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One human heart: Wordsworth’s old Cumberland beggar and the sweetness of being human

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By Anthony Esolen
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June 5, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - I am persuaded that the movement to demand that physicians corrupt themselves at the heart by assisting in the suicides of the superannuated is but a reaction of terror before a perceived inhumanity. We who have become the tools of our tools shudder at the last insult to our human nature, that we should be invaded by all the complicated paraphernalia of delay, to breathe our last in a dull white room, with the pitted panels of the drop-ceiling overhead (reckon up the chaos, O man, and count how many marks there are in one square), while the calls to the nurses come and go, and a television blares out the last few minutes of an inane comedy that was never once touched by youth or mirth or the milk of human kindness.

If I, old and dying, mean nothing at all, then let me mean nothing on my own terms. If I am to be swept out of consciousness, then let me ply the broom! But this is no argument. It is a cry of despair.

Such despair is inevitable, if we accept the notion that our humanity depends upon what we can do, rather than upon what we are. For the knees will creak, and the hands tremble, and the mind wander; and, whether for but a moment or for a year, we will be as helpless (though not as beautiful) as a newborn child, that most useless of creatures, who can do nothing but search for nourishment and love.

Then let us not try to fight unmeaning with unmeaning. Let us look again at the special beauty of being human, a beauty that is especially poignant in the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying.

One day the young poet William Wordsworth looked out upon the road and saw a figure from his childhood, a certain old man who trudged along the Cumberland roads, to beg from the villagers in their modest cottages. He stopped at a ledge at the bottom of a steep hill, placed there to help men remount their horses, and, taking his treasures from his bag,

He sat, and ate his food in solitude:
And ever, scattered from his palsied hand,
That, still attempting to prevent the waste,
Was baffled still, the crumbs in little showers
Fell on the ground; and the small mountain birds,
Not venturing yet to peck their destined meal,
Approached within the length of half his staff.

Such is the drama of the old man’s day. Wordsworth grants himself a gentle smile at the fellow, who doesn’t want to lose any of the bread he eats, but loses a little bit anyway, and who is so harmless that the small and timid birds manage to come within two feet of him, this mysterious creature, this man. We don’t know what is going on in the man’s mind. Wordsworth doesn’t allow himself that sentimentality. Whatever it may be, he is a part of both the natural world and the human village. There is a communion of sorts between him and the sparrows, he the more precious of that breed, and a communion between him and his fellow men.

For people are moved by him. Again, Wordsworth is not appealing to easy sentiment, but to action—the action of human souls. The sauntering horseman does not toss the beggar a coin, but stops, to make sure the alms are lodged safely in the man’s hat, and then, upon leaving him, “watches the aged Beggar with a look / Sidelong, and half reverted.” The exchange is not financial but human. The woman at the turnpike, when she sees him coming, leaves her booth and lifts up the latch for him to pass. The post-boy, harried with business, shouts to him from behind, but if the old man doesn’t hear, the boy slows down his horses and passes him on the roadside, “without a curse / Upon his lips, or anger at his heart.”

If the old man cannot earn his keep, can he at least behold with a full heart the beauty of the world around him? If we should insist upon it, then that, too, would reduce him to an object of utility. No, the man is so stooped, his eyes travel the ground at the same slow pace of his walk. He seems, quite literally, to make no mark on the world, as the world seems to make no mark on him:

His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
Disturb the summer dust; he is so still
In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
And urchins newly breeched—all pass him by:
Him even the slow-paced wagon leaves behind.

What good is such a life?

Here Wordsworth turns with a glare at those who reduce “good” to utility, and utility to those economic speckles that can be counted up:

But deem not this Man useless.—Statesmen! Ye
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
Who have a broom still ready in your hands
To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
Your talents, power, or wisdom, deem him not
A burthen of the earth!

