living in poverty (15 mil are children)

- More than 1,000 children die per day around the world because of poor diet, lack of food, clean water, lack of healthcare  (why aren't these issues just as important or more important than abortion? Do we have a Fortnight of Freedom on these US issues?)

- Society today can easily enforce tough criminal charges and imprisonment for those involved in slavery.  Can you say the same about a poor woman who opts to have an abortion?  Will she be charged with murder?  Put in jail?

- Speaking about slavery - we are now becoming aware of the reality that millions of women/girls/children are victims of sex slavery......isn't this just as important an issue as abortion?

Yes, would love to see the world increase its awareness and share a basic duty to protect life - but when are we prepared to begin that duty?  (would suggest that this is the underlying difference between your simple comparison of slavery and abortion)


Mr. Garvey,

Thank you for sharing your perspective.


I agree that the desire to "normalize" abortion is pernicious.  


Jim P., are you willing to regard the irresponsibility of some men about the pregnancies they are involved in as "normal?"

C'mon, Barbara LNU, you know I didn't say that. Society as a whole needs to experience a paradigmatic shift regarding the moral worth of the fetus, and that would include implementation of comprehensive social and economic safety nets that would both emphasize the inestimable moral value of human life and provide women contemplating abortions for economic reasons with another option.

But of course not all women "comprehend abortion" in moral terms. An influential icon of the feminist movement, and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, has posed with a big smile in her "I Had An Abortion" t-shirt as part of a Planned Parenthood campaign. IMO Ms. Steinem appears to place little if any moral worth on the fetus in her comprehension of abortion.

In a country that cannot even make free contraception part of health care without the church and others flipping their wigs, I don't think conservatives have much moral high ground on this whole issue.

Snopes, dammit!

Molly, I guess I don't see the parallel, but, in answer to your question - no, of course not.

Assuming my opinion on a question of Michael O. Garvey's sincerity matters little to anyone other than myself, I remind myself I have no reason to doubt his deeply charitable motives and convictions.  Nonetheless IMO he once again comments upon a unquestionably sizeable and very real challenge from a self righteous position. 

I cannot tell if he is making a comparison or an analogy or both between slavery and abortion.  Either way, how in the world does that work?  Are the women who have abortions in some way the same as slave owners?  Are the aborted fetuses in some way the same as slaves?  If so, in what distorted moral madness does such "reasoning" find usefulness?

There is no understandable much less acceptable defense of slave owners.  None.  There is an understandable and, in some circumstances acceptable, defense of women who have abortions.  Before the self righteousness flows like water I remind you a defense is NOT the same a full throated approval.   As for the second part, an aborted fetus as a representation of a slave, it is a notion so devoid of rationality I have no idea how to speak to it.

Finally, I remind Michael O. Garvey the profoundly tragic reality to which he speaks is one he is  guaranteed to never experience for reasons to be found in the logic of coin tossing or in the divine wisdom of God.  Either way the suffering he experiences pales in comparison to that of the women who actually experience the tragedy.

Merely to hear Shelby Foote talk is an absolute delight!  Ken Burns did not use him enough. 

Bill Collier, 

I am all for offering women options that don't force decisions that they find economically necessary but morally objectionable.  But not all women (or men) find abortion to be morally objectionable, not in the way or for the reasons that Catholic church does.  Which is not the same as saying that "not all women 'comprehend abortion' in moral terms," but that not all women comprehend abortion in the same moral terms that you do.    

I cannot tell if he is making a comparison or an analogy or both between slavery and abortion.  Either way, how in the world does that work?

Slavery is a monumental evil that was nevertheless accepted as "business as usual" for centuries.

Abortion is a monumental evil that runs the risk of becoming accepted as "business as usual".

No analogy is perfect, but this one is pretty straightforward.  And reasonably apt.

The attempts in this thread to explain away or justify abortion are some of the most depressing things I've read in a long time.

What I find bothersome and pointless about comparing abortion to slavery: slavery was legal in some states and illegal in others.  It was finally outlawed, but only after a long and bloody civil war.  

As difficult as it may be to obtain, abortion is legal in all 50 states. Since there's no Mason-Dixon line separating abortion and non-abortion states, it can't be eradicated by a civil war--as if we should welcome another civil war anyway.  There are simply too many people who sincerely believe abortion should remain legal,. 

