The advocates of the “culture of life” do not actually value life at all. If they did, they would worship health, vitality, happiness, flourishing, and strength — not poverty, weakness, deprivation, and suffering:
In carrying on, [Pope] John Paul also offers us a precious gift: his suffering. It is hard to see him suffer. But this pope does not ask for relief from his sufferings. To the contrary, a bishop once told me that the pope used to refuse medication precisely because it interfered with his suffering. He has a mystical relationship with his suffering, offering it up for us, and for the whole world — a world that increasingly embraces the culture of death, euthanasia, and the abortion of disabled fetuses, because it mistakenly believes there is no greater moral good than relief from suffering. In bearing his pain, John Paul says to us, in union with the Apostle Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
We need his example in this world filled with suffering. We need the lesson he is teaching us: that suffering is not useless; that it can have meaning, and salvific power. As John Paul wrote in his 1984 encyclical On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, once this meaning and power are discovered, suffering actually becomes “a source of joy” because “faith in sharing the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person…is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service.”
I’m completely horrified, as any human with a modicum of rationality or self-respect ought to be. Yet this philosophical masochism is widely advocated and accepted as not just moral, but morally elevated. Principled opposition from the left seems to be in short supply. Ordinary people who disagree with such suffering-worship seemed disarmed by it. The only strong opposition that I’ve heard has been from Objectivists. At least they know what is at stake.
I wonder if, fifty years from now, we will look upon the recent deaths of the Pope and Terri Schiavo as cultural turning points. If so, I can only hope that the turn will be away from the horrors of the “culture of life,” not toward them.