I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live: (DRV)
On the crisp, sunny, fall Columbus Day in 1999, organizers of the “Say So” march approached the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. The marchers, who were predominantly black pastors and lay persons, concluded their three-day protest at the site of two monumental cases: the school desegregation Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the pro-abortion Roe v. Wade (1973). The significance of each case—equal rights for all Americans in the former, and abortion “rights” in the latter—converged in the declaration of Rev. Johnny M. Hunter, the march’s sponsor and national director of Life, Education and Resource Network (LEARN), the largest black pro-life organization.
“’Civil rights’ doesn’t mean anything without a right to life!” declared Hunter. He and the other marchers were protesting the disproportionately high number of abortions in the black community. The high number is no accident. Many Americans—black and white—are unaware of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s Negro Project. Sanger created this program in 1939, after the organization changed its name from the American Birth Control League (ABCL) to the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA).1
The aim of the program was to restrict—many believe exterminate—the black population. Under the pretense of “better health” and “family planning,” Sanger cleverly implemented her plan. What’s more shocking is Sanger’s beguilement of black America’s crème de la crème—those prominent, well educated and well-to-do—into executing her scheme. Some within the black elite saw birth control as a means to attain economic empowerment, elevate the race and garner the respect of whites.
The Negro Project has had lasting repercussions in the black community: “We have become victims of genocide by our own hands,” cried Hunter at the “Say So” march.
Margaret Sanger aligned herself with the eugenicists whose ideology prevailed in the early 20th century. Eugenicists strongly espoused racial supremacy and “purity,” particularly of the “Aryan” race. Eugenicists hoped to purify the bloodlines and improve the race by encouraging the “fit” to reproduce and the “unfit” to restrict their reproduction. They sought to contain the “inferior” races through segregation, sterilization, birth control and abortion.
Sanger embraced Malthusian eugenics. Thomas Robert Malthus, a 19th-century cleric and professor of political economy, believed a population time bomb threatened the existence of the human race.2 He viewed social problems such as poverty, deprivation and hunger as evidence of this “population crisis.” According to writer George Grant, Malthus condemned charities and other forms of benevolence, because he believed they only exacerbated the problems. His answer was to restrict population growth of certain groups of people.3 His theories of population growth and economic stability became the basis for national and international social policy. Grant quotes from Malthus’ magnum opus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in six editions from 1798 to 1826:
All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.4
Malthus’ disciples believed if Western civilization were to survive, the physically unfit, the materially poor, the spiritually diseased, the racially inferior, and the mentally incompetent had to be suppressed and isolated—or even, perhaps, eliminated. His disciples felt the subtler and more “scientific” approaches of education, contraception, sterilization and abortion were more “practical and acceptable ways” to ease the pressures of the alleged overpopulation.5
Critics of Malthusianism said the group “produced a new vocabulary of mumbo-jumbo. It was all hard-headed, scientific and relentless.” Further, historical facts have proved the Malthusian mathematical scheme regarding overpopulation to be inaccurate, though many still believe them.6
Despite the falsehoods of Malthus’ overpopulation claims, Sanger nonetheless immersed herself in Malthusian eugenics. Grant wrote she argued for birth control using the “scientifically verified” threat of poverty, sickness, racial tension and overpopulation as its background. Sanger’s publication, The Birth Control Review (founded in 1917) regularly published pro-eugenic articles from eugenicists, such as Ernst Rudin.7 Although Sanger ceased editing The Birth Control Review in 1929, the ABCL continued to use it as a platform for eugenic ideas.
Sanger built the work of the ABCL, and, ultimately, Planned Parenthood, on the ideas and resources of the eugenics movement. Grant reported that “virtually all of the organization’s board members were eugenicists.” Eugenicists financed the early projects, from the opening of birth control clinics to the publishing of “revolutionary” literature. Eugenicists comprised the speakers at conferences, authors of literature and the providers of services “almost without exception.” And Planned Parenthood’s international work was originally housed in the offices of the Eugenics Society. The two organizations were intertwined for years.8
The ABCL became a legal entity on April 22, 1922, in New York. Before that, Sanger illegally operated a birth control clinic in October 1916, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, which eventually closed. The clinic serviced the poor immigrants who heavily populated the area—those deemed “unfit” to reproduce.9
Sanger’s early writings clearly reflected Malthus’ influence. She writes:
Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease. Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents.10
In another passage, she decries the burden of “human waste” on society:
It [charity] encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant [emphasis added].11
The most serious charge that can be brought against modern “benevolence” is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents. These are the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression.12
The Review printed an excerpt of an address Sanger gave in 1926. In it she said:
It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit.13
Sanger said a “bonus” would be “wise and profitable” and “the salvation of American civilization.”14 She presented her ideas to Mr. C. Harold Smith (of the New York Evening World) on “the welfare committee” in New York City. She said, “people must be helped to help themselves.” Any plan or program that would make them “dependent upon doles and charities” is “paternalistic” and would not be “of any permanent value.” She included an essay (what she called a “program of public welfare,”) entitled “We Must Breed a Race of Thoroughbreds.”15
In it she argued that birth control clinics, or bureaus, should be established “in which men and women will be taught the science of parenthood and the science of breeding.” For this was the way “to breed out of the race the scourges of transmissible disease, mental defect, poverty, lawlessness, crime … since these classes would be decreasing in number instead of breeding like weeds [emphasis added].”16
Her program called for women to receive birth control advice in various situations, including where:
the woman or man had a “transmissible” disease such as insanity, feeble-mindedness, epilepsy, syphilis, etc.;
the children already born were “subnormal or feeble-minded”;
the father’s wages were “inadequate … to provide for more children.”
Sanger said “such a plan would … reduce the birthrate among the diseased, the sickly, the poverty stricken and anti-social classes, elements unable to provide for themselves, and the burden of which we are all forced to carry.”17
Sanger had openly embraced Malthusian eugenics, and it shaped her actions in the ensuing years.
The Harlem Clinic
In 1929, 10 years before Sanger created the Negro Project, the ABCL laid the groundwork for a clinic in Harlem, a largely black section of New York City. It was the dawn of the Great Depression, and for blacks that meant double the misery. Blacks faced harsher conditions of desperation and privation because of widespread racial prejudice and discrimination. From the ABCL’s perspective, Harlem was the ideal place for this “experimental clinic,” which officially opened on November 21, 1930. Many blacks looked to escape their adverse circumstances and therefore did not recognize the eugenic undercurrent of the clinic. The clinic relied on the generosity of private foundations to remain in business.18 In addition to being thought of as “inferior” and disproportionately represented in the underclass, according to the clinic’s own files used to justify its “work,” blacks in Harlem:
were segregated in an over-populated area (224,760 of 330,000 of greater New York’s black population lived in Harlem during the late 1920s and 1930s);
comprised 12 percent of New York City’s population, but accounted for 18.4 percent of New York City’s unemployment;
had an infant mortality rate of 101 per 1000 births, compared to 56 among whites;
had a death rate from tuberculosis—237 per 100,000—that was highest in central Harlem, out of all of New York City.19
Although the clinic served whites as well as blacks, it “was established for the benefit of the colored people.” Sanger wrote this in a letter to Dr. W. E. Burghardt DuBois,20 one of the day’s most influential blacks. A sociologist and author, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 to improve the living conditions of black Americans.
