By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge, M.A.
Director, Respect Life Office
Pop-culture phrases and words come and go, but one that has hung on way too long is the frequently uttered “whatever.” Dictionary.com characterizes the interjection as being “used to indicate indifference to a state of affairs, situation, previous statement, etc.” Used most often as a throw away expression, it typically indicates disinterest, apathy, or an “I don’t care” attitude.
While the word itself is not inherently offensive, it may represent an attitude that is reflective of a society that has become apathetic about relationships, issues, or circumstances.
Apathy is problematic in many areas of life, but most importantly in issues that affect the dignity of the human person. As Catholics, we are obligated to respect and protect innocent human life from fertilization to natural death. As Catholics, we are called to be pro-life. The Catechism (#2270) states it clearly: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
Why then, do so many Catholics have nothing to do with efforts designed to teach respect and protection of innocent human life? Why do so many remain silent when people advocate for abortion? And why do some obstinately reject the teachings of the Church?
For some, it may be a case of really not understanding the issues. It may be a lack of knowing what to do or say. Some may truly believe there is nothing they can do to make a real difference. They feel powerless. Some feel
detached. For others, it might be—without even realizing it—that they have accepted the attitudes of the culture instead of the Church. For many, it is apathy.
They don’t see how abortion, for example, affects them, so they go about their daily activities with little or no concern for the 3,500 unborn babies who are killed by procured abortion each day in this country. If it doesn’t affect them personally, they are not concerned.
What they don’t realize is that their apathy may affect them some day. If their children and grandchildren don’t learn to respect and protect human life, who will protect their grandchildren and great grandchildren who may be conceived at “inconvenient” times?
Apathy can grow
Unchecked, apathy can grow into compromise, complicity, and ultimately evil acts. As Christian fiction author Bodie Thoene writes, “Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand.”
There is no doubt the Holocaust was evil. There is no doubt procured abortion is evil.
One of the stated objectives of the Holocaust Memorial Center is “To record the apathy of the many who did nothing and to honor those who risked their lives to save Jews.” Just as it was wrong for the many to ignore what was happening to their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust, it is also wrong for us to ignore the plight of our unborn neighbors who are “chosen” for abortion.
Some people are so distracted by material and social pursuits, they are not even aware that they have become apathetic to the plight of the most vulnerable among us. Of course, it is much easier to be apathetic if you purposely remain uninformed about the reality of abortion. It’s easier to yield to apathy when you don’t actually see the gruesome results of abortion. Most people do not search the internet for a video of actual an
abortion procedure or pictures of the resulting dismembered babies.
Not only are there many who don’t want to know what really goes on in abortion mills, some actually get angry when someone tries to tell or show them.
I have written about Brenda Pratt Shafer’s congressional testimony before, but a revisit seems appropriate here.
Shafer is a registered nurse who until 1993 described herself as “very pro-choice.” During a temporary nursing assignment at the women’s Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, Shafer stood by as abortionist Martin Haskell committed a Dilation and Extraction (D&X or Partial Birth Abortion) on a woman who was 26½ weeks pregnant.
Testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on March 21, 1966, Shafer described the D & X:
Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby’s legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby’s body and the arms—everything but the head . . .
The baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the [surgical] scissors through the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out . . . like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.
The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp . . . Dr. Haskell delivered the baby’s head. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw that baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used.
Shafer witnessed what few people have seen and it changed her life forever. Not only was she no longer pro-choice, she became a pro-life activist!
I don’t know how anyone can read Shafer’s gruesome description of “choice” and remain apathetic and yet, I know some who have.
If you share this testimony with others and they are not moved, perhaps you should refer them to a new 2½ minute video entitled “Choice Blues.” If you e-mail me, I will send you the link. Be aware, it is an extremely graphic and horrific video of an actual abortion that is very upsetting to watch. For some, however, it may be what is needed to pull them out of their apathy.
What else can we do?
It is important to acknowledge apathy if, indeed, it describes an attitude about the value of all human life. Serious prayer for direction is also needed. Not everyone will be called to the same activity, but all of us should do something to protect and promote life.
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Pro-Life Activities issued the following appeal:
Let us recommit ourselves today to tending the Lord's vineyard, beginning with our own little parcel. Let us read, and pray, and study and live the Gospel of Life that we may grow rich in grace and abundant in God's holy life.
Along with Saint Paul, let us have no fear. Rather, let us abide in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Whatever is true, let us embrace it and live!
Whatever is honorable, let us embrace it and live!
Whatever is just, let us embrace it and live!
Whatever is pure, let us embrace it and live!
Let us embrace and live the Gospel of Life, that the harvest God finds in this blessed nation at the end of time may be rich, and faithful and true!
Studying the Gospel of Life* is, indeed, a good place to begin learning about the Church’s teaching on the dignity of innocent human life.
In addition, future issues of Life Matters will be focusing on the “how to’s” of defending life.
If you have specific questions about life issues that you would like answered in future Life Matters, you may submit them for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org
*Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) may be purchased at a Catholic bookstore or may be downloaded at: http://www.ewtn.com/library/encyc/jp2evang.htm