National Catholic Register

Education

Weekly Book Pick

Please Pass the Personalism

BY Ann Applegarth

Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2004 Issue | Posted 11/28/04 at 12:00 PM

 

ARCHITECTS OF THE

CULTURE OF DEATH

by Donald DeMarco

and Benjamin Wiker

Ignatius, 2004 410 pages, $16.95 To order: (800) 651-1531 http://www.ignatius.com

Responding to my 1990 op-ed article attacking the Hemlock Society's campaign to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, a philosopher acquaintance commented: “Your piece is excellent, but it's 130 years too late. You needed to tell that to Schopenhauer.” We talked about how, in that short span, Christian culture had slid steadily back toward the pagan culture of ancient Rome, about how life has been devalued in our troubled society.

Architects of the Culture of Death brought that conversation vividly to mind; there, in the table of contents, are Schopenhauer (the first chapter) and, near the end of the list, Derek Humphrey, founder of the Hemlock Society. The list of these and 21 other “architects” is chilling — only a handful of men and women whose influence shaped the skewed world-view that has disfigured much of the beauty and goodness in our culture, resulted in millions of deaths and filled countless hollow lives with pain and despair.

At first glance, the list seems an odd assortment of bedfellows (say, Helen Gurley Brown and Ayn Rand), and there are unfamiliar names: Francis Galton, Judith Jarvis Thomason and Clarence Gamble, for example. But what DeMarco and Wiker have accomplished is to weave the personal stories of 23 twisted individuals into a tapestry of death in which the whole is far more terrifying than the sum of its parts.

Each life's story is unique; most are bizarre. Each “architect” worked from malformed notions of God and human nature. Many, seeking to legitimize their own immoral and disordered sexual desires, promoted the notion of freedom as license. This, of course, led to the sexual revolution, the legalization of abortion, physician-assisted suicide and same-sex marriage. It's also telling that most endured miserable childhoods.

The 23 biographies are divided into seven sections: The Will Wor-shippers, The Eugenic Evolutionists, The Secular Utopianists, The Atheistic Existentialists, The Pleasure Seekers, The Sex Planners and The Death Peddlers. A provocative introduction and a concluding essay titled “Personalism and the Culture of Life” nicely bookend the bios, placing the subjects in context and historical perspective.

DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Canada; Wiker, a lecturer in science and theology at Franciscan University at Steubenville. Their academic credentials notwithstanding, their writing is engaging and accessible even to readers with no prior knowledge of the subject.

Writes DeMarco: “John Paul II's Personalism shines the spotlight on who we are and what we should do today. We are persons who need to be liberated from whatever degree of solitude or egoism we suffer so that we can personalize, through love, our relationships with others. This is the basis for building a Culture of Life.”

If some of the words sound familiar, that's because the book had its genesis in an idea Wiker proposed to the Register for a series of essays. Both he and DeMarco are regular Register contributors, and shorter versions of several of these chapters have run in this publication's Commentary & Opinion section. If you've read those entries, don't let that stop you from reading the book: Architects covers more subjects and offers more-complete arguments. To read it through is to spur oneself on to pray for a new crop of architects — architects of the culture of life.

Ann Applegarth writes from Roswell, New Mexico.