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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

While we all sit around waiting for Terri Schiavo's body to dry out, consume itself, curl up, shrink and, then, die, why not pass the time talking about the rhetoric of the culture of death?

"Death with dignity" - There is nothing dignified about death. It's scary, smelly, drippy, awkward and ugly. I can think of few things as undignified as someone pulling my kidneys out through my nostrils - just so people can look at me in a casket and feel unthreatened. Death is innately undignified because it wasn't supposed to happen to us. We weren't made to die. So the spirit clings frantically to the flesh, having to be wrenched away. This rattling struggle is violent and terrible, and anything but dignified.

(I remember Fr. Groeschel once saying that he had heard someone at a wake say about the corpse, "Doesn't she look good?" And Father yelled, "She never looked worse! SHE'S DEAD!!!)

Death with dignity for believers means one thing - being in the state of grace. If you aren't in a state of grace, then, having a painless, calm slipping away is the ultimate cruel joke, because it masks the fact that the demons are casting lots for you on the other side.

What is the point of this phrase in the culture of death glossary? It has to do with control. The suggestion is that the difference between a death with dignity and a death without dignity has to do with the age-old demon "Control" (aka. "You shall be like God.") Those who are in control are the dignified. Those whom God controls are undignified. It's such a sham. The Culture of Death offers all the control of being in your own car on the freewary during rush hour. Zoom zoom.....

"Persistent Vegetative State" - or PVS as the pundits are dropping it. This is my favorite line from the culture of death dictionary. It's right up there with calling a child in the womb "a product of pregnancy"! Fabulous! We call a person a vegetable or a product when we want to subjugate their lives to our own. It's what we used to call in college rhetoric, "The Define and Dismiss Argument".

Human beings are never in a "vegetative state." Beyond folks who are sick or in a coma, even those of us who are Nobel Laureates, or Federal judges, can't manage to make chlorophyl, which is, you know, kind of the defining act of a piece of vegetation. It's unfair, but it's a species thing.

So, why does the culture of death need PVS? Well, what do we do with vegetables? We chop them and fry them in a little oil and throw them down the garbage disposal. Basically, we do whatever we damn well please. There's no moral dilemma in clipping the sharp leaves off an artichoke.

(Once, a journalist for Daily Variety was interviewing me, and he noted that his main problem with Christians was our opposition to abortion. He shrugged, "And do you have a problem with dental floss too?")

And nevermind the Christian ethical worldview. How about the historical argument? The fact is, in the long history of humanity, no group that EVER defined down another group of humans so as to kill/control them, has been judged to have been right. Not once. Women, blacks, Jews, the mentally ill, Gypsies, Indians, homosexuals, Aboriginees...who else do you have? In every case, the people who defined another group of people as "not people...or at least not like us" have been judged to have been greivously wrong, and even evil. Why, oh why, do we keep doing this?!

"Right to Die" - Is anybody else completely sick to death of the whole shifty-eyed, ever-expanding, trump all, litany of rights stuff?! There's a reason the forefathers only put ten rights in the Constitution. The emphasis is not on what is owed to you, but what you achieve through your labor and honor.

But really, the "right to DIE"? Sure, and tomorrow we can secure your rights to have zits, to get your car repossessed and to get fired from your job just before you're eligible for a pension. Dying isn't something to be fought for! (Quick, some judge somewhere is about to rule that the Right to Die ipso facto includes the implied rights to have your bodily fluids drip through your eyeballs and to have maggots bury their larvae in your flesh. Chant with me, "Drop Dead, Good-bye, Don't You Touch Our Right to Die!")

But seriously, isn't every other right trying to stave off death?! Good #$@$! grief.

"I wouldn't want to live like that." - (I'm principally addressing myself to Christians here, because, pagans can't be expected to understand the nuances of the following...not having a theology of suffering and the Cross like we Jesus people do...)

A big grief to me over the Schiavo case is how many Christians are assenting to the "I wouldn't want to live like that" thing. If one more Christian tells me they are making a Living Will! See, we aren't the people who decide when we are ready to check out. We just die when we die because we believe that God is Sovereign, the Lord of our Lives. (Besides the fact that I knew a healthy 68 year old woman who died because she had a Living Will and when she got pneumonia, the doctors couldn't treat her by putting her on a respirator to save her life.) We have to stop talking like the pagans do who get to make choices about stuff that we don't because of our faith.

Here's the only answer to Christians who are going around mumbling the above: "Suck it up, Louise!" It's "Church Militant" - not "Church Effete."

I don't want to live in L.A. 3400 miles from my family. Jammed freeways. Over-taxation. The kingdom of petulant hedonists, hating my God and screaming about their rights, careful not to spill their lattes. Four hundred too many shoppping plazas where the grass should be. The Big-One always over-due. With a Church where they won't let me kneel at Communion. Barbara Boxer speaking for me in Washington! And today it's cold and gray AGAIN! I don't want to live this way!

Overweight. Under-paid. Over-worked. Always one more dreadful idea for a movie to be heard. Wondering if we can make payroll next month. The damn "Service Soon" light flashing on my dashboard. A vein popping out on my right pinky (don't ask...). Fourth week of a stupid flu. I DON'T WANT TO LIVE THIS WAY!

Distracted when I try to pray. Frustrated at all the good inspiration that never gets realized. Frightened by the people who want Terri to die. Furious at another Clinton judge. Feeling guilty because I didn't make my Easter duty yet. (Wishing I lived in Manhattan so I could walk into some corner church before Mass and get shriven.) Disoriented by the three staff questions I had to answer just trying to write this. Late on two columns. Late on a book proposal. Late on an outline for a speech tomorrow night. I - DON'T - WANT - TO - LIVE - THIS - WAY! - !

I remember a great line I heard from the British Tolkien scholar, Joseph Pearce, a couple years ago. He said that his biggest objection to Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings, was the way the movies had been made into "the hero's journey" with a strong vanquishing of the bad guys at the end. Pearce said, "Tolkien's point in The Fellowship was not the victory over evil, but the fellowship itself. The idea is that we will never stop being in a valley of tears, and so we need a company of friends - the Church - to ensure our survival." And then he chuckled, "It's not as though we are ever going to fix the whole planet and then whistle up to Jesus, "Okay, Lord, it's okay for you to come down now. See, we've prepared a pretty place for you to sit over here."

We are not supposed to WANT to live this way! It's a world wracked by sin. But we trudge on, "making up with our sufferings what is lacking in the suffering of Christ." We suffer and we offer, and we believe that nothing offered to God with a pure heart is a waste.

Onward Christian...soldiers???