Fr. Mark Goring: Soul’s Natural Habitat (Video)May 15, 2018
The Man Who Drove Away MillionsMay 15, 2018
By John Zmirak, The Stream, May 14, 2018
Let’s not talk about abortion. At least not at first. Let’s talk about dog-fighting. This cruel, sadistic practice sees owners pit their dogs against each other. Such fights typically go to the death. Sometimes smaller, non-violent animals get tossed in as “bait.” That whets the bloodlust of dogs whose owners twisted them into killers. (I learned from a beagle rescue group that some people sell dogs on Craig’s List for this purpose.) People bet on the results. Money changes in bloodied hands. And the torn-up corpses of man’s best friend get tossed into a dumpster. Some of their bodies likely end up in cans of dog food, since the pet food business is almost as under-regulated as the U.S. abortion industry.
Let’s say you were talking about laws that banned this vicious practice. Would you call them “harsh”? Do you think you’d describe laws that imprison dog-fighting promoters as “restrictive”? Would reporters describe opponents of dog-fighting as “anti-sports” “zealots,” who favored “strict” bans on “animal owners’ leisure time rights”?
“Harsh” Laws Banning Spousal Rape
Of course not. Certainly mainstream reporters, who weren’t in the bag for criminal franchises that sponsor vicious dog-fights, wouldn’t use such language. Nor would we speak of “harsh” laws banning spousal rape, domestic violence, or child porn. A reporter who turned in a story that used language like that would not be long for his job. And rightly so.
But news organizations whose staff overwhelmingly favor legal abortion, from bottom to top, use such language about laws intended to protect unborn children. (See what I did there? I didn’t use any agitprop terms like “pro-choice.”) That shocks me but doesn’t surprise me. Not only do most journalists agree on abortion; most of them don’t even have any pro-life friends.
Would reporters describe opponents of dog-fighting as “anti-sports” “zealots,” who favored “strict” bans on “animal owners’ leisure time rights”?
What does drive me crazy is when pro-life people buy into the enemy’s language. Perhaps it’s in a futile attempt to sound neutral or fair. But the other side almost never returns the favor. More importantly, by doing it we’re being complicit in the long list of lies that underlie the case for legal abortion.
Words Should Reflect Truth
So, from now on, whenever you talk about the issue, remember to correct people who (wittingly or not) have adopted pro-abortion or pseudo-neutral language.
Don’t speak of “banning” abortions. Talk about “protecting unborn Americans.” Hence we should say that a law “protects unborn Americans starting at 20 weeks after conception.” Or that a law “denies protection to unborn Americans conceived by rape.”
Don’t call a good law “harsh” or even “strict.” Call it “principled” and “comprehensive.” Don’t call a weak law “liberal” but “lax.” Describe our current situation, where a child may be aborted for any reason all through the nine months of pregnancy as “chaotic.” It’s a “Wild West,” “Darwinian” legal climate where women and doctors have “the power of life and death over every unborn American.”
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“Rhetoric” Isn’t a Dirty Word
In other words, use the same rhetorical tactics as the anti-gun lobby. And don’t be ashamed of it. They’re using such language because they think what they’re saying is true. They think they’re promoting the Good, and that their choice of words should reflect it. They may be wrong on the 2nd Amendment, but they’re right about rhetoric. It should reflect what we think is true and important. And we should use it as a tool to deprogram people who’ve been brainwashed to think otherwise.
As the great Christian scholar Richard Weaver wrote, rhetoric isn’t just the art of persuasion. Rightly defined, it’s the art of making the Good and the True attractive by highlighting their Beauty. In that sense, it makes words incarnate. It teaches via parable, anecdote, story, and choice of words. Good rhetoric, deployed in service of the Good, is not just important. It’s absolutely vital. It does all the work in the world that formal logical proofs cannot accomplish. For a highly useful guidebook on how to argue effectively, read the funny page-turner Thank You For Arguing.
Do you know how many logical syllogisms Jesus used in His preaching? Zero. Most of the words we have from His mouth would qualify as rhetoric. (Maybe now we can stop using the word itself pejoratively?) When George Washington spoke to his troops at Valley Forge, he didn’t stand up there and offer Socratic proofs. (They would have drifted away, one by one, into the woods.) Instead, he played on their heartstrings and roused their passions. And after the fighting ended, when an unpaid and angry Continental Army was about to march on Congress, Washington used simple, humble rhetoric to soothe them. If he’d just read them a civics lecture, the United States would have started out like most of the Latin American republics that broke free from Spain. And we’d have ended up like them, too.
Words Matter, and Names Carry Deep Meaning
In the Garden of Eden, one of Adam’s first tasks was giving the animals their names. At the Tower of Babel, God humbled man’s pride by confusing the names for things among different peoples with varied tongues. At Pentecost, the Spirit brought men together by letting the apostles preach to men of every nation, and be understood. St. John thought to call Christ “the Word,” which meant that He is the ordering principle of Creation.
Many theologians agree that the root of modern unbelief lay deep in the Middle Ages. The Nominalists (“name-ists” if you will) denied that man has any essence which unites me with my neighbor. In fact, nothing does. There is just a world of stuff, living or non-living. We give each thing we see (from pond to person) an arbitrary “name,” but it tells us nothing about what these things really are, or what they have in common. Follow that out through its implications, and you end up with modern nihilism, as Pope Benedict XVI warned at Regensburg.
Catholic novelist Walker Percy’s non-fiction masterpiece, Lost in the Cosmos, centers on language as the greatest proof for man’s uniqueness. And hence his status as a child of God, not an accident of genetics. Animals respond to signals. Gorillas can learn sign language. But no animal save man thinks that words refer to things. No other creature on earth has a realm of symbolic meaning. Biologists can’t explain that, and AI geeks can’t replicate it. The fact that we can use symbols to speak the truth, and name things that share an essence, sets us apart from dumb Creation.
It shows why our lives are unique, and uniquely worth protecting.