A Modest Proposal

Reed JolleyCommunity News

Eating children, if properly cooked, is a good way to alleviate poverty.  In fact, a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled. . .

So argued Irish pastor Jonathan Swift in 1729 when he wrote his straight-faced satire titled A Modest Proposal. Written against the backdrop of both crushing poverty and the Enlightenment’s moral pragmatism that argued for the greatest good for the greatest number, Swift suggested that Irish babies could be sold and cooked for dinner.

Everyone—the seller, the buyer, and society at large—would benefit.  The seller would make a profit, the buyer would get a good meal, and society would have fewer mouths to feed.  It was, indeed, a modest proposal.  Swift, of course, was not serious.  His lampoon was intended to wake up his countrymen from their moral slumber.

Fast-forward almost three hundred years, and it seems A Modest Proposal was part satire, part prophecy.  Consider just these four examples of Swiftian proportion:

First, we seem increasingly comfortable with the idea of harvesting tiny little children for the stem cells they provide.  The debate is complicated, but suffice it to say that embryonic stem-cell research is increasingly accepted, even funded by our government.

Second, the practice of abortion is increasingly seen as a legitimate means of birth control.  In fact, destroying pre-born human life is not only tolerated in law but is held up as a positive good.

Early in April, Bonnie Erbe wrote an essay for U. S. News and World Report (carried by the Santa Barbara News-Press4/5/09) that sounds quite like Jonathan Swift’s satire—but Erbe isn’t joking!  She begins by pointing out that the recession has driven up the demand for abortions and then moves to the startling conclusion that such abortions are good and moral.

In the column, Erbe tells the story of an unmarried woman, pregnant with her fourth child.  She walks for an hour in flip-flops to an abortion clinic to save bus fare.  She is in tears.  The pregnant woman tells the doctor that her pregnancy was planned and that the child had received prenatal care.  But she wants an abortion because she and her boyfriend have reevaluated their expenses.  The story is shocking to anyone with a conscience and especially to those who see every baby as a precious human being made in God’s image.  But Erbe goes on to praise this couple’s decision to abort their child.  She asks,

In the long run can we agree that this unwed couple’s decision not to bring a fourth child into the world when they are having trouble feeding themselves and three children is no tragedy?

Erbe argues that it is a tragedy that the young mother didn’t have bus fare, but not that she is choosing to abort her child.

One may assume this family of five is struggling just to maintain its basics: housing and food.  Add one more child, and those costs rise as income drops.  It’s not a tragedy: it’s a good decision.

A good decision?  Jonathan Swift, where are you?
Third, just last week the FDA approved the sale of a nonprescription drug called Plan B. This morning-after pill, this abortifacient, will be available to women or men 17 years of age and older.  The FDA claims Plan B safely prevents pregnancy.  In fact, if the male sperm and female egg have united, Plan B prevents the fertilized ovum—a living human embryo—from implanting in the womb of its mother and being born.

Fourth, some in the church are calling abortion a blessing.  I’m not making this up. The Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has called abortion a positive good for women.  The conclusion to a recent sermon she preached is breathtaking.  Speaking of the “blessing” of abortion, she says this:

I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing—who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes—in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You’re engaged in holy work.

How did we get here?  How did we become a society that will allow 17-year-olds to buy a morning-after pill but not buy a cigarette?  How did we become a people who allow our 14-year-olds to procure an abortion without a parent’s permission, yet they can’t get a tattoo?  How can Bonnie Erbe editorialize that abortion is a positive good and not be employing satire?  What happened to that branch of the church where a preacher can call the work of infanticide holy work?

The words of George Orwell, written in 1939, are more pertinent today than when he penned them: We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.  So let me restate the obvious: Killing children is always a moral wrong.  No matter how much a child inconveniences us, it is never a positive good to slaughter the innocent.  It is not a good idea to allow children to procure abortions without parental consent.  Terminating a pregnancy because we don’t like the child’s DNA, or the child’s sex, or the child’s timing (I’ve got college to finish!) is a moral evil.  Creating life to destroy it (see embryonic stem-cell research) is tampering with God’s gift of life and is, therefore, wrong.

While I’m at it, let me conclude with a modest proposal of my own:  Let us never cook and eat our children.  And, since God is God and since human life is precious, let us recoil with horror at the culture of death that surrounds us.  Let us not forget the weakest among us.  Let us raise our voices for the unborn, cast our votes for the unborn, open our homes to those with an unexpected pregnancy and open our wallets for those ministries that are caring for the weakest members of our society.  And let us—at the very least—pray about these things and talk about them with our friends who are not so inclined.