POPULAR VIEWS OF DEATH
In a recent issue of Newsweek, under its “Religion” section, the editors carried a long article on the subject of death. After noting that the largest proportion of people in the country are afraid of death, the article went on to discuss the fact that there are scarcely any these days who still overcome the fear of death by means of a faith in the resurrection from the dead. Especially since science has completely disproved any possibility of life after death, people, according to the article, must seek some solace from the fear of death in other directions than in the hope of a final resurrection. Scoffingly, the article took note of a few scattered “fundamentalist” sects who even maintain the resurrection unto life of an “elect few.” But an educated citizenry no longer looks to such vain and empty dreams.
In discussing the matter of how people cope with their perFona1 fears of death, the article had this to say:
Test-tube babies, organ transplants and the cracking of the genetic code—these and other bio-medical breakthroughs—lend such seemingly unfounded-predictions an aura of can-do optimism. “The time has come for men to turn into gods or perish,” announces novelist Alan Harrington in his bold manifesto, “The Immoralist.” At the moment, hundreds of Americans are putting their faith in cryonics, an expensive method of freezing fresh corpses until such time as science can discover some method of bringing the frozen dead back to life. Americans, Harrington maintains, “must accept as gospel that salvation belongs to medical engineering . . . that our only messiahs will be wearing white coats, not in asylums, but in laboratories.”
Whatever miracles science may provide, a technological “final solution” to death is at best a distant dream. In the meantime, many of those who want immortality now—and they include not only the young—are turning to the occult for some assurance of survival. From suburban séances to witchcraft to astrology, Americans are exploring psychic phenomena as never before. More significant, psychic research is rapidly gaining tolerance among intellectuals—and in some circles, academic respectability. . . .
In our own increasingly apocalyptic age, . . . the search for eternal life seems more desperate than ever. Death crowds our vision and renders old ideologies meaningless. But Lifton (clergyman referred to in the article), for one, is hopeful that today’s disinherited youth may discover in their preoccupation with death “an equal capacity for rebirth.” A “myth” of death and rebirth, he believes, is necessary for every culture, but it requires the rekindling of man’s symbol-making consciousness. . . .
It was just out of such a symbolic understanding of actual events that the Easter idea of resurrection emerged. The Old Testament offers no theories of personal immortality—only the hope that God will one day establish his Kingdom and thereby vindicate the just. To those who first preached the Christian message, Christ’s bodily resurrection was taken as a concrete sign that God’s kingdom was at hand. In the radical vision of both Judaism and Christianity, the image of resurrection and ultimate transformation of human history merge. If, as Lifton suggests, the idiom of personal immortality no longer moves us, perhaps it is because we have robbed death—and rebirth—of their larger, social dimensions. The paradox of Easter is that in freely laying down his life for others, Jesus was raised up again. In his lonely freedom, man today still has that option.
Now the gist of all this is, in the first place, that while science has disproved the truth of the resurrection, science has also demonstrated the truth of evolution. And, so it is claimed, man has developed by evolutionary processes to such a high rung on the evolutionary ladder that he can now, himself, take hold of these evolutionary processes and manipulate them in such a way that he can control his own evolution. By controlling his own evolution, he will gradually overcome death and produce the never-ending man. Or, in its most blasphemous form, man will (as the article states) turn into god. Salvation is medical engineering and man’s messiah is the scientist in a white coat.
But, in the second place, what is man to do in the meantime as he faces death today? He can, the article asserts, live by a symbol. This is what men have always done. In fact, it was just such a desire for a symbol that led, in the first place, to the formation of the myth of the resurrection of Christ. Now we have to search for another symbol. And the symbol that can very well serve this purpose is the symbol of laying down our lives for others: for this will give true meaning to both death and rebirth. And this, after all, is what Jesus is said to have done.
There are several things striking about all this. One is, surely, that the fear of death lingers on in men regardless of the promises of science. The real reason for this is that deep in his heart man knows, whether he will admit it or not—to himself or to others, that death means standing before the face of the Judge of heaven and earth. God sees to it that this testimony remains in the hearts of men. Nothing men do or say will be able to obliterate that testimony. This is most frightening, for it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Secondly, brazenly the advocates of evolution speak of it as being the only hope of salvation and utopia. Indeed, so brash have they become that they dare to speak of evolution, under man’s manipulation, as a power to produce God Himself.
Thirdly, how precious is the comfort of the believer who can indeed say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives. . . .” How futile and empty and even ludicrous is a “symbol” which must somehow bring comfort when one dearly loved is snatched away by death’s cold and unrelenting hand. How utterly ill-at-ease must a minister feel who must stand at the bedside of one writhing in the anguish of death and try to bring meaning and solace by means of a symbol. How little peace can one have who vainly clutches a symbol when he is called at last to walk that last, long mile through the valley of the shadow of death. Let science mock, and let the unbeliever scorn the faith of God’s people. They have, after all, something more precious than all the treasures of the world and all the’ powers of science. They have a living Redeemer who has conquered death for them.
