Faith, Reason and Human Life
1/1/2013Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
In 1965, a famous issue of Life magazine featured time-lapse photos of the development of an unborn baby. It was the first time that technology had allowed such clear pictures of nascent human life. When my high school science teacher brought this issue of Life into the classroom as a teaching aid, none of us who saw those pictures doubted the humanity of that child.
Today’s technology enables us to see and to know so much more about the gestation of a child in the womb. We can detect the unborn baby’s brain waves, trace the development of genetic code and know when the baby can feel pain. The ultrasound machines that the Knights of Columbus has sponsored in so many places help expectant parents see for themselves the humanity of their tiny children waiting to be born. In other words, technology confirms what reason has always taught us: The unborn baby is a human being.
IN DEFENSE OF REASON
For decades, pro-abortion forces have tried to obscure what science and human reason clearly show. These abortion advocates often describe the unborn baby as “a mass of tissue” and studiously avoid using the words “unborn baby.” Instead, they opt for the word “fetus” and disguise the human features and characteristics of the child in the womb. They resort to saying that the beginning of human life is an unsolvable philosophical issue while ignoring the empirical signs of life.
More radical elements in the abortion camp admit that all the signs of the unborn child’s humanity are present and accounted for — but then go on to assert that a child only becomes human when he or she is allowed to be born. Only then is the child granted the right to life. According to this view, it is not the Creator who grants life and the rights that are a part of our humanity, but rather human beings and the government itself. This has poisoned the public discussion of human rights and dignity around the world.
The Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception until natural death is deeply rooted in what reason, science and sound ethics clearly show us. When the Church advocates publicly for the unborn and the vulnerable, she does not do so from a perspective of blind faith but from reason enlightened by faith. Faith sets in sharp relief what science and reason have already made plain, and this forms the only sound basis for public law and policy. That is why it is disingenuous for Catholic politicians to claim that they accept the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life, but solely as a matter of faith or doctrine that cannot be imposed on secular society.
There is a growing cultural prejudice claiming that faith is akin to superstition, that it is irrational and even dangerous. To the contrary, faith and reason work together. Blessed John Paul II taught that, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et Ratio).
The faith we profess defends the capacity of reason for truth — the capacity to arrive at scientific and technological breakthroughs, but also the capacity to arrive at philosophical truths about the existence of God, about the dignity of the human person and about right and wrong. To advocate for abortion, a person must disregard the unwritten law of God in their own hearts, a law that teaches that killing an innocent human being is always and everywhere immoral.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF FAITH
In today’s world, marked by so much skepticism and relativism, faith has become the great defender of reason. Please do not conclude from this that I have reduced the role of faith to that of being a mere cheerleader for reason. Faith is a door that leads us to Christ. When, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we open our hearts to Christ, he leads us to the Father and to the inexpressibly generous, creative and redemptive love of the Triune God. Faith is the door through which we pass to encounter that love for which we were created and for which we deeply long.
Whereas reason teaches us about the humanity and dignity of the human person from the first moment of conception, and ethics teaches us about our duty to respect and foster all innocent human life, faith gives us grounds for rejoicing in the gift of life as a gift of love, and to go out of our way to defend, foster, protect and cherish each human life in public and in private. Our faith teaches us that each human being is called to eternal life and love in the presence of God. It negates nothing of what reason teaches us about life, but rather sheds the light of God’s love upon it and gives us reasons for our hope. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
If religious freedom means anything, it means we are free to bring the truths and values that flow from reason and religious faith into the public square and to advocate for laws and policies that are shaped by those truths and values. As Catholics, our advocacy for life should always proceed from the perspective of a faith that defends and purifies human reason.
During this Year of Faith, let us resolve to redouble our efforts to advocate for the unborn and to defend the rights of private employers and churches to reflect profound respect for human life in their hiring practices and insurance benefits programs. May the voice of faith and reason cry out in defense of human life!