kind hearts

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 26, 2006

Ann Coulter's current column on the Democratic Party's electoral woes is titled "Abortion Stops a Bleeding Heart." That got me wondering how many people, even those who use the term of themselves, realize that the "bleeding heart" part of "bleeding heart liberals" is a reference to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The classic image of the wounded heart of Jesus surrounded by the crown of thorns explains the origin of the phrase (it seems to have accompanied the huge increase in popularity in devotion to the Sacred Heart in the 17th century, especially after the visions of Margaret Mary Alacoque). The vividness of the imagery and its theological association with divine compassion gave birth to the "bleeding heart" tag, which easily acquired the secondary connotation of excessive, or excessively dramatic, sympathy for the hardship of another.

Intentionally or not, Coulter's pun sharpens the paradox. Partisan dogma and progressivist conviction have conspired to bring it about that today's "bleeding hearts" are ferocious in defense of abortion-in-demand, for any reason, at any time. Yet those with a devotion to The Original Bleeding Heart are not only characteristically opposed to abortion, but their visceral opposition is supported by theological intuitions that many of their fellow Catholics find archaic, even embarrassing. The statues of the Sacred Heart once found in churches have often been replaced by felt and burlap banners with rising sun appliqu├ęs, and the moral theology updated accordingly. Something had to be overcome, some deep-seated reluctance had to be done away with, before ordinary men could puncture a baby's heart with a syringeful of potassium chloride, while ordinary Christians looked on with approval.

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