What nuisances, one might ask? The poor, whose souls we kill, while keeping their bodies well fed and at a comfortable distance? The simple, who shatter our dreams of Harvard, and whose habits embarrass us? The dying, who remind us of our mortality? The unborn, for whose little lives we are personally responsible? What good are these? But the goodness of being, the poet affirms, is absolute. All things partake of it, even the meanest creatures that creep on the earth; far more, then, does man, no matter how lowly. We cannot scorn that Beggar, unaccommodated Man, “without offence to God.”

But there is more. The old man is not only an object of charity. He is a living memorial to that kindness. He endows it with a human face—what no detachedly benign philanthropic system can do; and so connects his benefactors with their own better selves long past, and with one another:

While from door to door,
This old Man creeps, the villagers in him
Behold a record which together binds
Past deeds and offices of charity,
Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
And that half-wisdom half-experience gives,
Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
To selfishness and cold oblivious cares.

For some few, for the sublime and saintly among us, that beggar may bring them their first glimpse into a world of their own kindred amid sorrow and want; so it is that a Mother Teresa, that most unsentimental of women, will say that the poor, when they are loved, give more than they receive.

One thing they give us is the rare chance to break those fetters that can bind us tighter than sin: the fetters of right living. The Poor Woman of Leon Bloy’s novel, as she lies dying, will say with a heart filled with gratitude that the only tragedy is not to have been a saint. It is no tragedy to have missed out at a partnership in a law firm, or to have let slip one’s “dreams,” whatever those fantasies of power and glory may be. Wordsworth puts the point bluntly: what is there in the “cold abstinence from evil deeds” that can “satisfy the human soul”? A man pays his taxes, does not violate the law in any flagrant way, keeps well away from the marches of evil as mapped out by the latest scientists of ethics, votes for the correct candidates, and sends a check now and again to a distant charity. Does that satisfy the human soul? No more, I say, than a speckled ceiling or the drone of a television, or the false paternity of a government, or any other measure that keeps us conveniently apart from one another and from the good creatures with which we share this world.

For we need to love as well as to be loved:

Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.

That last line says all that I have been struggling to say here. The medicine for our inhumanity cannot be compounded of inhumanity. We must learn to love again—even to know our neighbors would be a good and toddling beginning. We must learn to love those incomparably useless and precious beings, the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying, because they and we are one.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.

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Fr. Mark Hodges

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NY court lets woman refuse vaccine made with aborted baby tissue

Fr. Mark Hodges
By Fr. Mark Hodges

NEW YORK, September 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – An Orthodox Christian woman has won the right to refuse a vaccine developed using aborted babies' tissue, based on her religious beliefs.

The vaccine is for measles/mumps/rubella and is required by New York City law for all schoolchildren. It was developed from fetal tissue procured from abortions, hence the moral dilemma for practicing Christians.

The woman, who remains anonymous, said her Christian beliefs against abortion compel her to have nothing to do with vaccines made using aborted fetal tissue.

"Abortion is clearly a mortal sin and is [an] abhorrent act to any Christian," the New York mom said in her petition for exemption, according to the New York Post. "The vaccine manufacturers' use of aborted fetal cells in its products and research means that I cannot associate with them or support them financially (by buying their products), for such support would make me complicit to their sin."

New York State Department of Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia concluded in the woman's favor, explaining, "The weight of the evidence supports petitioner's contentions that her opposition to the MMR vaccine stems from sincerely held religious beliefs."

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

Christianity has always opposed abortion, from the time of the New Testament.  The Bible teaches that from conception, the womb holds a human person, calling pregnancy "to be with child" (Isaiah 7:14). Many biblical individuals are explicitly described as called or known from the womb, such as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-5), Isaiah (Isaiah 44:2;  49:1), Job (Job 10:8-12), Paul (Gal. 1:15), and John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15). The New Testament also condemns abortifacients (Galatians 5:20;  Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, 22:15).

Other early Church documents condemning abortion include the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Apocalypse of Peter, St. Athenagoras's writings, the letters of St. Clement of Alexandria, the Apostolic Constitutions, Tertullian, Hippolytus's Apostolic Traditions. Additionally, every early Church council says likewise. 

