Why They Hate Pro-Lifers So

Patheos Blog

Why They Hate Pro-Lifers So

By Michael at Patheos.com on August 19, 2015

The pro-life argument is overpoweringly clear to me. But in argument against supporters of legalized abortion, I was always puzzled because I could not grasp their reasons. Maybe they didn’t understand their own reasons, either. I seldom heard reasons for their point of view, but far more often intense emotional blasts. “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!

Pro-choicers do not make it easy to attribute reasonableness to their presentation of these matters. But why, I ask myself, do they hate pro-lifers so much?

Amazingly, I just discovered a very persuasive explanation of why so many women argue that it is right and good to have an abortion.

The Caring Foundation produced an empirical study almost two decades ago which recently arrested my attention: “Abortion: The Least of Three Evils – Understanding the Psychological Dynamics of How Women Feel About Abortion.” Two main findings of the study startled me, but they are also fairly obvious once one sees them from the point of view of the young women in the study. It is always a good idea to stand in the other person’s shoes. Why for so long had I failed to do so?

One of the stunningly obvious perceptions of those in favor of abortion is summarized by Harvard-educated Paul Swope: “Women do not see any ‘single’ good resulting from an unplanned pregnancy. Instead they must weigh what they perceive as three evils, namely, motherhood, adoption, and abortion.”

To such women, having an unplanned child “represents a threat so great to modern women that it is perceived as the equivalent to a ‘death of self.’” This reaction may be emotional and subconscious, but it generates a feeling that one’s life is over.

Swope explains that this is because many young women have developed an intensely narrow vision of their own identity: “going through college, getting a degree, obtaining a good job, even getting married someday.” The sudden intrusion of motherhood afflicts them as “a complete loss of control over their present and future selves. It shatters the sense of who they are and will become, and thereby paralyzes their ability to think.”

At this point, such deeply troubled young women are not likely to perceive a sharp-edged choice of either “I must endure an embarrassing pregnancy” or “I must destroy the life of an innocent child.”

“Instead,” Swope writes, “their perception of their choice is ‘my life is over’ or ‘the life of this new child is over.’ Given this perspective, the choice of abortion becomes one of self-preservation.” Thus it is not so hard to see that, to a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, abortion can seem like the most morally defensible option.

The second option, adoption, is seen as the most “evil” of the three, for it entails two devastating disappointments – deaths, even: First, the young woman who accepts motherhood by carrying the baby to term dies to all her other plans for her future life.

Worse, if she gives the baby up for adoption, she perceives herself as a bad mother, someone gives her own child away to strangers. So the second death the stricken young woman lives through is the loss of her child through abandonment. Her worries multiply. Her baby might be abused by strangers. The uncertainty of her child’s future and year-to-year development haunts her, and she must always fear the possibility of her child searching for and finding her many years later, exposing the painful secret to others who never knew it.

Many of us know a young woman who has carried her child to term and happily seen that boy or girl adopted by good and caring parents who very much want a child. Alas, that is not the way so many tormented women envision the scenario.

Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/58124

Mr. Swope reports more surprising findings. All of the women surveyed who called themselves pro-choice agreed that “abortion is killing.” In that respect, the pro-life movement seems to have driven home the basic reality of abortion, even among pro-choicers.

A second surprise is that most of the women surveyed “believe that abortion is wrong, an evil, and that God will punish a woman who makes that choice.”

Third, “these women feel that God will ultimately forgive the woman, because He is a forgiving God, because the woman did not intend to get pregnant, and because a woman in such crisis has no real choice. The perception is that the woman’s whole life is at stake.”

With the perspective of the young women surveyed, I can see how someone facing a crisis pregnancy and opting for abortion might think of herself as being courageous. I can see how she may come to reason that abortion is the least of three evils, because she takes it to be her highest good that she must preserve her own vision of her life.

While I do not accept that this vision of human life is at all adequate and fully honest, it does help me to see why such women are “deeply resentful toward the pro-life movement” and why they perceive it as “uncaring and judgmental.”