One of the most widely discussed issues today is the subject of abortion. This is chiefly because there is a lot of talk concerning the revision of current abortion laws. Revision of abortion laws is euphemistically called “reform.” For most of the history of this country laws permitted abortions only to save the life of a mother. Within the last decade, however, these laws have been relaxed in several states; and new laws permitted abortions for termination of a pregnancy when the life or physical or mental health of the mother was in danger; when the child to be born might have serious physical or mental defects because of use of drugs or because. of pre-natal disease such as measles; when conception resulted from rape or incest. But, as was predicted at the time, these new laws did not satisfy the proponents of abortion. Already one state (Hawaii) has passed a new law which leaves the question of abortion a matter of discretion between a woman and her doctor. Other states are considering similar legislation. But most worrisome of all is the fact that the whole question of the legality of existing abortion laws is being tested in the courts. The argument is that present abortion laws deprive women of their rights under the Ninth Amendment. If the courts should sustain this argument (and there is some reason to believe they will—especially in the light of the fact that the current view of “law” is that the law must merely reflect the changing social ideas of the country), then it would be legally established in this land that one of a woman’s inalienable rights is to have children or not to have them as she decided.
There are several reasons why revision of abortion laws is being considered. The first is the incidence of illegal abortions which are presently being performed in this country. Some estimate the number to be as high as one million. And because abortions are illegal, many are performed by unskilled people who are responsible for between 500 and 1,000 deaths per year resulting from poorly performed operations.
Secondly, there are what are called sociological reasons for revision of existing laws. Among these are a growing laxity in all matters sexual; a growing movement to emancipate women in various so-called “women-liberation movements”; in various so-called quality of life for individual families and to improve the quality of life for all through population control.
But most basic to the argument is the contention that the unborn fetus is not a viable person in the early part of pregnancy. According to Newsweek:
Most Protestant and Jewish theologians, in contrast, share the belief that the fetus doesn’t acquire a human soul until it has developed sufficiently to exist outside the body—usually not before the 24th week.
It is in this way, of course, that the charge of murder is avoided. If the fetus is not a personality until it is able to live outside the womb then an abortion cannot be called murder.
The Roman Catholic Church has taken the position that human life begins at conception. With this we agree. Scripture assumes throughout that the unborn child is indeed a person from the moment of conception. While the forming of a child in the womb of its mother is a great mystery, prompting the ancient Psalmist of Israel to exclaim: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the thesis that an unborn child is not a person is based on evolutionary presuppositions. Hence, the proponents of abortion cannot escape the charge that abortion is an act of murder.
All the arguments raised in favor of abortion are, on the surface, irresponsible and irrelevant. If it is true that there are one million illegal abortions performed every year, this horrible evil is not rectified by legalizing abortions. One does not do away with one evil by introducing another. It is undoubtedly correct that the clamor for abortion upon personal choice is closely connected with the growing laxity in morals.
But this is no argument in favor of abortion. This simply points out how true Scripture is when it speaks of a departure from God’s law as being followed by yet greater and greater sins. It may be that the world does consider abortion in the light of the population crisis; but there is only really a population crisis for those who deny the return of Christ. To those who believe that Christ is coming again, the threat of an overpopulated world holds little fear.
But to legalize abortion is certainly a very evil thing. The whole conception of law in our day is wrong. No longer do men consider the fact that the laws which men make ought to reflect the will of God and God’s laws which He has made; men look upon law as nothing else but sociology—a reflection of the current thinking of the majority of the citizenry. Then the laws of God are violated with impunity.
The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally maintained that abortion is wrong even when the life of the mother is threatened by a continued pregnancy. We realize that here is a difficult point. But, in general, it must be maintained that there are other considerations which enter in when such a problem arises. When a mother’s life is itself at stake by the continuation of a pregnancy, then the wellbeing of her entire family must be considered. And it is entirely possible that if it is really a question of the life of the mother or the life of the unborn child, the life of the mother must be considered the most important.
Nevertheless, we maintain that this reveals an entirely different motive. Almost always abortion is recommended for an unwanted pregnancy. Where the life of an unborn child is sacrificed to preserve the life of the mother, the pregnancy is not unwanted for its own sake. It is to do away with unwanted pregnancies that is inspiring the present clamor for change. This is murder. It can be nothing else. Nothing man says or does will alter that. It is as brutal a murder as the murder of any infant. And those who break God’s law will have to pay a. terrible price.
Forgotten are the Psalmist’s words: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”