Let me start this out with a disclaimer: I don’t mind the British royal family, I really don’t. As far as I’m concerned, they are (for the most part) a harmless cultural distraction. What’s more, I think their pomp and pageantry evoke a certain nostalgia for tradition that could actually be somewhat beneficial in our rather coarse and irreverent age.
The courtship of Prince William with Lady Kate, their marriage, her expectancy and now delivery of Prince George of Cambridge has all played out rather marvelously. Almost like something from of a storybook… that is, if a team of media experts were writing the story.
But there was something I noticed a few months back — back when the news of Kate’s pregnancy first broke over the wires — that made my philosopher’s heart warm with the implied ideological assumptions contained within. Something that has continued throughout the minute-to-minute watch the media has kept on both side of the pond, and culminated with little George’s emergence.
Go ahead, look it up if you like. At no point was the unborn issue of the future king of England ever described as “the royal fetus,” or “his unborn majesty,” or “this, as yet unformed, grouping of cells.” From the earliest days of Lady Kate’s pregnancy there they all were, in 72-point headlines splashed across everything from the U.K.’s Daily Mail to the U.S.’s New York Post, loudly anticipating the imminence of this seeming “non-viable gathering of tissue.”
Our mainstream media, in its rather dull-witted lurch for advertising revenue as website page-views, just tipped its ideological hand in one of the most divisive and hotly-contested debates of our time — namely, the issue of unborn personhood as found within the sad reality of legal infanticide.
The utterly pragmatic American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce once wrote we should not “pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” We may use scientific rationalizations to hold to a position (e.g. fetus = non-viable), but even our unconscious description of unborn human life we reveal the lie.
We are born with at least a rudimentary understanding of good and evil. This concept manifests itself in all of our thoughts and actions. It may not be overtly considered or at the forefront of our thinking, but it undergirds every decision we make. Whether you believe all of the universe developed gradually over the aeons from a densely-packed primordial maelstrom or sprung fully-formed from the consideration of a deity, your assumptions about what is and isn’t true about the world can betray more than you intend.
In other words, there are surprising moments, when our pre-conscious emotional and moral wiring responds to a situation in a way our more studied judgments would not permit. A usually callous employee comforts a just-fired coworker in genuine sympathy. A man who hasn’t acted chivalrously in all his days instinctively holds a door open for a pregnant woman. A teenager roaming in one of those teenage-mall herds apologizes to a passer-by whom her friends have just mocked.
I’ve broached this matter with a few trusted pro-abortion friends and colleagues — most of whom, while granting my point, say I am obfuscating the issue over semantics or playing a sort of ideological oneupmanship. Maybe it is, although I don’t treat this issue as a game. It’s serious, and the way we (as a culture) communicate our assumptions and beliefs about the matter is important.
This inconsistent application of words has become loaded with meaning in our society. When we use the term “fetus” to describe the unborn, it has a clinical, almost disposable, sense. While the word “baby” evokes cuddly cuteness and innocence. It’s a later more emotionally removed to say, “I’m going to abort this fetus,” rather than to say, “I’m going to kill this baby.” The confused use of language belies the confusion in our society over when exactly does human life begin.
For all of it’s abundant advances and innumerate positive attributes, our technology hasn’t changed “when” life begins. Life begins when it begins, and it ends when it ends. Our advances in technology may change our perception of when life begins, but that’s more a reflection of a culture deciding what’s important and what’s not important than any sort of scientific discovery.
My wife and I have five living children, plus one that was lost to miscarriage. From the moment our cells bonded and created new life, my children were alive. As a Christian I know that, even in the womb, we are imbued with personhood. Whether or not that person is “viable” is irrelevant, it is still a human life in the balance.
No one was anticipating the birth of a “royal fetus,” but a living child. Let that assumption weigh upon all of our hearts and minds.