The whole problem with growing up and becoming intellectual is that we stop making the fundamental connections that children innately make. We stop being able to see the threads of evil for what they really are. We watch evil morph, change the colors or characteristics of its stripes, and we are fooled. Again and again mankind is fooled into embracing evil’s new form, even while decrying those who perpetrated evils past.
The child sees clearly the common threads. The child can connect an evil father with an evil slaver. The child can see that the evil which ensnared Anne Frank is the same evil that Martin is railing against. The child discerns that a Jewish life is the same as a black life is the same as a white life is the same as a young life is the same as an old life. The child could easily, with no prompting whatsoever, see a sonogram and tell you it’s a baby. The child does not dissemble and rationalize and wish for convenient ignorance.
To paraphrase Martin, dehumanizing one human being dehumanizes every human being. And dehumanizing leads inexorably to more and more dehumanizing. The line between who is on the legal list of those who can be treated as property to be disposed of becomes more and more blurred. Until doctors are killing live infants with scissors slammed into the backs of their tiny heads. And intellectualized adults can try to explain the difference to a child who knows better.
There are many lessons in Bernard Nathanson’s life for those of us who recognize the worth and dignity of all human lives and who seek to win hearts and change laws. Two in particular stand out for me.
First is the luminous power of truth. As I have written elsewhere, and as Nathanson’s own testimony confirms, the edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies. Nathanson told those lies; indeed, he helped to invent them. But others witnessed to truth. And when he was exposed to their bold, un-intimidated, self-sacrificial witness, the truth overcame the darkness in Nathanson’s heart and convicted him in the court of his own conscience.
Bernie and I became friends in the early 1990s, shortly after my own pro-life writings came to his attention. Once during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave at Princeton, I asked him: “When you were promoting abortion, you were willing to lie in what you regarded as a good cause. Now that you have been converted to the cause of life, would you be willing to lie to save babies? How do those who hear your speeches and read your books and articles know that you are not lying now?” It was, I confess, an impertinently phrased question, but also, I believe, an important one. He seemed a bit stunned by it, and after a moment said, very quietly, “No, I wouldn’t lie, even to save babies.” At the dinner he and I had with students afterward, he explained himself further: “You said that I was converted to the cause of life; and that’s true. But you must remember that I was converted to the cause of life only because I was converted to the cause of truth. That’s why I wouldn’t lie, even in a good cause.”
The second lesson is this: We in the pro-life movement have no enemies to destroy. Our weapons are chaste weapons of the spirit: truth and love. Our task is less to defeat our opponents than to win them to the cause of life. To be sure, we must oppose the culture and politics of death resolutely and with a determination to win. But there is no one—no one—whose heart is so hard that he or she cannot be won over. Let us not lose faith in the power of our weapons to transform even the most resolute abortion advocates. The most dedicated abortion supporters are potential allies in the cause of life. It is the loving, prayerful, self-sacrificing witness of Joan Bell Andrews and so many other dedicated pro-life activists that softens the hearts and changes the lives of people like Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
May he rest in peace.