In 1729, the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, published an essay entitled A Modest Proposal. The title is ironic because what he proposed was a scheme to solve the problem in Ireland by butchering children. In a carefully reasoned argument, he explains how the parents will be paid for raising small children who will then be slaughtered to provide cheap, plentiful meat for the rest of the population. Some children will be spared or the purpose of breeding stock. For the thrifty buyer, he recommends flaying the carcass “the skin of which, will make admiral gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.” And so forth.
With fine logic he argues that his scheme “will prevent those voluntary abortions and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children.” Furthermore, by reducing the population, unemployment will disappear and many will not have to live long enough to experience the ravages of old age. All in all, society as a whole will benefit greatly and not be burdened with all these “useless mouths and backs” to feed and clothe.
It began with the Nazis
Those who read this essay 250 years go recognized that it was “satire” – an outrageous, ironic document intended to shock people. The clergymen who wrote it was Jonathan Swift, best known for another savage attack on society’s unjust and cruel practices, called Gulliver’s Travels (a book now regarded as a harmless children’s tale).
In A Modest Proposal, Swift touches on many social evils of the day, including abortion, infanticide, and murderous neglect of the infirm and handicapped. So angered was he by the un-Christian attitudes and behaviour of his time, so overly-sensitive to suffering and injustice, that he eventually was declared insane. A reader of the “modest” essay, ignorant of the satire, would surely think him mad. But the real irony and tragedy of Swift is that today, his “proposal” is accepted at face-value. His savage vision has become commonplace reality – and most people are blithely undisturbed by it.
It began, in earnest, in the Nazi extermination camps with the hideous experiments made by doctors on live inmates. The wife of the commandant at Buchenwald actually fashioned lampshades from the skins of prisoners, choosing those who had attractive tattoos. It continues, unabated in Canada today.
To fully appreciate the prophetic character of Swift’s essay, you need to read it for yourself. But a few details of comparison will suffice to make the point:
1) Swift writes in the logical style of the modern economist and sociologist, using the jargon which disguised a horrid reality. The literature of pro-abortion groups echoes him. Language is a two-edged sword: it can reveal or bury the truth (“foetal material” and “unborn child” are one and the same, but what a difference in attitude!). By using scientific, medical jargon and quasi-logical arguments, the pro0aabortionist gently lulls an unsuspecting reader into acclaiming the virtue of his position.
2) Swift defines the problem as overpopulation which creates poverty, hunger and unemployment. His solution, then, is perfectly logical. Today, the problem is defined as women’s rights, the horrors of illegal, back-alley abortions, unwanted children, child abuse, and the personal, societal burden of retarded, imperfect offspring. The solution to solve these problems is then obvious: pre-natal tests to screen out abnormal fetuses, committees to prevent unwanted babies. And then, as with Swift, there are the other benefits to society as a whole: a healthy, stable population, reduction in welfare taxes, the use of foetal material for experiments and transplants, even the improvement in cosmetics.
3) Swift’s readers knew by his solution, that he had misstated the problem – that he really wanted to say that society lacked compassion and generosity for the weak and helpless. Today’s readers find no such problem with his scheme. Government, the medical profession, laboratory technicians, the public – even some in the Church – have accepted the nightmare logic of Dean Swift with a vengeance.
Nothing in comparison
Swift began with sound Christian principles: the claims of God came before the claims of individuals or groups or society. The vision which motivated his satirical attack was spiritual, not legal or economic or social. He shocked his public, but today’s public seems immune to shock. Satire is an impossible literary form today because reality is far more outrageous than even the most imaginative satirist would dare portray.
As with Swift, we dare not isolate one issue from another – abortion, euthanasia, transplants, child abuse, pornography, social justice, war, pollution, etc., all belong to the same evil – the rejection of God and the triumph (not yet complete, not yet all pervasive, but imminent) of secular atheism in Western civilization. While the right-to-life movement must concentrate on the key issue of abortion, the larger picture must be understood by us and effectively communicated to the nation.
We stand at a watershed in history, possibly the very last before the coming Judgment. The evils already being perpetuated are nothing in comparison with those to come. A Modest Proposal may well yet end by being passed into legislation. Incredible? Not at all. What is incredible is the stubborn, short-sighted, blasphemous philosophy already ascendant in the media and popular thinking.
We must recognize that we are not merely engaged in a peripheral (if important) fight concerning abortion-on-demand; nor cherish vain optimism that the situation will improve. It will not. This is spiritual warfare at its most vicious and deadly; the real enemy is not the media or politician or doctor or public – these are but shadows, puppets of the Hater of Life who first robbed us of Eden and caused the power of death to enter our world. Our battle is part of a wider war and must be fought not only with pamphlets and posters, but with prayer and the persistence of faith.
We can so no more than witness to the gift of life given by God. We can do no less. God and His people will triumph. When we stand before the Lord of Judgment may we give faithful account of our witness: “Yes, Lord, I was a champion for the unborn, for the handicapped and aged, I took a stand for Life. I was a prophet proclaiming the truth.”
As a Christian poet wrote, earlier in this century:
“For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.” (T. S. Eliot). Let us continue to “try” with all our might, uplifted by the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the witness of Life. Our work is not in vain.
Rev. McEwen is pastor of St. James Ev. Lutheran Church, Hespeler, Ontario.