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Mistaken Identity

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June 2021

Cattlemen recognized the problem long ago: one cow looks the same as the next. Perhaps not to their mothers, but they do to us. They needed a solution, and quick, before their herds got mixed up or cows got rustled.  And they found one. A hot iron to the rump roast goes a long way towards establishing identity. Today, branding is a key to business success. Getting hungry for a hamburger as you’re riding the interstate? Just look for those arches. Need gas? Keep your eyes peeled for a big scallop shell.

Branding is part of man’s constant use of signs and symbols to convey ideas and meanings. The letters of the alphabet and the notations on music scores are codes for sounds. They form words, notes, and chords and that speak to us in seemingly infinite ways. An icon relays a computer function. A plus sign tells us to add, not subtract, numbers. A heart shape reminds us of friendship and love.

So, what symbol best identifies us humans? How about those figures on the doors of public restrooms? No doubt they’re recognizable, but they really don’t express who we are. So, hear me out on this one: an argument can be made that the essence of mankind can best be symbolized by a pencil. We use pencils to create, and man’s creative skills are only exceeded by God’s. With a pencil, man has written stories that have deeply touched us and composed music that has profoundly moved us. Man has used a pencil to design the architectural wonders of the world, create ways that allow us to see billions of miles into the universe, and increase food production that allows us to feed the world’s hungry.  With a pencil, man can draw himself and the world around him.

But no symbolic pencil would be complete without an eraser—a really big eraser. No story is written, no music composed, no building designed, no formula discovered, no solution achieved, no art is sketched without mistakes, lots of them.  Man is a most fallible creature, and all of human history is littered with mankind’s mistakes.

Examples are like the stars in the night sky, too numerous to count. The book of Genesis speaks about a dome of water above the sky. Turns out not to be so, but why blame spiritual writers for knowing rain? Eventually, we learned better. In the 15th century, we thought the world had an edge, not a curve. Wrong again, but it was an easy mistake to make. Maps were flat, and no one had charted a course that far out in the ocean to discover the truth. We can thank Columbus for sailing west in search of the East. Then there was that long held but utterly mistaken theory that the sun revolved around the earth. It was not corrected until Nicholas Copernicus did so in the 16th century. But it was an understandable mistake given that man thought—and often still does think—that he is the center of everything.

We’re not currently running a string of 500 years without a mistake. We still make plenty. And perhaps the worst is the one we’re making right now. At its essence, it is in how we look at ourselves. Science tells us—science as in “I follow the science”—that a human comes into existence every time a man’s sperm penetrates a female’s ovum. Every time, no exceptions. It’s not a mistake; it’s a fact. The mistake is in our denial of the reproductive process. It’s almost like our thinking we can eat a whole chocolate cake without gaining weight. Think again.

There’s an old term, “accident” babies or “mistake” babies, a term meaning that a baby came to married parents who thought they were done having children. With our relaxed sexual mores, it happens to couples for whom marriage is the furthest thing from their minds. And because of our culture’s misguided views about the dignity of human life, the mistake often gets compounded. A human life gets erased, intentionally taken out of existence as if it had never been created. Lives have been erased by the millions.

Every day we make the mistake of not recognizing how badly mistaken we have been in our attitudes about sexual relations. But our far worse mistake is in treating unwanted children  as mistakes to be erased. No human being is a mistake—ever. God allowed every person to be created, and unlike us God does not make mistakes. In every human God places His dignity, image, and likeness. And by giving every person with a mind, free will, and conscience, He fills every so-called “mistake” with the potential for greatness.

For those who love and trust God, He can always make good come out of a difficult situation. And so it is with an unwanted child, one wanted in God’s plan. This is the theological truth behind what we like to call serendipity. A researcher was looking for a strong adhesive when he accidentally found one that stuck lightly and didn’t leave marks. Think post-it notes. Chocolate chip cookies, popsicles, potato chips, and champagne—accidents. Microwave ovens, saccharin, super glue, teflon, dynamite, and dry cleaning— more accidents. Penicillin, x-ray machines, implant pacemakers, quinine, and pap smears?  Yep, accidents. Wonder whether any of their discoverers were once “accident” babies?

For far too long, we have mistaken our own identity. We are children of God, His greatest creations. We can either compound, or learn from, that mistake.  It’s time we learned.

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.
© Paul V. Esposito 2021.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Visit us at and on Facebook.

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