Pro-lifers vs. relativism

Editorial, November 2010

The struggle between anti-abortion and pro-abortion groups in recent years, highlighted and brought to a peak in the debate over Obama’s healthcare bill, goes way beyond the issue of abortion and the right to life. The struggle is not just between pro-life and pro-choice in reference to the killing of innocent, beginning human life. What is really involved here is a conflict between two opposing philosophies, between two views of the nature of man and the nature of reality.

Those two views involve the nature of man and his ability to know things outside of himself. Basically it comes down to the question of whether or not man can know any truth for certain. It comes down to whether or not there is objective truth that man can know and know for certain.

In the conflict over the question of abortion, the pro-life position holds that the killing of innocent persons is always wrong; it is always evil and cannot be justified in any circumstance, whether the pregnancy is the result of fornication or rape or incest, or whatever. The human being conceived is innocent, is a child of God and cannot be directly destroyed for any reason. Pro-lifers, whether Catholic bishops or Protestant Evangelicals, hold that this is objectively true and cannot be negated by the subjective opinions of individual persons.

The anti-abortion position is based on a fundamental principle that human life is inviolable because man is made in the image and likeness of God. God creates human life and gives man an immortal soul. Man is accountable to God for how he uses his life. What God gave, only God can take away. This is a truth the human mind can know, and it can know it as certain and valid in all times and places. It is expressed briefly in the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

The pro-abortion position is based on a philosophy of relativism, which means in this case that the value of human life is not absolute but depends on accidental circumstances. If the child in the womb is not wanted by the pregnant woman for any reason, since it is in her body and is part of her, according to this view she has the moral right to destroy it. This position rejects the notion that certain acts objectively are always wrong and can never be chosen deliberately. It is a form of “situation ethics,” which has become increasingly accepted by our culture during the past fifty years or so. This is a dangerous philosophy that can lead to wholesale murder and tyranny. Examples of that in our lifetime are the horrors of Nazism in Germany and Communism in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China, in which certain types of persons were considered to be “useless eaters,” enemies of the state, or even “sub-human.”

This same philosophy of relativism is used to justify laws in the states of Oregon and Washington where doctors can now legally assist patients to kill themselves by prescribing for them pills that produce a quick and painless death. The natural process of gradualism or the “foot in the door” is operative here. At present, assisted suicide is voluntary. It will not be long for the next step to be taken, in which the state will mandate the killing of the elderly and the handicapped, as happened in Nazi Germany, because the cost of keeping them alive is too great. This will all be done in the name of “compassion” and the limited availability of medical care. The “culture of death crowd” is now pushing to enact similar laws in many other states. Eventually it could become a national policy, just as happened in the case of abortion, which began in a few states like New York and Washington and in a few years was made national policy by the Supreme Court.

In logic, we know that from a false principle you can get any conclusion. The false principle operating here is that truth is subjective and relative, that it depends on the opinion and feelings of each individual. It’s the old claim that your truth is not my truth. It is an attempt to create one’s own reality. Abortion is now the issue over which a monumental philosophical battle is being waged in our country regarding the objectivity of truth. If relativism wins, it will be the end of America as a free country. If our people do not reject the philosophy of relativism, gradually our freedom will be lost and the United States will become a dictatorship of either the right or the left.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.