That blacks endured extreme prejudice and discrimination, which contributed greatly to their plight, seemed to further justify restricting their numbers. Many believed the solution lay in reducing reproduction. Sanger suggested the answer to poverty and degradation lay in smaller numbers of blacks. She convinced black civic groups in Harlem of the “benefits” of birth control, under the cloak of “better health” (i.e., reduction of maternal and infant death; child spacing) and “family planning.” So with their cooperation, and the endorsement of The Amsterdam News (a prominent black newspaper), Sanger established the Harlem branch of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau.21 The ABCL told the community birth control was the answer to their predicament.
Sanger shrewdly used the influence of prominent blacks to reach the masses with this message. She invited DuBois and a host of Harlem’s leading blacks, including physicians, social workers, ministers and journalists, to form an advisory council to help direct the clinic “so that our work in birth control will be a constructive force in the community.”22 She knew the importance of having black professionals on the advisory board and in the clinic; she knew blacks would instinctively suspect whites of wanting to decrease their numbers. She would later use this knowledge to implement the Negro Project.
Sanger convinced the community so well that Harlem’s largest black church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, held a mass meeting featuring Sanger as the speaker.23 But that event received criticism. At least one “very prominent minister of a denomination other than Baptist” spoke out against Sanger. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., pastor of Abyssinian Baptist, “received adverse criticism” from the (unnamed) minister who was “surprised that he’d allow that awful woman in his church.”24
Grace Congregational Church hosted a debate on birth control. Proponents argued birth control was necessary to regulate births in proportion to the family’s income; spacing births would help mothers recover physically and fathers financially; physically strong and mentally sound babies would result; and incidences of communicable diseases would decrease.
Opponents contended that as a minority group blacks needed to increase rather than decrease and that they needed an equal distribution of wealth to improve their status. In the end, the debate judges decided the proponents were more persuasive: Birth control would improve the status of blacks.25 Still, there were others who equated birth control with abortion and therefore considered it immoral.
Eventually, the Urban League took control of the clinic,26 an indication the black community had become ensnared in Sanger’s labyrinth.
Birth Control as a Solution
The Harlem clinic and ensuing birth control debate opened dialogue among blacks about how best to improve their disadvantageous position. Some viewed birth control as a viable solution: High reproduction, they believed, meant prolonged poverty and degradation. Desperate for change, others began to accept the “rationale” of birth control. A few embraced eugenics. The June 1932 edition of The Birth Control Review, called “The Negro Number,” featured a series of articles written by blacks on the “virtues” of birth control.
The editorial posed this question: “Shall they go in for quantity or quality in children? Shall they bring children into the world to enrich the undertakers, the physicians and furnish work for social workers and jailers, or shall they produce children who are going to be an asset to the group and American society?” The answer: “Most [blacks], especially women, would choose quality … if they only knew how.”27
DuBois, in his article “Black Folk and Birth Control,” noted the “inevitable clash of ideals between those Negroes who were striving to improve their economic position and those whose religious faith made the limitation of children a sin.”28 He criticized the “mass of ignorant Negroes” who bred “carelessly and disastrously so that the increase among [them] … is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”29
DuBois called for a “more liberal attitude” among black churches. He said they were open to “intelligent propaganda of any sort, and the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers [emphasis added].”30
Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University’s first black president, wrote “eugenic discrimination” was necessary for blacks.31 He said the high maternal and infant mortality rates, along with diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and venereal infection, made it difficult for large families to adequately sustain themselves.
Further, “the status of Negroes as marginal workers, their confinement to the lowest paid branches of industry, the necessity for the labors of mothers, as well as children, to balance meager budgets, are factors [that] emphasize the need for lessening the burden not only for themselves, but of society, which must provide the supplementary support in the form of relief.”32 Johnson later served on the National Advisory Council to the BCFA, becoming integral to the Negro Project.
Writer Walter A. Terpenning described bringing a black child into a hostile world as “pathetic.” In his article “God’s Chillun,” he wrote:
The birth of a colored child, even to parents who can give it adequate support, is pathetic in view of the unchristian and undemocratic treatment likely to be accorded it at the hands of a predominantly white community, and the denial of choice in propagation to this unfortunate class is nothing less than barbarous [emphasis added].33
Terpenning considered birth control for blacks as “the more humane provision” and “more eugenic” than among whites. He felt birth control information should have first been disseminated among blacks rather than the white upper crust.34 He failed to look at the problematic attitudes and behavior of society and how they suppressed blacks. He offered no solutions to the injustice and vile racism that blacks endured.
Sadly, DuBois’ words of black churches being “open to intelligent propaganda” proved prophetic. Black pastors invited Sanger to speak to their congregations. Black publications, like The Afro-American and The Chicago Defender, featured her writings. Rather than attacking the root causes of maternal and infant deaths, diseases, poverty, unemployment and a host of other social ills—not the least of which was racism—Sanger pushed birth control. To many, it was better for blacks not to be born rather than endure such a harsh existence.
Against this setting, Sanger charmed the black community’s most distinguished leaders into accepting her plan, which was designed to their own detriment. She peddled her wares wrapped in pretty packages labeled “better health” and “family planning.” No one could deny the benefits of better health, being financially ready to raise children, or spacing one’s children. However, the solution to the real issues affecting blacks did not lay in reducing their numbers. It lay in attacking the forces in society that hindered their progress. Most importantly, one had to discern Sanger’s motive behind her push for birth control in the community. It was not an altruistic one.
Web of Deceit
Prior to 1939, Sanger’s “outreach to the black community was largely limited to her Harlem clinic and speaking at black churches.”35 Her vision for “the reproductive practices of black Americans” expanded after the January 1939 merger of the Clinical Research Bureau and the American Birth Control League to form the Birth Control Federation of America. She selected Dr. Clarence J. Gamble, of the soap-manufacturing company Procter and Gamble, to be the BCFA regional director of the South.
Gamble wrote a memorandum in November 1939 entitled “Suggestions for the Negro Project,” in which he recognized that “black leaders might regard birth control as an extermination plot.” He suggested black leaders be placed in positions where it would appear they were in charge.36 Yet Sanger’s reply reflects Gamble’s ambivalence about having blacks in authoritative positions:
I note that you doubt it worthwhile to employ a full-time Negro physician. It seems to me from my experience … that, while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors, they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table, which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts. They do not do this with white people and if we can train the Negro doctor at the clinic, he can go among them with enthusiasm and … knowledge, which … will have far-reaching results among the colored people.37
Another project director lamented:
I wonder if Southern Darkies can ever be entrusted with … a clinic. Our experience causes us to doubt their ability to work except under white supervision.38
Sanger knew blacks were a religious people—and how useful ministers would be to her project. She wrote in the same letter:
The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members [emphasis added].39
Sanger’s cohorts within the BCFA sought to attract black leadership. They succeeded. The list of black leaders who made up BCFA’s National Advisory Council reads like a “who’s who” among black Americans. To name a few:40
Claude A. Barnett, director, Associated Negro Press, Chicago
Michael J. Bent, M.D., Meharry Medical School, Nashville
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, president, National Council of Negro Women, Washington, D.C., special advisor to President Roosevelt on minority groups, and founder of Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach
Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, cum laude graduate of Tufts, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha (the nation’s oldest black sorority), Washington, D.C.
