Say what you want about death: at least it’s straightforward. No pretension. Death is the dark and terrible place that no one can avoid. We all know that we don’t want to die.
Or at least, that’s what we all used to know. We now live in what that putative Chinese curse calls “interesting times”. We’re an interesting people doing interesting things to each other and to ourselves, and we find the world so very interesting that we’re no longer sure which side of that dark door we want to be on.
Make no mistake: the world has been a dark and dreadful place since Adam and Eve passed out of bright Eden. The bad old days really were bad. And yet, there’s something to be said for a time when you were entitled to curse the darkness. Now, we’re expected to sing its praises.
Let’s look at abortion. Abortion has always been with us, in one form or another. There’s a baby you don’t want? You find a dark corner, you slip money into someone’s pocket, and you get rid of it, shove the unwelcome guest out. It was hideous, it was loathsome, but it was straightforward. There was no need to pretend abortion was good for anyone: everyone knew abortion was a terrible thing, and the trick was just to get it over with. A door accidentally opens, and you shut it quick, before the light comes in.
But then, in our enlightenment, we began to argue that abortion wasn’t secret or shameful, so much as it was private. We have, we argued, the right to do what we want with that door and that darkness, because it is a private choice.
And so more and more people chose the darkness, until this liberating choice to abort became what it is now: what women do when they have no other choice. They are beaten, maimed, killed for not freely choosing to abort, because the law says they can if they want to, and that means they must. And if they say they are suffering afterwards, they’re simply told, “Oh, no, you’re not.”
Death isn’t satisfied with darkness. It wants the darkness to be praised.
How did we get this way?
What happened was that, in the darkness, life adapts. When we step into the darkness again and again and again, we do not die; we evolve. It’s the same as what happens, over eons, to creatures who live at the bottom of the deepest oceans, or who scuttle around the backmost “dark zones” of caves, where the sun cannot reach and the light cannot find them. They adapt to the dark. More than that, they learn to thrive. They take over, and legions of dark-dwelling creatures build their own society designed to keep the light out, to make the darkness feel normal.
And then, yes, things become interesting. Ever taken a look at those cave-dwelling, bottom-lurking creatures that have adapted to the dark? They are interesting beyond belief. Their standard-issue organs go dormant, to be replaced with specialised appendages, antennae, and adaptive organs to make their way around.
The same thing happens to our souls, to our understanding of what life and love, childbearing and sexuality mean, if we spend too many generations shutting out the light. We sprout cumbersome appendages to our consciences; we develop outlandish workarounds to facing the truth. We have eyes still, but they no longer function. A sense of right and wrong is still graven in our hearts, but layer after layer of scar tissue forms over it until our hearts appear blank. Whatever we want to write on them, we may: we call it “our truth”, and it passes, in the dark. It passes.
We’re told that faith is a fairy tale; that science has proven there is no soul; that objective truth is just another name for prejudice; that family is the framework for oppression; that children are a burden; that fertility is a disease; that masculinity is brutality; that only useful people deserve to live; that service and self-sacrifice are the works of passive fools; and that human life itself is a vulgar cancer on an otherwise blissfully pure planet.
Such darkness. For generations, such darkness. Children born now do not even recognise the light. It’s been deliberately bred out of them. Like phantom limbs, the vestigial stumps of natural law occasionally itch or pain us, but we can silence them if we try.
So where are we at, we interesting creatures who have learnt to adapt to the darkness in these most interesting times? What kind of workarounds have we developed?
In the bad, old days, even a bad man knew that good women, or at least respectable women, would probably say “no” to their sexual aggression. He might not listen, but everyone agreed that he should.
Now? An undergraduate in North America recently admitted to an interviewer that she is pro-choice, but if she wants a guy to stop harassing her for sexual favours, she tells him she’s pro-life, and she knows he’ll back off. It’s not because he has any respect for her or for sex itself. It’s because, now that contraception is ubiquitous, she has only one weapon left, when she’s not in the mood: she can threaten him with the horrible possibility that she won’t be willing to kill his child.
