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Homiletic & Pastoral Review - Book Review

CULTURE AND ABORTION. By Edward Short. (Gracewing, LTD., Herefordshire, England 2013) ISBN: 978 085244 820 5. 308 pages; $22.46.

The big band, pop, and Latin singer Eydie Gorme, wife of Steve Lawrence, half of “Steve and Eydie,” died in August 2013. Some of my online friends posted videos of her singing some standards. One comment drew my attention–and response. The gist of the comment was that “we face too many dangers today to waste time enjoying this lady’s singing; you need to be talking to us about the challenges we face. We need to be lamenting and groaning in this valley of tears, not taking such useless pleasure.” My response was something like, “Remember the Catholic AND: we can do both. We can pray and prepare for whatever challenges may come our way AND enjoy Eydie Gorme’s talent and beauty. Finding pleasure in her songs does not diminish our concern for the state of the world—in fact, it’s a sign of the love we have for God’s creation.

I’d say the same about this volume of essays from Edward Short: he demonstrates how in the midst of this valley of tears, in a culture obviously heading in the wrong direction in so many ways—in fact, toward a culture of death and destruction for humanity—we see all around us signs of the culture of life. He finds them in literature, in great men’s lives, in religious orders, in reform efforts, in Papal documents, and in the most unexpected places—and at the same time Short reminds us of the facts of our situation. In the spirit of the Gorme poster, some might say that we have to dedicate ourselves to political and social action to address these issues; that we don’t have time to read poetry and prose; but Short presents them with the Catholic AND. We do have time and we should make time.

Through the essays in this volume, Short introduces less familiar authors, and looks at well-known authors in a different light—starting with the poetry of Anne Ridler, depicting pregnancy and motherhood in verse; and highlighting the pro-life organizational efforts of J.J. Scarisbrick, perhaps better known as the biographer of Henry VIII, and one of the early revisionist historians of the English Reformation, for example. Although his selections do favor British authors—Ridler, Dickens, Chesterton, Penelope Fitzgerald (Ronald Knox’s niece), Samuel Johnson, and Jonathan Swift, among others. He does not, however, ignore American authors, with Walker Percy and Nathaniel Hawthorne (via his daughter Rose Hawthorne, foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne) as representatives. Another aspect of this American/British divide is that Short describes the different circumstances of abortion law in the United States and in Great Britain. The abortion legislation passed in Parliament in 1967 “
provided a defense for doctors performing an abortion” under certain circumstances, while the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, focused on the “right” of the woman to terminate her unborn child.

But Short’s sedulous argument in these essays goes beyond legislative and political explanations for abortion in British and American culture. He is examining the kind of culture that has developed to support these decisions on abortion: one in which the human person has no intrinsic rights or value either before birth or after, effecting the way writers look at motherhood, at childhood, and family life. In a few of the most intriguing essays in this volume, Short looks at the English literary works that would never have been written if that standard of human value had been
au courant in earlier times. For instance, he ponders the results if Samuel Johnson had been aborted because his parents feared he would not survive infancy, for example; at how modern feminist historical views of motherhood in Georgian England ignore the actual documented experience of mothers in Georgian England; and, certainly, how historians have ignored the pro-life arguments and efforts for the rights of the unborn in telling the history of abortion in the United States and Great Britain.

Culture and Abortion reminded me of the verses in the Letter of St. James: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:23-24) If we don’t remind ourselves what the culture of life is—and, indeed, that our civilization was built on a culture of life—we can forget what we are working for when we oppose abortion, the HHS Mandates, euthanasia, and so-called “gay marriage.” One of the most hopeful essays in the book reminds us of William Wilberforce’s long battle against slavery, and the slave trade, and how he could have given in to the discouragement brought on by the entrenched economic and political opposition he and his pro-life friends endured within and without Parliament. Certainly, the concluding essay on historians, ending as it does with the words of Blessed John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (which are words of a prayer), reminds us that we can’t forget what we are really like: believers in the Son who proclaim the Gospel of Life in a “civilization of truth and love.

-Stephanie A. Mann
Catholic author and speaker
Wichita, Kansas

This review is reproduced with permission from the 21st November 2013 issue

of Homiletic & Pastoral Review

The Version of this page: 31st January 2014

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