Charles S. Johnson, president, Fisk University, Nashville
Eugene Kinckle Jones, executive secretary, National Urban League, New York
Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York
Bishop David H. Sims, pastor, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia
Arthur Spingarn, president, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Even with this impressive list, Sanger ran into resistance when she tried to present a birth control exhibit at the 1940 American Negro Exposition, a fair that traces the progress blacks have made since the Emancipation Proclamation, in Chicago. After inviting the BCFA to display its exhibit, the Exposition’s board later cancelled, citing “last minute changes in floor space.”41
Sanger did not buy this and issued a statement urging public protest. “This has come as a complete surprise,” said Sanger, “since the Federation undertook preparation of the exhibit upon an express invitation from a member of the Exposition board.”42 She said the cancellation resulted from “concerted action on the part of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.” She even accused the church of threatening officials with the withholding of promised federal and state funds needed to hold the Exposition.43
Her statement mentioned BCFA prepared the exhibit in consultation with its National (Negro) Advisory Council, and it illustrated “the need for birth control as a public health measure.”44 She said the objective was to demonstrate how birth control would “improve the welfare of the Negro population,” noting the maternal death rate among black mothers was nearly 50 percent higher, and the child death rate was more than one-third greater than the white community.45
At Sanger’s urging, protesters of the cancellation sent letters to Attorney Wendall E. Green, vice chairman of the Afra-Merican Emancipation Exposition Commission (sponsor of the Exposition), requesting he investigate. Green denied there was any threat or pressure to withhold funds needed to finance the Exposition. Further, he said the Exposition commission (of Illinois) “unanimously passed a resolution,” which read in part: “That in the promotion, conduct and accomplishment of the objectives (of the Exposition) there must be an abiding spirit to create goodwill toward all people.”46 He added that since the funds for the Exposition “came from citizens of all races and creeds, any exhibit in conflict with the known convictions of any religious group contravenes the spirit of the resolution,”47 which seemed to support Catholic opposition. The commission upheld the ban on the exhibit.
“Better Health for 13,000,000”
The propaganda of the Negro Project was that birth control meant better health. So on this premise, the BCFA designed two southern Negro Project “demonstration programs” to show “how medically-supervised birth control integrated into existing public health services could improve the general welfare of Negroes, and to initiate a nationwide educational program.”48
The BCFA opened the first clinic at the Bethlehem Center in urban Nashville, Tennessee (where blacks constituted only 25 percent of the population), on February 13, 1940. They extended the work to the Social Services Center of Fisk University (a historically black college) on July 23, 1940. This location was especially significant because of its proximity to Meharry Medical School, which trained more than 50 percent of black physicians in the United States.49
An analysis of the income of the Nashville group revealed that “no family, regardless of size, had an income over $15 a week. The service obviously reached the income group for which it was designed,”50 indicating the project’s target. The report claimed to have brought “to light serious diseases and making possible their treatment, … [and] that 55 percent [354 of the 638] of the patients prescribed birth control methods used it consistently and successfully.”51 However, the report presented “no definite figures … to demonstrate the extent of community improvement.”52
The BCFA opened the second clinic on May 1, 1940, in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina, under the supervision of Dr. Robert E. Seibels, chairman of the Committee on Maternal Welfare of the South Carolina Medical Association.53 BCFA chose this site in part “because leaders in the state were particularly receptive to the experiment. South Carolina had been the second state to make child spacing a part of its state public health program after a survey of the state’s maternal deaths showed that 25 percent occurred among mothers known to be physically unfit for pregnancy.”54 Again, the message went out: Birth control—not better prenatal care—reduced maternal and infant mortality.
Although Berkeley County’s population was 70 percent black, the clinic received criticism that members of this group were “overwhelmingly in the majority.”55 Seibels assured Claude Barnett that this was not the case. “We have … simply given our help to those who were willing to receive it, and these usually are Negroes,” he said.56
While religious convictions significantly influenced the Nashville patients’ view of birth control, people in Berkeley County had “no religious prejudice against birth control. But the attitude that treatment of any disease was ‘against nature’ was in the air.”57 Comparing the results of the two sites, “it is seen that the immediate receptivity to the demonstration was at the outset higher in the rural area.”58 However, “the final total success was lower [in the rural area].” However, in Berkeley, “stark poverty was even more in evidence, and bad roads, bad weather and ignorance proved powerful counter forces [to the contraceptive programs].” After 18 months, the Berkeley program closed.59
The report indicated that, contrary to expectations, the lives of black patients serviced by the clinics did not improve dramatically from birth control. Two beliefs stood in the way: Some blacks likened birth control to abortion and others regarded it as “inherently immoral.”60 However, “when thrown against the total pictures of the awareness on the part of Negro leaders of the improved conditions, … and their opportunities to even better conditions under Planned Parenthood, … the obstacles to the program are greatly outweighed,” said Dr. Dorothy Ferebee.61
A hint of eugenic flavor seasoned Ferebee’s speech: “The future program [of Planned Parenthood] should center around more education in the field through the work of a professional Negro worker, because those of us who believe that the benefits of Planned Parenthood as a vital key to the elimination of human waste must reach the entire population [emphasis added].”62 She peppered her speech with the importance of “Negro professionals, fully integrated into the staff, … who could interpret the program and objectives to [other blacks] in the normal course of day-to-day contacts; could break down fallacious attitudes and beliefs and elements of distrust; could inspire the confidence of the group; and would not be suspect of the intent to eliminate the race [emphasis added].”63
Sanger even managed to lure the prominent—but hesitant—black minister J. T. Braun, editor in chief of the National Baptist Convention’s Sunday School Publishing Board in Nashville, Tennessee, into her deceptive web. Braun confessed to Sanger that “the very idea of such a thing [birth control] has always held the greatest hatred and contempt in my mind. … I am hesitant to give my full endorsement of this idea, until you send me, perhaps, some more convincing literature on the subject.”64 Sanger happily complied. She sent Braun the Federal Council of Churches’ Marriage and Home Committee pamphlet praised by Bishop Sims (another member of the National Advisory Council), assuring him that: “There are some people who believe that birth control is an attempt to dictate to families how many children to have. Nothing could be further from the truth.”65
Sanger’s assistants gave Braun more pro-birth control literature and a copy of her autobiography, which he gave to his wife to read. Sanger’s message of preventing maternal and infant mortality stirred Braun’s wife. Now convinced of this need, Braun permitted a group of women to use his chapel for a birth-control talk.66 “[I was] moved by the number of prominent [black] Christians backing the proposition,” Braun wrote in a letter to Sanger.67 “At first glance I had a horrible shock to the proposition because it seemed to me to be allied to abortion, but after thought and prayer, I have concluded that especially among many women, it is necessary both to save the lives of mothers and children [emphasis added].”68
By 1949, Sanger had hoodwinked black America’s best and brightest into believing birth control’s “life-saving benefits.” In a monumental feat, she bewitched virtually an entire network of black social, professional and academic organizations69 into endorsing Planned Parenthood’s eugenic program.70
Sanger’s successful duplicity does not in any way suggest blacks were gullible. They certainly wanted to decrease maternal and infant mortality and improve the community’s overall health. They wholly accepted her message because it seemed to promise prosperity and social acceptance. Sanger used their vulnerabilities and their ignorance (of her deliberately hidden agenda) to her advantage. Aside from birth control, she offered no other medical or social solutions to their adversity. Surely, blacks would not have been such willing accomplices had they perceived her true intentions. Considering the role eugenics played in the early birth control movement—and Sanger’s embracing of that ideology—the notion of birth control as seemingly the only solution to the problems that plagued blacks should have been much more closely scrutinized.
