The Greatest Evil

The Greatest Evil (to be published at www.lifeissues.net)
Douglas McManaman

What is the greatest evil of our time? One finds a number of answers online, but what they all have in common is a relationship to human life, i.e., either the reduction of human beings to things to be exploited, or even killed for profit. Some point to China’s organ transplant industry, others point to the Holocaust, while others the reckless destruction of the environment, anthropogenic climate change, or global hunger. The obvious implication is that human life is intrinsically good, and of course it is. The evils typically enumerated are genuine evils, but these answers have to be wrong. 

I am not quite 60 years old, but news of my own murder would not have the disturbing effect on the psyches of those who do not know me from Adam as would the news of the murder of a 9 or 10 year old girl, such as the young Christine Jessop. At least I could have put up a fight, and I do have a voice that I’ve employed in the service of moral truth for a number of decades, and so I could use it to protest my own demise. A nine-year-old girl, on the contrary, could hardly be expected to put up a fight with any reasonable prospect of success, and such a girl would not have had the time to develop her voice or the potential power of the pen, as would an adult. Moreover, I have more sin on my soul; she is innocent, and so people are right to be more horrified at the news of a little girl’s murder. But that is precisely why abortion is the greatest evil of our time, and easily the greatest evil of the 20th century, far worse than the 19th century slavery of black people, and far worse than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian genocide of the 20th century. The unborn child, developing in the womb, has absolutely no voice with which to rebuke her executioner, is utterly powerless to defend herself, scratch the offender, run for her life or hide. Everything will be taken away from her; but no killer can take away those 9 years that our little girl has already lived and are now in the past or take away the influence she has had on others up to this point in her life. And no killer can undo the 59 years that I have lived and in which time I have affected the lives of many. But a child aborted in the womb is deprived of all of that. She has been unable to influence anyone on the outside. A reasonable estimate of the amount of time I have left, given that I am not murdered or hit by a car, is at least 20 years, possibly another 10 on top of that. But unlike me, an unborn child has her entire life before her; she who is completely innocent is simply deprived of all that has been given to her in its entirety. If slavery, genocide, environmental destruction, poverty, hunger, and involuntary organ transplantation are evils, then abortion is clearly and unambiguously the greatest evil of this and the last century. That most people can’t see this is arguably the next greatest evil—a blind spot spawned by an inability to make moral distinctions and arrive at moral conclusions on the basis of clear-headed reason instead of sentiment, group think, or a disordered love of one’s livelihood. 

I recently read a column by a Catholic author who claims to have been relentless in his criticism of “Priests for Life”, which in his mind reduces the Church’s public witness to fighting abortion, thereby distorting the fullness of the Church’s teaching. But it has never been my impression that “Priests for Life” distort the fullness of the Church’s teaching or reduce the Church’s public witness to fighting abortion. Ever since I returned to the Church as a teenager, I have been repeatedly scandalized by the fact that the issue of abortion has been so neglected by the clergy. Members of “Priests for Life”, however, were an entirely different breed; for they were precisely those from whom we could expect to receive a much more complete presentation of the fundamentals of Church teaching. They were noticeably different in that they were not averse to the risk of offending some in the congregation. Their fuller exposition included sexual ethics, issues of marriage and family, the Church’s social teaching on the evils of socialism and unregulated capitalism, the lives of the various saints, teachings of the Church Fathers, etc., and their parishes were far more active in terms of poverty relief in its various forms.  

Such priests are the truly “woke”, not at all concerned about revenues, gourmet meals and their holidays, unlike so many clergy who seem to be under a spell, half asleep like the King of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, asleep to the war going on under their very noses, to the real evils around us, such as the corruption of the young and the subtle and creeping influence of postmodernism—if they were not asleep, their preaching would be far more relevant. The very fact that there exists such an organization as “Priests for Life” testifies to this ridiculous anomaly; after all, shouldn’t all priests be “Priests for Life”. Indeed, but they are not. No one turns on a light in a room lit up by the noonday sun, beaming through an open window; but it makes good sense to turn on a light in the evening darkness.

We continue to hear very little about this issue from those who should be crying out about this injustice from the rooftops. It’s the simplest of moral issues, and without question it is the greatest evil among us. If we lack the courage to defend the weakest and most helpless, the voiceless, the tiniest instances of humanity, all because we value more our own peace of mind, then we are a disgrace to our office and, unlike Theoden, who was eventually awakened to battle but slain in the Battle of the Pelennor, we will go to our fathers in whose mighty company we will feel tremendous shame. 

3 thoughts on “The Greatest Evil

  1. The greatest evil? Perhaps China’s long history of female infanticide is one foot deeper into hell. It’s one thing to cut the life of an organism that has yet to develop cognition, will and emotion, and something even darker to throw a living and breathing baby down a cliff to its death. Though you may not agree with my word choice, it’s the latter that possesses the more diabolical element, yes?

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    • That might be one way to look at it Jason, but a human life does not acquire value as it develops cognition, will and emotion. The unborn child has these powers (faculties, actual potencies), it just does not have the necessary conditions to realize those powers (to think, reason, will freely, etc). The evil of infanticide is in the relationship between the will and the basic intelligible human good that the will bears upon. The relationship is the same in both cases (abortion and infanticide). The one is more horrific emotionally, but morally they are the same. It is true that a woman can have an abortion, but find the notion of throwing a baby off a cliff to be repugnant. I’m thinking of the old adage: if the womb had windows, abortion would be illegal. In abortion, the act is somewhat veiled by the flesh of the mother; in the example you provide, the evil is in full view. And so one has a greater emotional impact. But the two are essentially the same kind of action, at least in terms of an act analysis.

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  2. A beautiful article, thank you. I struggle to understand the real underlying point of any other policy/law of a country which can legally, arbitrarily extinguish innocent human life. All other laws/policies become hypocritical and ridiculous.

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