Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Unexpected Child

Recently, this column took issue with those who claim the Syrian refugees are just like another Middle Eastern family seeking shelter at Christmastime. Drawing an equivalence between Mary and Joseph stopping over in Bethlehem for the census and tens of thousands of people arriving for good from a terror-rife part of the world is, as my mother would say, bollocks on stilts.

Nevertheless, while I reject the premise of that analogy, please allow me to present another which, while perhaps not much better, is at least no more craptacular.

To wit, the Christmas story is, in part, the tale of an unexpected pregnancy.

As you know, gentle reader, this column takes pride in its rapier, nonpareil lampooning of the left. But as you further know, we would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

With that latter sentiment in mind, and directing my comments particularly at our leftward compatriots who join us from time to time, I’d like to take a stab at d├ętente on this issue.

That is, you put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword and we try to kill each other like civilized people.

Please note that I extend you the courtesy of not calling you “friends,” as is the cheesy vernacular, since we’re not, really – you don’t play shinny and stop at Tim’s with me, I don’t compost and go to Starbuck’s with you.

Moreover, I possess some familiarity with your views of me and the dangerous crowd I run with, to which I reply the feeling is quite mutual.

All that’s to say, I don’t expect to achieve a lasting chumminess here.

But what I would like is to attain an understanding on a matter of life and death – not to you or to me, but to others.

Both you and I, gentle reader, are alive, conscious, capable of rational thought (to varying degrees), and protected by the law. If someone were to harm or kill us, there would be consequences.

We reason together from that privileged position as to the fate of a third party that does not enjoy these attributes: children yet to be born.

Let’s pause right there and consider our nomenclature.

You are no doubt familiar with the tendency of both pro-life and pro-choice advocates to box in their adversaries by choice of words. That is, the former insist on saying “babies” while the latter call a kid a “fetus” even as it’s crowning.

While I have my preference between the two approaches, I promise I’m not doing that here. I genuinely do want to see if there is common ground and then, like German and British soldiers after the Christmas Truce, we can go back to fighting.

Let us consider that 9-month-old fetus and work our way backward.

If, like the vast majority of people, you see a third trimester pregnancy, in which the child not only appears fully human but can survive outside the womb, as something to be preserved, then we have a basis for discussion. The rest is a matter of degree.

Conversely, if you are among the immovable minority who insist that a baby is not a person until after it has fully emerged from its mother – or even, until the family brings it home – then I wish you Merry Christmas and excuse you from the remainder of this conversation.

To those who remain: I am not a politician and I hope, for your sake, you’re not one either. For many reasons, this is good, particularly since culture is more powerful than politics.

This, like every significant policy issue, is a question of culture, from which politics follows, because it’s not primarily a political or a legal matter. It’s a human thing.

Can we agree to that, and weigh the merits of both sides?

If you lament the loss of people we will never know, but understandably wish to avoid the acrimony of this particular policy debate or make things even more difficult for unhappily pregnant women, almost-born babies are the simplest place to start.

Culturally, numbers and sentiment are with you in opposing the termination of nearly full-term pregnancies for any reason other than life and death complications.

North American political progress on this point has been mixed but, if you need a law to tell you it’s wrong to do away with a fully formed baby, you are surely among the minority I amicably dismissed above.

From there, however, it gets more complicated and necessitates some discussion of politics, law, as well as something else we hear a lot about in policy debates: science.

Now, my Master’s degree is in a science so soft it’s practically flaccid. That said, I’m not shaking too badly to match wits with, say, Leonardo DiCaprio or Prince Charles (speaking of science, technically alcohol IS a solution, but I digress).

Science, like culture, must always be willing to face questions and able to withstand scrutiny.

As scientific advances tell us more about the development of babies in the womb, including their capacity to feel pain, and increase the likelihood of survival for premature births, we must re-evaluate the concept of personhood and the consequences of our actions.

Again, this is both a cultural and political matter, in that order. If we know that terminating the life of a 20- or even 8-week old fetus will be excruciating for it, and if we further know that this child could survive outside the womb, are we still okay with that? If so, what does that say about us? And if not, how should the law reflect our view?

As to that last, both the United States and Canada have inverted the order of culture and politics through Supreme Court decisions – the US in 1973 and Canada in 1988.

For some, this constitutes a cultural stare decisis, putting the issue beyond debate. But to say we cannot discuss a literal life and death issue because a few lawyers made the decision for us decades ago is not only misbegotten, as we have seen, but an abdication of our God-given responsibility to reason.

I have precious little faith in politics, politicians, and lawyers, so how about the following: We make the law irrelevant.

That is, if we all agree that little lives are important and that those of us already born have a responsibility to give the same chance to others, if we are able, it will not matter what excesses the law allows.

As Saint Paul instructs, all things are lawful but not all things are good. Eventually, perhaps a legal and political solution may come to pass, but not without a cultural shift in favour of life – and not until people believe they have better options. By then, it won’t matter.

What, then, to say to those who are skeptical or disagree and, most important, to women who are pregnant and did not plan or wish to be?

Perhaps something like this: It is not my job to judge you. Whatever, if anything, you know about me, I’m actually much worse than you think. It is a safe bet that you are a far finer person than I am.

Moreover, despite whatever caricatures you may have seen, many who share my views feel the same things: compassion for you and appreciation of their own shortcomings.

We believe you, and the child within you, are created in God’s image and worthy of respect.

Returning to that unexpected pregnancy at the first Christmas: Mary had faith and courage but, unlike many surprised mothers-to-be, she had been told in no uncertain terms by the Angel of the Lord that her child would be a big deal.

Justin Bieber’s mum presumably received no such assurance (whether or not Bieber is the Antichrist, I leave to those possessing of more advanced theology).

It’s easy for those of us not in that position to say “have faith” or “choose life” when there is little consequence to us. I’d like to improve on that.

I don’t believe in coincidences. If you or someone known to you is on the horns of a dilemma with an unexpected pregnancy and planning to terminate it, have the child and I’ll find a way to raise it for you.

This isn’t a first-come, one-off proposition. I’ll do it for as many as ask. If you’re wondering how such an undertaking could be accomplished, as the Irish philosopher Paul Hewson put it, “The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”

I’m not doing it because I think your kid is the Messiah. In fact, if the child grows up with much exposure to me, chances are he’ll be a world-class jerk. Nevertheless, he has a right to live.

Now, this is a sincere offer, but let’s please not make it the focal point of this prose. What I’m saying is that if those of us who are pro-life mean what we say, we must be part of the solution beyond stating what the law should be or what other people should do.

And to those on the other side, I reiterate the words of another Theo: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Theo Caldwell can’t feel his face when he’s with you. Contact him at