The Catholic Church teaches its members that abortion is a grave sin.  But in a pluralistic society, just as Catholics would resist a ban on blood transfusions because the Jehovah's Witnesses oppose transfusion, non-Catholics who disagree with the Church will resist being forced to abide by Catholic teaching on abortion.  This is not going to change.

JP - your reply is sad.  It continues a simplistic black and white reality.

You might benefit from reflecting on the words of Francis:

"We cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him."

"Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone," he continued. "Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but 'by attraction.'"

The *Just Say No* approach didn't work in the drug wars and it doesn't work today in abortion.

Many people who want to keep abortion legal may nevertheless be ambivalent and uneasy about it. Some of them might have been persuaded to oppose it if anti-abortion activists had not worked so diligently to weaken their own case and turn potential supporters away. By condemning contraception as contrary to natural law and gay relationships as intrinsically disordered and any departure from its teaching about sex as mortal sin, the Catholic Church has caused many decent, sane people to stop listening and avert their gaze from a father's nakedness. In asserting an authority it no longer has and insisting on all-or-nothing obedience, it is losing whatever chance it had to receive a sympathetic hearing on abortion.

A rational, humane, persistent, and non-accusatory exposition of the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life, decoupled from all the other stuff, might gain some attention and respect, especially if it was accompanied by sincere and effective regard for the anguish and desperation that often drive women to seek an abortion. Denouncing abortion as monumental evil, even if that is one's wholehearted belief, will not win many converts.

Jim Pauwels,

I've followed your posts for several years and I know that you're no right-winger.  You are are a voice of reason.  Stick to your beliefs and continue to speak as you do. 

Slavery is a monumental evil that was nevertheless accepted as "business as usual" for centuries.

Millennia, not just centuries.  And "monumental evil" may be an overstatement of a situation that, like religion, has involved nearly all people from the days our Ancestors switched first from gathering/hunting to gardening and then to agriculture.  Making people give up the old leisurely ways and turn to tilling the soil by the sweat of their brows required harsh measures -- religion and slavery.  (Are all priests/shamans and all captors and overseers of slaves burning in hell?)

Abortion is a monumental evil that runs the risk of becoming accepted as "business as usual".

Do you think abortion has not been "business as usual" for as long as agriculture and religion?  (Longer, of course, because the Ancestors in the days before agriculture and religion were knowledgable about the properties of various plants, including those that could end pregnancies.  A hunting/gathering woman could only manage one infant at a time.)


Denouncing abortion as monumental evil, even if that is one's wholehearted belief, will not win many converts.

Failing to convert the closed-hearted is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of truth-telling.  Telling bishops they are craven for shielding child-abusing clerics has not won their affection, either, but surely it is necessary.  And, in fact, truth-telling does win converts - among those who are open to the truth.  It seems to me that speaking the truth is Step One in any program to restore justice and, ultimately, peace.

The truth should be told in love, not hatred.  You're quite right that sympathy - love - for pregnant women is both essential and important.  As we feel and express that sympathy and love, we still need to speak the truth.  


"Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone," he continued. "Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but 'by attraction.'"

Bill - if you think that the Holy Father wants us to follow this program while accepting abortion as business as usual, then I fear you've misunderstood him.



And the argument gets even stranger as anti-abortion people condemn Nelson Mandela ....

Now you are putting words in my mouth - never said business as usual.

You have to encounter people where they are at - prophetic witness is necessary (but as the comment above said well) your position comes across as condemnation, judgment, etc.  It doesn't help the common good conversation. 

Crystal's posted link is just another example of the rabid anti-aboriton folks who forget the gospel and even forget pro-life.  Mandela forgave those espousing apartheid; he negotiated; and compromised to achieve freedom.  Your statement doesn't sound like Mandela - it has no hint of forgiveness; no compromise, etc.

It is a complex issue that the bishops/popes have only made more difficult - contraception, a vision of family, isse of gays, role of women - all impact the conversation on abortion.  Finally, as I tried to state initially, two big issues remain - what does *conception* mean?  and what do you do in terms of civil law in a pluralistic society?

Didn't really like Sanctuary, to be honest.

