by Professor Timothy J.A. O’Donnell
The Saturday after the SCOTUS decision reversed the grave injustice inflicted on the country in the Roe v. Wade decision, howling rage erupted at the Indiana Statehouse as thousands of Pro-abortion men (?) and women (?) – I don’t want to gender anyone – made plain their anger at the decision. Democrats haven’t been this angry since Republicans freed the slaves.
Legions rallied and swarmed for hours downtown hurling obscenities and carrying homemade signs with tired slogans like My Body, My Choice, or vulgar ones like *ussy Power. Plump purple-haired minions shamelessly asserted their so-called right to abortion while maintaining the primacy of the uterus as the locus of wisdom for law-making; men, or as they would say people without a uterus, ought to shut up and stay out of it.
I know because I was there among a small vanguard of Pro-Lifers giving witness to the sanctity of life and in joyful gratitude for the Dobbs decision. Battles – even spiritual battles – have a battlefield. That day, this was ours.
Here’s an encounter that was repeated over and over throughout the day as we encountered and tried to engage those going to the Planned Parenthood rally.
“All life is precious,” I said.
“It’s not a baby! It’s a FETUS!!!” she screamed.
“Fetus is Latin for child,” I replied.
“F*** You!!!” she responded, punctuating her curse with a single-finger salute.
What has happened to our country? Killing a child is wrong. And we all know it. What accounts for the hardness of heart that not only claims to legitimize the slaughter of 63,000,000 children, but also demands their bloodlust be endorsed full-throated in perpetuity.
Perhaps the greatest challenge the Pro-Life movement faces is overcoming dehumanizing language. The fact of the matter is dehumanizing language is designed to kill. The topic of this essay will briefly describe dehumanizing language, its historical use to justify mass murder, and the unity of language we must recover. To accomplish this end, I will draw from the conceptual framework of the eminent Catholic scholar Josef Pieper’s short essay Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.
Let’s begin with a definition of Dehumanization:
Dehumanization is one technique in incitement to genocide. It has also been used to justify war, judicial and extrajudicial killing, slavery, the confiscation of property, denial of suffrage and other rights, and to attack enemies or political opponents.
The use of words and language according to Pieper serves two distinct but inseparable purposes: First, words name reality. In the beginning, it was so. Adam uses words to name the animals (Gen 2:18-20); Second, we speak to convey the names and identities of real things to someone else, giving rise to human speech. Thus speech, conversation, and dialogue are constitutive of interpersonal relationships. Pieper goes on to say: “In the very attempt to know reality, there already is present the aim of communication.” Knowing and being known depends on words and language; we express love in and through interpersonal relationships. This interesting fact is however vulnerable.
Human beings think in words and language. That is the inescapable truth. The difficulty is to think well, to think clearly, cogently, in conformity with reality, but most importantly we ought to comport our lives in accord with the Word:
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him, nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5
St. John speaks to us of the Logos or Word using the written word found in Sacred Scripture. It is essential to preserve the integrity of language from all forms of corruption, abuse, and manipulation. Freedom from truth must not be tolerated. Dehumanizing language seeks to deform the essential meaning of certain key words and phrases to reshape knowledge and understanding. This effect produces in the mind a scapegoating schema pitting the pure, good, and holy over and against the other, the weak, vulnerable, impure, and guilty (cf. Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred). The scapegoating mechanism unleashes violence that resolves the rivalry between two groups or communities. After the outburst, a kind of order and peace ensues. Time advances. Rivalries emerge and the scapegoating is repeated in a ritualistic manner.
A prime example of Girard’s theory occurs in genocides. Consider the horrific Nazi treatment of the Jews. Of somewhat lesser notoriety recall the Rwanda genocide of 1994 in which the Hutus slaughtered a million Tutsis in a few short months by hacking men, women, and children to death with machetes. They cried: “Kill the cockroaches!” unleashing roving mobs of killers hunting their neighbors unto death. Cockroaches exemplify dehumanizing language. It’s really hard to kill innocent people. It’s really easy to kill a cockroach.
Now that we have a working definition of dehumanizing language and a few historical examples, let us turn our attention to the issue of our age: Abortion. The setting today is strikingly similar.
Enter the Cult of the Fetus.
In our increasingly secular and pluralistic society, dehumanizing language abounds nowhere more prominently than in the sphere of sexual morality. Reproductive healthcare (trans. Child killing), family planning (trans. Contraception), birthing people (trans. Pregnant Women), and many others are repetitively pushed in the media and our learning institutions. Perhaps there is no more dangerous advancement in recent memory than the addition of gender-affirming care (trans. Child mutilation) to the lexicon of unreal words and language. Is there a better example of dehumanizing language than the deliberate switch from baby or child to fetus? After all, fetus looks and sounds so other, so not me, so not mine.
