Catherine Shenton

Man’s Search for Meaning and abortion: finding hope in suffering

Catherine Shenton
By Catherine Shenton
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“The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.”
– Helen Keller

October 10, 2012 (Unmaskingchoice.ca) - Viktor Frankl witnessed and experienced the far reaches of human suffering. “Life in a concentration camp,” he wrote, “tore open the human soul and exposed its depths.” Man’s Search for Meaning—his reflective recounting of his imprisonment by the Nazis—has much to tell us about life, suffering, and what it is to be human.

Frankl and his fellow prisoners had everything taken from them that could be taken. They were forcibly removed from their homes and separated from their families. Their possessions were confiscated. Even their names were replaced with numbers. Others told them when and where they could sleep, when they must arise, what work they must do, and even how much (or how little) they could eat. And yet we find many heroes among the victims of the concentration camps; for, as Frankl tells us, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I, and probably most people who read this, have never experience the depth of suffering Frankl and his fellow prisoners experienced. Our lives, nevertheless, are not without suffering in some form or another, and so I want to examine how suffering affects opinions and choices in our society. In particular, I often hear suffering given as a justification for abortion, whether the suffering be that of the mother or of the child. Does the suffering of either justify abortion?

Abortion to alleviate the suffering of women?

So many times I hear people condoning abortion out of a sense of compassion for women. An unexpected pregnancy can be a terrifying thing. Sudden responsibility for another human being, if she accepts this responsibility, may reshape a woman’s life—both present and future. Fear, uncertainty, and lack of support are just some of the factors that may contribute to the suffering of a pregnant woman. For some there are further difficulties to deal with—her child may have been conceived in rape, or her health may be in danger. If a woman is considering abortion, it seems reasonable to infer that she is suffering in some way, and that she sees abortion as an acceptable means of alleviating that suffering.

Viktor Frankl witnessed many men, who when confronted with difficult circumstances sought only to alleviate their own suffering, with no regard for the wellbeing of others. He tells of the Capos—men who betrayed their fellow prisoners and took the side of the Nazis. They made their own lives easier, but increased the suffering of others, even condemning some to death by their actions. While we may sympathize with the desperation that led people to behave in this way, these are certainly not the people we remember as the heroes of the concentration camps. We look up to those who chose the harder path—that of retaining their dignity and moral conviction in spite of their suffering, those who sacrificed in whatever ways they could for the benefit of others.

We admire people who do hard things when the right things are hard. We admire people who suffer with dignity, and who suffer for the sake of others. And yet, as Frankl points out, admiring this noble suffering in others is no assurance that we will respond this way when faced with our own sufferings. Most people can probably relate to this. Even in the simple things, we may blame our circumstances for our irritability, impatience, or our failure to help another. While suffering can be an opportunity for courage, so often we use it as an excuse. Frankl, on the other hand, maintains that to be worthy of suffering is to seek the ways our unavoidable suffering can benefit others.

While removing (in the case of abortion, killing) another human being whose presence is causing us difficulty is something we can do, and is a decision which some may sympathize with because they see the difficulty of our circumstances, this is not to say that it is something we ought to do. Acting to alleviate our own suffering at the expense of the lives of others is something many people have done throughout history, but on a deeper level we know that this is not a choice we would commend or even condone in other situations—why should we do so with abortion? Why should our society say that because one human being is suffering, she has the right to end the life of another? The answer is, we should not. We should instead do our utmost to alleviate the suffering of women in crisis, and to preserve the lives of their children.

When we talk about people having freedom to choose, we should always consider what is being chosen, and should strive to challenge one another to choose the highest good. For a woman in a crisis pregnancy, this may mean choosing to see her child as someone to fight for, rather than as something to be gotten rid of. Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Living for her child will not take away a woman’s suffering, but it can help to give that suffering meaning.

Abortion to alleviate the suffering of children?

There are times, according to some defenders of abortion, when abortion is what is in the best interest of the child. “The child is going to have a terrible life. The child is going to suffer. The mother is choosing what’s best for her child.” And what’s best for her child (according to these people) is death.

If someone is going to suffer—perhaps to suffer greatly—are we doing that person a service by ending his or her life? Is abortion justified in cases where children are very ill, or will be born into difficult life circumstances? Is sparing them this suffering an act of compassion?