Mr. Swope’s full argument is contained in his brilliant essay, “Abortion: A Failure to Communicate,” which appeared in the April 1998 issue of First Things. I do not know how I missed it, but it came into my hands only during the last month.

If we who believe in life are ever to join in real conversation with those who call themselves pro-choice and feel keen resentment toward us, we must walk for a while in their moccasins, and figure out why the traditional arguments we had been using are not getting through, and we must devise new arguments that penetrate their very passionate defenses – passionate, because they think that they are fighting for their own self-preservation.

I am grateful to Paul Swope for his work. It would have helped me greatly if I had not missed it seventeen years ago.

On Loving Karen

Patheos Blog

On Loving Karen

By Michael Novak at Patheos.com on August 12, 2015


My dear Karen died of a hard-fought cancer on August 12, 2009. I wrote the following verse a few months later. Reprinted from All Nature Is a Sacramental Fire (St. Augustine’s Press, 2011).

* * *

Thank you, lady, for reminding me what it was like To fall in love with Karen Fifty years ago. It was her eyes that did me in, Blue as the sapphire stones She bought along the Indian Ocean. Blue, with sadness deep behind them, And merriment like candle’s flames on golden foil.

Eyes incapable of malice, Radiant from her heart. We talked and talked, newly met, Though we had known Each other ever since forever.

We knew the darkness and the night — That may have been our deepest bond. We weren’t afraid of night. A woman who has suffered much, as Tolstoi wrote, Inflames a lover’s heart.

I cannot say if Karen loved me. That was a word she rationed, As if in uttering it she lost her self – Which fighting to hold safe so many years, Impressionable and unconflictive (As she wished to be) she could not give away.

To say would utterly destroy her, poof! Like dust she’d blow away. No, it was crucial that she act with love But seldom say the word. Crucial that she trust. Crucial to stay the Self She had, so much embattled, won.

But oh! I loved her And loving her burst into joy, An oven suddenly ignited.


Portrait of Karen Laub-Novak, by Igor Babailov

Who could not love her shyness, Her evasive smile of pleasure. Her self-dramatizing humor about herself? Her idle dream had been to be an actress A comedienne of dance and music, Light of heart and blithe. What she really wanted Was to be the next Picasso. Kokoschka had told her that she could.

She was self-mockingly insistent That her I married, for her mind, To which I readily agreed Although not wholly true. Yes, Without her darkness of experience, Without her wit, Without her flashes to the heart of things, My soul could not have been so deeply wounded. But I was stricken also by her figure And her shy, shy smile.

Still later, then, her works of art I saw, Which took my breath away. A woman always struggling, Always suffering, Conflicted, active, bold. Uncompromisingly, She stripped away the skin from straining sinews And showed live bones in pain (Or maybe only tension) And underneath each face the mask of death. She saw life truly In its awfulness and joy.

Fiercest angels did she wrestle. “Every angel,” her Rilke wrote, “is terrible.”

Parting (in 1962), I handed her my novel, About a soul stripped down to nothingness Yet rejoicing in the dark (Where alone God can be found). Her favorite books were Avila’s, And The Dark Night of the Soul . Mine, too.

She thought I’d been pretentious, She later wrote, For handing her my book. But she read it on the plane One end to the other. She slyly hinted that she liked it.

So we were free to love like children Who had learned to trust, Yet knew the fingers on the windowpane, In darkness and in rain. We were made to meet. Or so I felt in thirty minutes Across the booth from her in Harvard Square.

Most extraordinary thing: I had described her in my novel Two years before we met. Lovely girl, an artist, Upon Bernini’s bridge at midnight When the Tiber turned to silver Beneath a silver moon.*

So I knew that I had known her And would marry her. Knew, but didn’t say a word. For four days we did nothing But go out together. She was fearless driving Boston streets. That was what convinced me She was tough. More tough than I. Which was in my dream.

I knew I loved her, almost bam! It took her longer: Three close suitors in hot pursuit, Each one aspiring lawyer as if In answer to her lawyer father’s prayers. One did love her mightily, I later learned. Thank God she took a leap toward me.