A fetus sounds more like a clump of cells. A fetus thus begins to follow the trajectory of the scapegoat.
This is the shorthand of Girard’s Theory:
Ritual of Scapegoating
Step 1. The pregnancy becomes a rival to the woman’s ambitions and responsibilities.
Step 2. She identifies – with helpful tips and tricks from the abortion industry and sex education indoctrination – the real issue, i.e., the unborn child growing in her womb.
Step 3. The pregnancy and the forthcoming childrearing are to blame for jeopardizing her plans, her current arrangements, and her future.
Step 4. She sees herself not as a mother but as a woman in a bad situation. It’s not a baby. It’s a fetus. And fetuses aren’t alive. A fetus is a clump of cells. Fetuses aren’t more valuable or important than she is. My body, My choice.
Step 5. The right to end the pregnancy is absolute. Nothing should ever impinge upon this sacred doctrine. The pregnancy is ended with violence destroying the fetus.
Step 6. A strange peacefulness temporarily soothes a seared conscience.
Millions and millions of babies have been victims of the ritual of abortion and its zealot practitioners. One indispensable key to understanding what thing made this genocide possible is the dehumanization of unborn children. It’s not the only cause for the widespread acceptance and promotion of industrial-scale child-killing, but it’s a decisive factor.
Pieper suggests that the bending and contorting of words and language corrupts our understanding of reality. It severely damages the truth of things both in our knowing things in themselves and knowing each other. Human interpersonal relationships dissolve unceremoniously, and society quite literally disintegrates. Chaos ensues as the corruption of words and language gathers force with each repetition of the new turn of phrase, each new meaning given. Out with the old, in with the new. Thus, destabilizing patterns of knowing and traditions of being known erode. This unreality makes us malleable and tame. Change and manipulation follow.
I surmise the ultimate aim of this program is familiar to you: the ruin of souls. By artfully habituating as many people as possible to mortal sin by re-engineering one’s thinking to accept morally reprehensible ends, nay, champion evil ends one learns to call good, evil and evil, good (Is 5:20; Rom 3:8) and embrace it the way a broken captive loves their captor. It is wicked indeed. These demonic forces and influences may account for the rage and frenzy and blasphemous outbursts so prevalent in the reactions to the SCOTUS decision. How should we respond?
For Catholics the Gospel of Life demands we love our enemies:
“The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person-believer and non-believer alike-because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even amid difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.”
Evangelium Vitae 2
Catholics and other Christians must not fail in our duty to uphold the Truth in all things. We can no longer afford the wages of compliance and indifference.
Doesn’t it seem like the foundation of society is crumbling? That as a country we have never been more divided?
It’s due in no small part to the abuse of language we experience daily in this Culture of Death. The abuse of power stems from and is made possible by the abuse of language. Killing a precious preborn baby by tearing her limb from her mother’s womb is only possible when the baby is no longer viewed as human or at least not as human as the woman.
The answer to our problem is found in a word, Jesus. We have the fullness of the truth as Roman Catholics. As America and the West devolve into secularism – that is, the decline of Christian civilization – protecting human life from injustice will only become more difficult. Why? St. John Paul II tells us:
“It is thus the Law as a whole which fully protects human life. This explains why it is so hard to remain faithful to the commandment “You shall not kill” when the other “words of life” (cf. Acts 7:38) with which this commandment is bound up are not observed. Detached from this wider framework, the commandment is destined to become nothing more than an obligation imposed from without, and very soon we begin to look for its limits and try to find mitigating factors and exceptions. Only when people are open to the fullness of the truth about God, man and history will the words “You shall not kill” shine forth once more as a good for man in himself and his relations with others. In such a perspective we can grasp the full truth of the passage of the Book of Deuteronomy which Jesus repeats in reply to the first temptation: “Man does not live by bread alone, but … by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4).
“It is by listening to the word of the Lord that we are able to live in dignity and justice. It is by observing the Law of God that we are able to bring forth fruits of life and happiness: “All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die” (Bar 4:1).
Evangelium Vitae 48
June 24, 2022, will always be cherished and honored in America for the overturning of the grave injustice of Roe v. Wade. Roman Catholics recognize the Providence of God’s loving Mercy to grant us such grace on the same day as the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, and the first reported apparition at Medjugorje in 1981 which is a kind of triptych of holy days. Our mission is ongoing and more vital than ever. Live not by Lies is an invaluable book by an orthodox Christian Rod Dreher. In his book, he shares inspiring stories of Christians brutally persecuted for the Faith, but they did not betray Our Blessed Lord. We are in a desperate fight to save souls and snatch them away from the clutches of the Evil One. Each of us can resist the abuse of language and the abuse of power by not living by lies. We must reject the false and fake and farcical language that is polluting our nation and the West.
Begin there. Live not by lies. Live in Love and Truth.