When I was an undergraduate I had a friend named Carl Dolan. Carl was from New England where he was raised at least vaguely in the Episcopal Church. Naturally, given that background, by the time he reached college he was an agnostic. He was, nonetheless, an exceptionally kind and generous soul, often volunteering for good works in the community and on campus. In our first years in college Carl and I were just acquaintances. In our senior year, however, I shared a house with Carl’s freshman roommate, Bill Antenucci, and we were thrown together much more often and became good friends. During that year at some point Carl and I had an hours’ long conversion about abortion one evening in the library stacks. At the end of the conversation I had the impression that I had failed to move Carl an inch from his strongly pro-abortion position.
After college Carl married and began teaching at a Friends’ school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the same time I was nearby in Durham in a doctoral program at Duke. We got together several times during that period and remained in touch after I moved to Georgia in 1983 and after Carl and his wife moved to Washington. These contacts were facilitated by our mutual friend, John Agresto. John was a former professor at Kenyon, then a scholar at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and later acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington.
After Carl was in Washington and I in Georgia, Carl wrote to ask my recommendation about churches to attend. That was a surprise, though a happy one. Since our parish in Washington itself was small and perhaps would not prove very attractive to a young person, and since parishes of other Churches were places of unknowable doctrine and clerical leadership, I decided that the safest course was to recommend books instead of parishes. I thought one could not go wrong with C.S. Lewis and similar good things. Carl, however, was a couple of steps ahead of me and my caution, and soon called to say that he was attending Saint Hilda’s, the Anglican Catholic parish in the District of Columbia. In due course Carl joined Saint Hilda’s, served on the vestry, and then had his son, Tom, baptized there. Later still Carl became principal of a Friends’ high school in Maryland but died at about age 40 of heat stroke while pursuing one of his great enjoyments, bicycle racing. I would call his death tragic, if Christians believed in tragedy.
Well before Carl’s death, however, he visited me in Athens and gave me the fuller story of his conversion. He identified the start of the process, insofar as such things can be discerned, as the aforementioned conversation in the college library in 1978. I quote from memory, but with substantial accuracy: ‘I knew while we were talking that I didn’t have a leg to stand on. But my whole world view was wrapped up in my view of abortion, and at the time I couldn’t face the collapse of the whole thing.’
In the United States the basic alternative to orthodox Christianity in my lifetime is a form of deep moral individualism which has no sound foundation and few or no principled limits. This secularist orthodoxy, for such it now is, is deeply antagonistic to all restraints imposed by the law of God and nature or by any human law rooted in the law of God and nature. The imagined rights of the autonomous, individual will are supreme.
Abortion is a radical, practical assertion of that individualism. As inconsistent and illogical as it may be, the pro-abortionist asserts that a woman’s autonomy and self-control must not be limited by any obligation to an unborn child or to the father of such a child or to anyone else who might seek to protect the child. This form of radical individualism is closely related to the rejection of all traditional moral norms in all matters sexual.
While the abortion license and sexual free-for-all are more common, the ultimate and most revealing expression of this moral individualism comes in the ‘trans’ movement, which seeks to reverse fundamental reality and which asserts in the place of such reality that sex is chosen or socially constructed rather than given. No restraint, no limit, no reality, and no fact may stand in the way of the imperial will of the individual and of his or her freedom to choose virtually anything. Individualism blossoms into solipsism. That the fruits of such untethered and illimitable will can include killing (in the case of abortion) and self-mutilation (‘sexual reassignment’ surgeries) matters not. ‘Happiness’ is defined as the freedom to do just exactly what I think I want. I seek to abolish all obstacles to my will.
The good news for religiously traditional folk is that this secularist orthodoxy is so contrary to real human flourishing and reality that there will always be Carl Dolans who revolt against it and turn back to older views. The bad news is that the new orthodoxy is more and more entrenched every year and that fewer and fewer people are willing to say that it is built on willful fantasy and killing.