Jim, At its most fundamental, slavery, particularly American ante bellum slavery and then Jim Crow is a form of tribalism -- exploitation of others by reason of ethnic heritage that makes them identifiably distinct from that of a favored group, sometimes but not always the majority.  There is an in group and an out group. 

Abortion isn't that.  Indeed, an honest moral framework would recognize that pregnancy isn't "like" anything else at all, and would account for its unique status in trying to address its moral dimension.  Catholic moral reasoning doesn't do that.

Failing to convert the closed-hearted is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of truth-telling.

First you have to listen to the people you want to convert. Listen to them with your own heart open, so that you can put yourself in their place and understand their perspective. It seems to me that "Step One" is not "speaking the truth" but listening, and you are unable to do that. You are unable to do that, because your own absolutely negative reaction to abortion prevents you from hearing the voices of those who do not find abortion so gravely sinful always and everywhere.

Then, what to do? What can you do if something bothers you so much that you feel a compulsive need to voice your horror ("truth-telling", as you call it), but the very strength of your allergic reaction prevents you from being able to reach out to the margins? When you speak up under such circumstances, it is primarily for your own benefit - to get it off your chest -, not for the benefit of the people who have a different perspective ("closed-hearted", as you call them). It happens to me sometimes that I speak up about something, knowing that people will probably not understand me, but just because I cannot stay silent. It's not wise, and usually unproductive, but it makes me feel better. 


Though I'm against criminalizing abortion, I do understand about making a strenuous argument for what you believe in, even if no one else wants to hear what you have to say.  Today I saw an article at ABC Religion & Ethics by a theology professor at Fordham, giving Catholic reasons for vegetarianism.  I'm a vegetarian and I know from experience that almost no one wnats to even entertain the moral arguments for not eating meat - they want to eat meat and they don't want to conside the unpleasant details that might make them feel guilty about doing that.  I still bring it up, though, for the reasons mentioned in the article ...  ... maybe arguing against abortion is like that?

Sorry, I'm terrible at pasting links ...

 It happens to me sometimes that I speak up about something, knowing that people will probably not understand me, but just because I cannot stay silent. It's not wise, and usually unproductive, but it makes me feel better. 

Claire - I usually feel bad when I speak up about something and I realize that nobody understood it, or worse, everyone dismissed it.   It is not out of a desire to feel good that anyone who opposes abortion dares to put that opposition into words, at least in a room full of people who are allied with those who bear implacable enmity toward pro-life views.  There are friendlier forums around for feel-good condemnations.  I try to stay away from that sort of thing.  That's living in a bubble.  If all we do is expose ourselves to opinions like our own, we'll never get anywhere.

First you have to listen to the people you want to convert. Listen to them with your own heart open, so that you can put yourself in their place and understand their perspective

A dialogue requires both listening and speaking.  Both parties have this dual responsibility: to listen with an open heart, and to speak the truth.  When I wrote that abortion is a monumental evil, it was my turn to speak. That is part of a dialogue, too.  And so I did: I spoke the truth.  I spoke after I had already listened to (read) the reactions to the original post.  I did listen, and with an open heart.  Why do you suppose that I don't listen?  I  have heard, weighed and evaluated what was written here.  Do you doubt my sincerity?  Do you not see that it is possible to listen with an empathetic ear and still come to the conclusion, "As important  or dire as all these other things can be, it is still worse to kill unborn children in large numbers, as we do in the US"?


I also didn't like Sanctuary. The same goes for Soldier's Pay. 

Wait a minute ... I might not have read Sanctuary.  I was thinking of Sartoris -- didn't like it.

 I spoke the truth.

You expressed an opinion.  



Immured in their Tower of Truth, Church leaders issue their pronouncements as if they were working a geometry problem. It's all very tidy. Truth descends from on high, preordained and unalterable, rather than bubbling up from the mire and flow of biology and hard experience. Anyone seen to deviate an inch from the Truth must be reproved as an evildoer and called back brusquely to duty and submission.

It's all in the service of Truth, and no one can argue with that, I suppose. But it's lousy psychology, and retrograde. Why, a man had a better understanding of human hearts two thousand years ago.

Jim - I do not see that abortion is one and the same at conception and late in pregnancy. Yes, I realize that there are people who genuinely believe that abortion is murder, even abortion very early on. 

