Right to Life: Healing of Societies

"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly"

(Jn 10,10)

"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".

(Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes, 27)

 

I. The "gates of hell" and the "gates of heaven" in Christotherapy

 

The Christotherapy books presently available deal primarily with the healing of individuals, however, Fr. Tyrrell has drawn the attention to the necessity of extending Christotherapy on the society, since

"existential ignorance abounds not only on the individual level but also on the group and national and international levels as well. There is then a need for mind-fasting and spirit-feasting on the social as well as on the individual level. Another book, however, would be required to apply the principles of Christotherapy to the vital areas of social reform and international justice. Such a further application, however, is vital and necessary even for a completely effective application of the principles of Christotherapy on the more individual level" (Christotherapy I, p. 162).

Such healing means in Christotherapeutic terms (cfr. Christotherapy I, pp. 87- 96) that the "gates of hell"Ė that is fundamentally inauthentic modes of existence - existing on societal level need to be recognized as so and changed for "the gates of heaven" - authentic thinking, acting, living - by masses of people. Christotherapy describes this phenomenon so:

"Today men exist in a "noosphere", a climate of thought that encompasses the whole world. Through the different media, we are constantly bombarded with "messages" about how to think and desire and feel. Many of these messages are basically inauthentic, and yet often enough they are received and accepted without conscious advertence. The mental atmosphere becomes increasingly polluted and harmful, and can be the source of "diseases" of every kind. Injustice itself is a disease in all of its oppressive forms, racism, domination of the poor by the rich"

Then he points out the direction of getting out of this life-threatening situation:

"Urgently needed is existential diagnosis on the societal, as well as the individual level. Families and nations must reflect together on the values of life-meanings they hold dear, and through prayerful reflection come to understand what is inauthentic in their collective beliefs and assumptions, and then with Godís help move forward in mind-fasting and spirit-feasting" (Ibid. p.95)

 

II. Viktor Frankl's diagnosis of present-day societies: existential vacuum

 

The necessity of healing on social level is stressed many times in Viktor Franklís works. Neurosis, to Frankl, might be not only individual, and many of his writings treat the notion of collective (societal) neurosis. It is most evidently so in the case of "noogenic" neuroses, which emerge from moral conflicts, conflicts between values. The above mentioned "noosphere" is the medium in which the epidemic of such neuroses can spread. The collective neurosis of our age, as Frankl pointed out, is the existential vacuum of nihilism, the notion that life has no inherent meaning, "that feeling of which so many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives. They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the "existential vacuum"" (Manís Search for Meaning, p. 167). The appropriate healing for noogenic neuroses in consequence is not the traditional psychotherapies, but logotherapy, which focuses on the meaning of human existence and on the search for such meaning.

"The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. This is understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss that man had to undergo since he became a truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animalís behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development: the traditions that had buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; soon he will not know what he wants to do. More and more he will be governed by what others want him to do, thus increasingly falling prey to conformism.

A cross-sectional, statistical survey ... revealed that 55% of the persons questioned showed a more or less marked degree of existential vacuum. In other words, more than half of them had experienced a loss of the feeling that life is meaningful". (Manís Search For Meaning pp. 167-168)

The existential vacuum leads to a neurosis that shows itself as anxiety on individual and on collective level:

"Anxiety is usually called the disease of our time; we speak of the Age of Anxiety. But previous centuries probably had much more reason for anxiety than ours. It is also doubtful whether the relative incidence of anxiety neurosis has increased. The collective neurosis insofar as this term has validity, is characterized by four symptoms which I shall describe.

First, there is the planless, day-to-day attitude toward life. Contemporary man is used to living from one day to the next. He learned to do so in the last world war, and since then this attitude has not been modified. People lived in this way because they were waiting for the end of the war; meanwhile, further planning made no sense. Today the average man says: "Why should I act, why should I plan? Sooner or later the atom bomb will come and wipe out everything." And thus he slides into the attitude of: "Apres moi, la bombe atomique!" This anticipation of atomic warfare is a dangerous as any other anticipatory anxiety, since, like all fear, it tends to make its fears come true.

The second symptom is the fatalist attitude toward life. This, again, is a product of the last world war. Man was pushed. He let himself drift. The day-to-day man considers planned action unnecessary; the fatalist considers it impossible. He feels himself to be the helpless result of outer circumstances or inner conditions.

The third symptom is collective thinking. Man would like to submerge himself in the masses. Actually, he is only drowned in the masses; he abandons himself as a free and responsible being.

