Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peter Kreeft on seeing pro-life bishops tossed in jail

I have learned far more from the great Dr. Peter Kreeft than he has ever learned (or had need to learn!) from me, but I think his recent remark that it would be good to see one hundred bishops thrown in jail for carrying graphic images of aborted babies needs some nuance. His comment also lets me make a few points regarding the use of graphic imagery by pro-lifers.

1. Abortion is brutal, ugly, and downright disgusting. But, pro-lifers didn’t make abortion that way, it already is that way. The vast majority of the adult population in the US does not appreciate how violent abortion is; they have a sanitized impression of abortion, fostered by such words as "clinic" and "procedure" and "choice". Pictures contextualize those words in an instant. If memory serves, the greatest progress against “partial-birth abortion” came when (wholly accurate) diagrams of scissors being jammed into the base of nearly-born babies’ skulls began to circulate.

2. I’ve always been more amenable to the use of graphic images of abortion than have some other, quite sound and amply dedicated, pro-lifers I know of, but at least some of my ‘tolerance’ can be ascribed to simple things like a sterner stomach. In any case, one's degree of openness to the use of graphic abortion pictures should not be regarded as a measure of one’s dedication to saving lives or as a test of one’s pro-life machismo.

3. Good arguments against the use of such photos, especially in certain contexts, exist and should be heeded. No one I know of thinks, for example, that photos of aborted babies should be paraded through grade-schools in the hopes that, say, it will frighten 8-year-olds away from seeking abortions ten years later. But the use of such these images in public venues and easy-access websites threatens exactly this sort of premature and traumatizing exposure.

4. Pictures of abortion victims must never, ever, be used for any purpose except to directly and prudently educate adults about abortion. Using dead baby photos to, say, influence bystanders into pressuring Church officials to make personnel decisions about their clergy who are working in one of many worthy pro-life apostolates is, besides everything else that is wrong about that, to exploit the death of the very victims one claims to love.

Now to Kreeft’s comment, distinguens.

It is one thing to say that “It would be good if one-hundred bishops were thrown in jail for carrying pictures of aborted babies,” and another thing to say “Good could be drawn from having one-hundred bishops thrown in jail for carrying pictures of aborted babies.” The second claim is wholly defensible, I think, the first is less so.

It is never “good” for the coercive power of the State to be applied against individuals, let alone against bishops, striving to proclaim the Gospel and/or to witness to the demands for Christian living. Such coercion is wrong itself, of course, but it also, as history shows time and again, feeds the appetite of the State to inflict yet more suffering on the Body of Christ. Nothing, however casually offered, should be said to encourage such actions. Yes, I know, sanguis martyrum semen christianorum. Amen to that, but Tertullian did not call good the infliction of suffering on the faithful, rather, he showed how God could bring great good from sufferings accepted for his name.

Put another way, I hope and pray that we have one hundred bishops (or philosophy profs, or canon lawyers) willing to be thrown in jail for undertaking any number of good and holy works, but I also hope that we never find out for sure.

I doubt Kreeft would disagree with any of my observations, but I didn’t see these points being made elsewhere, so. . .