Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII: No. 3 - Michaelmas 2003
America, Baseball and Life
by Sheila Gribben Liaugminas
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is a Chicago journalist, a member of the Voices editorial board and a frequent contributor. She is married and the mother of two sons.
The pro-life movement is precisely about speaking - at the right time - the truth of life and the truth about choices. The word spoken sometimes comes from unexpected sources.
For the past several months, I have been following with interest an unusual pro-life effort within major-league baseball. During the same period, several isolated experiences -- some of which happened at home, others during several family trips this summer -- have struck me as being oddly connected. The pattern slowly emerged, somewhat like the underpainting of a picture that becomes visible as a canvas is being restored.
Baseball -- and Life
There we were at a San Francisco Giants/Arizona Diamondbacks game, when someone behind us made a passing comment about baseball that, oddly, made me think of the cultural disconnect over the sanctity of life. Really.
Someone in this group of young people recalled that at another major-league game, a fly ball struck a bird. Another topped that with the story of a player who not only struck a bird and killed it, but became the target of an activist group that attempted to press charges for cruelty to animals. "Can you believe that!" he concluded. A young woman said "That's so sad", she said, expressing her concern for the bird. "That poor thing..."
Looking at the sky and picturing all this, I thought about all the sentiment in our culture about protection of innocent animals -- and the disproportionate lack of the same concern for innocent human life. It's a lack of true education, I thought.
The two teams on the field at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco that day -- coincidentally -- are among the major-league teams with members involved in fund-raising for Campus for Life, an ambitious pro-life educational venture planned by the American Life League (ALL). Says Jim Sedlak, ALL vice-president, "We have to plan for the pro-life culture to grow so that fight will still be going on into the future". To raise funds for this project, that would involve building a campus on a large tract of land south of Washington, DC, Sedlak brainstormed with former Legatus CEO, Jim Berlucchi, and former major-league baseball All-Star and General Manager Sal Bando, both of whom are active in pro-life efforts. The men decided to design their fund-raising plan on the theme of baseball. They named it "Battin' 1000", and hope to persuade 1,000 baseball people to donate $1,000 each between the beginning of spring training and the end of post-season playoffs and championship.
Bando sent out a letter to more than 100 current or former players, coaches and managers. He was not surprised to get 90 positive replies. "It's an issue no one brings up, unless they're already pro-life", he says. "All I did was ask".
I wonder why more of us don't ask -- and what cultural shift might occur if we did.
The responses Bando received included at least two dozen All-Star players or former players, MVPs, Hall-of-Famers, as well as Golden Glove, Cy Young, and Manager-of-the-Year award winners. A Memphis sports-businessman, Wes Engram, saw a program on ESPN about "Battin 1000" and contacted Jim Berlucchi to lend a hand. "I'm very pro-life, grew up as a baseball fan, and saw this as a way to make a positive contribution", says Engram. "I'm like so many other people who want to make a difference, but always ask myself 'what can I do?' This seemed like the perfect way to make a difference". So he sent out 100 letters to friends and acquaintances asking for support. Like Bando, he just asked.
Strong Voices -- and Good Examples
More pro-life Americans are finding their voices, more are responding when asked, and some are paying a considerable price. But what an example they set! Just look at the list of news stories over the past several months that report unexpected proclamations of the truths of life and natural law:
- Bishop William Weigand, of Sacramento, and Bishop Robert Carlson, of Sioux Falls, publicly criticized government officials who claimed to be both Catholic and pro-abortion.
- Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, proclaimed teachings of the Church on moral issues in a Georgetown university commencement address - and protests ensued. (WFF posted, with permission, the cardinal's Georgetown address on our web site: www.wf-f.org/Arinze-Georgetown.html).
- William Pryor, the Catholic attorney general of Alabama nominated by President Bush for the federal judiciary - who has been unapologetic about his pro-life beliefs - faces continued opposition to his confirmation.
- In June the Vatican released a document, "Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons", amid demands for the legal sanction of homosexual "marriage" (www.wf-f.org/CDW-HomosexualUnions.html). Though published with the pope's approval, it was vigorously rejected by many "liberal" Catholics, including some clergy.