In the bad, old days, bad men would try to rape women, and the victims would be cast out and castigated as soiled goods.
What’s the new, interesting development? The legal and medical system is finally, in theory, on women’s side. We now have robust protocols in place to deal with rape accusations. We protest and share hashtags and sign petitions to demand an end to rape culture. And the upshot, after all that hue and cry, is that the woman must endure a second and third rape, by the medical system and then by the legal system – and once she recovers, the convicted rapist goes free anyway; and she is chastised for ruining his appetite, poor fellow.
In the bad, old days, women were forced to make dreadful decisions about their education, their careers, and raising a family.
Now, women are now more or less welcome in higher education and in the workplace, and they have more control over family size, but they still have only so much time and energy for work and family, and they have to decide how to spend it.
What’s new, and grotesquely interesting, is that corporations such as Facebook and Apple try to accommodate young women facing these decisions – not by offering job security during maternity leave, not by letting mothers work from home while their babies are young, not by paying their husbands enough so that they can live on one income, but by handsomely offering to freeze their eggs for them. Once the corporation has taken what it needs from their fertile years, these lucky gals can go back and try to warm up a little family, easy peasy.
In the bad, old days, benighted and superstitious mortals marvelled when heaven stooped down to kindle the “spark of life” as a child was conceived.
What’s new and interesting? We now know that that spark is literal, if infinitesimal. There really is a small flash when a sperm penetrates an ovum and a new, immortal person comes into existence.
In the face of this indescribable wonder, the researchers who beheld it immediately sought to monetise it, to calculate how best to sort living persons according to how bright their spark appears. Dimmer sparks are trashed; more promising ones are inserted back into their mother’s wombs with the beneficent latex-gloved-hands of the IVF clinician.
It’s nothing new for the childless to envy happy new mothers.
What’s new and interesting? The childless now envy parents not for their children, but for the supposed perks surrounding childbirth. The infamous “me-ternity leave” essay – calling for childless women to be given the equivalent of maternity leave – was pure clickbait. Sane people realise that new mothers on leave are enduring a too-short recovery while caring for an infant round the clock, not relaxing or focusing on themselves. But the author’s inane point spoke eloquently for a growing population that truly believes that having children – perpetuating the species, answering the deepest, oldest call of the heart – is simply one hobby among many, and deserves no special accommodation.
It’s nothing new that there is evil in the world. If there is nothing new under the sun, it’s also true that there’s nothing truly new about what happens when the sun goes down. Every age has its monsters. Ours are especially convoluted in their methodology, but the evil they do is nothing new.
Research says that when they crucified our Lord, His arms were dislocated to make Him fit upon the Cross. How unnatural was this death beyond all deaths, how twisted we become when death has its way with us. We were not designed for such contortions. We were not made to be tortured, and we certainly were not made so that we can torture ourselves, contort our souls, malform our bodies and our hearts until we don’t have the least idea what we are even here for.
Do you look at the world and feel that something is wrong, something is awry? Good. That shows that you’re still wholesome, still whole, still oriented to the light. If you feel the pain of the sophisticated grotesqueries of our age, then that’s a healthy thing. It shouldn’t be comfortable to be so wrong.
And there is more hope, too, besides the hope that comes from knowing that you haven’t completely lost your way. Do not forget, Christ was tortured, but He did not remain on the Cross, crooked and deformed. He was released, and there was grieving, and His poor limbs were gently set back in place, bathed, anointed, and wrapped – but that was not the end of it. He shook off the torture, and He shook off even the cure, not content to rest in the darkness. He pushed back that stone because the light is where He came from, and the light is where he was meant to be.
And the same is true for us. Do not become accustomed to the dark. Do not acclimate yourself to the depths, to the tomb, to the dark. They are temporary.
It’s not only darkness that works its will on the living. Light is no inert, passive phenomenon. Light is active. When we turn to it, it engenders growth of another kind: the growth of strength, the growth of joy, the growth of true generosity, true compassion, true wisdom. We can still find our way back.
Simcha Fisher is the author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. For her latest blogs and podcasts, visit simchafisher.com
This article first appeared in the January 13 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here