Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Respecting life is complicated in a culture that has problems comprehending “respect” and “life.” When people are called “pet parents” and artificial intelligence is considered human, human life itself is contested. Not to mention the fact that inanimate objects are called “sexy” and “smart.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, and threats to life have increased and changed. Humanae Vitae predicted abortion and euthanasia, as well as the moral decadence in relationships between the sexes.
But now, the goalposts have moved, with artificial intelligence, animals, and even bodies of water considered human, while actual unborn people are deemed worthless. New ways of “creating” human life, such as in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy, present further challenges to human identity and dignity. On every front the respect for life is requiring more and better protections.
To consider the issues facing life, it is fruitful to talk to people who have been engaged in the fight for years.
Napa Valley Culture of Life, which was established in 2009 by Ron Maxson and began as 40 Days for Life prayer vigils in front of the local Planned Parenthood, now addresses issues such as artificial contraception and euthanasia. Maxson said, “I saw that other life issues were not being addressed after 10 years of work in our community. We now have a crisis pregnancy center called Alpha. We care about support for marriage, since there are so many divorces in Northern California. The Life Legal Defense Foundation is combating euthanasia.”
Maxson considers incivility an insidious threat to life. He says the abandonment of civil discourse is one of the major threats to human life and dignity, “There has been a transformation of Western culture, including Europe and parts of South America. We do things in an emotional, not logical way. This is the natural consequence of abandoning clear thinking and logic.” Maxson commented that the Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell led to this degradation of civility, saying, “Christians are going to be persecuted and sidelined… Tough love doesn’t feel good. The Church is being purified.”
The lack of civility has made discussion of life issues difficult. When the speakers engage in personal attack and insult, the dignity of the person is lost. Instead of criticizing ideas, people degrade each other. A return to civility is pro-life.
Walter Birdsall and his wife Pam are part of the Couple to Couple League. They are part of Napa Valley Culture of Life, provide NFP instruction, and conduct monthly Date Nights at Napa’s St. Apollinaris Catholic Church. They were certified as NFP instructors in 2008, though they arrived at this from a long journey. Birdsall said, “My wife and I were cradle Catholics, but we left the Church during our high school years. We had a conversion after being married for 10 years. We had used (artificial) contraception, but we became aware of NFP and Church teaching against contraception. It was like scales falling from our eyes. Contraception had affected our marriage adversely. We give back to others by promoting NFP. We returned to the Church around 1990, and we started NFP in 1993.”
After their conversion, Birdsall said they now see acceptance of contraception as foundational to a culture of death. He commented, “It’s led to a decline of marriage and disintegration of families. NFP offers the ability to regulate births and supports life with natural rhythms. It doesn’t destroy life.”
The point of Natural Family Planning is to work in accord with natural processes, rather than interfering and frustrating them with chemicals, surgery and implements.
Birdsall also discussed why growing numbers of young people are condemning abortion, with hundreds of them participating in the March for Life as well as the West Coast Walk for Life, but are in agreement with LGBT causes. He said, “Sex has become about pleasure. The importance of marriage is lost on people. We can get what we want, we don’t have to get married. In a divorce culture, marriage is seen as a disposable commodity. The specialness of marriage has been lost… Why not marry someone of the same sex?” Birdsall concluded, “Even Catholics don’t understand what marriage is. Marriage is now seen as a social convention, for societal needs, not something sacred. God created marriage for humanity and the Church.”
Here we see the core of the matter: the necessity of reverence and gratitude for God’s providence. We’re unable to trust God’s plan. We prefer our own. We don’t trust God because we don’t respect that His thoughts are not our thoughts.
Birdsall commented on the problems for Respect Life in the current culture. He said, “We do have a problem with respect. We see it played out in the political world. I’m appalled by the recent election campaigns. People have lost touch with the dignity of the human person. We are more than our bodily experience.” Birdsall continued, “We’re playing God. ‘This is my body, I can do with it what I want.’ People have stopped respecting the bodies of themselves and others. I think it’s usually out of ignorance. People don’t understand the purpose of their lives and God’s sovereignty. We have lots of knowledge, but lack wisdom.”
In Holy Scripture, knowledge can be dangerous, as shown by the Fall in Eden. The knowledge of good and evil leads to Original Sin, concupiscence and enmity between the sexes. On the other hand, wisdom brings discernment and life. King Solomon asks for wisdom rather than riches, power and longevity (1 Kings 3:3-14). His first wise act is saving a baby’s life (1 Kings 3:16-28). In the Wisdom of Solomon, he recognizes the dignity of all life (Wisdom 7:1-6). This is contrasted with the “might is right” of the foolish who claim (Wisdom 2:11), “What is weak proves itself to be useless.” Knowledge is insufficient, while wisdom gives and enriches life. Wisdom is one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts (CCC 1831). Wisdom strengthens us, enabling us to see the sanctity of human life and stand up for it.