Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 28, 2018

No Refuge In This World

Over the last few days I've read a number of reactions to the overwhelming Irish vote to strip protections of unborn children from their constitution. This morning I read another, by Irish writer John Waters, on the sad spectacle of crowds celebrating the legalization of the killing of children with carnival like celebrations.

In reading the reactions of many Americans of Irish ancestry, reactions which can best be summed up as "how could Ireland of all places do this?" I've been reminded a great deal of my paternal grandmother. Grandma Blanche died fifteen years ago, at the ripe age of ninety-two. Descended from Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine, she'd never been to Ireland herself, but it had a deep hold on her mind as a last refuge from the world's evils. In her more pessimistic moments (to which she was prone, in what she described as her Irish temperament) she would worry out loud that things would get too bad in the US and we'd need to flee. "You should all get passports," she'd warn. "Then you can go to Ireland. It'll always be safe there."

It wasn't possible to convince someone whose stolid anti-communism had carried her from JFK supporter to Reagan supporter that her chief fear, socialism, was actually much more entrenched in Ireland than in the US. But in a sense, Ireland wasn't a country to her, with a specific post-1840s history and political parties with platforms that had no bearing on the Irish-American experience of the diaspora here, but an idea, a place where Good Catholic People still lived, unsullied by what her Democratic Party here in the US had become and freed from the British boot across the throat which had resulted in about five times as many people of Irish descent living in the US as there are people in Ireland today.

There's a deep draw, I think, to the idea that somewhere in this world there's a place that does things just right, a place where our ideas of living and acting rightly are lived out. Because of both religious and ideological ties, pro-life Catholics have oft pointed to Ireland and Poland as countries where things are done right, where abortion is illegal and far from resulting in some sort of women's health hellscape maternal mortality is much lower than in the US or indeed in Western European countries where abortion is legal.

Other people, with other ideals and backgrounds, point to other countries. Witness, for instance, the people on the left forever warning that they will move to Canada if the next election doesn't go their way, or others who point to Nordic democratic socialism as the be-all and end-all of how the polis ought to be organized.

And yet, the fact is, there's no country on this earth which is particularly protected from error or infused with virtue. Ireland is not an idea, but a country, populated by people as prone to error as anywhere else. At one time, some accidents of their history made them a country with particular ties between the Catholic Church and general opinion, and from that history came one of the few constitutional protections of the unborn in the world. But in the thirty-five years since, other accidents of their history (some of them the result of institutional sin and hubris within the Church itself) have make the Catholic Church particularly radioactive in the country which once exported priests to countries all over the world and now imports them from elsewhere because so few Irishmen are following the call.

The desire for a place, a homeland of ancestry or of the heart, where things are good and won't turn bad, where people have a permanent connection to the good and the beautiful, is at root a desire for heaven. It's a desire for something which fundamentally will not happen in this world. We'll never get it permanently right. Neither will anyone else. We'll resolve one injustice and create another one. We'll scorn the vices of the past while being blind to our own. We'll justify the wrongs that we're attached to.

This doesn't mean we should not love our own countries or our ancestral ones or the ones which we think are doing things particularly well, but at the same time we have to recall that no one, no place is specially protected and favored. Yes, this can happen in Ireland. Yes it could happen in Poland. No one is protected from evil by anything other than continuing to do good. And we'll never find the place of permanent rest and goodness until we die.

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