We were apart all summer, She at the Worcester School of Art, And I in Europe, steadily describing to her All I saw, and quietly insinuating . . . We were meant to meet. A hundred letters sent in all— Desperate to hold her heart.

Just last month, My sister found her photo, Sitting on my parents’ lawn In September, 1962. My brother Dick (whom K. had met at Harvard) Was on his way to Bangladesh, And Karen planned her drive from Iowa To pick me up, both Harvard-bound, To bid dear Dick farewell. (Little did we know it was forever.)

She sits upon the lawn her knees drawn up In short black shorts, a Vee-striped blouse Of orange and brown, and on her head A turban striped the same. A skinny, gawky kid in shell-rimmed glasses Sits as close to her as decency permits. Can that be me? Even then I asked myself, Can this be me? How can that fellow sit with such a one In total inner peace?

Our honeymoon some ten months thence, On Minnesota’s Forest Lake— My beloved walked into the bath, A towel on arm but not a stitch of clothes, And closed the door. Let out a piercing shriek, fell back, Slid downward noisily onto the floor. Had burglers broken in?

Leaping to the door, I saw a bat attacking her. I pulled her out, and stepped inside To face the bat, and illumination struck my mind: “So this is what a married man is for?” Gulping folded up a towel to swing And watched its swoops As closely as a pitcher’s wicked curve When it buzzed in and dove at me. I caught it fairly, brought it down But in the motion felled myself.

Here Karen showed her wit, Broke in, a basket in her hands Which she slapped down upon the now-dazed bat. “How do we get it out of here?” I asked with weak male reason. She answered me with motion, Returning with a cardboard square To slip beneath the basket. Cool as a cop she marched it to the darkened door And flicked it up into the night. What a cool, cool girl, I marvel, Then and now.

She also showed me what a coward I could be When once at dinner little three-year-old Began to choke, in desperation turning red. I froze. Not K. She leapt across the kitchen Plunged her finger down the throat, Pulled out the villainous blob. Not the first or only time She moved with wit and bravery While I sat panicked, turning pale.

St. Thomas (Aquinas) wrote, “Of all friendships, Marriage is by far the greatest.” I used to tell my classes that, And say that it is true. The only thing – I used to warn – is this: If you don’t like the truth about yourself, Then don’t get married. When you live close in, Illusions are expensive. So once the honeymoon is over, Your lover’s duty is To puncture every one of yours — One by painful one. My lover pricked an awful lot of mine. Especially my conceits.

Annoying faults my lover also had, So I did edit them, much to her pain. She had a low opinion of herself, So one more fault was more than she could bear. I added to her pain. I’m sorry that I did.

Oh, Glory! I loved Karen, Love her still. Irradiant soul. Valiant, courageous, strong, Yet soft and vulnerable. Beautiful with full and loving sensual beauty. Funny, amusing, telling tales about herself – Confessing all her silly faults Before I found them out.

She was wonderful to hug. She loved to hug. She needed many hugs – Or maybe I did.

And now she seems so close to me. I commune with her incessantly Since now she sees me even to my inner self. I hear her laughing quite a lot As I go bouncing light to light And wall to wall, a pinball In a slanted box. She enjoys My blunders. Always has.

It seems she has told everyone (Before she died) I worried her— “He doesn’t know a thing around the house. “He cannot do it for himself.” It isn’t true, of course. I do okay. But in an obvious sense, b’god, The girl was right.

There is no other like her. She is unique. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, To be with her for nearly fifty years. That is why I look at photos, Read old letters, and let the burning Burn my soul.

________________________________ [* I here compress the actual plot.]

Ave Maria at the Beach

Patheos Blog

Ave Maria at the Beach

For the last three summers, I have been very lucky to hire students from Ave Maria University to help me finish some writing, pack up boxes of books, arrange my papers, clear out the beach house and give things to various charities, and the like.

I hope they forgive me for calling them “the kids,” but when they are with me, that is how I feel about them. They seem like my own grandchildren. They are intelligent, with very well-developed minds, funny, and (most of them) endowed with lovely singing voices. Most have been artists – played Shakespeare at Ave, or sung in the annual Broadway show, or soloed or done duets in the annual Cabaret Night.

