Sneer-quoting culture of life

ChoosingLife.jpgScott Gold of the Los Angeles Times is the first mainstream reporter on the story about a new order of priests to be called Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. The order will devote the majority of its efforts to resisting abortion and euthanasia through political organizing.

The report quotes extensively from the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, founder of the new order, and from Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, Texas, who will provide the order with cost-free housing.

Gold’s writing is mostly balanced, with the usual qualifiers of partial quotes and “what they describe”:

They also will “bring healing and forgiveness” to those who have had abortions and will provide what they describe as counseling services to women who are “tempted to abort their child,” [Pavone] said.

Gold checks in with the local Planned Parenthood chapter, which expresses its concerns about the new order’s founding:

But in a prepared statement, Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle expressed concerns that the society could attract extremists who might resort to violence to further the antiabortion cause.

Planned Parenthood said it feared that people trained by the society would use hardball tactics against healthcare providers, such as organizing clinic blockades.

Healthcare professionals and women’s right advocates often criticize such tactics as acts of intimidation intended to shame women who already are facing difficult decisions

If there is increased activity of that sort, Planned Parenthood said, money likely will be diverted from healthcare to security. And if women are afraid to go to area clinics, the number of unintended pregnancies could rise, the group’s statement said.

It’s worth mentioning here, as Gold does not, that Priests for Life repudiates all violence, and has offered $50,000 to those whose tips help authorities arrest vigilante killers.

While we’re on the subject of the culture of life, pundit Anna Quindlen has determined that no such thing exists:

It is an empty suit of a phrase, absent an individual to give it shape. There is no culture of life. There is the culture of your life, and the culture of mine. There is what each of us considers bearable, and what we will not bear. There are those of us who believe that under certain conditions the cruelest thing you can do to people you love is to force them to live. There are those of us who define living not by whether the heart beats and the lungs lift but whether the spirit is there, whether the music box plays.

Again we see the quasi-Gnostic notion that Terri Schiavo’s spirit departed her body 15 years ago, except this time Quindlen attributes this finding to — brace yourselves — doctors: “A raft of doctors said over the years that Terri’s reactions were purely reflexive, that she would not recover, that she would never be more than the vessel in which her spirit once lived, like a music box that no longer plays.”

It’s always good to hear about the interaction of faith and medicine, but I would worry if my family doctor began referring to any patient as a music box that no longer plays.

Quindlen is unequivocal in explaining where she stands in the debate about end-of-life issues:

Last week my father and I received this short e-mail from my sister, a public-school teacher in San Francisco:

i’m telling you both this now
if i am ever in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ please let me die
do not have a feeding tube put in me
and in no uncertain terms: do not let the united states government get involved.

No public official is going to tell me how to xoxo my sister. No church, no court. The Schiavo case has asked us to look at our own definition of life, not at some formless notion cobbled out of the Bible, medical textbooks and impersonal sentiment.

Quindlen can call that position whatever she likes, but she lacks the moral authority to deprive others (including Pope John Paul II) of the phrase culture of life.

If that gives Ms. Quindlen the heebie-jeebies, she’ll have to get used to it.

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  • SimeonBeta2

    I’m not sure about this “quasi-gnostic” notion you keep referring to. I understand that the gnostics had a strong soul/body spiritual/physical dualism, but that doesn’t seem to be what people are talking about in this case. I honestly do not know what the circumstances are in this case, but it seems plausible to me that Terri has in fact been dead for quite some time now.

    What is the point of death for you? Does the body have to be cold? I tend (like most westerners) to associate life with consciousness; If my head were cut off (absurd example I know) in an accident, but dialysis, oxygen, IV’s, etc could keep my body functioning, would I be dead or alive? I would say I was dead because *who I am* (memories, thought, feeling, belief, etc) are all irretrievably gone…

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Both times I’ve mentioned Gnosticism it’s because the writer used Christian imagery (assuming to write from Heaven in the name of Terri Schiavo) or spoke as a well-known liberal Catholic (in the case of Anna Quindlen). I find it striking when Christians express quasi-Gnostic ideas rather than Christian ones. (And as I wrote before, I’m not sure even a Gnostic would propose that Terri’s soul is in Heaven while her body continues to function.)

    Terri Schiavo was not terminal — until, that is, she was deprived of food and hydration. Whether she lacked all memories, thought, feeling, belief, etc., has been a matter of strong debate for several years now.