End of the Road (Aug. 9, 2008)
I went to Montpelier from Burlington last Saturday and prayed for life, for mercy on us that we would aspire once again to a seemingly mundane concept- that we humans should act that way.
I have a faith-filled friend who used to wisely console me with her estimation that it's easier to pass muster as a "Christian" than as a human being. She is definitely onto something.
I'd put it this way- becoming a human being is a prerequisite to becoming a Christian, a life-filled one anyway. "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you have no part of my kingdom." (Mt. 5,20)
But back to our daylight vigil for life and humanity. One young man approached us as we stood silently in front of the Vermont Supreme Court and summed up the issue of the day. "There's so much death anyway already, what does abortion matter?"
In other words, when war is normal, capital punishment and nuclear arms, and divorce, and suicide, and addiction and drug trafficking, incarceration without rehabilitation, when all manner of human hatred, depravity and death are normal- why then is snuffing out babies in the womb such a big deal?
I studied English in college and we had to read all sorts of "modern" or "post modern" novels that ignored morality, or our emotions, and coldly declined to entertain any restraining concepts on humanity like personhood (and now gender), or God's law, or reason, or logic, or lives worth living or any other restraining concept that might distinguish us from the animal kingdom. Restraints had become passe. This was the fruit of existentialism, which defends personal freedom at all costs, and the sort of dead end thought of Albert Camus- that fornication and reading the newspaper- were as high as civilization might aspire.
The upshot of all this "modern" stuff was a complete moral vacuum, the acceptance of sexual revolution (or now devolution), an expansive cultural hedonism that now clearly makes us human beings less sympathetic than animals, but not morally superior.
You go too far, I hear some of you object.
The aforesaid young man understood our present state and again cut to the chase: "Why do you pro-lifers eat animals if you are against killing babies."
I didn't think it would get this bad, but one of the books we read prepared me to understand where we are at- "The End of the Road" by John Barth (Doubleday 1958). I couldn't forget this book. It's a novel about a college professor new to campus who seduces a reputable college profesor's wife. When the offended professor finds out, he encourages his wife to carry out the courage of her new found "choice."
And so she does. Then she gets pregnant, a quack performs an abortion, and "Rennie" dies. The offended professor commits suicide and the slacker new professor goes back into therapy. With all this death and chaos, it's not hard to see that Barth is parodying personal freedom without limits, which is the end of the road. It's a strange place to be- this modernity- acting like animals and playing God at the same time.
Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King get gunned down ten years after this book, 1968. Death and More death. Winless Vietnam- death and more death, in bombs we trust. Abortion becomes legal in 1972. In privacy, and death, we trust. The death march continues.
But whatever the big issues, the message is "death is just as normal as life," just as normal as a baby in it's mother's arms. You have to adjust man, you have to keep up with the times.
It's taken me 25 years to realize why I was so grossed out, and engrossed, by "The End of the Road." That long to understand why it might be worthwhile for me to stand in front of a courthouse- not so much expecting to change the economy of death- but to promote all the ways and means of life, as my bit for civilization, let alone politics or "church."
We know that abortion is far from an emotion-less decision for women. We know that it can end in all manner of death, heartache and guilt for women. But God and his son Jesus are still in the forgivenss business and their mercy is astounding and everlasting. It doesn't have to be the end of the road.
While I'm at it, let me explore something about abortion that doesn't get discussed. What of the consequences to men and our culture from a man's perspective? Since abortion became a fundamental, constitutionally protected "privacy" right (in the 1973 Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade, based on the outrageously vague "penumbrae" of the fourth and fourteenth amendment, this because Congress has always been cowardly to legislate on the matter) men have had no juridical say in the mattter.
Stay with me I'm not minimizing a woman's difficulties in any unplanned pregnancy.
But after 35 years of legal abortion in this country, isn't it likely that these 50 million abortions have contributed to the scourge of irresponsible fatherhood? Isn't 50 million abortions something akin to a mutual gender destruction that only Satan himself could have come up with? I think Barth understood this very well fifty years ago, when Jake, the one who wrestles with God, has to go back into psychotherapy, after he counsels Rennie to have an abortion.
When have men or women ever in the history of any civilization avoided wanting their children around them?
But now it's normal- government sponsored and culturally approved.
A man and a woman, unmarried or married, who create a baby, are acting, even if sinfully, in a way that seeks and defines a marriage union. But now with abortion a "normal" option, every such union is subject to the dis-union of death, based on one person's legally recognized rights.
As a result, abortion has further marginalized men from a God-given protective biological instinct because it teaches that the great decider in these matters is not God, not "we" as a couple, and certaintly not the man who is now a sperm donor and not even a recognized father until the potential Mom gives another consent.
The case is more or less the same whether folks are in a state-recognized married or not. But fatherhood by it's very nature, and according to the bible, begins at the union, and motherhood and fatherhood at conception, can you imagine?
No later disunions can change this.
But today parenthood begins at one person's "Ok" to a "baby." Why then are we surprised at the modern crisis of fatherhood that never takes when the very normality of abortion itself teaches men both to run and that their roles in all matters of love and family are secondary, and now merely economic.
Now I'm not judging anybody. The "End of the Road" of abortion has been experienced by many millions of folks, church folks, non church folks, men and women. It is often experienced with the full consent and and payment of men, and with the advertising of the abortion mills, and the enthusiasm of wealthy suburban mavens and sires who are sometimes covering up for a latent eugenics movemant, and racism to boot.
But it is the end of the road in that no one seems too keen on filling the moral black holes in Barth's reality, which is no longer an exceptional parody in an English class.
Besides what it has done to men and women genderwise, what has abortion done to our humanity and to our families? Hitler killed six million people under the cover of law and humanity and civilization is still trying to recover as well as figure how we let it happen. Abortion has killed twenty times that, from all nations and races, and yet we don't even ask how it has changed our humanity?
Abortion is now normal, legal and a form of birth control here, and all around the world. It is part of the story of many people we love and defend. But it's the killing off of our own flesh and blood!
Cormac McCarthy's highly prized bestselling novel "The Road." (Vintage 2006) updates and provides an andidote to the "End of the Road."
It's about a father who spends all the love and humanity he has left protecting his young son in a post apocalyptic, destroyed world. All that is left is a few survivors warily trudging "The Road" fearful of each other.
McCarthy seems to describe this same Barthian modern world- "a thing that could not be put back. Not be made made right." (p. 287)
Despite all his love for his son, the Father loses his will to live, and fight on. But instead of killing his son to spare him dying in some horrible way or by abuse at the hands of violent strangers, he hands him off to a lone couple who like the son also still have hope and love to give.
The father gave up. Some of Barth's characters gave up. We have all seen folks give up facing an "unplanned!" pregnancy. But, here in McCarthy's novel the father still has enough life and courage in him to hand the son off to a couple who still valued life, even when the forecast was death and more death.
He held on long enough to give his son the grace to love and be loved by others while on "The Road." For this compassion and humanity the son keeps talking to his father, as if his Father were God, and not forgetting what he had done for him. His new mother didn't correct this gratitude, right off anyway, though she told him that the breath of God was his Dad's breath and that breath could pass from man to man, despite the state of the world and the road.
Life passed from Father to Son, to the adopting mother and father, and back to the son, who wanted to live even in an out of tune world where some give up. Perhaps with this life on our breath and in our hearts we are not at the end of the road, perhaps we're still human.
Humans behaving humanely, what a concept! Someday soon we might even become "Christians", one peaceful people praising one merciful God.
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...