Planned Parenthood has gone to great lengths to repudiate the organization’s eugenic origins.71 It adamantly denies Sanger was a eugenicist or racist, despite evidence to the contrary. Because Sanger stopped editing The Birth Control Review in 1929, the organization tries to disassociate her from the eugenic and racist-oriented articles published after that date. However, a summary of an address Sanger gave in 1932, which appeared in the Review that year, revealed her continuing bent toward eugenics.
In “A Plan for Peace,” Sanger suggested Congress set up a special department to study population problems and appoint a “Parliament of Population.” One of the main objectives of the “Population Congress” would be “to raise the level and increase the general intelligence of population.” This would be accomplished by applying a “stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation [in addition to tightening immigration laws] to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”72
It’s reasonable to conclude that as the leader of Planned Parenthood—even after 1929—Sanger would not allow publication of ideas she didn’t support.
Sanger’s defenders argue she only wanted to educate blacks about birth control’s “health benefits.” However, she counted the very people she wanted to “educate” among the “unfit,” whose numbers needed to be restricted.
Grant presents other arguments Sanger’s supporters use to refute her racist roots:73
blacks, Jews, Hispanics and other minorities are well represented in the “upper echelons” of Planned Parenthood Federation of America;
the former, high-profile president of the organization, Faye Wattleton, is a black woman;
“aggressive” minority hiring practices have been standard procedure for more than two decades;
the “vast majority of the nation’s ethnic leadership solidly and actively supports the work” of the organization.
These justifications also fail because of what Grant calls “scientific racism.” This form of racism is based on genes, rather than skin color or language. “The issue is not ‘color of skin’ or ‘dialect of tongue,’” Grant writes, “but ‘quality of genes [emphasis added].’”74 Therefore, “as long as blacks, Jews and Hispanics demonstrate ‘a good quality gene pool’—as long as they ‘act white and think white’—then they are esteemed equally with Aryans. As long as they are, as Margaret Sanger said, ‘the best of their race,’ then they can be [counted] as valuable citizens [emphasis added].” By the same token, “individual whites” who show “dysgenic traits” must also have their fertility “curbed right along with the other ‘inferiors and undesirables.’”75
In short, writes Grant, “Scientific racism is an equal opportunity discriminator [emphasis added]. Anyone with a ‘defective gene pool’ is suspect. And anyone who shows promise may be admitted to the ranks of the elite.”76
The eugenic undertone is hard to miss. As Grant rightly comments, “The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood was self-consciously organized, in part, to promote and enforce White Supremacy. … It has been from its inception implicitly and explicitly racist.”77
“There is no way to escape the implications,” argues William L. Davis, a black financial analyst Grant quotes. “When an organization has a history of racism, when its literature is openly racist, when its goals are self-consciously racial, and when its programs invariably revolve around race, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that the organization is indeed racist.”78
It is impossible to sever Planned Parenthood’s past from its present. Its legacy of lies and propaganda continues to infiltrate the black community. The poison is even more venomous because, in addition to birth control, Planned Parenthood touts abortion as a solution to the economic and social problems that plague the community. In its wake is the loss of more than 12 million lives within the black community alone. Planned Parenthood’s own records reflect this. For example, a 1992 report revealed that 23.2 percent of women who obtained abortions at its affiliates were black79—although blacks represent no more than 13 percent of the total population. In 1996, Planned Parenthood’s research arm reported: “Blacks, who make up 14 percent of all childbearing women, have 31 percent of all abortions and whites, who account for 81 percent of women of childbearing age, have 61 percent.”80
“Abortion is the number-one killer of blacks in America,” says Rev. Hunter of LEARN. “We’re losing our people at the rate of 1,452 a day. That’s just pure genocide. There’s no other word for it. [Sanger’s] influence and the whole mindset that Planned Parenthood has brought into the black community … say it’s okay to destroy your people. We bought into the lie; we bought into the propaganda.”81
Some blacks have even made abortion “rights” synonymous with civil rights.
“We’re destroying the destiny and purpose of others who should be here,” Hunter laments. “Who knows the musicians we’ve lost? Who knows the great leaders the black community has really lost? Who knows what great minds of economic power people have lost? What great teachers?” He recites an old African proverb: “No one knows whose womb holds the chief.”82
Hunter has personally observed the vestiges of Planned Parenthood’s eugenic past in the black community today. “When I travel around the country … I can only think of one abortion clinic [I’ve seen] in a predominantly white neighborhood. The majority of clinics are in black neighborhoods.”83
Hunter noted the controversy that occurred two years ago in Louisiana involving school-based health clinics. The racist undertone could not have been more evident. In the Baton Rouge district, officials were debating placing clinics in the high schools. Black state representative Sharon Weston Broome initially supported the idea. She later expressed concern about clinics providing contraceptives and abortion counseling. “Clinics should promote abstinence,” she said.84 Upon learning officials wanted to put the clinics in black schools only, Hunter urged her to suggest they be placed in white schools as well. At Broome’s suggestion, however, proposals for the school clinics were “dropped immediately,” reported Hunter.
Grant observed the same game plan 20 years ago. “During the 1980s when Planned Parenthood shifted its focus from community-based clinics to school-based clinics, it again targeted inner-city minority neighborhoods,” he writes.85 “Of the more than 100 school-based clinics that have opened nationwide in the last decade [1980s], none has been at substantially all-white schools,” he adds. “None has been at suburban middle-class schools. All have been at black, minority or ethnic schools.”86
In 1987, a group of black ministers, parents and educators filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education. They charged the city’s school-based clinics with not only violating the state’s fornication laws, but also with discrimination against blacks. The clinics were a “calculated, pernicious effort to destroy the very fabric of family life [between] black parents and their children,” the suit alleged.87
One of the parents in the group was “shocked” when her daughter came home from school with Planned Parenthood material. “I never realized how racist those people were until I read the [information my daughter received] at the school clinic,” she said. “[They are worse than] the Klan … because they’re so slick and sophisticated. Their bigotry is all dolled up with statistics and surveys, but just beneath the surface it’s as ugly as apartheid.”88
A more recent account uncovered a Planned Parenthood affiliate giving condoms to residents of a poor black neighborhood in Akron, Ohio.89 The residents received a “promotional bag” containing, among other things: literature on sexually transmitted disease prevention, gynecology exams and contraception, a condom-case key chain containing a bright-green condom, and a coupon. The coupon was redeemable at three Ohio county clinics for a dozen condoms and a $5 McDonald’s gift certificate. All the items were printed with Planned Parenthood phone numbers.
The affiliate might say they’re targeting high-pregnancy areas, but their response presumes destructive behavior on the part of the targeted group. Planned Parenthood has always been reluctant to promote, or encourage, abstinence as the only safeguard against teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, calling it “unrealistic.”