Every ancient Christian leader unequivocally wrote that abortion, without exception, is against Christian belief and practice. Those who wrote extensively on the topic include St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine, St. John the Faster, and the sixth worldwide Great Ecumenical Council (691).

This conviction continues to the present day. The Congress of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America stated, "The Orthodox Church has a definite, formal, and intended attitude toward abortion. It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus, whether by surgical or medical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder, that is, the premeditated termination of the life of a human being.  Decisions of the Supreme Court and state legislatures by which abortion is allowed, with or without restrictions, should be viewed by practicing Christians as an affront to their beliefs in the sanctity of life."

Thus, New York admitted that the woman's beliefs were in line with her religion.  Nevertheless, pro-abortionists say the First Amendment's assurance of the free exercise of religion should not include parents choosing whether to vaccinate their children.

Pro-abortionists sharply criticized the decision. "If we allow people to opt-out of vaccination, it puts other people's children at risk," says Sharon Levin of the pro-abortion National Women's Law Center.  "I think this decision is just one can in a crate of a can of worms that have been opened since the Hobby Lobby decision."

Levin was referring to Hobby Lobby's legal attempt to opt out of Obamacare's mandatory abortion/sterilization/contraception coverage, which violated the family-owned and operated corporation's religious convictions.

Yahoo Health writer Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy reports that undercover Planned Parenthood videos "have pushed questions regarding fetal tissue-based biomedical research to the forefront."

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Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore / Flickr
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‘It’s absurd’: Rand Paul blasts Kim Davis’ jailing over gay ‘marriage’

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By Ben Johnson

ASHLAND, KY, September 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has been arrested and taken to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples this afternoon. After repeatedly refusing to give such a license to gays and lesbians, a federal judge found her in contempt of court and sentenced her to jail time rather than assessing a fine. 

As she was escorted out of the courtroom to jail, homosexuals began chanting, "Love won! Love won!" 

As the scene played out, her U.S. senator, Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul, said the decision was unwarranted, violated religious liberty, and would further polarize the country on the issue of same-sex "marriage."

"I think it's absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty," Sen. Paul, R-KY, told CNN. "If you want to convince people that same-sex 'marriage' is something that's acceptable I would say try to persuade people" instead of using state force.

He also warned such heavy-handed tactics would backfire on LGBT activists. "If we're going to use the federal government, and we're going to get involved in every state and locality, you know what's going to happen? It's going to harden people's resolve on this issue," Paul added. "There's going to be no open-mindedness on this."

"I think it's a real mistake to be doing this," he said.

He said if state force continued to be exerted against Christian believers, "I think what's going to happen as a result of this is states and localities are just going to opt out of the marriage business completely."  

U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning - a George W. Bush appointee and the son of former moderate Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky - had ordered Davis to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples but was repeatedly rebuffed.

"The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order," Judge Bunning said in issuing the arrest order. "If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that's what potentially causes problems."

Bunning ordered Davis imprisoned, rather than imposing a fine, because he said her fellow believers would take up a collection and pay her fine. 

Similar tactics were applied when Christians who refused to participate in same-sex "marriages" tried to raise funds via crowdfunding platforms.

Paul's rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination - Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio - have also voiced their support for the now-incarcerated Davis. 

"We should seek a balance between government's responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions," Rubio said yesterday. "There should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office."

But her opponents say they demand nothing unreasonable of her. ACLU attorney Heather Weaver said, "Its not making someone a martyr to ask someone to do their job and follow the law."

Republican presidential candidates Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, and Carly Fiorina have agreed that clerks who have deeply held religious beliefs must enforce the law. Christie underscored his resistance to finding any accommodation for public officials.

The prospect of jail does not frighten Davis, a born again Christian, who says iron bars cannot separate her from the Savior Who dwells in her heart, nor does prison compare to the punishment that she believes awaits should she participate in legitimizing sin.

"I've weighed the cost and I'm prepared to go to jail," Davis told Fox News yesterday. "This is a Heaven-or-Hell issue for me and for every other Christian that believes. This is a fight worth fighting."

