Monday, March 26, 2012

The Principle Of Subsidiarity In The Hunger Games

Many critics have picked up on the political undertones present in The Hunger Games. Clearly that dystopian future has some parallels to our present American situation. In the film Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be the tribute from her home district that will compete in the annual Hunger Games for both glory and food. Almost immediately she is whisked away from her home and family and put aboard a train bound for the Capital. She and her compatriot Peeta are understandably astounded at the level of luxury which is available.

A striking contrast appears between life in the Capital and the outer districts. As tributes they are provided with nothing but the best. Nevertheless, the average level of wealth and comfort in the Capital is starkly different from that elsewhere. Back home Katniss was forced to hunt wild game, even squirrels, for her family to even survive. Here the populace has more than enough money to waste on keeping up with some ridiculously flamboyant and outlandish fashion trends. A very small number of people enjoying the benefits of the hard work of a very large number of people. A massive gap in the level of prosperity experienced between the rich and the poor. A non-existent or shrinking middle class.

Sound familiar?

I should say that I am deeply opposed to the suggestion that a work of art can or should be treated as the artist's propaganda. It is either propaganda or a work of art, it cannot be both. Nevertheless, works of art, insofar as they incarnate, give life and form to, the principles of the reality and world around us, can certainly take positions themselves on political and economic issues of the day. Even the Divine Comedy has political relevance in our day and age. But it has this relevance only insofar as it has a relation to Truth and Reality, and political ideas stem from those higher and more fundamental principles.

That being said, it is no coincidence that the situation in The Hunger Games is analagous to our own. Artists have no choice but to write from their own experience of the world, and certainly Susane Collins when she wrote the book, and the filmmakers when they adapted it with her help were drawing on the realities in the world they saw around them as they worked to create a work of art with significance and meaning.

Obviously, the film advocates the position that such a situation is undesireable. And rightly so. It is certainly not right that the men and women who are working day in and day out to produce good and valuable things for the use of their community should be deprived of a fair share in the fruits of their labor. It cannot be right for the people doing the actual work to go hungry so that those who own or have a stake in the factory or farm can have enough extra income to buy a summer home in Florida or what have you. The question is, though, how does one solve this situation once it arises? Is it right to take a portion of the wealth that would otherwise be taken by the very wealthy and redistribute it amongst the less fortunate? Well, I would argue that our economic situation is, perhaps, somewhat different from that presented in The Hunger Games. Regardless, it is tangential to the point of this post.

In the flim the root problem that lies behind both Panem's situation and ours comes out much clearer than it does in real life, namely, centralization. The real problem is that it is possible for the very few to have such a wide-reaching influence that they it is even possible for them to amass such an incredible and unbalanced amount of wealth. The problem is huge coroporations with higher GDP's than whole nations. The problem is "product integration." The problem is Staples and Office Depot cornering the office supply market in every city, town, and hamlet from sea to shining sea. Sure, all this stuff keeps prices down, but is that really the most important thing?

Wouldn't it be nice if when you bought a new computer you could do so from some mom and pop electronics store on Main Street and know that when, six months later, they're able to buy a new sign or, for that matter, send their kid to College, you had a small part in that? Wouldn't that be better than handing your money to some megalithic, faceless multi-national conglomerate that's going to spend it on God knows what?

For example, I'll wager that most of you have no idea that starting in the 70s, Nestlé began marketing its infant formula to less developed countries around the world, especially Africa. Sounds harmless enough, right? Here's the problem. Aside from the fact that these babies were deprived of important antibodies and other benefits that can only be obtained from their mothers' milk, when a mother stops breastfeeding regularly her milk soon dries up. If at some point in the future, as is very likely, it becomes impossible to provide formula for her baby due to unsanitary water or just lack of funds or availability, that baby must now go hungry, and may starve to death.

Here's a list of Nestlé brands. Every time you purchased one of those products you supported Nestlé's crimes. Now, certainly we cannot be held responsible for what other people do with our money without our knowledge. For that matter, the degree of separation between buying a box of Nesquik and Nestlé doing what it does may be sufficiently remote to relieve any burden of material cooperation in their activities.