Rev. Richard Welch, president of Human Life International in Front Royal, Virginia, “blasted” the affiliate for targeting low-income, minority neighborhoods with the bags. He said the incident revealed “the racism inherent in promoting abortion and contraception in primarily minority neighborhoods.”90
He then criticized Planned Parenthood: “Having sprung from the racist dreams of a woman determined to apply abortion and contraception to eugenics and ethnic cleansing, Planned Parenthood remains true to the same strategy today.”91
Untangling the Deceptive Web
Black leaders have been silent about Margaret Sanger’s evil machination against their community far too long. They’ve been silent about abortion’s devastating effects in their community—despite their pro-life inclination. “The majority of [blacks] are more pro-life than anything else,” said Hunter.92 “Blacks were never taught to destroy their children; even in slavery they tried to hold onto their children.”
“Blacks are not quiet about the issue because they do not care, but rather because the truth has been kept from them. The issue is … to educate our people,” said former Planned Parenthood board member LaVerne Tolbert.93
Today, a growing number of black pro-lifers are untangling the deceptive web spun by Sanger. They are using truth to shed light on the lies. The “Say So” march is just one example of their burgeoning pro-life activism. As the marchers laid 1,452 roses at the courthouse steps—to commemorate the number of black babies aborted daily—spokesman Damon Owens said, “This calls national attention to the problem [of abortion]. This is an opportunity for blacks to speak to other blacks. This doesn’t solve all of our problems. But we will not solve our other problems with abortion.”
Black pro-lifers are also linking arms with their white pro-life brethren. Black Americans for Life (BAL) is an outreach group of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a Washington, D.C.-based grassroots organization. NRLC encourages networking between black and white pro-lifers. “Our goal is to bring people together—from all races, colors, and religions—to work on pro-life issues,” said NRLC Director of Outreach Ernest Ohlhoff.94 “Black Americans for Life is not a parallel group; we want to help African-Americans integrate communicational and functionally into the pro-life movement.”
Mrs. Beverly LaHaye, founder and chairman of Concerned Women for America, echoes the sentiment. “Our mission is to protect the right to life of all members of the human race. CWA welcomes like-minded women and men, from all walks of life, to join us in this fight.”
Concerned Women for America has a long history of fighting Planned Parenthood’s evil agenda. The Negro Project is an obscure angle, but one that must come to light. Margaret Sanger sold black Americans an illusion. Now with the veil of deception removed, they can “choose life … that [their] descendants may live.”
Most Catholics in 1959 probably didn’t even know what an ecumenical council was. And yet, here it was. Pope John XXIII announced that the goals of the Second Vatican Council would be “the renewal of the spirit of the Gospel in the hearts of people everywhere and the adjustment of Christian discipline to modern-day living” – a proclamation that was on the face of it ambiguous. How was authentic renewal to be achieved? How should essential discipline be adjusted to modern culture?
John was a relentless optimist, inclined always to look for good in the world, disinclined to scold, and deeply convinced that he had been called to help bring about a new Pentecost in the Church. He further believed that the Counter-Reformation era, characterized both by defensiveness inside the Church and aggressiveness toward those on the outside, was over. The council made only an oblique reference to the fact that the 20th century had already seen a persecution of Christians more severe than any in the entire history of Catholicism.
The Church was apparently flourishing during John’s pontificate. By contrast with what would come later, its members were unusually serious, devout, and moral. But such a Church could be criticized as fostering formalism, a neglect of social justice, and an overly narrow piety, and it’s likely that John XXIII thought that a new Pentecost could build on this foundation to reach still higher levels.
In his opening address to the council, John affirmed the infallibility of the Church but called on it to take account of the “errors, requirements, and opportunities” of the age. He regretted that some Catholics (“prophets of gloom”) seemed unable to see any good in the modern world and regarded it as the worst of all historical periods. The dogmas of the Church were settled and “known to all,” so the conciliar task was to explore new ways of presenting them to the modern world.
The preparatory commissions for the council were dominated by members of the Curia, who were inclined toward precisely such a pessimistic view. When the council opened, there were objections to those commissions, with the result that the council fathers were allowed to approve new schema prepared by some of their own. In some ways this procedural squabble was the most decisive event of the entire council, and it represented a crucial victory for what was now called the “liberal” or “optimistic” party, guaranteeing that the council as a whole would look on its work as more than a mere restatement of accepted truths. There was an officially endorsed spirit of optimism in which even legitimate questions about the wisdom of certain ideas were treated as evidence of lack of faith.
The intellectual leadership of the council came mainly from Western Europe, the most influential prelates being Bernard Alfrink of the Netherlands, Leo Jozef Suenens of Belgium, Achille Lienart of France, Julius Doepfner and Joseph Frings of Germany, and Franz Koenig of Austria. Those five countries, along with the rest of Europe, possessed an ancient tradition of Catholicism, and they had nourished a vigorous and sophisticated Catholic intellectual life.
As theological questions arose, the council fathers almost automatically deferred to the opinions of these European prelates, who were in turn influenced by men recognized as the most accomplished theologians of the age – Henri DeLubac, Jean Danielou, and Yves Congar in France; Edward Schillebeeckx in the Netherlands; Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger in Germany.
But in many respects the Church in those five nations – with the possible exception of the Netherlands – appeared less than robust (judging, for example, by rates of church attendance and religious vocations). Indeed, the vigorous intellectual life of those countries was colored by a certain sense of crisis – the need to make the Faith credible to modern men. By contrast, the Church in the British Isles, Southern Europe, and the United States, to say nothing of the Third World, lacked dazzling intellectual achievements but appeared to be relatively hearty.
Most council fathers therefore seemed to have felt little urgency about most of the questions that came before them. For many, the discussions involved issues that, before now, hadn’t even been considered, such as making the liturgy and religious life more “relevant.” But an unquestioned faith that the Church would always be preserved from error, along with the leadership of John XXIII and Paul VI, led most of the delegates to support the schema that were finally forged from the debate. No decree of the council provoked more than a small number of dissenting votes. Ironically, in view of the later claim that the council brought about the democratization of the Church, deference to authority was a major factor in determining how most of the fathers voted.
John XXIII announced Vatican II as a “pastoral” assembly, but there were growing differences of opinion as to what exactly that meant. Pious, instinctively conservative prelates might think of encouraging Marian devotions or kindling zeal for the foreign missions. The dominant group, however, moved the council toward dialogue with the modern world, translating the Church’s message into a language modern men understood.
The council fathers always strove to remain balanced. To take what are now the most fiercely debated issues, they imagined no revisions in Catholic moral teaching about sexuality, referring instead to “the plague of divorce” and to the “abominable crime” of abortion. Deliberately childless marriages were deemed a tragedy, and the faithful were reminded of the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.
At the same time, the fact that practically every aspect of Catholic belief seemed to be under discussion had results that John XXIII probably didn’t intend. Famously, at one point he removed the subject of contraception from the floor of the council and announced that he was appointing a special commission to study the issue – an action that naturally led some to believe the teaching would indeed be revised. When Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, liberals were outraged that he rejected the commission’s recommendation to permit some forms of birth control and accused him of betraying the council.
The council fathers each had periti, or advisers, on matters of theology and canon law, and some of them were very influential, both in shaping the thought of the prelates whom they advised and in working behind the scenes with like-minded delegates and other periti. In explaining the theological revolution that occurred almost immediately after the council, some orthodox Catholics speculate that a well-organized minority intended from the beginning to sabotage the council and that they successfully planted theological time bombs in the conciliar decrees – doctrinal statements whose implications were deliberately left vague, to be activated later. But there’s little evidence of this.