IMG_2485Besides room and board (the guys at least tend to eat a lot, and the girls like to eat well), I set aside enough money each year to help each of them with a small cheque to go toward tuition or spending money. Practically all take advantage of the local outlet stores of a hundred or more of the best retailers such as the Gap, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, Chico’s, Reebok, Brooks Brothers, Bose, and scores of others. Besides saving with discounts of 60 percent or more at the outlets, shoppers in Delaware pay no sales tax. Each fall at least a few new dresses, shirts, sneakers, purses, and other items show up at Ave that might not have otherwise.

The deal is that each student works for me for at least four hours a day (some, alas, much longer) and then has four or so hours for biking, swimming, playing frisbee on the beach, or other pursuits.

The lot that Karen and I bought twenty years ago, and the home that Karen designed and had built, sits on Cape Henlopen, back fifty yards from Delaware Bay. A little over a mile away is the Atlantic Ocean, rolling in on fine-grained sand as far as the eye can see. There are almost always a dozen or more small deer grazing on the far end of the soccer fields near the small forest in the Joseph E. Biden State Park, which runs along the ocean on the property of the old fort and naval station that used to defend the mouth of the Delaware Bay against German U-boats prowling for Europe-bound shipping and, indeed, for vessels heading south too.

We do a fair amount of restaurant hopping, at least once every two weeks. Perennial favorites include Irish Eyes, Gilligan’s (for special occasions), Striper Bites, for quiet drinks Rose & Crown, Fish On, and others. A favorite evening is always the chartered harbor cruise, up the canal from Lewes Harbor, out into the bay, and then along a slow circle around the lighthouses, just on the edge of the Atlantic. At the mouth of the bay, the yacht swings around and, for those who look sharp, there is a moment when cameras can capture the bright sunset directly through the top-most windows of the lighthouse. Not every time, but quite often, dolphins fall into the wake of the yacht and leap and glide and frolic behind us. The sunsets have been truly glorious.

pier in LewesSometimes we go out on the pier near our home and get brilliant photos of the sunset, then sit and recite Vespers. The crew this month is especially rich with splendid voices and a sure instinct for harmonies. Moving slowly down the pier singing favorites from My Fair Lady, 1776, or Oklahoma!, they have brought broad smiles and appreciative applause from fishermen and families lining both sides of the pier.

We have also seen an unusual number of movies this month, and we have done a herculean amount of work. Three tasks I divided up at the beginning: a careful editing of a book on the “humanomics” of St. John Paul II the Great, two rounds of editing earlier papers of mine on religious liberty and the American founding, and a final edit of a collection of my wife’s essays on art and mysticism.

My main job was the proofreading of the book by three of us (Paul Adams and myself, with Elizabeth Shaw) to be published by Encounter Books this fall, and titled Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is. We hope to provide the clearest definition and most thorough survey of the subject produced in some decades. Most of all, we hope to restore the term to its original meaning and role.

IMG_2538-1For the last month, I have gone back to an old love, writing the concluding chapters for a novel I have been working on for some twenty years. It is the story of the epic events of the greatest domestic catastrophe in American history, the massive Johnstown Flood of 1889, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as these were experienced a century apart by members of the same family, grandfather Stephen and his youngest granddaughter, Barbara.

IMG_2537-1Most of the students this summer arrived full of tales about their internships, usually alongside some of the smartest kids in the country from the Ivy League and top Midwestern and Western schools. They have done summer work at a wide range of institutions, from the American Enterprise Institute to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation. Nearly all have been very impressed by how Ave Maria students compete at that level, if not excel.

It has been a glorious summer, and I am very grateful to “the kids.” I love them all.

Welcome to America, Pope Francis!

Patheos Blog

The first pope to visit the United States was Paul VI in October 1965, just before the close of Vatican II. Pope John Paul II during his long reign visited seven times. And Benedict came in 2008. So there is already a tradition of popes getting to know our country.

