They were four 30-somethings fumbling through the ’90s, not doing much of anything. But somehow, Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer and assorted nutty characters made it so laugh-out-loud funny. Almost rejected by the networks as weak and unexciting, Seinfeld became one of the best comedy series ever on television. It will be in reruns forever.
Seinfeld is more than highly successful comedy. Probably unintentionally, it is a commentary on our individual and cultural focus. The four main characters mesh so well together because in their own ways, they are equally self-absorbed. They are in life for themselves. When George learns that his fiancé suddenly died (from licking toxic glue on wedding invitation envelopes), his grief lasts mere moments. Relieved to be free, he leaves the hospital to join his friends for coffee. In the series’ finale, the four are arrested for mocking an overweight victim of a carjacking occurring right before their eyes. The prosecution’s witnesses are characters from the series’ shows, all attesting to defendants’ self-centered lives. The case is open and shut; they all land in prison. It made for a funny story about life selfishly lived.
The 1990s set the stage for another commentary on our focus, this one not funny at all. Twenty years after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court appeared poised to overturn it. Court watchers believed that the votes were there; pro-abortion leaders were scared to death. But the effort fell one vote short. The Court believed it was protecting personal liberty, which it described as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The phrase sounds so catchy that, in the minds of its authors, who could disagree? Yet the Court’s notion of liberty was nothing more than misguided, and nothing less than an excuse for perpetuating perhaps mankind’s greatest atrocity.
God’s gift of mind is mind-boggling. Man’s greatest accomplishments start as thoughts. Our thoughts come out of nowhere, triggered by nothing in particular. They can be gentle, kindly, enlightening, uplifting, humorous, crass, disturbing, sickening, stupid, evil, on and on. So when the Court says that we have the right to “define” our own existence, it is merely saying that we have a right to our thoughts. But if that is “liberty,” it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Death-row inmates have the same — right up to the moment they are killed.
Properly understood, liberty is action, the pursuit of an end. It must be an objectively good end, for there is no liberty to commit evil. True liberty distinguishes between thought and action. Tyranny, enslavement, and even death follow when mere thought is allowed to justify action. History has proven it way too many times. Hitler was always free to define his own concepts of existence, meaning, universe, and life. He was free to believe that his race was superior to the Jews. As long as Hitler did not act on his thoughts, he could be described as wacky but basically harmless. But allowed by civil law to act, he caused a world of hurt. Forgotten in the Court’s description of liberty is any notion of others. None of us is a one-man show. We live with other people, all of whose rights are as important as our own. So true liberty must be ordered. One person’s choice must not be another person’s death sentence.
Especially regarding abortion, our prevailing concept of liberty is anything but ordered. Every abortion takes a human life. Whatever the circumstances, abortion is an expression of self. Or putting it bluntly: “Given the choice between living my life how I please and having my body within my control and the fate of a lentil-sized, brainless embryo that has half a chance of dying on its own anyway, I choose me.” Once we accept that focus, all hell breaks loose. No one is safe, especially women. The police blotters are loaded with one horror story after another of women battered, drugged, even killed because they refused to abort. You see, men want to define their existences, too. We have become numbed to violence of all sorts. The killing of over 57 million unborn babies will have that effect. We are sinking lower by the day.
And our self-absorption blinds us as to who we are not. Americans love talking T-shirts, and someone designed one saying: “Abortion sends babies to God faster.” Perhaps whoever wears that shirt is looking for a public thank-you for doing a murdered unborn a favor. But the shirt is missing a critical word. Abortion sends babies back to God faster. Contrary to myth, all human life comes from God, not us; we only cooperate in the process. God hasn’t asked for our help in returning a life back to Him — and doubtless never will. God creates each life for a reason, and He will decide on the return time. Unfortunately, we have deluded ourselves into believing that we can play God with life. It’s a foolish way of thinking. We don’t have His mind. We don’t have His heart. We’re just not up to the task.
Perhaps it’s time to dust off a book that was once in the desks of Catholic school children. In 1885, following the direction of the Third Council of Baltimore and after years of struggle, the American bishops published a catechism. The Baltimore Catechism contained a series of questions and answers on matters of faith. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. “3. Why did God make us? God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in Heaven. 4. What must we do to gain the happiness of Heaven? To gain the happiness of Heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.” Our focus must not be on ourselves. We are called to focus on God and what He wants of us. Our actions must be directed not on doing our will but on doing His. God’s way is the ordered liberty freeing us to be the best people He made us to be. So we must ask: can we know, love, and serve God by ending the lives He created, lives that have not even seen the light of day?
Legal abortion is the product of a culture that can’t get beyond the notion of self. We’re paying the social price right now, and we’ll pay more. It’s because if we’re living only for ourselves, we are living apart from God. Can there be a worse prison?
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.