God forgive me, but I actually dreamed about 85% of all this…

There is little chance of engaging in moral behavior without a series of pre-requisites.  First of all, the decision must be rooted in love.  But this love must be based upon encounter, and encounter has as its core the recognition of another as a “Thou” and not an object (to borrow the language of Martin Buber).  The corollary to this is that every “Thou” has an inherent dignity that must be respected.

Respecting this dignity as a result of one’s authentic encounter, decisions made will be made in true love and will be fundamentally moral.  Failure to respect this dignity generally follows from the failure to encounter the other as a “Thou.”  This failure may be accidental; it is more often deliberate, for the sake of convenience of the self.

In wartime, it is typical to objectify one’s opposition as “The Enemy,” and it is also typical to supply them with derogative nicknames that further objectify them, making them “Its,” not “Thous.”  We might reflect on wartime nicknames like “Krauts,” or “Japs,” or “Gooks,” or (especially in Nazi Germany) turning the actual name “Jew” into a slur that had as its intention the demeaning of a whole people, turning them into objects instead of persons.

When we can de-humanize another, we find ourselves capable of great horrors.  The Shoah was the worst of them, but there were many others competing for 2nd place: treatment of indigenous populations in North, Central, and South America by invading Europeans; treatment of Africans by slaveowners (most egregious example of this:  The Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court); the mutual massacres in Rwanda; apartheid in S Africa…  It is tragic how the list goes on.

The lack of true encounter, the result of lack of recognition of the other as a “Thou” with fundamental human dignity, is at the root of the crisis over abortion.  A mother whose child, newly born, is in fact suffering from cerebral palsy or spina bifida or Down syndrome will love that child and raise him/her with all the love possible.  Speaking personally, I have seen this (all three examples) very often.  But if a mother, still pregnant, is told it is likely or even possible that the child in her womb may have one of these maladies, and is told the best choice is abortion, it is far easier for her to be persuaded—because she has not encountered her child, has not recognized his/her inherent human dignity.  She can be told (and can talk herself into believing) it is not a “person,” only a growth that is deformed.  It is no wonder that organizations like Planned Parenthood are so adamant that ultrasound devices are not used as ordinary means of what they call pre-natal care—it’s too easy for a woman then truly to begin to encounter her child as a “Thou,” and would consent to destroying the child only with the greatest difficulty. 

When one is in conflict with what one considers a non “Thou,” it is easy to embrace a distorted vision of love that embraces only the self—the other becomes a problem, and not a person.  This kind of “love” is often best described as “narcissistic.”   This potentially leads to another problem of morality, currently debated with great passion on our country.  More on that next time!