What was the correct response for Viktor Frankl when confronted with the challenge of speaking to fellow inmates who were in despair? He knew with certainty that if these men remained convinced that their lives had no meaning, if they remained without hope, they would die. Their suffering would end. He could have told them this. He could have said that they were all better off to give up on the miserable lives they were forced to live and simply die. Instead, he challenged them. He challenged them to consider not what they expected from life, but what life expected from them. He challenged them to find a “why” worth living for. He could do little to eliminate their suffering short of ending their lives, but he did much to alleviate it, to help them see meaning in their suffering.

Sparing others suffering when we can is, most certainly, an act of compassion when our means are moral. Sparing someone suffering by ending her life, however, is a misguided attempt at compassion. To deny someone a chance to live will indeed prevent her from suffering, but it will also prevent her from experiencing joy, from loving, and from having the choice to overcome her suffering with dignity. You are the only person with the choice to see meaning or despair in your suffering. You are the only person to make that choice of how you will respond to your circumstances. Why would we deny this choice to others?

We live in a culture that abhors suffering. Suffering is to be avoided—almost at all costs. Life is seen as good and valuable when it is pleasant, comfortable, and pleasurable. We may admire the noble way in which others suffer, but most of us would rather avoid suffering altogether for ourselves. No life, however, is devoid of suffering. There are times when it is inescapable. What then does this mean for our life? Every living human being will suffer in some way or another. Is life then less valuable? On the contrary, Frankl reminds us, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed… When we are no longer able to change a situation… we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Every human life will have suffering. Every human being will be faced with choices as to how to respond to his own unique suffering. Some will allow their suffering to chart their course, to dictate their thoughts and actions. Others will be the masters of their suffering. Some will hurt others because they themselves are hurting. Others will face their suffering as a means of protecting others from harm.

What did Frankl discover in his time in the concentration camps? “The truth—that love is the ultimate highest goal to which man can aspire.” To love is to choose the highest good for the other. If we love someone we certainly do not want to see that person suffer. We may do all we can to alleviate the suffering. But when we cannot take the suffering away, to love is to walk beside them and help them recognize their dignity, to help them suffer with their head held high.

To love a woman in crisis is not to offer her death for her child in order to take away her suffering, but to empower her to live for love, and so to find a meaning for her suffering. To love a woman in crisis is to walk with her so that she may not say “My circumstances forced me to do what was wrong,” but rather, “I had the courage to do what was right.”

To love one’s child is not to deny her life so that she may never suffer, but to give her life so that she may experience it in its fullness, and to teach her to suffer with dignity when suffering cannot be avoided.

We live in a culture where people seek to make their lives easier by ending the lives of others, but to love our culture is to constantly call people to live for something higher, to recognize their own dignity and the dignity of others. Humanity is capable of great cruelty, selfishness, and evil. We see this now with abortion, as we see it throughout history. Humanity, however, is capable of still greater love, selflessness, courage, and good. We must decide how we will respond to our own sufferings, and to the sufferings of others.

“We have come to see man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

—Viktor Frankl

Reprinted with permission from UnmaskingChoice.ca


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Growing ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement draws fury

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By Hilary White
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Critics of feminism have long said that it is entering the final stages of its long career, with more of its assertions about the nature of human sexual and social relations being contradicted by the evidence and fewer young people following its dictates every decade. But in the last few weeks, it seems that feminism’s last gasp is being used to direct insults at young women who are lining up to publicly reject and ridicule it.

The Tumblr site Women Against Feminism has started a social networking trend in which thousands of young women photograph themselves holding signs bluntly denouncing feminism, giving a sharp indication that the feminist brand has become poison to young, hip, and internet-savvy women.

Mainstream and journalistic feminists have lashed out at the site and its followers, entering into an online spat over the increasingly popular photos. The signs say, “I am not a victim,” and “This is what an anti-feminist looks like.”

They continue: “I am an adult who is capable of taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I define myself and derive my value by my own standards. I don’t need to be ‘empowered’. I am not a target for violence and there is no war against me. I respect me and I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems.”

The messages held by the women pinpoint with pithy and acerbic precision exactly the reasons given by many critics that the movement has lost favour with young people. They call it a creed of double standards that promotes victimhood and endorses bullying of anyone who critiques it.

