Mark DeVine is associate professor of history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School.

Planned Parenthood Videos (II): Holocaust Comparisons and Filthy Lucre

By Mark DeVine
July 31, 2015

In the previous post, I intentionally violated a taboo I typically endorse—I made a comparison with the Holocaust. I suggested that the aborting of fetuses compares reasonably to the attempted extermination of the Jews by Adolph Hitler. And I suggested that the outrageous tone of the Planned Parenthood videos may properly be compared to the outrageous moral anesthetizing of the consciences and psychic numbing reported of functionaries at Auschwitz and Dachau.

Comparison to the holocaust ought, in my estimation, deliver its own psychic jolt of skepticism to targeted audiences. The illegitimacy of comparison usually emerges quickly and decisively to discerning minds. The atrocities of the holocaust raise a uniquely high, almost unreachable hurdle to clear before comparisons become appropriate. Does abortion clear that hurdle. If so how?

What, if any, continuity exists between the Holocaust and the abortion industry? Can we identify it with precision? Let’s try:

Five Crucial Elements

I believe the source of the outrage produced by the videos stems from at least five elements which, in combination, account for the horror experienced by so many viewers. First was recognition that two living creatures, not just one, were present on the operating tables obliquely referenced in the recorded conversations. Second, it seemed obvious to many that the second, smaller creature was not a part of the woman’s body but was the body of another, separate creature. Third, this second separate living creature was, indeed, and undeniably, a living human being—a living human being whose death required a crushing to accomplish—a crushing not of the woman’s living body but of the human infant’s.  

By themselves, these four elements justify moral outrage. But a fifth element proved particularly incendiary. This fifth element indicates a depth of moral blindness that has overtaken the moral sensibilities of these Planned Parenthood officials. That depth of blindness shocks and produces involuntary recoil among those not yet so blind. I mean the chipper banter about price and profits and Lamborghinis and the like. I mean the casual and pleasurable musings over body part and fetal tissue markets.

This fifth element illumines the existence and flourishing of a culture profoundly desensitized because of both its moral blindness and its habituation to that blindness within a morally blind reinforcing community over time. The defining core of the blindness is the denial of the full humanity of the object of the abortion. A denial allowing, indeed welcoming, the price- and profits-fixated heart of the recorded conversations. Here, if anywhere, money merits designation as filthy lucre.

The Holocaust? And Slavery Too? Really?

Does not this form of denial and blindness replicate almost exactly Hitler’s justification for the Holocaust? And, to identify another striking historical comparison, do not these denial-of-full-humanity moral astigmatisms replicate closely rationales endemic to justification of chattel slavery and (here comes the economic element again) the slave trade?

The mere mention or thought of either the holocaust or slavery provokes reflexive global disgust. So does any related chatter about profits or benefits from research derived from either. Supposed benefits or profits derived from evil practices share in the evil as well. What accounts for the global consensus that the holocaust and the slave trade were evil? That the maltreatment and killing involved was inflicted on human beings.  

As long as the objects of the “uncomfortable” practices remain less than fully human or not yet fully human, almost anything is allowed. Almost. Breezy, crude talk about such things in public and among polite company remains inappropriate and uncouth. That’s where Planned Parenthood wishes to direct and exhaust public interest in these almost daily multiplying stories. They wish to suggest that the tone of the conversation did not spring naturally (as I am suggesting) from the defining humanity-denying cultural soil of Planned Parenthood itself. They want us to believe that the tone recorded by the videos (a fifth of apparently 12 total has now emerged!) is actually alien to the culture of Planned Parenthood. Do you believe that? Don’t!

Filthy Lucre

The moment acknowledgement of the full humanity of the objects of maltreatment and killing occurs, a moral outrage bursts forth that cannot be reduced to, distracted by, or hidden through focus on matters of etiquette. Likewise, once the full humanity of Jews, slaves, and fetuses is acknowledged, intolerance for and disgust for talk about profits and other potential benefits erupts with volcanic force.  