But I object to calling the anti-abortion stance "truth-telling" because the analogue on the other side would be to say that calling the fertilized egg a person "is false and wrong". That's not dialogue: it's  not saying "in my view,...", but claiming that one's side owns the truth. That's not inviting, and I think that it's not going to help any. But frankly, I am not sure what would help.

Crystal: yes, sometimes it's hard to refrain from making fun of vegetarians.

JP - some words of wisdom in the comments above esp. Barbara and Claire.

You might want to read the post that Mollie Wilson O'Reilly just posted and the NY Post response to NY "Invisible Child".  (thought exercise - replace invisible child with those who have had abortions)

Too much of the anti-abortion meme sounds like the NY Post - some highlights:

-  "it makes the invisible visible, and tells the story of people whose voice is seldom heard. Its generous sweep takes in not just the "invisible" but massive problem of the economically poor, homeless, mentally unstable, single, lonely, ignored, etc., but also the problems that plague public schools, and the conflicts that reformers' interventions can create; the tangle of social agencies (or Church agencies) designed to help people like Dasani's family, and the circumstances that keep clients from reaping the benefits; and the attempts made under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to address these issues and how they have fared."

- this excerpt gets at one of the issues about many who seek abortions; lack the means, knowledge, or emotional stability to use birth control, etc.  It is a complex issue.

- and here is the Post response and the anti meme who are too often subjected to:

'....projecting a highly simplified argument and perspective onto a deeply complicated story, and then sneering: "The Times like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it’s the city’s job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents. In this case, that’s a couple with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs. Something’s wrong with that picture."   (In other words, just say no)

The personal struggles of Dasani's parents, from drug addiction to emotional immaturity to general discouragement and despair, are vividly depicted in Elliot's story (that's how the Post knows about them). So are the economic conditions that make a phrase like "difficulty holding jobs" dishonest at best. But what "Invisible Child" focuses on most of all is the kids, Dasani and her siblings and all the others housed at their shelter and in places like it. They live in squalor -- the description of the bathroom they must share with other shelter residents is enough to make you cry -- they go to school hungry, and they are destined to grow up both much too fast and not at all.

And the NY Post splashes the headline - homelessness hooey and Mollie responds:  "But what really makes that last line heartless is its implication that the story Elliot did report on is not worth telling. In fact, it's "hooey."  (too often the anti abortion meme)

Some quotes from Pope Francis' address to Catholic gynecologists on 9/20/2013.


Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of the Lord, who before being born, and then when he was just born, experienced the rejection of the world.


Dear doctor friends, you who are called to take care of human life in its initial phase, all of you must remember with facts and words, that this is always, in all its phases and at every age, sacred and is always of quality. And not because of a discourse of faith, but of reason and science!

You might want to read the post that Mollie Wilson O'Reilly just posted and the NY Post response to NY "Invisible Child".  (thought exercise - replace invisible child with those who have had abortions)

Bill - I sincerely think you've misidentified the primary victim of abortion in your thought experiment.  I do think, though, that your analogy can be brought into alignment with the point of the original post: 

  • Slavery and Jim Crow society in the US were pervasive, monstrous evils to which large numbers of respectable American citizens accommodated themselves, and many benefitted from - had a real stake in preserving the monstrous status quo
  • Abortion on demand in the US is a pervasive, monstrous evil to which large numbers of respectable American citizens accommodate themselves and many benefit from - have a real stake in preserving the monstrous status quo
  • Homelessness in the US also is pervasive, and I would say it is evil.  Undoubtedly, large number of respectable American citizens have accommodated themselves to it.  I don't think there are a large number of stakeholders in the status quo, though; homelessness is a different sort of problem in that respect.  Its flourishing undoubtedly has many causes, but indifference on the part of society as a whole probably is more important than the machinations of an evil-doing, powerful group of stakeholders in perpetuating homelessness.


Charles- thanks for your kind words.  

Barbara - yes, there certainly are important differences between slavery and abortion.  But as I said, the analogy put forth by Michael O Garvey seems pretty sound, as far as it goes.

Gerelyn - the dictum "slavery is a momentous evil" is part of the framework of moral principles within which I strive to live my life.  Were there a threat to that particular plank of the framework, I hope I would speak up to defend it.  I expect that virtually everyone who posts and comments here has that dictum as part of their framework, as well, and would rush to the barricades with me or ahead of me to defend it.