It’s characteristic of revolutions that they are rarely planned ahead of time. Rather, they arise from the sudden acceleration of historical change, caused by the flow of events and the way in which people relate to those events. There is no evidence that anyone came to the council with a radical agenda, in part because such an agenda would have been considered hopelessly unrealistic. (Some liberals actually feared that the council would prove to be a retrogressive gathering.)
A major factor in the postconciliar dynamic was the reformers’ own heady experience of swift and unexpected change. For example, in 1960 no one would have predicted – and few would have advocated – the virtual abandonment of the Latin liturgy. But once reformers realized that the council fathers supported change, it became an irresistible temptation to continue pushing farther and faster. What had been thought of as stone walls of resistance turned out to be papier-mâché.
The council itself proved to be a “radicalizing” experience, during which men who had never met before, and who in some cases had probably given little thought to the questions now set before them, began quickly to change their minds on major issues. (For example, Archbishop – later Cardinal – John F. Dearden of Detroit, who was considered quite rigid before the council, returned home as an uncritical advocate of every kind of change.) When the council was over, some of those present – both periti and bishops – were prepared to go beyond what the council had in fact intended or authorized, using the conciliar texts as justification when possible, ignoring them when not (as recounted, for example, by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was in charge of liturgical reform after the council, in his book The Reform of the Liturgy). Aware that the council didn’t support their agenda, they quickly got into the habit of speaking of the “spirit” of the council, which was said to transcend its actual statements and even in some cases to contradict them.
The Role of the Media
While the council was still in session, it occurred to some that it was less important what that body actually said and did than what people thought it said and did. Thus as early as the first session, in 1962, there was an orchestrated propaganda campaign to present the deliberations and define the issues in particular ways and to enlist the sympathies of the public on behalf of a particular agenda. Certain key journalists became “participant-observers,” meaning that they reported the events and at the same time sought to influence them – the chief practitioners being “Xavier Rynne” (the pen name of the Redemptorist historian Francis X. Murphy), who wrote “Letter from Vatican City” for the New Yorker magazine, and Robert Blair Kaiser, who reported for Time.
Such reports were written for a largely non-Catholic audience, many of whom were unsympathetic to the Faith, and the thrust of the reporting was to assure such readers that the Church was at long last admitting its many errors and coming to terms with secular culture. Most Catholics probably relied on these same sources for their understanding of the council and so received the same message.
The key reason why postconciliar “renewal” often went wrong is the almost incredible fact that the hierarchy in the early 1960s made almost no systematic effort to catechize the faithful (including priests and religious) on the meaning of the council – something about which many bishops themselves seemed confused. “Renewal experts” sprang up everywhere, and the most contradictory explanations of the council were offered to Catholics thirsting for guidance. Bishops rarely offered their flocks authoritative teaching and instead fell into the habit of simply trusting certified “experts” in every area of Church life. Indeed, before the council was even over, several fallacious interpretations were planted that still flourish today.
Even the best journalistic accounts were forced to simplify the often subtle and complex deliberations of the council fathers. But there was also deliberate oversimplification for the purpose of creating a particular public impression. The media thus divided the council fathers into heroes and villains – otherwise known as liberals and conservatives. In this way, the conciliar battles were presented as morality plays in which open-minded, warm-hearted, highly intelligent innovators (Cardinal Alfrink, for example) were able repeatedly to thwart plots by Machiavellian reactionaries (Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office). It was a morality play that appealed to the prejudices of many Westerners of the mid-20th century. It also had a real if immeasurable influence on many bishops, who soon discovered that being viewed as “progressive” would gain them a favorable press, while the opposite would make them into public villains.
For understandable reasons, vastly disproportionate attention was lavished by the media on such things as the vernacular liturgy and the end of mandatory Friday abstinence, since concrete practices could be easily dealt with journalistically and such practices had long helped to define the differences between Catholics and others. Catholics who understood almost nothing of the theological issues of the council came to understand that its “real” purpose was repealing rules that had become burdensome and old-fashioned.
But in another sense the attention lavished on such things was not disproportionate, because in a sacramental Church “externals” are the doorways to the spirit. In theory it perhaps ought not to have mattered whether nuns wore habits, but in practice the modification, then the total abandonment, of those habits marked the beginning of the end of religious life as it had existed for centuries. For many people the distinction between essentials and nonessentials was almost meaningless. If Catholics were no longer forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, why could they not get divorced, especially given the widespread conviction that the purpose of the council and of “Good Pope John” was to make people comfortable with their faith?
Many of the council fathers, after they returned to their dioceses, seemed themselves to be in a state of confusion over what they’d done. Only a relatively few – some orthodox, others less so – had a clear and consistent understanding. For most, the postconciliar period proved to be a time of rudderless experimentation, as Catholics groped to understand what the council had mandated. For many people the one sure thing, amid all the postconciliar uncertainty, was the fact of change itself; in an odd way it seemed safest to do or believe almost the opposite of what Catholics had previously been taught.
The Scars of Renewal
Underlying the council were two different approaches to reform – approaches that were not contradictory but that required serious intellectual effort to reconcile. One was ressourcement (“back to the sources”), a program of renewing the Church by returning to its scriptural and patristic roots (DeLubac, Danielou, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar all held to this). The other was aggiornamento (“updating”), by which the supposed demands of contemporary culture were the chief concern (Hans Küng, Schillebeeckx, and to some extent Rahner, were all proponents). Kept in balance during the council itself, these two movements increasingly pulled apart afterward and resulted in the deep conflicts that continue to the present.
A prime example of the postconciliar dynamic at work was the “renewal” of religious life. Cardinal Suenens wrote the influential book The Nun in the World, enjoining sisters to come out of their cloisters and accept the challenges of modern life. Whatever might be thought about them as theological principles, such recipes for “renewal” also promised that those who adopted them would experience phenomenal revitalization, including dramatic numerical growth, and for a few years after the council the official spirit of naive optimism won out over the “prophets of gloom.”
The most famous instance of such renewal in the United States was that of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles. Their program of aggiornamento had all the ingredients required at the time – intense publicity from an overwhelmingly favorable media, a prestigious secular “expert” (the psychologist Carl Rogers), picturesque experiments with nontraditional behavior (encounter groups), and a reactionary villain (James Cardinal McIntyre) portrayed as the only obstacle to progress. Not until it was too late did anyone ask whether the IHM Sisters, along with countless others, were simply abandoning their vocations completely.
A tragic dimension of the conciliar period was precisely the irrelevance and ultimate failure of the exciting intellectual programs that emanated from what were then the five most influential Catholic nations. For a very brief period, Dutch Catholicism made a bid to give the universal Church a working model of renewal, before “the Dutch Church” imploded and sank into oblivion. Rates of church attendance and religious vocations may have been worrisomely low in Belgium, France, and Germany in 1960, but the bishops of those countries probably couldn’t imagine how much lower they would fall. In ways not recognized 40 years ago, it’s now clear that the strategy of countering secularism by moving closer to the secular culture just doesn’t work.
