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You cannot build a truly flourishing or healthy culture which rejects the sanctity of unborn life

It is important to be alive to the cultural implications of living in an age of widespread abortion

By on Friday, 10 January 2014

A protester demonstrates outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland (PA)

A protester demonstrates outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland (PA)

I was delighted to see that Catholic World Report for 7 January has included an interview with Edward Short. I would never have heard of this author but for the lucky chance that I was sent his “Culture and Abortion”, published by Gracewing, to review for the Herald. Since then I have done my best to publicise it as widely as I can. Now I have the chance to draw the attention of readers of this blog to what I think is both a profound and original way of looking at the whole question of abortion.

As I write this I am also aware that Deacon Nick Donnelly has just written a blog with the title, “Around the world 918,960 unborn babies have been murdered through abortion during the first seven days of 2014.” That is some figure. I know his Holiness Pope Francis has said that Catholics must not be “obsessive” about certain subjects, for which we are well-known in the secular world, and I take his point: no-one is drawn to Christ through arguments, harangues and statistics, however urgent the subject. Only the kind of love that the early Christians manifested in their relations with others will ever influence those around us and induce them to respond to the invitation “Come and see.”

However, this is a Catholic blog spot for a Catholic newspaper, so I think it is reasonable to draw my fellow Catholics’ (and others’) attention to a book they should certainly not overlook. In the interview Christopher White, of CWR, asks Short why he thinks it is important to look at abortion through the perspective of culture, rather than through the more obvious arguments about biology or the psychological damage done to women. Short replies that putting abortion in its historical context shows our society how our assumptions would strike previous societies which (largely) recognised children as gifts from God.

By showing evidence of “life-affirming poets, popes, saints, abolitionists, novelists, historians and other truth-tellers”, he also hopes to show how our own modern society has become a “travesty of culture.” It is important to hammer this home. Around us we see what we think of as “culture” – in theatres, films, books, art exhibitions, opera, ballet and so on – which can lull us into thinking of London, say, as the cultural capital of the world. But as Short argues, you cannot build a truly flourishing or healthy culture which rejects the sanctity of unborn life. In the end, for all its seeming animation, it is a culture of death. In the ancient world, Carthage seemed a flourishing civilization at the time, despite practising child sacrifice; but, as Cato rightly warned the Roman senate, for this reason it had to be destroyed.

In his book Short discusses a range of writers such as Shakespeare, Swift, Penelope Fitzgerald, Joyce, Hawthorne, Dickens, Henry James and others, to show “how robustly pro-life most literature is.” He argues that “literary criticism conducted along pro-life lines should be pursued more aggressively.” An example of this is his view (related to me privately) that the recent acclaimed biography of novelist Penelope Fitzgerald by Hermione Lee does not properly recognise or understand the author’s implicitly religious sense of life underlying her novels.

In the interview Short alludes to the book “Redeeming Grief” by Anne Lastman, also published by Gracewing which he considers “brilliant and groundbreaking.” (I also reviewed it in the Herald and would recommend it unreservedly to readers here.) Asked about Wilberforce and the campaign against the slave trade, Short says that pro-lifers should “never underestimate the power of pertinacity and never to despair of converting public opinion, which for all its incidental blindness, can be brought round to recognizing and siding with the truth.”

Questioned by White as to how historians in the future would judge our age and its attitude towards abortion, Short commented, “…Sooner or later history will witness to the truth. And that Truth will not have kind things to say about those who have defended the killing of children in the womb…Abortion defines our age even more than slavery defined the 19th century and yet most of our historians treat it as nothing more than a milestone in the triumphant progress of feminism.”

Alongside all the other ways pro-lifers courageously defend the sanctity of life, it is important to be alive to the cultural implications of living in an age of widespread and legal abortion.