Nevertheless, the root problem remains: when institutions, corporations, governments become as centralized as they are today, the degree to which they are capable of representing the interests of real people, real families is diminished drastically. This could be why only 37.8% of voters turned out for the 2010 elections. Consider this: Even at its height under the Emperor Augustus, the Roman Empire is estimated to have had a population of only 56.8 million people. Taking into account that a very large percentage of that figure were not even citizens and you're left with a civilization comparable in size to, say, the state of New York, spread out over an area the size of Mexico and Central America combined:

The Romans were smart enough to recognize that even an Empire of that (compared to today, small) size couldn't be successfully managed in a very centralized, federalistic way. Instead they entrusted the vast majority of the day-to-day governance to local province and town governments. Pretty much only military and and handful of political and economic ventures were handled from the top down. Of course, there was more than just this practical reality at work behind that decision.

The Romans, along with every other Western culture and civilization until relatively recently, understood and accepted what Catholic thinkers have called the Principle of Subsidiarity. The Principle of Subsidiarity states that those decisions which can be made, those things which can be handled, just as effectively by a constituent member of a larger group as by that larger group itself, should be left in their purview. For example, as a father it would be wrong, not to mention crazy, for me to attempt to insist on absolute control over everything that goes on in my family. There is no reason for me to insist that my daughter organize her clothes or toys in just such a way, as long as she's keeping things tidy enough for the household to continue to function safely and smoothly.

Similarly, in a political structure, there is no reason why the federal government should have to intervene in the day-to-day workings of a state or local government as long as it is abiding by the minimum of general principles set forth in the unifying document(s). The Founding Fathers understood and accepted this. Thus, the Tenth Ammendment, all but forgotten in this day and age.

The Principle of Subsidiarty in government and economics in fact rests on a more fundamental philosophical and metaphysical principle of reality, namely, the Hierarchy of Being. All the beings in the universe are organized into a vast hierarchy of mediation and participation. That is to say, at every level in the universal hierarchy a particular being participates, shares its being and qualities of that being, with the beings both above and below it.

For example, the diamondback rattlesnake is one species within the genus Reptile. All reptiles have certain characteristics, and as a reptile the diamondback rattlesnake shares these with its fellow reptiles. Nevertheless, it itself specializes in certain things and has a number of characteristics (or, perhaps, a certain combination of characteristics) that make it unique. Of course it's more complicated than that, but the idea is that this same principle applies to every other being in the cosmos. Humans are part of the genus Animal; animals are part of the genus Living Being; living beings are part of the genus Material Being; material beings are part of the genus Being, the ultimate genus in which everything that exists shares, which, as Aristotle would say, we call "God." This is the way the universe is organized. It is the way things are supposed to be organized on the human level as well: decentralization, particularism, subsidiarity, delegation.

In The Hunger Games, the poorer districts just want to be left alone. I'm sure they'd be happy to pay taxes and tribute to the central government in exchange for a unified currency and military, but there is a point at which that central government becomes not just a unifying influence, but a tyrannical power demanding ultimate allegiance. Alexis deToqueville saw this coming centuries ago:
He predicted that modern democratic government would degenerate into a huge, paternalistic state which would guide the individual in all of his affairs and insure that all of his needs were met. “For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” 
It's probably sheer fantasy to expect the situation to change. We're much too dependent on the financial industry to come back from it now. Governmentally-speaking the writing's been on the wall since 1865. And the New Deal didn't help. I wonder, though, what could happen if, despite all their differences, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party realized how much they have in common with one another. Their combined efforts would be a force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why The Hunger Games Is Dangerous

Full disclosure, I haven't read the books. As such, this isn't a review of the books, or a comparison between the two, or a review of the movie insofar as it is an adaptation. This is a review of the movie, as a movie, for what it is in itself.

