Thursday, February 4, 2016

Roe v. Wade, Martin Luther, and the Power of One Individual

Oftentimes when we discuss the power that one individual possesses, we give it a positive spin, and well we should, because if we were always trying to kill Hitler before he was born (a la Minority Report), we might wind up killing off the whole human race in our paranoia. In any case, while there is tremendous value in pointing out all the good one individual can accomplish, there may likewise be value in pointing out all the evil one individual can accomplish as well, or at minimum, how one individual (or event) that seems small and insignificant can turn out to be cosmic.

Depending on who you are, you may well see this post quite differently (along with the title), but if nothing else, let us agree on one thing: every single human being has a cosmic significance well beyond what he or she may have previously imagined. In recent weeks we have been reminded of this fact, for not only was it the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 23rd, but also during that same week, the "week of prayer for Christian Unity".

What do these two events have in common? They both point to the power of one individual to change the world. Yet the point of this post is not so much to critique Protestantism, or even the evils of abortion, but rather to point out the unimaginable consequences of our actions. Consider that the now pro-life Norma Roe, the woman whose case helped initiate and facilitate the Constitutional right to an abortion for all woman (not to mention the subsequent termination of the lives of over 58 million children in the womb), never actually had an abortion herself. That's right, the very individual over whom this whole battle has been fought, wound up having the child, giving her up for adoption, and now as we speak the woman in question is forty-six years old.

And then there's Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, a Catholic priest, and a jealous defender of the papacy... until he went to Rome. Upon his arrival in the eternal city, he was understandably scandalized  by all of the corruption that was going on there. Motivated by his righteous anger, and to be honest, a case of spiritual OCD, he posted his now famous list of 95 Complaints on the door of the cathedral at Wittenburg in Germany. With help from the recently invented internet printing press (not to mention the fact that there was some truth to everything he was saying), his criticisms essentially went "viral", and the next thing you know- all hell broke loose in the body of Christ.

Wars of religion broke out; Christians killing Christians; an endless proliferation of "versions" of Christianity spring up (not unlike some nightmare from Fantasia). Atheism begins to take root in the West, and consequently faith and reason are rent asunder and sacrificed on the altar of human sentimentality. Worst of all, a form of Christian self-mockery arises out of all this. Indeed, now the scandal has come full circle, a new kind of "indulgence" is sold, but this time it is coming from the critics of the Catholic Church.

Today, unfortunately, we must deal with a "new spring" of televangelists and mega-churches, each with his own catchy little jingles, great product placement, and an endless assortment of programs and building projects, all seeking to expand and build up everything that Luther fought to tear down. Pelagius lives on thanks to Luther's doctrine of Sola Fide.

Let us not forget about good King Henry VIII- a man who really wasn't trying to reform anything at all, and who, before his infamous run-in with the pope, was ironically dubbed "defender of the Faith". At any rate, it is a good reminder that- no matter how faithful one may be- we all have our own weak spots when it comes to fidelity. Yet whatever the circumstances, could King Henry have ever imagined, even as a "divinely elected king," that such power could be in his hands? Could he have suspected that by annulling his own marriage, he could- by fiat- call into question every other binding agreement along with it? For if everyone's vow is annulled based on personal interpretation, is there anyone who is really married? And who's to say what defines marriage in the first place?

The question is where does this all leave us, and why do I bring it up in the first place... other than to cause despair? I bring it up, not because each of these individuals are necessarily responsible for every subsequent action or event that ensued as a result (though one could make that case). But I do wonder if each of them (along with Tetzel and a few of the Renaissance popes) had been able to divine the future, would they have done the same thing, or would they have died immediately out of despair, or better still, would they have run off to a monastery (or nunnery) and never uttered another word the rest of their lives (a la St. Thomas Aquinas "I can write no more").

We indeed are gods, and terrifyingly so. Consequently, the next time we are tempted to criticize, or question how it is that God could possibly be so hard on our ancient parents, who just so happened to eat a tiny morsel of that inconspicuous fruit in the garden of Eden, perhaps we should call to mind a few other significant historical figures, if only to heighten our appreciation of the profound ramifications of every single one of our words and actions.


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