The site’s explanatory page, which was taken down for unknown reasons in the last two days, said, “Feminists are the only people who lose their minds with rage when you tell them that women already have the same exact rights as men. That’s not good enough. They want more. They desperately want to be victims. They want a privileged social position.”

The author goes on to accuse feminism in general of systematic censorship, discrimination, elitism and “policing other women” who do not toe the line – as well as baseline misandry. The anonymous creator denounced feminism’s adoption of “abortion as ‘empowerment’”:

This opinion is unpopular, but I don’t agree that I need to have my baby scraped out of my uterus in order to feel empowered. But the abortion industry (i.e. Planned Parenthood) makes a ton of money off this perversion of empowerment. ‘Abortion as empowerment’ teaches women to see their wombs as nothing but garbage bins full of disposable waste.

One of the contributors wrote, “I don’t need feminism because my self-worth is not directly tied to my victim complex. As a woman in the western world I am not oppressed, and neither are you,” says one. Another: “I don’t need feminism because I don’t need to bully someone to share my opinions with others.”

Some come right out and say that feminism promotes exactly the evils it purports to fight against: “I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

Although the site and its contentious photos have been running around the internet for many months, arguments among journalism’s feminists started breaking out this week after a mocking Buzzfeed feature helped the site gain momentum on social media outlets.

Some feminist journalists simply flung insults. Lillian Kalish sniffed on Ryot, “These Women Who Think They Don’t Need Feminism Don’t Know What Feminism Is.” “Did these posters ever think to look up the actual definition of feminism?”

Nuala McKeever, in the Belfast Telegraph, called the women posting the photos “silly, ignorant, vacuous wee girls with absolutely no thoughts beyond their own self-absorbed inanities.”

Time Magazine’s Sarah Miller said, “I Really, Truly, Fully Hate ‘Women Against Feminism’—But…” Miller wrote, “[T]he tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant… We need feminism.”

But Miller added, “Still, the pain that we experience as women—even physical—does not give us the right to tell people there’s one way to think or feel, or to assume that we have some god-like understanding of everyone’s motivations.”

Cathy Young, however, responded in Time, saying, “Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right.” She writes, “The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists—but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.”

The site, Young says, “raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st Century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.”

Sarah Boesveld wrote in the National Post on Friday that the site shows that feminism has become “complicated” and “sometimes alienating.” She quotes an email sent to the paper by 22 year-old Australian Lisa Sandford, who “believes in equality for the sexes” but firmly rejects feminism as “rude and nasty” and intends to be a stay-at-home mother. 

Sandford wrote, “If feminism really accepted equality, they would not tell me my views are wrong, they would accept it and let me be.”

Browse the 'Women Against Feminism' archives here (warning: occasional strong language).


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Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse

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Welcome Baby Filipino 100 Million!

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By Steven W. Mosher and Anne Roback Morse

Population Research Institute welcomes the birth of little Chonalyn Sentino. Baby Chonalyn was born this past Sunday to parents Clemente and Dailin, and was feted in the Philippines as “Baby 100 Million.” PRI welcomes Baby Chonalyn as well, saying that she will be a blessing to her family, her community, and her nation.

The Philippines is one of the largest Catholic countries in the world, and its people value children. For this reason, it has been a target of the population controllers for decades. It was one of the countries singled out by Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council in 1974 for special “attention” and, more recently, has been bullied by the Obama administration into passing its first population control law. 

The bill, which was touted as being all about promoting “reproductive health,” was actually intended to drive down the birth rate. For example, section 15 requires that all couples receive a “Certificate of Compliance” from the local Family Planning Office before becoming eligible for a marriage license.

Some in the Philippines are decrying Chonalyn’s birth, repeating USAID’s talking points about the “dangers” of overpopulation. They welcome Chonalyn as an individual little girl, while simultaneously calling for future little girls and boys to be removed from existence.

The Philippine Star wrote that the birth symbolized a “large population that will put a strain on the country's limited resources.” Another paper cited the executive director of the official Commission on Population who bluntly said “We'd like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman's) lifetime.” And the Global Post cited “concerned advocates” who thought the current population was not a “complement with the country's economic growth.”

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But many other Filipinos aren’t buying into the anti-people hysteria. Francisco Antonio, a Filipino Chemical Engineering graduate student at Yale, adamantly rebutted the notion that there are too many Filipinos, saying: “I celebrate life because population control is defeatism disguised as pragmatism. And because human creativity holds more potential for protecting this planet and its inhabitants than any other resource I know of.”

