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NRL News
Page 18
June 2009
Volume 36
Issue 6

New Book Exposes Language Driving Culture of Death
Prophetic Voice of John Paul II Still Speaks to America
BY Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

When Notre Dame invited pro-abortion President Barack Obama to speak at its graduation, many Catholics were profoundly disturbed that the prestigious university would not only extend the invitation to give the commencement address but also give him an honorary degree. Others, however, didn’t understand the fuss.

Prof. William Brennan’s latest book, John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death, may help the latter understand what exactly was at stake.

It’s important to understand from the outset, however, that this book is not for Catholics alone. Though the words of Pope John Paul II are prominent, the book is not so much a theological analysis of church doctrine as it is a look at the language and ideas of law, medicine, and politics that have driven modern society’s assault on the unborn and other vulnerable human beings.

Brennan’s book, in some ways, is a follow-up to his brilliant 1995 book, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives. He takes insightful observations made by the late Pope and shows how and why the culture of death has come to be commonplace. It can easily be argued that no one has matched the Pope’s capacity to advance the culture of life by dissecting the duplicitous language of the culture of death.

Brennan uncovers an essay from the September 1970 issue of California Medicine that unabashedly advocated the use of the following “semantic gymnastics” (their words, not mine or Brennan’s) to promote the broader acceptance of abortion: (1) “avoidance of the scientific fact, which every one really knows, that human life begins at conception” and (2) “separat[ing] the idea of abortion from the idea of killing.”

Against such brazen duplicity, Brennan juxtaposes the words of John Paul II. In a passage from The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) quoted by Brennan, the Pope declares:

“... we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises and or to the temptation of self-deception. ... [Direct, undisguised language is urgently needed] especially in the case of abortion [where] there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology ... which tends to hide abortion’s true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. ... [N]o word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase or his or her existence extending from conception to birth.”

Methodically, Brennan looks at the devolution of language in various disciplinary fields. He documents in detail the conscious manipulation of language to facilitate public acceptance of killing the unwanted and the vulnerable. Brennan shows how the abortion industry and its defenders avoid the very term “abortion.” The language of “choice” is everywhere, but rarely do proponents like to spell out what is being chosen.

Brennan cites the example of NARAL, once known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which in January 2003 announced that it had a new name, NARAL Pro-Choice America. In changing its name it dropped any mention of abortion in its press release, saying only that the old acronym no longer applied.

Brennan cites a 1976 paper by Willard Cates and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control, presented before the Planned Parenthood Physicians of America, titled “Abortion as a Treatment for Unwanted Pregnancy.” Cates et al. referred to “unwanted pregnancy” as “The Number Two Sexually Transmitted ‘Disease.’”

They told conference attendees that “abortion is 10 times more effective for treating unwanted pregnancy than is penicillin for treating gonorrhea.” The authors conclude that unwanted pregnancy is “a sexually-transmitted condition of epidemic proportion and, moreover, legal abortion is an effective, safe, and curative treatment for that condition.”

Brennan illustrates how invaluable are John Paul’s clear, direct refutations. “Causing death,” the Pope insisted, “can never be considered a form of medical treatment ... . Rather, it runs completely counter to the health-care profession, which is meant to be an impassioned and unflinching affirmation of life.”

Repeatedly, the Pope insists that the unborn child is not tissue, not a disease, not a parasite. “[I]n no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenseless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defense consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears.”

There are sections in John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death dealing with euthanasia, the “quality of life” ethic, and the elevation of “animal rights” over human rights, each with quotations and documentation that makes clear the intentional manipulation of language to bring about the revolution of the culture of death. These are only the latest skirmishes in a battle that has already cost millions of lives and is still being waged on American soil.

John Paul II’s words to America are both challenging and encouraging. Looking to America’s founding documents and its tradition of liberty, the Pope declares:

“If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person.”

The challenge is fierce and the foes do not fight fairly. They turn language on its head and call good evil and evil good.

The pro-lifer that has this excellent resource will be able to recognize the tactics of the opposition, to “call things by their proper names,” and will be better prepared to engage those who have been blinded by the rhetoric of death. If you want to disarm the deceivers, then buy Bill Brennan’s book!

William Brennan’s book, John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death, is available from Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, at (888) 343-8607 or