Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

what a week

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 09, 2007

From time-to-time, when I happen to come upon the fairly well-known photo of the Carpathian Jewish woman and her children walking toward the Auschwitz gas chambers in 1944, I've been moved to wonder how the persons who "selected" them for death (having determined they were unfit for labor), and how the persons who so carefully recorded the event on film, would have given voice to their feelings at the time. My hunch is that their dominant emotion -- at least the emotion that would find expression -- would be self-pity, perhaps tinged with self-congratulation.

Take a look at this recent posting on the Abortion Clinic Days blog -- a blog that fascinates me precisely because it lets us hear -- in real time, so to speak -- the resentments and satisfactions and defensiveness of persons engaged today, in our own community, in putting the innocent to death. "What a week it has been!" exclaims the blogger-in-chief, "a number of the counselors i work with and i, too, have had some really challenging cases to deal with." She gives us a long recitation of on-the-job hardships:

a third patient is fighting for custody of her three kids. she recently had a preliminary hearing in which she and her attorney assumed that the case would be dismissed since the ex-husband has a criminal record, an alcohol problem and had not been the best dad when they were married. but the judge is allowing the battle to continue. this woman, cindy, said that she is now so scared that her ex can outfight her because she does not have the money for an extended legal battle and so is tempted to continue this pregnancy (conceived through a birth control failure) so she'd at least have one child with her. but she fears the pregnancy could also cause the judge to rule against her. another tough choice.

the ability to work with women in crisis, to allow them to voice their fears, grief, and weaknesses is a true gift. not every one could do what we do. and i say that not to brag about what we do, but rather in humility that we were given this ability to "walk with women and men in their darkest hours". we do not judge, we do not run away, we do not fear to hear the unspeakable. this is the work we do. some divine power has allowed us to be present in others' lives and bear their burdens for a bit, yet still have our own lives, our own joys. it can not have been an accident that we were granted this ability.

See the twist? "We" -- the abortion providers -- "do not fear to hear the unspeakable." And note the implied conclusion: because we have the courage to hear the unspeakable, we are blameless (or even ennobled) when we make the unspeakable into the fait accompli, when we turn horror into a reality.

I've had occasion before to mention Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, and her penetrating insight into the mind of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, especially regarding his success in getting ordinary men to do -- how can we put it? -- extraordinary things:

Hence the problem was to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler -- who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself -- was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

All too effective. You watch Carpathian Jews heading off to be gassed, you help Cindy overcome the "temptation" to continue her pregnancy, and you write home to your loved ones: "what a week it has been!" Tough on you. Taxing for you. Your self-esteem not only stays intact, but buoys a little.

But it doesn't end there, does it? Take careful note of our abortionist's admission that "some divine power has allowed us to be present in others' lives and bear their burdens for a bit." That ought to make the hair on your neck prickle. The Bible too knows of a spiritual power that helps its host bear the burden of inflicting homicide. Its name is Legion. "It can not have been an accident," muses our diarist, "that we were granted this ability."

It almost certainly wasn't.

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