A Right to Choose?
Especially while driving, it is our long-standing habit to turn
on the radio Saturday afternoons when it's opera time in America.
On this occasion, we stumbled into Charles Gounod's "Faust."
We arrived at our destination just before the final scene - Marguerite
in prison for drowning her child.
Though no longer party to the heart-rending last encounter between
Faust and Marguerite (Gretchen, of course, in Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe's "Faust"), the thought process that had begun
in anticipation of it was under way.
Clearly, this year's presidential campaigns have placed the abortion
issue on the back burner. But on ABC-TV's "Sam and Cokie"
this past Sunday, George Will spoke about our "culture of death"
in connection with the court decision in Britain to separate the
Siamese twins, and his comment added currency to these ruminations.
The child Gretchen had drowned was the fruit of her union with
Faust - a union of pure passion that bypassed the concept of marriage
and family. By the time the child was born, Gretchen was on her
own, buffeted by the scorn of society and the harsh words of her
beloved brother. The world of literature is filled with similar
tragedies, and I can recall the passionate desire of my teen years
for a more "enlightened" world in which people could act
on their feelings and were accorded help, as opposed to censure,
in their hour of need.
I suppose, that is why the fate of humanity has generally not been
entrusted to teenagers.
No amount of enlightenment can alter reality. And reality is the
same for the believer and the agnostic. Human beings are different
from the animal world, and, for the species to flourish, certain
arrangements have been found necessary. (Not perfect - necessary.)
Among other things, the requirement of a male and a female to produce
a child has been mirrored in that both male and female are deemed
necessary to bring up the child. Because of the temptations of life,
restrictions were placed on the personal freedom of both to ensure,
perhaps even force, their continued partnership.
The preceding has been expressed in such cold and neutral terms
to make it abundantly clear that being an atheist does not provide
a way out.
The preceding, also, is clearly incompatible with the adolescent
explosion of desire that fosters the articulation of every possible
argument against social convention - so long as the argument will
hasten the satisfaction of said desires. In time, adolescents grow
up, acquire responsibilities, and come to accept reality.
The teenagers who attained voting age during the late 1960s decided
this growing-up-thing was a big mistake. But even they faced the
reality that killing a human being is unacceptable in our civilization.
While the prohibition may have started with the Ten Commandments,
it now forms an integral part of who we are.
As for unwanted children, no one wished to follow Gretchen to prison.
The answer to the dilemma came in the shape of "taking care
of the problem" before the child becomes a legal entity.
These thoughts are not about one side or the other in the abortion
debate. The hope is to persuade readers about the alarming extent
to which we have come to peddle our lust for an unbridled existence
as intellectual argument.
Or, to put it another way, let us be clear about our growing mastery
in lying to ourselves.
Fair or unfair, Nature has placed the primary burden for responsible
sexual behavior upon women. Nature's intentions are expressed not
only through the conception, bearing and delivery of children, but
also through the physical evidence of virginity, peculiar to women.
Forever, people have been looking for ways to get around these arrangements.
But never before our time has there been an undisguised campaign
to establish legitimacy for everybody "doing it" with
everybody else - no exceptions.
It began with slogans such as "the woman's right to choose,"
"reproductive freedom," and "I decide about my own
body." It took just a few years thereafter to proclaim that
a family is what anyone says it is - neither the number nor the
sex of the component parts matter.
No aspersion is intended for the many instances where circumstances
truncate families in which men and women - mostly women - heroically
face impossible odds. The subject of these contemplations is the
free-for-all we now regard as the norm. None of it has to do with
rights or freedom, only with license and unrestricted gratification.
Our current views are defensible only if we have come to regard
the thousands and thousands of years directly preceding the late
1960s as a vast blanket of fog in which humanity was staggering
around with no chance of seeing beyond its nose. Then, the thesis
seems to postulate, the torch was passed, a new generation claimed
its place, and the fog lifted at once.
How else are we to explain that the little which is still taught
about the past (and less and less it is) takes the form of censure?
How else are we to explain the certainty with which the hare-brain
courses that fill our schools, and "reinterpretations"
that boggle the mind brush aside what centuries - no: millennia
- have produced, preserved, authenticated? That attitude used to
characterize adolescents, and they were granted the privilege in
the assumption that one day they would grow up.
The cardinal sin of the generation, appropriately represented by
President and Mrs. Clinton, is not the careless and callous manner
in which they have treated the riches assembled by and inherited
from previous generations. Their cardinal sin is the creation of
blank spaces where, throughout the ages, tradition bridged the generations.
Our children attend schools in which they learn nothing about the
past, except that it was wrong.
They are at the mercy of a generation that refused to grow up.
In this roundabout way, we might comprehend why the past is not
taught, and why our greats have to be torn apart if mentioned at
all. It would be most inconvenient to be asked by young innocents
about the character, the sacrifice, the heroism of times past as
they watch a perjuring president, a filth-mouthed comedian, or a
megalomaniac newscaster on television.
But some day, new generations will encounter Gretchen's tragedy.
Perhaps first they will ask why, if Faust was not around, Gretchen
did not team up with Martha so the child could have two mommies.
Then, hopefully, among the myriad of what is now called "texts,"
they might discover the poems, dramas and novels that built, defined,
and carried forward our civilization.
We must believe it will happen.
We must do everything so it can happen.