Long Live Barrenness
ALICE VON HILDEBRAND
Catholic News Agency
November 3, 2014
The trial Jewish women dreaded most was barrenness. To be unable to conceive was considered not only tragic but also shameful. Let us recall the case of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God had solemnly promised to give him a large progeny (Gen. 15:5), but his wife was barren, and had reached an age when a woman’s body is “defeated.” Biologically speaking, she could no longer become a mother. Profoundly grieved, Sarah decided to “lend” her slave maid, Hagar, to her husband, so that she might become mother by “proxy.” Indeed, the latter gave birth to a son called Ishmael. Better is a child from a maid than no child at all. After all, she would be indirectly involved because her own husband was the father of that baby. Motherhood by proxy was the only choice left to her.
God, in His goodness, then promised Abraham to give him a son. His response was laughter (Gen. 17:17): he was close to a hundred years old; Sarah was in her nineties. While in her tent, she overheard God’s repeating of this promise to Abraham, she too “laughed” (Gen. 18:12)—a fact that she promptly denied. Indeed, was that the proper response to a divine promise?
The noble desire to have a child is an expression of the deep set conviction that love, by its very essence, should be fruitful. Sterility is experienced as a proof that “love has failed.”
The New Testament, while not only fully endorsing the essential bond existing between love and fruitfulness, broadens and deepens it by showing that fruitfulness is not limited to the biological sphere. Beautiful as the latter is, there is such a thing as spiritual fruitfulness—the beauty of which is not only highly valued, but joyfully chosen and embraced by those who “have become eunuchs for the kingdom of God.” Let us but think of all the innumerable children that God gave to St. Francis of Assisi and to St. Teresa of Avila. But it must be said emphatically that this spiritual fruitfulness in no way derogates the gift and beauty of biological fruitfulness. However not only is the latter “earth and time bound” (for in heaven “neque nubent, neque nubentur” (they neither marry, nor are given in marriage)), but moreover, once the human body has risen from death and has been spiritualized, the overwhelming superiority of spiritual fruitfulness will be revealed in all its glory.
Looking at our “culture” (that Dietrich von Hildebrand dubbed “anti-culture”), we immediately realize that by “freely” choosing to cut off “love” from procreation inevitably means to opt for death. Any type of “love” between a husband and a wife that cold-bloodedly refuses to become parents has sealed its own doom.
The roots of these aberrations is to be found in wrong philosophies that give expression to man’s revolt against his creaturehood. For to be a creature is, among many other features, to be the recipient of an amazing gift: to be, a gift that no one could ever have given to himself. He who is not is doomed to non-being, unless he is given existence. God, and God alone, being eternal, did not need to be given existence. Human existence is a pure gift. To receive such a precious gift calls for gratitude—a word the perfume of which is often lost in our “advanced” society. But a gift as experienced by thinkers poisoned by pride is an imposition—something that puts the creature in the humiliating position of “being indebted,” and carries with it the “unbearable” burden of “saying, ‘Thank you.’” Chesterton tells us that he always realized that to be was an unfathomable gift. His problem, as a teenager, was: “who is the one that should be thanked?” Later, he realized that it was God.
Among his juvenile verses, Chesterton wrote one about “The Baby Unborn”—“which imagined the uncreated creature crying out for existence and promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life” (Autobiography, 91).
The problem with being “only” a creature is that not only this tremendous gift calls for an immense gratitude toward the “Giver,” but moreover brings with it the “unbearable duty” to have to obey the Creator’s commands. This is the hitch. Why should one be grateful for a gift that one has not freely chosen? “I did not choose to exist,” and some might even say; “I did not want to exist.” Existence should be “freely chosen”; otherwise it is a subtle form of “slavery.” The obvious difficulty is how is one to choose existence when one does not exist? Yet some free thinkers insist that “To be or not to be” should be a free choice. Who wants to be a slave at the beck and call of a master that one has not “elected” in a democratic process? The resentment that some experience because their existence has not been freely chosen and which, moreover, when given binds them to bow to the giver, finds its tragic expression in Lucifer’s words: “non serviam” (I will not serve). To resent that one could not have given existence to oneself, leads to the temptation of revenging oneself. Indeed, “it is true that I could not give existence to myself, but I have the freedom to end my existence.” This at least is something that my “maker” cannot take from me: I can commit suicide. This is a privilege that I claim as my “birth right,” something that “no god can deprive me of.” Let us recall the meditations of Kirilov in The Possessed by Dostoyevsky, who chooses suicide—and in so doing proves that he is free. By making this “brave” decision, he convinced himself that he will become god.
This example is now followed by thousands and thousands of people who proudly choose the moment of their demise. In our morally moribund society, it finds its expression in the legalization of “assisted suicide.” In my home country, Belgium, this “right” is now legally extended to children, aged six. To choose to end one’s life is very tempting for a child who is promised to go to a place where there will be plenty of toys and no one to command you to go to bed!
Many are those today who assume a priori that what is lawful is ipso facto “morally legitimate.” The doctor conforming to the wish of his patient, and giving him a lethal injection, is therefore not a murderer. He is a modern “good samaritan.”
