Adam Gopnik is a gifted essayist and writer whose contributions, often published in The New Yorker, are almost always thoughtful and interesting. Nevertheless, one of his most recent writings is deeply disturbing, and at the deepest level.
Reflecting on the debate between Vice President Joseph Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, Gopnik registered alarm at “something genuinely disturbing and scary” that had been said by Paul Ryan. Gopnik first complained that Biden and Ryan should not have even been asked about the role their Roman Catholic faith plays in their thinking, specifically on the issue of abortion.
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Gopnik then wrote:
“Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead ‘I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.’ That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that ‘the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.’”
Gopnik accuses Paul Ryan of reasoning like a mullah and rejecting any distinction between church and state. Ryan did no such thing, of course. Instead, Ryan stated the obvious — “Our faith informs us in everything we do.” Any faith of substance will inform every dimension of our lives. It is hard to imagine that Adam Gopnik would have complained or even taken offense if a similar statement had been made, for example, by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., concerning his advocacy for civil rights.
Our total worldview inevitably “informs us in everything we do.” Paul Ryan was simply responding with honesty, and he did not call for a theocracy. Interestingly, Joseph Biden, though a champion of a woman’s right to choose, has repeatedly claimed the influence of his Roman Catholic faith in other arenas of public policy, especially economics. This has not elicited similar cries from liberals, accusing Biden of attempting to forge a theocracy.
Gopnik attempted to make his position clear, arguing that religious beliefs “should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.” Mr. Gopnik would no doubt be surprised to discover that many of the founders were not so tolerant, in his sense, as he believes. A good many argued for the absolute necessity of theism as a foundation for morality and civil society. In any event, does he really believe that a candidate’s most deeply held convictions should have no influence in his or her thinking on the most serious of issues? That is not only impossible; it is absurd.
As off-base as his complaint on this issue is, however, it pales in contrast to the argument Gopnik then turned to make. He referred to the fact that Ryan defended the right to life of the unborn, and that Ryan and his wife had named their unborn first child “Bean” as an affectionate reference to the shape on the ultrasound image. Gopnik asserted that “a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.”
There is no mistaking Gopnik’s claim — that the image of the unborn Ryan child revealed only a bean, and not a baby.
Gopnik then wrote:
“The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).”
Chillingly, Gopnik limits human dignity to “conscious, thinking life.” This is the life “that counts,” he claimed.
Clearly, Gopnik agrees with those who restrict human dignity to persons who achieve “conscious, thinking life,” and apparently only for so long as they maintain that state of consciousness and thinking ability. This is the horrifying logic of the German doctors of the Weimar Republic who argued that certain human beings were not fully deserving of life — deemed “life unworthy of life.” They argued that certain abilities or characteristics must be acquired and maintained in order for life to be “worthy of life.”
I am quite certain that Adam Gopnik, who writes so movingly of his love of fatherhood, did not mean to associate with the full impact of such an argument, but his own assertions lead to the very same conclusion. We must note that Gopnik goes so far as to cast doubt, not only on when “conscious, thinking life” begins, but where it ends. Did the readers of The New Yorker even notice?
This is the logic of the Culture of Death, and it is an assault upon the dignity and worth of every human being. There was indeed “something genuinely disturbing and scary” said with reference to the Vice Presidential Debate, but it wasn’t said by Paul Ryan. It was written by Adam Gopnik.