Call it the law of moral compromise:
“What yesterday was barbaric will tomorrow be considered part of the general advance of civilized society, if today it is accepted under extreme circumstances.”
To state it in another way: “Exceptions to moral rules become immoral rules.”
I am not concerned to prove this law, in either form, for every society throughout history. It may or may not be universally true. But it certainly is true of the Christianized West and describes all too accurately the law governing its accelerating de-Christianization in regard to morality. If we stand back and watch the law at work, we may understand a bit more clearly why the Church is so uncompromising in morality.
When the big push for legalized abortion began prior to Roe v. Wade, the public was kneaded with stories of extreme cases—pregnancies from rape and incest, horribly deformed fetuses, bodies mangled from desperate back-alley abortions, women on the edge of suicide. All these extreme cases were very real, and only a stone-cold heart could not be moved to compassion.
Today, of course, the right to abortion for any reason whatsoever is taken to be part of the general advance of every civilized society. Abortion has very quickly moved from being something allowed only under extreme circumstances to something demanded under any circumstances, no matter how trivial. Abortion as an exception to a moral rule has become the immoral rule.
The same historical pattern can be seen in regard to the acceptance of divorce and contraception.
The Christianized West rejected both. In the early part of the 20th century, advocates of divorce and contraception kneaded the public with stories of extreme cases, cases that moved hearts of flesh to compassion. Today, both divorce and contraception are considered part of the general advance of civilized society and are permitted and provided for the most trivial of reasons.
Perhaps the nasty bite of the law of moral compromise can be felt more deeply if we examine some moral issues that are currently at an earlier stage.
Just yesterday, euthanasia was considered barbaric. Today, it is being put forward as something to be accepted out of compassion in extreme cases. The public is being kneaded with visions of the pain-wracked and frail, the deathly sick and the terminally ill. Their plight cannot help to move a heart still human.
But where will this compassion lead? To a tomorrow where euthanasia will be available for the broadest spectrum of reasons, from the serious to the utterly trivial. As the law of moral compromise dictates, the right to euthanasia on demand will simply be considered (along with abortion, divorce and contraception) as part of the general advance of civilized society.
Infanticide? Wasn't it just yesterday that it was considered one of the surest signs of barbarism? But then came abortion and partial-birth abortion. Today, as a quite logical extension, the right to infanticide is being put forward in extreme cases, when the child is so deformed he or she will surely die or lead an utterly miserable life.
Who could not be moved? But having been moved by compassion once again to provide an exception to a moral rule, how will our tomorrow look? The law is quite clear. Infanticide, for any reason, will be considered part of the general advance of civilized society, along with divorce, contraception, abortion and euthanasia.
“Impossible! Mere scare tactics! No society could exist that allowed euthanasia and infanticide even for trivial reasons!”
But, my friend, much the same was said early last century when the Church warned that allowing divorce for extreme reasons would lead inevitably to the demand for divorce for any reason. And again, when the Church warned that allowing contraception within marriage would lead to the acceptance of contraception outside of marriage. And again, when the Church warned that allowing abortion under extreme circumstances would lead to the belief that abortion was a right under any circumstance.
The Church doesn't allow moral compromise because she operates out of a deeper compassion, one guided by a far more profound grasp of the human heart and what it takes to keep humanity humane. She has a far greater memory than we who merely live in the present. Christianity was born into the Roman Empire, where divorce, contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia were considered, by the Romans, to be part of the most advanced, most humane society that ever existed.
The Church would not compromise with pagan Rome but out of a deeper compassion preached an extreme moral creed concerning the sanctity of marriage, sexuality and all life. Centuries of struggle, and the West became slowly Christianized and its moral creed permeated not only the hearts but also the civil law of the Christianized West.
Now, however, we are experiencing the moral unraveling of the Christian West as it becomes de Christianized and returns to a state of moral paganism. As it did in ancient Rome, the Church refuses to bend with the times, knowing full well that breaking moral rules ends in a broken humanity.
The good news, however, is that the law of moral compromise is only inevitable if we compromise. That's the same Good News that conquered the darkness in Roman times. Pope John Paul II expects a renewed embrace of holiness—the new evangelization—to renew the face of the earth.
Benjamin Wiker writes
from Steubenville, Ohio.