The partisans of aggiornamento became the first theologians in the history of the Church to make systematic use of the mass media, entering into a working alliance with journalists who could scarcely even understand the concept of ressourcement but eagerly promoted an agenda that required the Church to accommodate itself to the secular culture. Strangely enough, some theologians, along with their propagandist allies, actually denied the Church the right to remain faithful to its authentic identity and announced a moral obligation to repudiate as much of that identity as possible. “Renewal” came to be identified with dissent and infidelity, and Catholics who remained faithful to the Church were denounced as enemies of Vatican II.
This occurred at the most fundamental level, so that the authority of the council itself was soon relativized. The notion that a council would claim for itself final authority in matters of belief came to be viewed by liberals as reactionary. Vatican II was thus treated as merely a major historical epiphany – a moment in the unfolding history of the Church and of human consciousness when profound new insights were discovered. According to this view, the council’s function was not to make authoritative pronouncements but merely to facilitate the movement of the Church into the next stage of its historical development. (For example, the Jesuit historian John W. O’Malley in 1971 proposed that certain conciliar texts could be legitimately ignored as merely reflective of intellectual immaturity, timidity, and confusion on the part of the council fathers.)
After the council, the concept of “the People of God” was reduced to a crude form of democracy – doctrine as determined by opinion polls. The liturgy ceased to be a divine action and became a communal celebration, and the supernatural vocations of priests and religious were deemed to be obstacles to their service to the world.
Nothing had a more devastating effect on postconciliar Catholic life than the sexual revolution, as believers began to engage in behavior not measurably different from that of non-believers. Priests and religious repudiated their vows in order to marry, and many of those who remained in religious life ceased to regard celibacy as desirable. Catholics divorced almost as frequently as non-Catholics. Church teachings about contraception, homosexuality, and even abortion were widely disregarded, with every moral absolute treated as merely another wall needing to be breached.
Off the Rails
Ultimately the single best explanation of what happened to deflect the council’s decrees from their intended direction is the fact that as soon as the assembly ended, the worldwide cultural phenomenon known as the “the Sixties” began. It was nothing less than a frontal assault on all forms of authority.
Bereft of catechesis, confused by the conciliar changes, and unable to grasp the subtle theology of the conciliar decrees, many Catholics simply translated the conciliar reforms into the terms of the counterculture, which was essentially the demand for “liberation” from all restraint on personal freedom. Even as late as 1965 almost no one anticipated this great cultural upheaval. The measured judgments of Gaudium et Spes, the council’s highly influential decree on the Church and the modern world, shows not a hint of it.
Had the council met a decade earlier, during the relatively stable 1950s, it’s possible that there could have been an orderly and untroubled transition. But after 1965 the spirit of the age was quite different, and by then many Catholics were eager to break out of what they considered their religious prison. Given the deliberately fostered popular impression that the Church was surrendering in its perennial struggle with the world, it was inevitable that the prevailing understanding of reform would be filtered through the glass of a hedonistic popular culture. Under such conditions it would require remarkable steadfastness of purpose to adhere to an authentic program of renewal.
The postconciliar crisis has moved far beyond issues like the language of the liturgy or nuns’ habits – even beyond sexual morality or gender identities. Today the theological frontier is nothing less than the stark question of whether there is indeed only one God and Jesus is His only-begotten Son. It is a question that the council fathers didn’t foresee as imminent and, predictably, the council’s dicta about non-Christian religions are now cited to justify various kinds of religious syncretism. The resources for resolving this issue are present in the conciliar decrees themselves, but it’s by no means certain that Church leaders have the will to interpret them in final and authoritative ways. Forty years after the council, serious Catholics have good reason to think they’ve been left to wander the theological wilderness.
In the mid-1970s, asked about her move from an updated habit to ordinary clothing, the teaching sister who ran our parish CCD program declared that the shedding of religious habits was a good thing because it emphasized that sisters were “nothing special, that we are all special in God’s eyes.”
This sister gave an example: “When we were in our habits, a fellow with an Italian ice barrow would always insist on giving us free ices, but why should he? Why shouldn’t we pay like anyone else? Why should we deprive him of his living because we were in a costume?”
Putting aside how unlikely it would be for an Italian ice seller to go broke because he gave away a few free scoops of sugar-water, it is striking, thirty years on, to comprehend how fully horizontal and earthbound was her thinking; it had some breadth, but neither height nor depth. As with the “horizontally-focused” masses and hymns that over-emphasized the humanity of the church while diminishing the transcendence of its liturgy and purpose, Sister was embracing the beam of the cross—humanity and church reaching toward each other—without considering that the stationary vertical, heaven-focused post is vital, if anyone is to be raised up.
Sister was operating under a willful delusion; she justified forsaking the habit with appeals to solidarity, compassion, and humility, but her story illustrated egoism and presumption. She bemoaned a possibility of cheating a man out of his wages. In fact, she was cheating that man, but not in the way she imagined.
The ice-barrow man was not giving sister a free ice because she wore a habit, but because a man who revered (or at least respected) God saw an opportunity to demonstrate his regard in a little way that St. Therese might have applauded.
And she was cheating others, too. Her habit was a reminder to the community of faith, and to everyone else as well, that we are all called to simplicity and sacrifice—that for all of our Martha-instincts to work ourselves to death and carve our identities from what we “do,” we must cultivate our inner Marys as well, and embrace the challenge to simply be. Sister might correctly say that she was “nobody special,” but her habit was a witness to “being,” and it confirmed Christ’s covenanted life among us with a reassuring immediacy.
Perfectae Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, wisely counseled in favor of adapting religious habits in practical ways, but never decreed that habits should be discarded.
The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved. The habits of both men and women religious which do not conform to these norms must be changed.
The “outward mark of consecration” was meant to be a sign, but the habits were also a means of self-effacement. They were paradoxically meant to obliterate a sister’s uniqueness and make her one of many, one part of a collective hive. In truth, religious life is socialism the only way it can truly work: on a small-and-voluntary scale.
Taking off the habit may have (in the parlance of the day) helped sisters “celebrate their individuality”—and that is not a terrible thing, in and of itself; we are each fearfully, wonderfully made—but the embrace of ordinary dress over the religious habit also made the ordinary world more ordinary. Suddenly, there were no daily outward indications that anyone was praying at all, no reminders that we could and should pray, too. Suddenly, there was nothing to make a workingman remember Christ, and share some frozen sugar-water in gratitude.
When she eschewed the habit, the ice-man lost a marker that brought his awareness to God at random moments of his workday. Sister thus helped the man to become substantially poorer.
Desiring fellow-kinship, humility and “unspecialness,” Sister Nobody Special ironically wound up thinking about herself quite a lot. The Italian Ice was for God, after all, not for her.
Sister didn’t cheat the man of his living. But she cheated God of a small devotion. She cheated a man of his chance to demonstrate that devotion. It would have been much more humble simply to say “thank you” to a free cup of ice, given and accepted in the love of Christ.
Rather like Holy Communion.
Habits are not necessary to the life of a religious; that is absolutely true. But perhaps when sister referred to the garb as “a costume,” it was a clue that she had lost touch with the deeper meaning of such a powerful social identifier. In doing so, she cheated herself of the privilege of reminding the world, by her mere presence, that all creation is extraordinary and beloved. She cheated the rest of us, too, because we loved being reminded of that; it meant we each really were special, after all.