This blog celebrates monetary profits as tools God has, for about two centuries now, used to lift literally hundreds of millions of people out of material poverty around the globe. It celebrates the use of profits for medical research producing benefits reflecting in their own way Jesus’ own healing acts as the Great Physician. But not these profits. And not research demanding these specimens. No. Fixation on tone cannot hide the evil substance that nurtured it. And comparison to the holocaust stands.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Friday, July 31, 2015
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The Planned Parenthood Videos: Tone, Substance, and Career Planning

By Mark DeVine

Is Brit Hume correct? Has the recent dissemination of the two Planned Parenthood employees “parted the veil of antiseptic tidiness behind which the abortion industry has long operated?” Time will tell. Meanwhile, the abortion industry is working hard to find an effective response to the current uproar. Though shaken by the deep and widespread revulsion the videos have precipitated, the outlines of the initial pro-choice push back are already discernible.

One strategy attempts to supplant shocked consideration of abortion technique with disapproval of the possibly lawless actions of the videographers. A second stratagem proves more subtle and potentially more effective because it allows pro-abortion spokespersons to share in the outrage the videos have triggered.

Tone Limitation

I mean the repudiation Planned Parenthood leaders and their supporters are expressing at the “tone” of the recorded conversations. Yes, they say, how indelicate, in-artful to converse so casually and matter-of-factly about the harvesting and marketing of fetal body parts over salad and chardonnay. And oh how off putting, indeed, how indefensible to muse on the purchase of a Lamborghini from proceeds gained though sales of the tiny, freshly terminated but thankfully un-crushed livers and hearts. How discomfiting to witness such an emotionless consideration of abortion’s aftermath in body part and fetal tissue commodity markets.  

But do the two videos depict an emotionless conversation and event. I think not. Pleasurable emotion abounds. Emotions stirred by the taste of wine, the crunch of salad and the anticipated cruises in a hoped-for Lamborghini. These emotions belong to the regrettable “tone” abortion supporters want us to focus on and then allow them to share with us the abhorrence of.

Fixation on tone, these supporters hope, will leave substance unexamined and thus, un-assailed. The abortion industry wants the conversation to exhaust itself in a shared outrage over tone and leave the substance—the premeditated careful killing by cautious crunching of a living but unwanted human infant? fetus?—alone.

Tone and Substance

But if “substance” nevertheless comes in for scrutiny, recourse seems to be that the harvesting and sale of body parts discussed in the video are, after all, legal. Furthermore, by-products of the procedure provide vital resources to medical researchers. Enough said.

I do not know if such marketing of baby body parts is legal, but, along with Brit Hume, I doubt that the horror and outrage expressed by so many viewers of the videos turn, in the first instance, over the matter of legality. Musings about legality may well arise in the minds of horrified viewers, but not immediately and when they do, its doubtful that such considerations would prove flattering to the abortion industry.

Legal ponderings, if they arise, do not coincide, not exactly at least, with the recoils of horror. The horror is not in the first instance reflective and expansive but, spontaneous, reflexive and visceral. Viewers recoil at what they cannot but experience and judge as morally outrageous. And this recoil involves both the tone and the substance conveyed by the videos. Tone and substance are distinguishable but inseparable dimensions of moral reality.

The substance of the recoil is the specter of a living human being whom doctors and surgical nurses collaborate to kill. The killing requires the crunching. The crunching not of any part of the woman’s body, but of this other living body.  

And the killing needs to take place sooner rather than later and preferably in a controlled manner so as to preserve valuable parts and tissues for future sale. Thus, the necessary securing of death is not achieved by say laying the still alive creature on a table and waiting for it to die from exposure and lack of life-nurturing care. Thus, the need to crush and kill carefully now, not later.