The dictum "abortion is a momentous evil" is exactly the same kind of thing.  Your wishing to call those principles "opinions" doesn't really alter their function or importance.  You may or may not have removed that particular plank from the framework within which you live.  If you have, then the risk of your edifice tumbling down has increased by some percentage.  But it's not the same kind of thing as, "Pinot Noir is tastier than Merlot".  


Crystal: yes, sometimes it's hard to refrain from making fun of ve

I'm always surprised how a group of people that claims to care about compassion can get away with this without being ashamed. 

ISTM there are several problems here:

1.  There is no clearly definitive, generally persuasive answer to 'when does an organism become a human person'?The best (tentative) answer is that in the first week of the process there is no person, during the next several months there might or might not be one, and in at least the last three months or so there is a person.

2.  The ethicists and churches the moral issues as carefully as they need to be addressed so that the nation can reach at least a tentative answer to the most difficult questions:  when is the organism a person with a right-to-life? and does its right-to-life equal its mother's? 

3.  Many people are unwilling to even consider the possibility that there might indeed be a person in the monther's womb whose right to life equals its mothers.  

I should have added Gerelyn's point:  until men are held to be equally responsible for pregnancy, there will likely be many abortions.

Complexity, complexity, complexity, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

Jim, I don't drink Merlot.  (Is that what makes Boehner cry so much?)  

(This is a 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle holiday season at my edifice.)




MitheBe ==

Cut out the insults, will ya'?

Crystal --

I don't think vegetarians are funny.  I have some instincts in that direction myself, but I don't think that the reasons for it are persuasive.  I do draw the line at eating anything alive, however.  Think raw oysters.  (I'm glad to hear that Peter Singer thinks that might be OK because they don't have the brain cells to feel being chomped unto death.)

By the way, do you know of any organizations that fight cruelty to farm animals?  PETA does, but I'm not a vegetarian and PETA seems to be  mess itself.)

(OK, so that was off-topic. But I think that the way this culture treats farm animals is outrageous, and we need to speak out against that too.)

Thanks, Ann.  I agree about PETA.  There are places that help farm animals .... Farm Sanctuary ... ... amd the Hmane Farm Association ... ... are a couple I know of. 

Crystal --

Thanks for the info.  I did some googling and also found out that the American Humane Association has a special fund for farm animal welfare.  Looks good.

Crystal, I have farming relatives with small old fashioned farms, and my model for farming involves a harmonious cycle of raising, taking care of, feeding, killing, and eating animals. I am repulsed by the living conditions of animals in modern farm factories, and am all in favor of making meat more expensive even if it means eating less of it, but I think it's a big leap to go from there to becoming a vegetarian.

But in spite of our problems in our relationship to animals, humans come first. When I see that more people give money to a beggar when he holds animals on his lap, that they are more sensitive to the plight of animals than of people, it seems to me that such compassion is misplaced. That is where I part ways with the many vegetarians who want equal rights for people and for animals. Humans have priority.

As to the vegetarians who exclaim "That's horrible!" when I squish a fruit fly, I find it hard to not make fun of them. My compassion does not extend to fruit flies. I may have some grudging respect for those for whom fly compassion is an extension of their love of all creation, but I disagree strongly with those who turn to animals because they don't like people.

But that is not related to the topic of this post. A microscopic bean-like embryo, even though it does not arouse compassion (except by fantasizing about some pretty baby that it represents in some imaginative people's minds), is still the start of what will  become a human person, and I think that makes it more important than even the cutest kitten. 


Thanks for explaining how you feel.  I've spent my life with pets and have loved them.  I don't see any compelling reasons to priviledge people over other animals as far as kindness goes, since studies seem to increasingly show that people and animals are much the same in a number of ways.  Since animals do think and feel, fear and suffer, I empathize with them and I'm not comfortable  killing them for food or just because I can. And since they are so outmatched by us in power, I feel obliged to help them if I can.


