You may have read about the February edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics. In an article entitled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argued in favor of infanticide. “What we call ‘after-birth abortion’’ they wrote, “killing a newborn – should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” The paper maintains that infants lack those properties required for the right to life to be assigned to them. In the absence of these properties, their worth is dependent upon the value a mother or anyone else may or may not assign to that individual. In other words, a new born baby is not a person, only a potential person.
The view that infants are non-persons leads to the old pagan practice of dispensing with them if desired. In fact, Minerva and Giubilini have argued that the next logical step beyond abortion is infanticide. Indeed, the killing of an infant, if unwanted, is morally justified. According to these two academic philosophers, the baby possesses no intrinsic value of its own. If the child were to become a burden, for instance, his or her value would be negligible. They even go so far as to say that if their parents decided to kill them when they were newborns, they would not be harmed because they did not reach personhood status yet.
Peter Singer, Australian philosopher and professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, had long argued for justification of infanticide during the first month of an infant’s life. But as Professor Robert George said, who happens to be a colleague of Peter Singer at Princeton, Singer’s view on infanticide is going mainstream. Scary, isn’t it?
If we but press the abortion-rights position to its logical conclusion, infanticide naturally follows. Christians, however, know that life begins at conception. But when the negation of life’s beginning gains currency among the medical profession or even in academia, then both the beginning and end to life becomes arbitrary. Such as fallacy will, sooner or later, translate into policy.
Yet, if we take a step back with a bird’s eye view of history and biblical theology, we should not be surprised about the growing phenomenon of infanticide and its attempt to justify it. History demonstrates that when God’s divine authority is rejected, innocence and moral purity end up being despised. In recent U.S. history, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court forbade prayer in 1962 and then bible reading in 1963 in public schools. One cannot argue that God was welcomed any longer in our schools. Today a teacher or even a student cannot mention his name without causing a stir. In any case, a decade later the same U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
First, the one true God must be cast out or dethroned, then babies can become fair game. That is the sequence played out through history.
The first recorded episode of mass infanticide in the bible is to be found at the beginning of the book of Exodus. After four hundred years in Egypt, the Hebrews were multiplying and growing strong. But Ramses I, the new Egyptian pharaoh, saw this as a threat to his power and hence refused to acknowledge what Joseph did for the nation of Egypt. Better put, the new pharaoh turned his back on God who, through Joseph, saved Egypt from a great famine. In order to deal with this perceived threat, Ramses ordered the midwives to kill the male Hebrew infants by throwing them into the Nile River. Later, when Moses was to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, God punished the Egyptians by turning the waters of this same river to blood. As the book of Wisdom states, “[T]he perennial river was troubled with impure blood as a rebuke to the decree for the slaying of infants…”(Wisdom 11:6-7)
Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why the Lord instituted the ritual of circumcision through Abraham. Circumcision meant that babies were to belong to God’s covenant too; not just adults. It was God’s way of saying to the Hebrews- who happened to be surrounded by a Gentile people who killed their young –that children out to be accorded human dignity.
Through the ancient pagan world, infanticide and even child-sacrifices were universally practiced. After forty years in the desert, the people of God, upon entering into the Promised Land, found the Canaanites, who were the natives, offering child-sacrifices to their false gods. Indeed, false gods demand innocent blood. Again, in the book of Wisdom, it reads as follows:
“For while they celebrate either child-slaying sacrifices or clandestine mysteries, or frenzied carousals in unheard-of rites, They no longer safeguard either lives or pure wedlock; but each either waylays and kills his neighbor, or aggrieves him by adultery. And all is confusion-blood and murder, theft and guile, corruption, faithlessness, turmoil, perjury…” (Wisdom 14:23-25)
Sadly, in the centuries to come, the nation of Israel fell away from the worship of Yahweh and became mired in the worship of false gods. The Israelites got too comfortable and eventually they wanted to be like their neighbors. The Second Book of Kings recounts this sad tale of rejecting God’s divine authority only to end up sacrificing the most innocent among them:
“They immolated their sons and daughters by fire, practiced fortune-telling and divination, and sold themselves into evil doing in the LORD'S sight, provoking him till, in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight.” (II Kings 17:17-18)
And finally, when we come to the first century, when Christ walked the earth, the practice of infanticide was alive and well. In 1 B.C., a man by the name of Hilarion had written to his pregnant wife, Alis. In the letter he wrote: “I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, as soon as I receive payment I shall send it to you. If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it…” (The Rise of Christianity, Stark) Christians called this baby-exposure and they condemned it outright. Seneca, a Roman philosopher and a consultant to the Roman emperor Nero, causally wrote about the discarding of abnormal children. He said, “We drown even children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Yet it is not anger, but reason that separates the harmful from the sound.” This is the world that Christ saved us from.
When the angel Gabriel announced the coming of both St. John the Baptist and the Messiah to St. Zechariah in the Temple, he said they would “turn the hearts of fathers toward children.” This was to fulfill what the prophet Malachi wrote about the coming of Christ who would “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their
fathers.” (Malachi 3:24) This implies something very interesting and that which concerns us. The implication is that father’s hearts were not turned toward their children; that there was a kind of apathy or indifference towards them. And to be sure, that apathy was manifested in the heartless practice of infanticide and ritual of child-sacrifice.
It all seems so barbaric but this is the logical consequence of rejecting the Fatherhood of God and his gift to the world, his Son Jesus. From the bounty of their love for one another grace was communicated to parents and all those who have been given authority over others.
One thing for sure: The unbaptized world was cruel. It ceases to love as it should. For in the absence of God’s fatherly love, all authority becomes cold and heartless. Indeed, the first victims are invariably the innocent; namely, precious little babies. This is why the New Evangelization is so important today. It must boldly re-introduce the love God the Father has for his Son and how, through the Holy Spirit, we participate in that love.