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Hundreds of thousands of people join the 'Manif pour tous' march in Paris supporting natural family in 2014.
Gabriele Kuby

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Alarmed report details Sexual Left’s agenda to defeat surging European family movement

Gabriele Kuby
By Gabriele Kuby

September 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- The world-wide operating Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is the intellectual activist centre of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) which presently governs Germany in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party under Chancellor Angela Merkel. As their publications and conferences reflect, the FES pushes for same-sex “marriage,“ reproductive rights, biotechnology, sexual diversity, gender equality, and sexual education. It also publishes reports with the intention of “naming and shaming” individuals, organizations, parties, and networks which work on behalf of life and the family.

The FES’s latest publication takes an international approach, describing anti-gender activists and actions in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Titled Gender as Symbolic Glue: The position and role of conservative and far-right parties in the anti-gender mobilizations in Europethe report was published by something called the Foundation for European Progressive Studies – “with the financial support of the European Parliament” and the Budapest branch of the FES.

The authors are alarmed over the growing resistance to ‘gender politics’ seen at the grass-roots level (e.g. La Manif pour tous movement in France and Demo für alle in Germany) and expressed in referendums held in several countries across Europe. In addition, they cite the opposition of political parties at the local and European levels, and the ‘anti-gender’ declarations of Bishop’s Conferences. What is seen as a dangerous development by the sexual left is really a testimony to the success of the pro-life and pro-family movement in Europe. The authors say:

Anti-gender movements want to claim that gender equality is an ‘ideology’, and introduce the misleading terms ‘gender ideology’ or ‘gender theory’ which distort the achievements of gender equality … This phenomenon has negative consequences for the legislation on gender equality.

The Symbolic Glue report then provides “policy recommendations for the progressive side to stand up against fundamentalist political activism.”

The individual country reports on the “reactionary backlash” against gender politics in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia give a good overview of the situation in each country and the positions of the conservative and right-wing parties. In contrast to previous publications from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which tried to defame and stigmatize conservative individuals as right-wing radicals, bigots, and family-fundamentalists, the Symbolic Glue report largely refrains from such slanderous language. In fact, the authors sound worried that conservative activists are acquiring dominance in public debates, and are influencing party politics and legislation by: 

  • coining the terms “gender-ideology” and “genderism”;
  • giving “scientific” evidence against “gender ideology”;
  • mobilizing at the grass-roots level through “fear-managing language”;
  • making use of “authoritarian themes” such as the polemic against the French schoolbook Tous à poil (All naked);
  • creating “moral panic” that “allows socialist officials to be accused of … jeopardising the future of society”;
  • re-articulating “parent-power” or parental involvement in “promoting the parents as actors of the restoration of authority and traditional values at school”;
  • the “gradual subordination of educational institutions to Christian conservative worldview, carried out by local authorities in cooperation with the Catholic Church and religion-based organisations”;
  • utilizing “hate-speech towards Gender Studies” (as an academic subject) and relying on “freedom fighter rhetoric”;
  • pointing to the EU as a “cultural coloniser”;
  • leading successful constitutional referendums for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Symbolic Glue also analyses the deficiencies of the sexual left. It is difficult to say whether this self-critical stance is a tactical device to arouse sympathy and motivate people to engage in the anti-anti-gender battle, or whether it is really dawning on the authors that anti-gender movements can have “grave consequences not only to women’s and LGBT rights but to the emancipatory promise of the Left altogether.”

The sexual left, according to the authors’ own evaluation, seems to be missing ‘symbolic glue’. They see:

  • “difficulties of building an ideological response to conservatives”;
  • “lack of public campaign against the anti-gender discourse”;
  • “the inability to articulate a progressive agenda in the concrete experience of “ordinary people”;
  • the counter-reactions of leftist parties to the anti-gender mobilisation being “one step behind those of extra-parliamentary forces”.

The ultimate intention of the authors is to cure “progressives” of these deficiencies. But it is good that they also let conservatives know how they want to achieve this. 