A Filipina currently living in California told PRI that she welcomed the transition of her country to 100 million persons: “Filipinos are not a burden to the world population, because we not only care for our own but also for others in the world. One of the greatest and most sought after exports of the Philippines is our skilled, motivated, and exemplary workforce. And these workers tirelessly cultivate their family and community abroad and in the Philippines. We are a very social and civic minded people. We care and share because it is part of our culture and we do it with a smile.”

 Ed, a Filipino accountant, also celebrated the birth of Baby Chonalyn: “The typical Filipino does not associate a baby with ‘cost’ or ‘expense’ but rather as a ‘blessing’ and a ‘gift.’ This is because Filipinos recognize that true happiness does not come from the accumulation of material wealth or prestige, but rather, from true, genuine, and strong relationships with other people. [Filipinos] value life, not because the Church says or the Pope says so, but because they recognize it to be true. And the truth about the value of life, will continue to shine, long after the debates are over.”

It goes without saying that we at the Population Research Institute also welcome Chonalyn’s birth. We need more Filipinos, not fewer. 

Reprinted with permission from Pop.org.


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Two very different ways to respond to Pope Francis’ unrecorded interviews

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By John-Henry Westen

In the last few weeks another series of interviews with Pope Francis surfaced and have again left many Catholics scratching their heads.  Headlines all over the world had the Pope saying that two percent of priests are pedophiles, but is that what he said?  Even though the Vatican spokesman did issue a clarification, that question and others remain unanswered.

Critical reactions to these interviews have been interesting not even so much for their contents as from whom they arise.  These are the observations of some of the most faithful Catholic Church watchers today.  The folks pointing out these concerns are not, as many would assume, ‘“far right-wing-holier-than-the-Pope” types, but mainstream Catholics known for their loyalty to Pope Francis.

Phillip Lawler is the founder of Catholic World News, the first Catholic news service operating on the Internet. In part of his criticism of the most recent interview, he states: “Why was Pope Francis speaking with Scalfari without having first established clear ground rules for the conversation—rules that would certainly include recording and verification of any quotes?”

(To comprehend the situation accurately it is necessary to have an understanding of the man whom the Pope has allowed to interview him.  Eugenio Scalfari is relatively unknown in the West even after the fanfare of his papal interviews. LifeSiteNews has produced this piece to assist that understanding.)

Lawler recalls: “Back in October the Vatican had been embarrassed by an ‘interview’ in which [Scalfari’s] reconstructed quotes caused an uproar, and the Vatican press office was forced to issue an awkward ‘clarification’ which only added to the confusion.”

In addition to that clarification of the October Scalfari interview, the confusion and uproar got so bad that the Vatican removed the interview from their website, where they had it posted in the section containing the Pope’s speeches. Interestingly, that interview resurfaced two weeks ago on the Vatican website only to be removed again after a new round of criticism.

A blogger at the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register offered an observation similar to Lawler’s but with a little more bite. Pat Archbold writes, “The internet is once again abuzz with the second-hand hearsay of an unrecorded Papal interview.” Archbold advises his readers with characteristic sarcasm, “So pay no attention to those crazy and outlandish anti-Catholic headlines tearing up your RSS feed.  Just ignore them and hope they will soon go away, just like unrecorded Papal interviews.”

A second unrecorded conversation with the Pope makes news

Another write-up of an encounter with Pope Francis also caused a stir.  Brian Stiller, an Evangelical leader from Toronto was part of a delegation of Evangelical Christians who met with Pope Francis earlier this month. In his July 9 account, Stiller puts in quotes this statement he attributes to the Pope: “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community.  There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s not spend our time on those. Rather, let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”

That led noted priest-blogger Father Dwight Longenecker to first caution that the quotes are “Brian Stiller’s memory of the conversation.” 

Then with the caveat of not actually knowing the whole conversation, Fr. Longenecker says “it would not be unusual for a Catholic priest of Pope Francis’ generation to feel that way.”  He explains that he has “heard from numerous convert clergy over the years who said when they went to their local Catholic priest and expressed the wish to become Catholic the priest told them it wasn’t necessary and that they could do much more good to Christ’s kingdom and the Catholic church by staying where they were and evangelizing within their own denomination.”