We have progressed indeed: the good samaritan referred to in the Gospel is saving a life. The modern good samaritan is the one who has the “kindness of killing.” The clever one has now fully succeeded in creating an admirable confusion in our vocabulary: what was called “pervert” is now attributed to those who fight perversion: those, who following the Bible, condemn the practice of homosexuality are dubbed “homophobic.” To succeed in passing a law giving these practices the same “legal” validity as the God-created bond between a male and a female, is claimed as a victory over the ruthlessness of the Dark Ages. The “perverts” are those who condemn it. Centuries ago, Isaiah warned us: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil” (Is. 5:20). We desperately need to recall these prophetic words. Christ has warned us that at the end of time (and inevitably we are coming closer and closer to it), there will be such confusion as to seduce, if possible, even the elect. Confusion is the characteristic of our contemporary world, and alas, has even penetrated into the thought of some members of the Church, who should know better because they have the Magisterium.
In the nineteenth century, Feuerbach, a German philosopher (claiming to be a lover of wisdom, but most unwise)—impressed by the mind-boggling advances that science had made in the course of the last centuries, came to the conclusion that modern man should finally become aware that the admirable qualities that he, for centuries, had projected into an imaginary being, namely God, belong to him by birth-right. Put bluntly, man is now justified in assuming that he is god—a god that keeps “growing” with the march of time. The nineteenth century was heavily indebted to Hegel—this intellectual “giant”—who in his flamboyant enthusiasm, has shown that the “World Spirit” keeps manifesting itself more and more convincingly in history. Man will inevitably go from discovery to discovery. Indeed, granted that until now, man cannot yet say, “Be,” and bring a new creature into existence from nothing; but thanks to the new “bombs,” he certainly is now capable of extinguishing life altogether. Alas, murder goes back a long way in man’s history—Cain took the life of his brother Abel. But now, thanks to scientific discoveries, it can be done more efficiently and on a much larger scale. To click on one button can guarantee the immediate and total destruction of Manhattan. Apparently only cockroaches will survive—not a very cheerful prospect! In other words, man’s supreme victory is his capacity to now reduce to dust and ashes a universe that he was incapable of bringing into existence. But this diabolical awareness is coupled with his claim that he now can make a paradise of this earth. Once man is truly in command, poverty will be eliminated by getting rid of poor people: as they do not contribute to the advances of humanity, why should they live? The same applies to those that are crippled and helpless. Their care not only costs immense amount of money, but prevents the very many people assisting them to do more productive work for the advancement of humanity.
Sickness will be overcome by assisted suicide. Only those “worthy” to live will be kept in existence. Several talented writers—The Lord of the World (Benson), 1984 (George Orwell), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)—have already sketched powerfully what life will be like under Big Brother—this lover of “humanity”—who will be the Lord of the universe, enjoying unlimited power, controlling not only the bodies of men, but also their “souls,” for advances in medicine will make this possible. Man can now legitimately claim that one day he will become the master of life and death. Then he will not only be a god in potency. He will be God in actu. Finally the doors of the earthly paradise will be re-opened.
Humanitarian laws will abolish the corset called the moral law: prohibiting the killing of the unborn, condemning so called “perverse” human relationships, modern man now perceives clearly that whatever satisfies a man’s craving should never be called perverse. The individual, and the individual alone can decide what gives him “fulfillment.”
Why should an unwanted child be brought into the world? It is sheer cruelty to expose him to rejection and suffering. Why should homosexuality be condemned as being against nature? The word should be redefined: nature is whatever benefits and gives man satisfaction. To anathematize the sexual embrace of two males is nothing but pharisaic and hypocritical. That man has been created free, if properly interpreted, is to give him an absolute and unlimited right to make up his own mind, and decide what is good and what is evil. No one has ever objected to a person preferring salty foods to sweet ones, or to favor fish over meat, or Coca-Cola over French wines. The same freedom of choice should be granted to what used to be called “ethics.” Man’s personal enjoyment should be the “measure of all things.”
If a person gets a greater satisfaction in activities which up to now have been called “contra naturam” (against nature), it simply indicates that the word “good” has been artificially hijacked by abstract theories about “moral and immoral.” The Ten Commandments given to a very small tribe, the Jews, on Mount Sinai, might have had its sociological value at the time, but should now be totally rejected, because not palatable to modern man who now rightly claims freedom to be his birthright. This belongs to his dignity as a person. To view abortion as murder of the innocent, is to sin against man’s freedom to decide what a person is to do with her body. My body being “my” body eloquently tells us that I can dispose of my property as I deem best.
In this developing drama, woman is now center stage. The Bible gives us most valuable information on this topic. After the fall, God declared that “I will put enmities between thee and the women, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen. 3:15).
In the Apocalypse, once again the woman is center stage; a woman is with child, and the dragon wants to kill it.
Why it is that it is the so-called “weak sex” that Lucifer keeps pursuing and not the strong one, the male? The answer is once again in the Bible. It is Eve who is proclaimed the mother of the living; Adam is not given this admirable title. It is a woman—the most perfect of all creatures including angels—who gives birth to the one who declared Himself to be Life. It was, I believe, St. Bernard who did not hesitate to write that Satan fears Mary more than he fears God Himself, the reason being that in his devilish pride, he is much more humiliated by being defeated by a woman—the gloriously weak sex—than by God Himself.
It should be luminous that there a bond between woman and life, and that he who was a murderer from the beginning should wage war against her. I do not hesitate to say that the legal recognition of abortion is the greatest victory that Satan has achieved since original sin. Feminism has convinced many women that maternity is the great obstacle preventing them from contributing to the “wheel of progress.”
When reading Simone de Beauvoir we should shed tears when she declares that “she hates babies,” and views giving birth as something done better and more efficiently by bitches.
We should realize, with fear and trembling, that we have entered apocalyptic times. The great duel is between life and death, between the woman and Satan.
May God have mercy on us.