- In response to a Chicago Sun-Times headline, "Pope launches global campaign against gays" (August 1, 2003) Cardinal Francis George delivered a very strong message. "I have written a letter of apology to Pope John Paul II", he concluded. "I am ashamed that this false accusation against the pope was made in our city". (See link on the WFF web site, "Breaking News" section).
- The following day, Chicago auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki delivered a bold homily, with his own admonitions and clear assertions:
"We have far too many supposedly Catholic politicians and government leaders who turn their back on the faith when it comes to putting Catholic values into action. For example, the Holy Father has made it clear that a politician cannot be 'pro-choice', that is, pro-abortion, and still be considered a good Catholic. Yet there are sadly many Catholic mayors, legislators, senators, governors and even Supreme Court justices who try to perpetrate a fraud on us by telling us they are Catholic but apparently don't believe abortion is wrong, won't do anything to stop it, and even in some cases, promote abortion as if this were morally acceptable. Well, such Catholics are dead wrong and have not 'learned Christ'".
Those who claim to be "scandalized" by Catholic teachings on life issues regard these events as positively incendiary. Ironically, though, it is those who claim to be most offended by pro-life statements who have been the real flame-throwers.
Nevertheless, perhaps all this comes at a good time. Those who stand for the dismantling of traditional faith aren't the only ones with a voice -- or the will to use it.
What is going on here? Could it be that institutions with a core of traditional morals and values are returning to home base? The culture has been coming unglued for a long time, after decades of poor or false teaching, revisionist history, distorted language and relativist morality.
"Pro-choice Catholicism is morally incoherent", wrote George Weigel in his column in The Catholic Difference (February 12, 2003). "[Saying] 'I'm personally opposed, but ' is just as morally incoherent, and its incoherence is compounded by its profound misunderstanding of the relationship between moral truth and democratic politics. Would 'I'm personally opposed but' have been an acceptable stance on apartheid?"
Some months ago, a movie about American military involvement in an African inter-tribal conflict portrayed the spreading atrocities of "ethnic cleansing". After the final scene the screen went black, and the famous Edmund Burke quote filled the screen for several seconds: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".
A Word Spoken
I thought of that quote when our family was touring the home of author Louisa May Alcott in Concord, Massachusetts, I spotted a quote by her father, Amos Bronson Alcott: "A word has saved a life when spoken at the right time".
The pro-life movement is precisely about speaking -- at the right time -- the truth of life and the truth about choices. Why don't abortionists and their promoters lay out the facts and give women a real choice? It is because the facts are overwhelming in their testimony to the atrocity that abortion is. As a culture, we used to know that.
The "word spoken" sometimes comes from unexpected sources. Many of the original "feminists" deplored abortion, according to Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life in a Zenit interview in May. "The basic tenets of feminism are nonviolence, nondiscrimination and justice for all", Miss Foster stated."Abortion violates all three".
How could abortion have emerged as epitomizing "freedom" and "choice" for women? Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former atheist and one of the architects of abortion on demand, who became pro-life and Catholic, gives an account of how this was engineered. Larry Lader and Dr. Nathanson jointly founded the National Alliance to Repeal Abortion Laws, which later became the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). After admitting to being "personally responsible to 75,000 abortions", Dr. Nathanson now spends his time telling the whole world about how pro-abortionists successfully turned lies into truth, and life into death.
The first front they conquered was the media:
"We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal enlightened, sophisticated one", Nathanson explains in an article he originally wrote several years ago. "Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls. This is the tactic of the self fulfilling lie. Few people care to be in the minority. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public [and] false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans".
Then they attacked the Catholic Church:
"We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its 'socially backward ideas' and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion".
They suppressed scientific evidence about the origin of life:
"A favorite pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible; that the question is a theological or moral or philosophical one, anything but a scientific one. Fetology makes it undeniably evident that life begins at conception and requires all the protection and safeguards that any of us enjoy. It is clear that permissive abortion is purposeful destruction of what is undeniably human life. It is an impermissible act of deadly violence. As a scientist I know, not believe, that human life begins at conception".