The special horror evoked arises, not from some supposed separation of tone and substance, but from a mingling and mutual reinforcing between substance and tone. True, from the perspective of horrified viewers, the casual and happy tone of the conversation is inappropriate to the subject matter discussed. But clearly, to those conversing in the video, the tone fits the subject matter just fine. For the viewers and the viewed ones, tone and substance, while distinguishable, ought to be compatible. They just obviously disagree over the compatibility in this case.

A third group, Planned Parenthood officials not appearing in the videos, attempt to shape the thinking of outraged viewers. Yes, they confirm, the tone of these women is reprehensible. But the subject matter, the abortions themselves and the subsequent sale of body parts and fetal tissue harvest from the abortions is not outrageous. It is in fact salutary, providing precious resources to medical researchers.  

But this construal of the matter involves a subtle subterfuge and sleight of hand. The tone that outrages so many actually fits like a glove on the cultural soil inhabited by Planned Parenthood. This tone springs fourth naturally from soil conducive to its seed. The casual happy tone belongs to and flourishes upon the cultural soil that legitimizes the killing of an unborn human life or the killing of a living human creature immediately upon its forcible extraction from the womb of its mother.

So all three groups accept that tone and substance ought to jibe. But judgment of tone/substance compatibility, in this case, turns precisely on recognition or not of the fetus as fully human.

The videos illumine two distinct but associated horrors. First, they shine a bright light on a ghastly step necessary to most abortions—the need to do some crushing of small body in order to end the creature’s life. A creature whose body seems clearly NOT to be part of the mother’s body. Her body and life are to be protected in this procedure. By protected I mean, especially, kept alive!

This stark window into abortion procedure and goals along with the now commonplace viewing of sonograms, make denials that abortion kills a human life increasingly difficult to maintain.

A second light illumines not the once alive but now dead small human creature but the shocking mindset of those who aid and abet and profit from the killings. We are confronted with the blunt and appalling reality of a thriving industry of abortion and of careers built upon meticulous consideration of how most profitably to crush a live but unwanted infant in order to harvest its tiny and marketable body parts and tissues.

No. The tone offers no escape from the substance and no attenuation of the collective horror experienced. The tone reveals, in Brit Hume’s words, how morally “anesthetized,” we become over time when and where such brutal acts become commonplace. Induced, says Charles Krauthammer, is a “psychic numbing.” This numbing, numbing to the substance of abortion, accounts for the outrageous tone on display in the videos. A moral numbing, I will argue in the next post, akin to that reported of numerous functionaries at Dachau and Auschwitz. A numbing also akin to that which accommodated and profited from the slave trade.

This blog argues that working for money and profit belong to the triune God’s saving purposes for human beings in this world and to the human flourishing celebrated in Holy Scripture. But not this work. Not these profits.

If you are able, seek profit and make a living. In fact please do all in your power to provide for yourself and those who depend upon you rather than make choices that increase the likelihood that others will have to provide support you could have should have provided for yourself and for your dependents. But not this way.

We must refuse to aid or abet, whatever the cost, foregoing any and all promised benefits, this industry boasting 55 million careful crunchings and counting. Whatever aids this cruncher to do his work or helps hands pass the forceps to hands that do such work involves work we must work to stop.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Monday, July 27, 2015
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Art Work

By Mark DeVine

The Veteran in a New Field, 1865 , Winslow Homer (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed that it was not his hands which swung the scythe, but that the scythe was moving together with itself a body full of life and consciousness of its own . . . These were the most blissful moments. . . . Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky in the interval for whetting the scythes. . . . Another swath, and yet another swath followed—long swaths and short swaths, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it all came easy to him. . . . These are glimpses backwards and perhaps forwards. To times in which the earth does not oppose us but yields. The thoroughbred under us runs with exultant abandon as it was meant to do.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Art attempts and sometimes achieves numerous and worthy results. It may accurately depict a slice of life, capture a provocative mood or arrest in distinctive posture a person or a poodle. Art may instruct or question and both to great benefit. In a qualified sense, art really results from a kind of creation (not ex nihilo—only the Creator pulls that off!). Yet the successful artist produces something new and of value—something born not of paint or stone or, in Tolstoy’s case, the words. These raw materials function as media, they serve as beasts of burden, the humble bearers of priceless treasure. They convey the vision of the artist.