The fourth symptom is fanaticism. While the collectivist ignores his own personality, the fanatic ignores that of the other man, the man who thinks differently. Only his own opinion is valid. In reality, his opinions are those of the group and he does not really have them; his opinions have himÖ

We may thus speak of the pathological spirit of our time as a mental epidemic. And we might add that somatic epidemics are typical consequences of war, while mental epidemics are potential originators of war" (The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, Bantam Books, New York, p. 236)

In describing the symptomatology of the existential vacuum Frankl calls depression, addiction, and aggression the mass neurotic triad (see The Unheard Cry for Meaning, p. 26 ff). He refers to research that shows a strong relationship between meaninglessness (as measured by "purpose in life" tests) and such behaviors as criminality and involvement with drugs. He warns us that violence, drug use, and other negative behaviors, demonstrated daily on television, in movies, even in music, only convinces the meaning-hungry that their lives can improve by imitation of their "heroes." Even sports, he suggests, only encourage aggression.

These symptoms can be summarized as fear of responsibility and escape from freedom. But responsibility and freedom are inalienable characteristics of human existence, comprising the spiritual dimension of the human being. Denying this dimension, reducing human existence to "nothing else" than result of instincts, inheritance and environmental influence leads to nihilism, loss of meaning of life and finally the denial that human life has an inherent and absolute value. If life is stripped of its special, absolute character, the road is open toward destructive attitudes, called above "gates of hell", and sacrificing human lives in many forms to special interests, in one word, to a general disease of human society.

 

III. From the "culture of death" to the "culture of life"

 

What the present Pope urges often, is the turning from a "culture of death" to a "culture of life", refers exactly to the necessity of such healing on societal level. He spoke of this healing to the American Bishops:

"In union with all those who favor a "culture of life" over a "culture of death", Catholics, and especially Catholic legislators, must continue to make their voices heard in the formulation of cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, "with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and the lives of all are defended and enhanced" (Evangelium Vitae, 90)". (Address to the Bishops of the United States of America, 2 October 1998)

John Paul II gave this diagnosis of the "culture of death" in an Exhortation to the American Churches:

"One factor seriously paralyzing the progress of many nations in America is the arms race. The particular Churches in America must raise a prophetic voice to condemn the arms race and the scandalous arms trade, which consumes huge sums of money which should instead be used to combat poverty and promote development. (Cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, The International Arms Trade. An Ethical Reflection (May 1, 1994): Enchiridion Vaticanum 14, 1071-1154.) On the other hand, the stockpiling of weapons is a cause of instability and a threat to peace. (Cf. Propositio 76) For this reason the Church remains vigilant in situations where these is a risk of armed conflict, even between sister nations. As a sign and instrument of reconciliation and peace, she must seek "by every means possible, including mediation and arbitration, to act in favor of peace and fraternity between peoples". (Ibid.) Nowadays, in America as elsewhere in the world, a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty when other "bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons. Today, given the means at the State's disposal to deal with crime and control those who commit it, without abandoning all hope of their redemption, the cases where it is absolutely necessary to do away with an offender 'are now very rare, even non-existent practically'". (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267, which cites John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (March 25, 1995), 56: AAS 87 (1995), 463-464.) This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the Gospel message. Faced with this distressing reality, the Church community intends to commit itself all the more to the defense of the culture of life". (Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, 22 january 1999, 62-63.)

A particularly painful consequence of the disease of the mentality of our age is the effect on the children in the world, living in continuous danger of life, hunger and abuse, often orphaned or abandoned, and there is another highly alarming aspect of their suffering, brought to light by John Paul II:

"Many of them are victims of dangerous diseases, including tuberculosis and AIDS, are deprived of education and go hungry. Starvation and malnutrition, aggravated by disconcerting gaps in health care, continue to be the daily cause of death for many of these little ones who are even denied the minimum indispensable for their survival. In some corners of the earth, especially in the poorest countries, children and adolescents are the victims of a terrible form of violence: they are enlisted to fight in the so-called "forgotten wars".

Indeed, they suffer a doubly scandalous aggression: they are made victims of war, and at the same time forced to play the lead in it, swept away in the hatred of adults. Stripped of everything, they see their future threatened by a nightmare difficult to dispel.

