By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN
Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture, by Sheila Liaugminas (Ignatius Press, San Francisco: 2014), 158 pp., $17.95. Available through www.ignatius.com.
To make sense of the moral chaos, divisive political issues, and culture wars precipitated by the sexual revolution of the 1960s, it is essential to begin at the beginning and examine the first premises of moral truths and political philosophies. If one is lost in a labyrinth, it makes no sense to continue forward into the maze but to return to the entrance.
As C.S. Lewis comments in the preface to The Great Divorce, “A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good.”
Sheila Liaugminas’ cogent, incisive argument — rich with copious quotations and many scholarly references — leads the mind to first principles and moral clarity in a mad world that has lost its way and continues to presume that, somehow, evil can “develop” into good.
The book reviews great political documents, Church teachings, and public statements that center the book’s argument on the premise of human dignity, the logical starting point for all rational discourse.
The Declaration of Independence states as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address also affirmed the equality, dignity, and worth of all people regardless of race. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.”
The Catholic Church has proclaimed throughout the ages the inestimable worth of each person and the sacredness of human life — a “non-negotiable” truth that Popes and bishops have consistently taught in statements in defense of life, “the Catholic commitment to defend human life, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every person as a child of God.”
Most recently, the Manhattan Declaration also appeals to this great tradition in Western civilization that upholds man’s moral dignity as the rationale for the sacredness of life, the sanctity of marriage, and the freedom of religion that modern secular society has impugned. As the author shows with impressive evidence, once this perennial idea of universal rights and unconditional human worth loses its status as a self-evident truth or first premise, moral anarchy in all its monstrous forms multiplies. One evil leads to two which leads to four, and the cycle continues.
For example, the trial of Kermit Gosnell revealed that the late-term abortionist killed babies who survived by “snipping” — cutting the spinal cord with a scissors. Abby Johnson’s testimony of an abortion in UnPlanned also exposes the revolting sight of a baby struggling in self-defense as she describes “the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if trying to move away from the probing invader . . . the baby struggling to twist and turn away.”
The cruel, unnatural act of abortion also leads to other horrors, one that rarely receives the public attention it deserves, “the increased risks of suicide or ‘suicide ideation’ (medical risk disclosure).” To wander in the maze of abortion and claim no one knows when life begins or it is “above my pay grade” as President Obama remarked is unconscionable ignorance: “The facts are available in any medical textbook and undeniable even without a medical degree that human life begins at conception.”
As a senator from Illinois, Obama reasoned that babies who survived abortion deserved no protection or the right to life “because the Equal Protection Clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an anti-abortion statute.” All the ugliness of evil and all the tortured logic to justify infanticide follow from man’s disdain for the dignity of the person.
The denial of personhood to slaves or babies ultimately leads to a contempt for old age and the legalization of euthanasia. The grim details of Terry Schiavo’s legalized death by starvation and dehydration — especially when her family was committed to her care during the coma — amount to torture and defy all medical ethics.
Quoting from an editorial from National Review Online, Liaugminas again exposes the blatant flouting of just law and human decency: Mrs. Schiavo was not killed by depriving her of air or given a lethal injection because “they would have been too obviously murder. So the court-ordered killing was carried out slowly, incrementally, over days and weeks.”
This loss of respect for the elderly invites another hideous reality, Hitler’s classification of human beings as “useless eaters.” Once one class of human being loses its dignity, all persons are subject to discrimination.
A Post-Human Species
This sense of the macabre continues in the realm of embryonic stem-cell research and cloning where utilitarianism prevails over human dignity. Human beings become a means to an end, mere embryos from abortions subjected to scientific experimentation in the name of medical progress and the discovery of cures — a violation not only of human dignity but also an utterly irrational venture when legitimate adult stem-cell research has produced more success.
While the prospect of cloning wears the glamour of medical cures, the sordid truth borders on madness — what Wesley Smith calls “the essential technology to learning how to genetically engineer human life, a technology with which ‘transhumanists’ hope to create a ‘post-human species’.”
When the ideal of human dignity fails to inform the legal and medical profession, the nightmares of science fiction like Frankenstein assume stark reality.
The attack on human dignity not only breeds a culture of death and the ugliness of sin but also spreads disease. When no-fault divorce, cohabitation, and same-sex unions rob marriage of its honor and dignity, a Pandora’s Box of diseases, pestilences, and cares runs riot. Statistics illustrate the increase of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and sexually transmitted disease since 1968.
With telling evidence the author proves that stable families enhance the health of a society “by taking care of its children so the State doesn’t need to provide for them and pass that expense on to taxpayers.” She alludes to the “health advantage” that accrues to marital life and the sign of poor health that accompanies marital loss. A culture that cannot distinguish between health and disease can never recover sanity.
Liaugminas introduces terms like “triple parenting” and “artificial concept of parenthood” in the case of same-sex couples who require the service of a surrogate mother or father to contribute eggs or sperm — a practice that produces a phantasmagorical “new normal” in a social experiment that redefines marriage and makes a biological mother or father “optional.”
An Orwellian Universe
As these examples illustrate, to take one wrong road soon leads to other false directions until one enters a labyrinth and continues further into darkness with no end in sight.
The book quotes from an article that illustrates C.S. Lewis’ point that “every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision.”
According to the article, to change the definition of marriage “does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands at once” — all laws pertaining to health insurance, employment benefits, taxation, adoption, and education.
Violating the dignity of marriage has other pernicious effects, for example, the idea that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, that “children do not need both a mother and a father,” and that “the main purpose of marriage is adult satisfaction” — not the best interest of the children. The deconstruction of marriage and the family does even more damage — the dilemma of human loneliness, the stark isolation of individuals who lack bonds of love and intimate relationships.
The violation of the sanctity of the conscience is another offense against human dignity with chilling prospects that prefigure an Orwellian universe. Whereas James Madison stated that “conscience is the most sacred of all property,” the HHS mandate of the Obama administration coerces Catholic institutions to pay for services deemed gravely evil and heinous sin by the Magisterium and ignores the First Amendment that enshrines religious liberty.
A federal government that currently spends millions of dollars in Title X family planning programs and then commands taxpayers to fund these practices, in effect, makes the free exercise of religion impossible.
Once government wantonly ignores the dictates of conscience, man becomes the creature of the State. As Pope Benedict stated: “The destruction of the conscience is the real prerequisite for totalitarian followers and totalitarian rule.” In the words of Cardinal George, “The State becomes a church.”
Nothing can come from nothing. If human beings have no dignity, if the elderly deserve no respect, if marriage is not sacred, and if conscience has no rights, then moral anarchy rules, and evil proliferates into monstrous shapes and uglier sins and more destructive wars upon larger members of the human race.
There is no end to this descent into the dark labyrinth of the netherworld except to retrace the steps, go back to the beginning, and find the road back to the “Non-Negotiable” essential principles of civilization that begin with man as created in God’s image, of infinite worth, and of inviolable dignity.
For anyone with clear eyes, a mind that desires to know, a love of justice, intellectual honesty, and the willingness to think logically and follow the consequences of ideas to their logical conclusions, this book illustrates the art of thinking at its best.
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(Dr. Kalpakgian is a professor of humanities.)