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How To Hear Justification and Rationalization

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Proponents of social liberalism are becoming increasingly aggressive and shrill in their arguments for their stances.  The latest entry in the public debate of that type is Ruth Marcus’ WaPo column on abortion decisions based on pre-natal Down Syndrome diagnosis.  If you are like me and 1) have known and loved people with Down Syndrome and 2) consider abortion a moral failing of the highest order, you will find the column very difficult reading.  It is sorely tempting to respond as aggressively.

Allahpundit posted a pretty aggressive response, but one with the video shown at the end that is deeply moving.  Ben Domenech went on a bit of a Twitter rant – some of which Allahpundit prints, but the most powerful tweet harkens back to the August CBS piece on Iceland

When I wrote on the CBS piece back in September, I noted that sentiments justifying abortion with a Down Syndrome diagnosis are pure evil, but also that their rise marks a deep failure for the church.  It is a Christian’s ear that we need to bring to these discussions which means we need to hear things a little differently.  Allahpundit says of the Marcus piece, “Imagine feeling this way and having so little shame about it that you’d ask a major newspaper to publicize your point of view.”  When I read the Marcus piece I do not hear a lack of shame, rather I hear a shame so deep and so cutting that its bearer is lashing out aggressively to push away the pain that shame is creating – even if they are doing so through rationalization and justification.

One of the most moving passages of literature I have ever encountered is Chapter 6 of Part 1 of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor DostoevskyCrime and Punishment is the story of a man coming to Christ through committing murder, his subsequent capture as the murderer and the punishment he suffers at the hands of the state for his crime.  The chapter in question is essentially Raskolnikov rationalizing the crime he contemplates with himself just before he commits it.  To the objective outsider it is an exercise in delusion, as Raskolnikov is clearly in an agitated and unhappy state.  But, largely due to Dostoevsky’s masterful writing, one can also place themselves in Raskolnikov’s shoes.  If you put in the effort to do so, you will have revealed to you the thousands of little justifications and rationalizations you have done in your own life for your own hopefully smaller and less consequential misdeeds.  With such empathy, the chapter becomes incredibly painful to read.

It is this empathy that I think we need to bring to pieces like the Marcus piece.  And such empathy should make plain that there are some things politics just cannot accomplish.  A person in such a state of rationalization cannot be reached by argument, only by love and the Holy Spirit – and that means relationship, not argument.  (This BTW, is how Raskolnikov works through it too.)  This also marks where the church has failed, as it has so many times in history.

We bring programs, we bring preaching, we bring political activism, but somehow we fail to bring love and be vessels for the Holy Spirit.  Frankly, it is easy to promote activism or build a program.  Preaching actually comes pretty easy too.  But that whole love/Holy Spirit thing – that is really, really hard.  It requires us to first see through our own rationalizations and justifications, to set them aside, to be confronted with our own failings, and then to rest in the forgiveness and love of God in spite of those failings.  It is the essence of Easter.

I do so want to decry and denounce the Marcus piece – in so many ways it is monstrous – not just selfish as she owns up to, but monstrous.  But this Sunday in Lent I have found my empathy and with that empathy I see the monster in myself.  I have to come to terms with that – and I pray that someone that has come to terms with their own monsterousness can get close to Ruth Marcus and love her – for it is love that she most needs.

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