Our youngest "brothers and sisters" who suffer from hunger, war and diseases are launching an anguished appeal to the adult world. May their cry of pain not go unheard! Jesus reminds us: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mt 18: 5)" (Angelus, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 28 March 2004)

At an other occasion he said about the way to overcome such "culture of death", stressing the positive direction in searching what is in service of life and so heal the human society:

"The best way to overcome and defeat the dangerous culture of death is to give firm foundations and clear content to a culture of life that will vigorously oppose it. Although right and necessary, it is not enough merely to expose and denounce the lethal effects of the culture of death. Rather, the inner tissue of contemporary culture must be continually regenerated, culture being understood as a conscious mentality, as convictions and actions, as the social structures that support it. This reflection seems all the more valuable, if we consider that culture influences not only the behaviour of individuals but also legislative and political decisions, which in turn facilitate cultural trends which, unfortunately, often impede the authentic renewal of society. Culture, moreover, orients the strategies of scientific research, which today more than ever is able to offer powerful means that unfortunately are not always used for man's true good. On the contrary, at times research in many fields even seems to turn against man". (Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, 3 march 2001)

 

IV. Right to life

This change of the culture that can orient the different fields of human activity needs the recognition of all the elements that affect our collective attitude toward life. Certain aspects are well known while others seem to skip the public sensibility and right there in these "blind spots" is the most urgent necessity of healing. It is often discussed that human life should be protected a preserved mostly at the beginnings and at the end, meaning by this an opposition to abortion and euthanasia. Much less is spoken about defending life "in the middle", during the years between birth and death, except the danger of drugs, maybe. However, life is vulnerable also in these years, and the right to life is inalienable in every phase of human existence.

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the State: they pertain to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his of her origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death" (Donum Vitae III, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Instruction, 1987)

and further:

"When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that "new" and "eternal" life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this "life" that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance" (Evangelium Vitae 1)

From this right to life flows a necessity to respect and protect life in every society and in every form. The respect and protection of life means food, shelter, sanitary systems and healthcare for every human being. Evidently, if we look around in our world, this basic right is denied to many. Here is the outcrying necessity for healing on social and international level. There is not too much said about it neither in Christian circles that tend to restrict the question of right to life to the question of abortion and euthanasia, while not seeing the problems of the death penalty and the proliferation of ever more costly and threatening weapon systems. A refreshing voice we can hear in Cardinal Sodanoís message to the general assembly of OAS, giving also the direction for the healing: turning away from scientific weapons and arms systems. Here is the article about it on the zenit.org site from June 7th 2004 (The full text of the letter you can find on the Vatican website, unfortunately only in Italian and Spanish: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/index_sodano_en.htm):

"Convinced that the right to life is the foundation of peace, the Holy See appealed to nations of the Americas to invest more in essential services and less in weapons.

The appeal was made in a letter written on behalf of John Paul II by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to the assembly of the Organization of American States, being held in Quito, Ecuador, through Tuesday.

The letter, delivered by Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, papal nuncio in Ecuador, states that "the pillars of peace have a common foundation: the right to life."

"It is a right that, to be fully exercised, calls for worthy conditions of life: food, housing, education, health care, work, freedom, etc.," the letter adds.

"To guarantee such conditions, considerable financial resources are needed that, unfortunately, are often lacking," the letter continues. "On one hand, how many riches, including today, continue to be wasted when ever more sophisticated instruments of war are accumulated while, on the other, what is necessary for the integral development of man is lacking."

"In many nations of the world, too many armaments continue to circulate, when it is far more necessary to have housing, schools, roads, light, potable water and medicines," laments the letter signed by Cardinal Sodano.

"Only awareness of the sacredness of life and full respect for each stage of its development, from its conception to natural death, can lay the basis for the construction of a genuine 'city of peace,'" the letter adds.

"Full respect for the right to life also implies the enormous and indispensable work to eradicate everything that impedes the latter to live in a worthy manner, namely, poverty, with its multiple causes and numerous victims," it states.

The letter ends with an appeal to the American countries with greater resources and financial institutions to "make a generous effort" to assist some countries of the continent that "have urgent need of international aid."

The Organization of American States, which is made up of 35 countries, has among other fundamental objectives to strengthen democracy, build peace, defend human rights, foster free trade, combat drugs and promote sustainable development".

This message in a certain way repeats what Paul VI wrote in 1967:

"When We were at Bombay for the Eucharistic Congress, We asked world leaders to set aside part of their military expenditures for a world fund to relieve the needs of impoverished peoples. What is true for the immediate war against poverty is also true for the work of national development. Only a concerted effort on the part of all nations, embodied in and carried out by this world fund, will stop these senseless rivalries and promote fruitful, friendly dialogue between nations. Ö Is it not plain to everyone that such a fund would reduce the need for those other expenditures that are motivated by fear and stubborn pride? Countless millions are starving, countless families are destitute, countless men are steeped in ignorance; countless people need schools, hospitals, and homes worthy of the name. In such circumstances, we cannot tolerate public and private expenditures of a wasteful nature; we cannot but condemn lavish displays of wealth by nations or individuals; we cannot approve a debilitating arms race. It is Our solemn duty to speak out against them. If only world leaders would listen to Us, before it is too late!" (Popolorum Progressio, 51-53)

Who knows what happened with this call, where is this special World Fund? I could not find evidence of its existenceÖ