Crystal - I admit I've made lots of fun of vegetarians in the past.  I've grown to respect the choice to be vegetarian.  I don't think I could do it myself, but the moral issues make me uncomfortable.  So maybe that's progress.  People who are sanctimonious about being vegetarian rub me the wrong way, but that's a function of sanctimony, not vegetarianism.  I strongly oppose smoking, too, and have lost family members to lung cancer because of smoking, but people who are sanctimonious about not smoking rile me, too (the non-smoking sanctimonious ass perhaps was more common 20 or 30 years ago than now).  If I come across as a sanctimonious anti-abortion ass, I really do apologize to one and all, and would welcome any suggestions, short of compromising the underlying principle, that would fix it.

Gerelyn - I like both Merlot and Pinot Noir, but I have an insensitive palate, and wine snobs rank second only to Mac snobs on my list of Bores To Ignore At Any Party Or Gathering.

While I don't discuss abortion with Catholics, I always learn something from these discussions and appreciate the comments here.

Couple of tangential points:

I think Jim Pauwels is a right-winger, but does that in any way preclude him from being a friend to all here and a person of sense?

Temple Grandin has tried to make the meat industry more humane. I don't think you have to be a vegetarian to support better treatment for livestock. Turns out that animals that are raised and slaughtered more humanely tend to be better for you. This is a very complicated issue with a lot of facets, but I was happy to hear about new FDA regulation of antibiotics. Anyone who wants to take a small step personally could refrain from eating turkeys, most of which are now bred to have so much breast meat that they cannot walk and are usually bred in intensive livestock operations. Send a letter to meat companies at Thanksgiving telling them you've changed your menu and why. They might eventually get the message. Veal is also often raised in pretty terrible conditions, and a good one to avoid.


Jim,   my mother died of lung cancer and I know I can be sanctimonious about smoking.  It's hard sometimes to share insights or beliefs without going there, I guess.

Crystal - FWIW, you never come across to me as sanctimonious about anything.  

you never come across to me as sanctimonious about anything

I second that.

Thanks, you guys  :)

Ann, I have vegetarian tendencies myself and probably would be at least 90% vegetarian if I weren't married to someone for whom a meal without meat isn't a meal.  I like the food, and I very much dislike the inhumane farming practices of agribusiness.  I think the PETA people are extremists though and don't wish to support them.  

On a practical level, I simply try to buy from humane sources. I try to buy Fair Trade items, especially coffee and chocolate when I can. I buy as much organic as I can afford - not only to reduce the pesticide load on my family but also because farmworkers face these pesticides in huge amounts every day, and these poisons also make their way into the water table.  I am not 100% organic, but I do what I can.  I am more adamant about buying free range chicken, eggs and meat - free range, and without antiobiotics or hormones. I also buy milk and other dairy items that are free of the rBST hormones given to so much of the dairy herd.  My friends and family think I'm nuts because I do pay a lot more for food than they do.  Our food is very cheap in this country - but others pay the price, including animals.  

Anne C --

ISTM that it's utterly inconsistent to call someone who tortures a dog or a cat depraved yet at the same time to let the cruelly indifferent growers of cattle go unregulated.  And it's even worse, of course, to refuse to think of what abortion is in its terrible particularity (see Dr. Gosmell!).  I'm hoping that eventually Pop Francis will speak out about tthis.  A consistent ethic of life must extend to *all* animals.

I don't usually take the trouble to shop at Whole Foods, but  you're right -- I should try to get there even if it costs more, or at least be on the look outfor fairly grown food.  And, yes, we need to think of those who farm the farms which are marinated in pesticides, and also us who eat such foods.

I read a heart-rending story once by a journalist who was doing a story on the chocolate farms of Africa.  He spoke with a woman who for years had worked harvesting the chocolate.  Her wages were so low that she had never been able to buy a piece of chocolate -- she had no idea of what it tasted like!  Enjoy your Christmas bon-bons, folks.  (At least don't domplain at the price of chocolate  these days!)

It also seems to me that our indifference to the farm animals and sometimes to those who work the farms is part of our ethic of indifference-to-life.  (By the way, there was another school shooting today in Colorado.)  American tolerance of violence is the result of such indifference.  And since we tolerate the violence, we must also suffer it or the threat of it.

Ann, I find that the issue of how we raise our food and the impact on farm workers, the environment, and on the animals is simply not on most people's radar.  We buy everything very sanitarily, all cleaned and neatly packaged. We don't see the growing conditions. We don't see slaughterhouses, or chicken coops where the chickens are so close together they can't spread their wings.

