Last month before the March for Life, I was thinking about an idea that I have encountered in recent years that abortion is a sacrament for the Left. Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life notes that Ginette Paris published the book, The Sacrament of Abortion, in A.D. 1992, wherein she supports abortion as a pagan affirmation of life. I was surprised that the idea has its origin on the Left, but I should get used to the perversity of this world. Although the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!,” one must not forget that the wicked delight in wickedness.
Upon reflection, however, I think that the Left’s position is remarkably consistent given human nature. Consider sacrifice and its place in human society. Sacrifice is pretty much a universal human phenomenon. Man gives up something dear to his gods. Crudely, this act is seen as a transaction wherein the sacrificer seeks to appease divine anger or curry divine favor. The more philosophical understanding is that by sacrifice man makes clear to himself and to everyone the proper order of being, where lesser goods are given up for greater ones. The act of sacrifice to the gods demonstrates vividly to the human soul and to the human community the appropriate hierarchy of the world; it is an impressive (as in impression making) act that proclaims the community’s ranking of values.
Among sacrifices, none is greater than offering human life, especially the life of a child who represents the very continued existence of the human community of which he is part. We find stories of child sacrifice repellant, and we are quick to condemn the practitioners of such acts as evil and demonic. However, from their point of view, they are offering their most precious good to the divine. In the scripture, we read of the Moabite king:
And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew sword, to break through unto the king of Edom; but they could not. Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.
The king killed his son and successor to gain divine power. It is obvious from the story that he did not want to do this for its own sake. He did it to prevail in battle and to save his kingdom, and it appeared to have worked. We on the Abrahamic side of the story might conclude that his murdering his son would only have pleased demons, and the great wrath was not a divine force but a Satanic one. Nonetheless, from the Moabite point of view, offering one’s own child to the gods was the most powerful offering because it was the greatest sacrifice possible. What more can a loving father give than his own child? Child sacrifice, seen in this light, is the supreme act of submission.
We have this in our own heritage with Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. Of course, the Lord saved Isaac at the last moment, but there can be no doubt that the test of Abraham demanded the most from him that God could ask. As Christians, we further see the extreme expression of sacrifice in the crucifixion of Christ, and I propose that the sacrifice on Golgotha is the archetype for all sacrifice. Every sacrifice, whether burnt, blood, or living, of fruits, beasts, or human beings, of enemies, friends, or children, is an imperfect attempt to copy the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ—“the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”—whose peculiar metaphysical status makes the crucifixion an eternally significant event that connects time and space to that which is beyond being. Consider, for instance, how the author of the letter to the Hebrews contrasts the temple cult to the sacrifice of Christ.
What, then, does this talk of child sacrifice have to do with abortion?
I believe that the positions and goals of the “Left” are the logical consequences of modernity. By that, I mean that the shift in world views that occurred in the late medieval period and Renaissance has been playing itself out over the past seven centuries, and the “cutting edge” of this development is, unsurprisingly, the “progressive” Left. The end of the Middle Ages saw the rise of nominalism—a philosophical doctrine that denies that essences exist in the world. The Franciscans who created this theory did so from a certain kind of piety, thinking that formal ontological realities limited the power of God. They thus conceived God as an omnipotent and unrestricted will, disconnected from and superior to anything known and, therefore, to knowing. This fundamental change in thinking about God revolutionized everything else, including the West’s understanding of nature and of mankind. Will has become the most important reality. Indeed, it is the only reality in quite a few philosophical currents. Having discarded the divine will, atheists keep only the human will, or perhaps will as such, and the will remains the touchstone for all other considerations. This change is the origin of all modern philosophical movements, almost all of which deify the will and discard any restraint upon the will. As with the original nominalists’ theology, the elevation of will corresponds to a diminution of truth. For truth is a restriction upon will, and the glorification of will necessarily accompanies a demotion of the intellect. For if we admit that there is reality apart from will, then the will’s freedom and scope become limited as there would be truths independent of the will. In summary, modernity is fundamentally an idolatry of the will.
I do not know if we should blame this aberration on the medieval nominalists or on Augustine who ensnared the West with the will’s tangle, but I do think that the reduction of reality to the will underlies all modern madness from the Cartesian mastery of nature to liberalism to utilitarianism to nihilism to Marxism to fascism to feminism to postmodernism to all the insane -isms that afflict men’s minds. Contemporary political thinking remains a prisoner in these fetters.
One obvious problem when everything is reduced to will is how we manage conflicting wills. One possibility is the Darwinian world where the stronger overcome the weaker. Think of Nietzsche’s will to power and the struggle of wills that we call life. Then, there are the ways of liberalism, where society attempts to maximize the ability of each will to exercise its power. Classical liberals seek to manage such conflicts loosely by instituting general rules of fairness, whereas egalitarian liberals want to engineer a society wherein each will has an equal ability to manifest its power. For why should one will be considered more important than another? If will is the fundamental reality, then everything else such as talent, intelligence, fortune, and discipline are irrelevant in discussions of justice. A just world is one of equal outcomes that allow equal opportunities to exercise power. Biology, consequences of decisions, and considerations of social stability cannot have any standing in this court of justice; for they are external to will and the Left is therefore uncomfortable with them. Nature must be reconstructed to agree with our choices, not the other way around. Something is willed; it therefore must be.
Therein, we see how abortion is a sacrament. For one sacrifices his children to his highest god, and there is no higher authority or power in the modern world than the individual will. Abortion is our society’s form of child sacrifice where babies are killed on the altar of the ego. There is no higher authority than the will; there is no greater good than the will’s current object. Abortion is simply a powerful manifestation of this belief. It is an affirmation of the superiority of the will over instinct, tradition, morality, and nature. The sacrificing priests of old both represented and taught the community through their sacrifices, and contemporary women and abortionists do the same in our society. Hear, all ye nations, the will is most supreme. Choice is sacred.
Update: This topic continues in “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will.”