We need to teach this to children. They hear daily across the media and cultural spectrum the message that killing babies is legal and protected by law at all stages of a baby's development, that it's a baby only if it is "wanted", but a mere "fetus" if unwanted.
A message I saw on a church announcement last January read: "If you were born after January 22, 1973, you are a survivor". Imagine the effect that has on children and young adults.
More Signs of Change
Developments in science and medicine are dramatically altering our view of the development of human life in the womb. Ultrasound technology and fetal surgery are advancing, and we are now witnessing, also, the intriguing growth of political activism to "harvest" stem cells from unborn babies for use in life-saving cures. Why intriguing? Because, one wonders, how can they be hailed as life-saving when they rely on the death of an developing child?
During our family's San Francisco trip, we visited a science museum, and I noticed an exhibit displaying photographs of several fetuses at an early stage of development. The sign over the display asked, "Which one is human?" After guessing, the visitor flips over the cover board to learn the answer. The images were remarkably difficult to identify. (I guessed wrong on the first few tries.) How offensive, I thought, to toss an unborn child among the animal fetuses for a game. The exhibit seems to have been designed by those who want to blur distinctions between humans and animals and to question when human life begins. Still, we also note that there are now many photographs of unborn babies taken from inside womb appearing in books and magazines. These powerful images of life are speaking for themselves.
Another sign that the pro-life message is beginning to affect even non-believers is evident in a group called "Libertarians for Life". They base their pro-life arguments on "reason", they say: "In abortion, what's central is: When do human beings - human persons with rights - begin? The marker event can't be derived from libertarian philosophy; it just takes the concepts of human being, person, and rights as a given. Its basic premise is that all of our rights are limited by the obligation not to violate the rights of others", writes Doris Gordo in "A Libertarian Atheist Answers 'Pro-Choice Catholics'" (www.l4l.org).
"If an abortion-choice governor thinks the preborn are persons with rights yet it's OK to kill them, a question comes to mind: Who's next?", asks John Walker, in "'Personally Opposed' to Abortion?" on the same web site.
Baseball's Reminder -- and Example
During our visit to Concord, my sons found the movie Field of Dreams one evening on TV, a baseball classic we've always enjoyed. One of the central characters is a famous former sports writer, played by actor James Earl Jones. Near the end of the movie, he delivered a poignant parting message to the main character, Ray, who built a ball field on his farm: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray, and reminds us of all that once was good, and can be again".
There is no question that the men we saw at Pac Bell Park that day are lending their well-known names to an effort to spread the word about the sanctity of life. They will continue through the playoff season until the end of the World Series. And they will take up their project again as spring training opens next year. They intend to remain constant.
These "men of summer" explain why they are doing this: "To help build a culture of life. To contribute to teaching countless Americans the truth about human life and dignity. To equip the next generation of pro-life Americans to carry on the fight for life. To join with hundreds of pro-life Americans in launching an unprecedented alliance of our wonderful American pastime with the wondrous truth about life".
Bronson Alcott's lesson -- that "A word has saved a life when spoken at the right time" -- has perhaps never been more true or more timely.
This story may sound like "What I Did On My Summer Vacation(s)" -- but so many things I experienced seemed to focus on the plight of unborn children -- the millions killed, and the manipulation of words that makes that okay with consciences. Many incidents, though, cast a welcome light on a landscape of an America that is emerging as a picture of "all that once was good" - and can be again.
"Baseball group launches anti-abortion effort", The Arizona Republic, February 22, 2003.
"Current, ex-Brewers lend names to anti-abortion effort", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, www.jsonline.com/sports/brew/apr03/134399.asp (broken link), April 17, 2003.
"Battin' for dollars - and against abortion", San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2003.
"Confession of an Ex-Abortionist", contained in The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind, Regnery Publishing, 1997 (online at www.aboutabortions.com/Confess.html).
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