Indeed, it is difficult to convince “ordinary people” of the notion of gender theory, and that the traditional identity of man and woman are restrictions on human freedom that must be overcome by voluntarily choosing one’s gender identity according to one’s feelings. Since the authors supply no definition for the concept of gender identity, we have to refer to the Preamble of The Yogyakarta Principlessince it is one of the rare places where a definition is given:

‘Gender identity’ … [refers] to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.

The solution to the incompatibility of gender theory with common sense – rooted in nature – is apparently to drop the concept of gender entirely. "Using the concept of gender as a technical category in the long run can be more self-destructive than useful while encountering this new political challenge." The progressives intend to move away from a “framework of identity politics” and reclaim the “real leftist values, using the language of solidarity” by “creating a counter-language, which reflects the emotional-fear language of the rightists.” Furthermore, “Instead of putting the emphasis on ‘human nature’ or ‘traditional values’, progressive actors have to take advantage of other aspects of ‘common sense’:  us/them distribution of power and wealth. Defining political antagonism is a pathway to hegemony.” The authors recognize that the opposition is composed of hard to control grass-roots movements and, therefore, advise progressive actors and left-wing parties to “strongly connect to grassroots [sic] organisations, local and individual initiatives.”

Furthermore, the public is to be provided “with concrete information about gender studies and policies through academic conferences, articles and statements from gender experts.” But in addition to conferences and a public dialogue between feminists and Catholics in order to “ridicule the anti-gender campaign”, an “e-learning course on … gender equality”, developed in Slovakia, is recommended as “best practice”, targeting administration staff, students, and the general public.

The authors of the Symbolic Glue report also sound somewhat startled to see a “paradigm change in science as we know it.” They describe the science they know as the “post-modern turn of modernity … where science became a moral and normative category acknowledging the positionality of the knower. This approach also questions the subject-object division and brings in new symbols, new myths and redefinitions.”

It is worth noting that with the exception of Andrea Petö who wrote the Epilogue, the report’s authors are all young women who belong to the “millennial” generation born around 1980. Several of them are in the process of obtaining a Ph.D., so their academic formation took place during the last ten years. This is precisely the period during which “gender studies” was established as an academic subject at the universities. (In German-speaking countries there are more than 200 professors for “gender” or “queer studies”, nearly all of them women.) “Gender studies” was and is a wide open door for female careers and a booming market for jobs.

These young women only know a “science” which is subordinated to the aim of effecting a political change in society – and academics is seen as an instrument for serving the cause of feminist and LGBT-interests. This so-called “science” has completely severed the academic commitment to the search for truth – which is – or was – the moving force behind the unfolding of European culture.

In general, Gender as symbolic glue, which was published by a foundation with a certain scientific claim, does not show the slightest intention of dealing with arguments on their merit; it just wants to pillory the enemy. Twenty-three individuals – perceived as enemies of the sexual left – are presented in an “Index” at the end of the book. (Wasn’t there an aversion to Catholic “indices” among enlightened liberals?)

In the end, the report says more about the weaknesses of the gender identity movement than about its opponents. The young authors must feel that their ‘intellectual house’ is built on sand, otherwise they wouldn’t express such worried dismay over the opposition they are facing. After all, international institutions like the UN and the EU – with their sub-agencies like the Fundamental Rights Agency and European Institute for Gender Equality – and national governments, with the superpower U.S. leading the way, as well as global corporations like Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, and global NGOs like IPPF and ILGA, to name but a few, all with billions of dollars at their disposal, are on the side of the gender identity activists in this cultural war.

So why are these young women worried about the opposition of twenty-three people and a few comparatively tiny organisations with extremely small budgets? The answer is simple: Because they feel that the truth is on their side.

Gabriele Kuby is a sociologist, international speaker, and author of Die Gender-Revolution – Relativismus in Aktion, 2006, and Die globale sexuelle Revolution – Zerstörung der Freiheit im Namen der Freiheit, 2012. Both books have been translated into several languages and are referred to in the Symbolic Glue report. Die globale sexuelle Revolution will be published in the U.S. by Angelico Press in the fall of 2015.

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