“Now this strikes me as rather troublesome on several levels,” says Longenecker. He notes he had himself once used that line with a Protestant friend, to which his friend replied, “You don’t want to convert me? Why not? I don’t have much respect for your religion if you think so little of it that you don’t want me to share it!”

“He basically called me out on what was a little lie on my part. I wanted to be nice to him [so] I said I didn’t want to convert him. He said our discussion would be much better if I admitted that I did want him to become Catholic. He was right. I did. I still do.”

Inside the Vatican

Vatican journalist Edward Pentin has reported that unnamed “Vatican officials are uneasy and perplexed” about the interview. Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002 and has since covered the pope for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times.

“The officials’ discomfort also extends to the Pope’s spontaneous telephone calls to strangers, a couple of which implied he deviated from Church teaching but, being private and unrecorded conversations, are difficult to verify,” he wrote for Newsmax.

From the outset of the Francis pontificate, there were these unrecorded and yet published interviews – the first was from a meeting with Latin American religious leaders in June 2013.  That was the one that had Pope Francis speaking of the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and also about being concerned about Catholics who would count rosaries to offer prayer bouquets.

At the time LifeSiteNews published nothing on that first unrecorded interview even though almost all other news services did.  Shortly thereafter I was at the Vatican inquiring about that unrecorded but reported-on encounter and was assured by various Vatican insiders that the communication was not accidental but intended – to me at the time a rather startling revelation.

But that same assessment came later from another Vatican quarter, a man who speaks German as does the pope and also shares the pope’s religious order.  “Francis knows exactly how power is spelled,” said Bernd Hagenkord, a Jesuit who is in charge of German programming for Vatican Radio in a May interview with The Atlantic. “He’s a communicator in the league with Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. They say he’s being unclear, but we know exactly what he means.”

Two different ways to respond

One of the most disturbing outcomes of these ‘interviews’ is that the words and interpretations of what is being said by the Pope, while they may be clear for the German Jesuit, are remarkably unclear for the vast majority of Catholics.  Catholics who know well their faith, its moral teachings, and the reason for them are few and far between. They are able to discern that the Pope cannot mean to undermine Church teaching; that those teachings are unchangeable.

But most people are taken in by the media’s false interpretation that ‘who am I to judge’ involves a new acceptance of homosexuality; the false possibility for legitimately-married Catholics to divorce and remarry outside the Church and still receive Communion; the idea that the Church should quiet down on her teachings on abortion, contraception, and same-sex “marriage.”  All of those false conclusions were drawn from previous Francis interviews.

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There are two ways forward for faithful Catholics in such a situation.  One way – a way that is most tempting - was recently recognized as a growing tendency by blogger Father Ray Blake. “Most Catholics but especially clergy want to be loyal to the Pope in order to maintain the unity of the Church,” he said.  “Today that loyalty is perhaps best expressed through silence.”

In leading up to that observation, Blake noted that in the previous pontificate “there was a solidity and certainty in Benedict's teaching which made discussion possible and stimulated intellectual honesty, one knew where the Church and the Pope stood.”  He added, “Today we are in less certain times, the intellectual life of the Church is thwart with uncertainty.”

However, Vatican Cardinal Raymond Burke suggested a different approach recently. According to Burke, who serves as head of the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, the pope has made a strategic decision to focus on making the Church appealing, and thus bishops and priests “are even more compelled to underline these teachings (on life and family) and make them clear for the faithful.”

He told EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, “The Holy Father has said on different occasions that he expects that bishops and priests are doing this teaching while he’s trying to draw people closer and not have them use [these doctrines] as their immediate excuse for not coming to the faith.”

Cardinal Burke’s strategy confronts the culture head-on even on the most difficult issues.  He sees that the often-used but failed tactic of avoiding difficult situations, of obfuscating or compromising on moral issues as worse than useless.

When truth is pushed aside for political correctness, to fulfill ideals of civility or to achieve false unity and false peace, the world is harmed by the lack of truth the Church is called to bring to it.

When truth is boldly proclaimed and held to, despite persecution, even the enemies of truth are forced to see that the opponents of their secular or liberal ideologies truly believe their teachings and are willing to suffer for them. This eventually generates a degree of respect from some of the critics and an openness to re-consider their own flawed positions.


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