I now live on the east coast, but grew up in California, and I visit there frequently. One of my children lives in southern California and two near San Francisco (all three grew up in the east, went to college in California and decided to stay there), so I frequently drive through the heart of California's main agricultural valleys on my visits.  About 1/3 of produce in California is now grown using organic farming methods, and since California is the largest supplier of produce in the US, that is very good.  The farmworkers still work under backbreaking (literally) conditions. I see them stooped over  the fields, picking strawberries and  vegetables and other produce, in the hot sun, for many hours at a time. But at least those who work on organic farms aren't taking in huge amounts of pesticides and other chemicals.  As the market for organic has grown, the costs have also gone down, at least some.  And as more farmers adopt organic growing methods,  less damage is done to the farm workers and the environment.  

I am lucky enough to live in an area where it is possible to find organic and humanely raised animal products in places other than (the expensive) Whole Foods market, although I love just to wander around that store!. We have a couple of small organic markets, but I often shop at Trader Joe's. Their selection is limited, but their organic fresh, canned (diced tomatoes, for example), and frozen produce are very affordable - less for organic produce in all three of those forms there than I do at the mainstream grocery stores for non-organic. Catholic Relief Services has links to Fair Trade sources where people can buy coffee and chocolate if there are no Fair Trade products in their normal grocery stores. Most of the stores in my city now carry at least one brand of Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and Starbucks also has some Fair Trade coffee.  Another source for Fair Trade chocolate and coffee but also for a wide selection of gift type items is Ten Thousand Villages. They have a lovely shop near my home, but also sell mail order. The prices are very reasonable.

The abortion issue is, for me, a very difficult issue.  I am "pro-life", but I also understand why many don't agree that a single-celled zygote is a human being, but a potential human being, nor do they think a blastocyst is a human being..  Scientists believe that somewhere between 50% and 75% of blastocysts never implant.  

I think that the bishops have made it harder for convincing and reasonable discussion about abortion to take place because they conflate birth control with abortion. They are not the same thing and it makes the Catholic church sound somewhat hysterical on the issue. Of course HV itself did that within the church - it was a disastrous decision to ignore the Birth Control Commission's recommendations, because the "magisterium" lost pretty much all credibility on sexual teachings after that. The vast majority of Catholics believe that the choice of birth control method belongs rightly to the couple who can choose which method best supports the marital union and they don't believe that taking the pill or using an IUD aborts "human beings".  

We know that both Aquinas and Augustine believed that abortion was not a "mortal" sin until after a certain stage of development - I believe it was 40 days for male fetuses and 50 for female (there they go again with their misogny showing).  That pretty much conforms to the stage of fetal development when all fundamental systems are in place, including the heart, brain and nervous system.  

The question about when a true human being exists will probably never be answered. What IS a human being?  What makes us human besides a particular arrangement of cells?  Aquinas looked to "ensoulment" as the answer - but nobody really knows. When does the soul enter the body? When in our development are we "human beings" instead of a collection of cells invisibe to the eye?  The Church has changed its mind on this more than once. Perhaps it will again someday.

Most Americans support abortion rights, but polls show increasing support for limiting it to the first trimester except under exceptional circumstances (saving the life of the mother, for example). Insisting that contraception and abortion are equivalent leads most people to simply ignore the arguments against abortion. Insisting that a zygote or blastocyst is a "human being" with equivalent rights to "born" human beings turns people off from listening at all.  Most people are at least somewhat uncomfortable with abortion on demand, but the bishops  and extremists within the pro-life movement make most people simply turn away from deeply examining the whole issue.  I do not believe that any one religion has the "right" to impose its beliefs on all. So, as far as abortion goes, the bishops and pro-life movement should reconsider how they are fighting this issue. Education on the stages of embryonic and fetal development goes a lot farther to convince people of the immorality of abortion (at least after a certain stage of development) than does the hysterical approach they take now that equates birth control and abortion as being equivalent.


Anne, the abortion issue is also difficult for me. I am "pro-choice", but with many misgivings and reservations. Actually, the discussion on that seems to have moved to

(It's annoying that a new page is created as soon as the number of comments exceeds 50. It makes the  comments above 50 much less accessible...)


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