The history of famous Europeans writing their first reflections on America after their visits here is also extensive, including Alexis de Tocqueville, Charles Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Jacques Maritain, and Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber. The writings of many of these shrewd observers are quite brilliant.

By Eduardo Martín Schweitzer Benegas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Jacques Maritain, for example, came here with the typical European Catholic prejudices about America: that Americans are materialistic, that our system is based on pure self-interest and nothing else, and that we are supreme individualists with little sense of community. In his Reflections on America he analyzes with a philosopher’s shrewdness how and why these prejudices of his were shattered.So the writers in Rome preparing the longer speeches and briefer remarks of Pope Francis for his appearances in the United States during his upcoming  visit in September have a mound of past testimony from non-American points of view to work from.

They also have from such research institutes as Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate a good picture of the myriad institutions and national organizations built by American Catholics, especially during the last 200 years. Two hundred twenty-four colleges and universities, some 1,200 secondary schools, and almost 13,000 elementary schools. The Catholic Church in the United States has built the second largest hospital system in the world, with over 600 hospitals and approximately 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities around the nation.

Americans in Rome early discover that Vatican officials either do not know at all or pay little regard to this amazing panoply of institutions, built largely from the bottom up, through the efforts and funds of Catholic families and individuals themselves. Scores of thousands of missionaries from elsewhere have come (and keep coming) to help build the Catholic Church in America. In return, scores of thousands of American Catholic missionaries have labored (and some have died) in missionary service around the world.

The papal nuncio to the United States, a couple of decades ago, commented with amusement that America is heavily spiced, like a really good Italian sauce, with lots of energy and originality and turbulence to enliven any kind of pasta. Thus ours is not a bland national church, but peppery and alive.

Among my own favorite comments of a pope visiting the U.S. is that of John Paul II on the occasion of his visit to that great baseball stadium of the Baltimore Orioles, Camden Yards, in October 1995. There the pope reminded Americans of President Abraham Lincoln’s deeply troubling question at Gettysburg in 1863: whether a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can long endure. The pope worried that “the Biblical wisdom which played so large a part in the founding of America” might “be excluded from public moral debate.” He further reminded us that “every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we would like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Further, the pope encouraged Catholic parents and his brother bishops to guard the truth, “especially in view of the challenges posed by a materialistic culture and by a permissive mentality that reduces freedom to license.” He pictured Christian life in the United States as a constant intergenerational battle in which both the liberty and the liveliness of conscience are in danger of perishing.

Above all, St. John Paul the Great worried that “Americans would forget the Biblical wisdom which played such a formative part in the founding of your country.” And he asked searchingly, “Would not doing so mean that America’s founding documents no longer have any defining content, but are only the formal dressing of changing opinion?” Relativism, the pope knew, would totally undermine America’s founding ideas.


Pope Francis need not worry about criticizing Americans too severely. Any taxi driver in New York City will blame the country far more than the pope can imagine. Americans are constantly criticizing one another. We have schemes of perfection dancing in our heads, to which we want others to conform. That is what it means to be born within a Puritan heritage. Even our libertines chastise one another for not being libertine enough.

One thing I wish Pope Francis would not do, though, is repeat some of the sweeping rhetorical comments he has made until now. In the light of my own experience, some of these claims are simply not valid. For example, he has said more than once that the poor never get richer. But virtually all Americans come from families who began life poor, but under the challenges of a free and responsible society, ceased being poor after at most two generations. That is true of my own family. It is true of virtually every other family I know.

Our pope is already deeply beloved here in America. Not long ago I attended a meeting of devout Evangelical leaders. A generation back, virtually all the members of such a group would have described themselves as ardent anti-papists, and it would have been rare to hear any speak of a pope with respect. But at this conference, several were describing Francis as the best model of Jesus Christ anywhere on earth today.

On a quite different point of the cultural spectrum, many of the most anti-religious, even anti-Catholic, feminists and secularists seem unable to get enough of Francis in the media – the articles, interviews, questions, praise…. All wondering, what next.

Welcome to America, Pope Francis! We’re eager to hear what you have to say

The New Evangelization in Reverse?