Habits may be worth re-considering, now, even by the most “progressive” of communities. The scratchy and starched architectural gear of past eras is impractical to the twenty-first century, but at a time when Christian witness is often received cynically, as caricature or hysteria, the adopting of the simplest of habits would give silent testimony of lives unified in purpose, being lived in simplicity and dignity, for something greater than material or political concerns. Such witness may well be necessary for the life of the world.
The Bitter Truth
Our country is extremely sick and growing more ill as every day passes. For you see, we have been infected by the most lethal disease imaginable; a form of mental and spiritual cancer more commonly known as Progressivism. Millions of Americans have been directly infected and the condition is currently spreading, on an uncontrolled basis, throughout our body politic and society at large. Ultimately, this terrible affliction will destroy the very soul of America, if it is not promptly acknowledged, treated and cured.
Pray tell, how has our nation fallen so far and so fast from its divinely inspired foundations and so willingly succumbed to this tragic malady? Contrary to the belief of many Progressives, our nation and its citizenry do not merely constitute a random assortment of molecules.
Undoubtedly, there are a number of social, political and cultural forces at play, but I am convinced that the Father of Lies, who has fully adopted the Progressive movement in America, comprises the very core of this most destructive of maladies.
To understand how this ominous state of affairs has descended upon America ( and the rest of the world for that matter ), I think it would be helpful and instructive to review four of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated in human history:
- that Satan does not exist;
- the theory of anthropomorphic global warming;
- that the contemporary version of the Democratic Party in America is, in any way, capable of effectively governing our nation and protecting its vital societal, cultural, economic or security interests; and
- that the systematic slaughter of countless millions of innocent unborn children, in their mothers’ wombs ( or partially emerged therefrom ) is, in any manner, morally, ethically or spiritually acceptable.
As we continue to turn away from God and serve witness to these diabolical lies, it’s abundantly clear that numbers 2-4 above, directly relate to number 1.
Since so many Americans have so readily fallen prey to one or more of these hoaxes and have contracted the disease described above, I think it’s accurate to state that our nation is rapidly approaching a state of “ extremis “; we’re at an existential crossroad and if we take the wrong pathway, we will soon be marching down the road to national suicide. In Part 3 of my Trilogy, “ Preventing National Suicide, Restoring the Republic and Avoiding Another Revolutionary War “, I will endeavor to suggest a rational and inclusive course of action, that will allow us to avoid a monumental national tragedy and find a way out of the horrific mess we’re in.
If I were compelled to use just one word to account for our breathtakingly rapid demise under the power, control and influence of the Progressive movement, I would use the word “ betrayal “. If two words were allowed to describe the nature of our current predicament, they would be “ treachery “ and “ betrayal “ and if three words were made available, I would employ “ deceit “, “ treachery “ and “ betrayal “. In any event, all of these terms fit the Progressive movement to the proverbial “ T “. As a fundamental component of my “ Bitter Truth “ analysis, it’s crystal clear that the foundation of our modern Democratic Party has been laid on the corpses of over fifty million innocent unborn children who have been sacrificed on the altar of Progressivism, since the singularly obscene Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision in January of 1973, whereby the American judicial system provided its imprimatur for infanticide; this is the date which represents the other self-inflicted day of national infamy.
In this writer’s humble opinion, this ongoing and nightmarish abomination in God’s eye, represents nothing less than one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever perpetrated by mankind on one another. Our Progressives have succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations in turning the hearts and minds of countless women against their own innocent unborn children. What in God’s universe was rightfully considered to be one of the most sacred and secure of human sanctuaries, has become one of the most fertile killing grounds in human history; surely Marx, Sanger, Mengele and their supplicants are rejoicing in Hell. Do you remember what Jesus had to say about the fate that awaited anyone who harmed children?
One must truly possess a tortured psyche, conscience and soul to continue to support this most diabolical of causes. I wonder whether any of these same Progressives actually believes that God will find their amoral conduct and unparalleled sense of depravity to be worthy of his eternal blessings; I’m convinced that millions of non-innocent souls are at risk.
Upon this most evil of foundations, sit three primary structural columns named, deceit, treachery and betrayal, as per the three descriptive terms mentioned above. No wonder the Father of Lies is so pleased with the tireless efforts of his devoted Progressive children in constructing this hideous edifice of evil.
How in the world did we as Americans allow these sinister forces to arise and assume power in what has been the greatest and most humane and compassionate nation on earth? Although the list of individuals and mechanisms responsible for this epic tragedy is virtually endless, I would point to the utter failure of the following three segments of our society to fulfill their virtually sacred duties and responsibilities:
1. The so-called mainstream media ( MSM ), that, under the most charitable of terms, is not within light years of the mainstream of America. There isn’t even a pretense of impartiality and objectivity amongst the vast majority of the MSM’s reporters, commentators, columnists, journalists, anchorpersons and editors, who are totally devoted to the Progressive cause. They have become the official propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, to an extent that would make Goebbels blush.
With the double standard as their sacrament and after waging a propaganda war of such viciousness and ferocity for many years against Republicans in general and now conservatives and Tea Party candidates in particular, our once esteemed fourth estate has totally abandoned its essential responsibility to report the political news in a truthful, objective and impartial fashion. Now we routinely serve witness to a pathological level of dishonesty amongst the ranks of the MSM, who, by design or omission, lie to the American public on a constant basis; they are indeed living a lie. My fellow Americans, our once vaunted fourth estate has become America’s fifth column.
2. Occupying second place on the list and with a mere handful of exceptions, our entire system of public education, K-12 and beyond, has almost totally failed in its sacred mission to educate and not indoctrinate our children and young adults. The vast majority of our so-called educators, faculty and administrators in educational institutions throughout America, have fallen in march step, under the Progressive banner.
Under the virtual stranglehold of Progressives, our educational system, which used to be the envy of the world, is trapped in an Orwellian world of mediocrity, social engineering and political correctness, that has severely damaged or destroyed the minds and future of millions of our most sacred asset, our children. Educators who are actively living a lie have been passing along the same set of lies to our kids, for many decades.
Teacher’s unions have been engaged in an appallingly shameful, systemic and criminal level of child abuse, in the form of maleducation for years and their members will some day need to be held accountable for their perfidy. For anyone who may doubt the extent, nature and primary source of this tragic problem, you only need to observe all of the failing school systems throughout America and you will invariably find a common thread; they are firmly under the control of Progressives, at all levels of the system. Please remember, every time you vote for virtually any Democrat , you will tighten the noose around the neck of every child trapped in a failing public educational institution.
As with internal combustion engines, although many teachers and instructors, especially in the field of higher education, appear to possess a formidable amount of intellectual horsepower, it can do them no good unless this form of horsepower can be turned into torque. Unfortunately, these same individuals cannot produce much torque, since torque in this instance, consists of common sense and wisdom, of which they are virtually bereft.
3. Last but not least on this litany of malfeasance, resides many of our pastors, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders who have betrayed their respective flocks by directly or indirectly supporting this ( anti-God ) Progressive tyranny. These are the same men and women of the cloth who may have originally been well intentioned but who are now actually willing to abrogate their faith, deny the Truth and embrace false prophets, in order to fall in line with the “ can’t we all just get along “ crowd . To their eternal shame, they have abandoned many of the essential lessons, parables, precepts and messages to mankind, set out in the old and new Testaments, to conform with the warped, twisted and distorted Progressive viewpoint. Perhaps they actually believe they can fool God.