From long hours of agonizing and meticulous chiseling comes Alexander the Great. Was he in there all along? A dazzling and arresting piece of pottery is coaxed ever so carefully first from clay and finally from the fiery white hot kiln.

What separates the great and the not-so-great art? A double-achievement, in my estimation. Double where single suffices to make art, even very good art—but not exceptional art. Great art discloses truth AND displays something of the beauty of that truth.

Tolstoy’s account of the mower does this. Oh but what backbreaking, de-humanizing and poorly remunerated drudgery such mowing must have been. Yes. And nothing in Tolstoy’s snapshot denies this. And yet, workers from ancient times periodically experience and sometimes even bear testimony to such rich and exalted enjoyment in work.

Construal of work mainly in terms of its distortion through the Fall is a lie. Tolstoy saw and captured a picture of part of this reality. Oh yes, work shares with food, sex, and power in the deep, tragic, punishing loss of its intended good use and enjoyment by us human creatures. But God’s word of punishment was only the first word, not the last. The first word was “no.” The next and the last is and shall be “YES.” The “no” and the “yes” belong to God’s typical sequencing and pacing of himself. This pattern belongs to the gospel trajectory of God’s ways.

No sooner had we sinned and “become naked” than there He was, fresh from performing surgery on Adam, now sewing up clothes for his wayward and embarrassed creatures. The doom that had settled in and around them would not have the last word. Death entered, yet so did the Great Physician. “Talitha arise!”

He has the last word—on everything, on death and (from the greater to the lesser) on work as well. God’s last-word-prerogative arises not only from his unrivaled authority but from his perfect knowledge and perfect love which are, in the end, the basis of his authority. He knows and thus speaks and acts according to what is true. And nothing is true apart from its collision with the steadfast love of almighty God—not work, and not death.

The general resurrection remains in abeyance but the grave has already failed to hold Him. From that failure of the grave’s pretentions emanated powerful, transforming good news shock waves not just forward but backward as well. They proleptically caught Lazarus in their wake and the little girl too. The death-keys bearing Lord who already would lay down his life and take it up again already knew the truth about Talitha better than the mourners did or than she could have and so could assert in defiance of her lifeless body to the grief stricken bystanders, “she is just asleep.”

The ancient, primordial, and not yet relinquished truth about work is partially uncovered in Tolstoy’s mower. And the truth is beautiful. That we human beings express and enjoy the truth about ourselves as God’s creatures through work constitutes this distinctive beauty. Work, paid or unpaid, harbors within itself beauty and truth.

Thus, God blesses, in his timing and measure, not only by prospering the work of our hands, but by drawing us workers into the reflection of God’s joy and freedom in his own unique work of creation (of which we ourselves are products!).

And so humanity, here and there, from time to time, experiences something of the truth about work; about having dominion in ways that still, in spite of everything, may reflect the glory of the Creator by the creature made in His image.

That something of this freedom and enjoyment still weaves its way through the laboring of the masses provides a partial accounting for the unhappiness retirement brings to the lives of many. It accounts in part for the recent poll in which millennials said by a wide margin that what they want more than anything else is “a job.” It accounts for work’s incursion into the sphere of art. A museum in Milwaukee is totally dedicated to art depicting human beings at work! Something deeper than the proper need for money or the improper feeding of greed or pursuit of power or things accounts for the inextricable (because divinely created, designed and maintained) connection between human beings and honorable labor. It is the desire and need to enjoy who we really are before God and in relation to each other and this world.

Posted by Betsy Childs at Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Why Should We Work?

 Mark DeVine interviews Greg Forster on the Beeson Podcast:

Posted by Betsy Childs at Tuesday, June 3, 2014
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