Here be spoilers.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (whose character, incidentally, bears a striking resemblance to Loretta Lynn as portrayed in Coal Miner's Daughter) is a young woman in a poor, outlying district of a dystopian, fascistic future American society. When she was younger, her father died in a mining accident. Her mother was unable to cope with the loss and all but shut down, leaving Katniss to do most of the providing for the family. Things are so bad this includes hunting for wild game so the family can have enough to eat. Even squirrels.

We are told as the film opens that years before the people had risen up against the government. When the rebellion was suppressed, the Hunger Games were introduced as "penance" for the people's crimes. Every year, each of the 12 districts would put forward two "tributes," one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18. They are given over into the custody of the government, after which they are pitted against the tributes from the other districts in a fight to the death. The winning district receives not only glory, but food. Perhaps even enough food for everyone to eat relatively well for the rest of that year.

It soon becomes clear that these games serve much the same purpose as the gladiatorial contests of Ancient Rome did, namely, quelling uprising, though they go about it in a slightly different way. They both provide a similar catharsis for the people's violent tendencies, but where the Roman games were a kind of State propaganda, continually reminding the people of the State's ability to conquer against adversity and protect them from harm, the Hunger Games remind the people of the State's superiority over its own subjects. Interestingly, as the President (Donald Sutherland) suggests, they also provide the people with something to hope for. There is a realistic goal. Even though the more wealthy districts train their own tributes, one of which wins almost every year, any district can win in theory, and every one has before. If they do win, their hope is rewarded, but only until next year's games. If they lose, their hope for a better life has been quashed for another year, preventing rebellion.

When Katniss' little sister is selected as tribute against all odds, Katniss volunteers, taking her place. After being whisked away from her family she travels to the capital with her male counterpart Peeta in the lap of luxury. Upon arrival her training commences amidst a series of pageants and public appearances glorifying the event. All the while she begins to befriend Peeta against her better instincts. After all, in the end she'll have to kill him along with all the others in order to win. They are provided with a Mentor for their training, a former victor from their own district, in this case the drunk but devoted Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). It turns out that the most important factor in a victory is the ability to win sponsors who are able to provide you with much-needed supplies in-game.

Immediately the District 12 team begins attempting to capitalize on the notoriety Katniss has already won by volunteering in place of her sister. They appear in public for the first time wearing flaming suits, representative of their district's coal production. Later Peeta confesses on live television to having held an unrequited crush on Katniss for some time, Katniss is furious until Haymitch explains that they can play up the "star-crossed lovers" aspect in the media, thus setting them apart, winning them popularity, and earning them sponsors. Later, Haymitch instructs her explicitly to do what she can to sell the image he will attempt to create from the outside.

The night before the games begin neither can sleep. Peeta admits that he wishes there was some way that he could refuse to play the Capital's game, teach them that they don't own everyone, that they don't call all the shots. It is clear that the only way to accomplish such a thing would be to commit suicide, thus robbing the Gamemakers of their legal prerogative to sacrifice him "for the good of the nation." Katniss replies that she "can't afford to think like that," meaning she has a family to go home to, a little sister and mother to take care of. She doesn't have the luxury of thinking up ways to stick it to the Man; she must win, for her family first, and her district second.

As the games begin, we discover that Peeta was in fact given a kind of "way out." It has been obvious from the beginning that he has no real chance of victory. Katniss is the front-runner, or at least, the front-runner for the distinction of being the underdog against the well-trained and lethal "career" tributes. As such, it seems that he was instructed that his job was to keep Katniss alive, which, of course, he was more than willing to do, first, so that somebody from District 12 can win and its people eat well for a year and, second, out of love for her.

As the game progresses, the two grow even closer together, and Katniss begins to follow Haymitch's advice about embracing the "star-crossed lovers" ploy. It is clear that she is conflicted about doing this, but it is also clear that she has some kind of interest in Peeta. Nevertheless, she is obviously feigning most of the romantic aspect for the viewers' benefit. About midway through the games this leads to an announcement that the Gamemakers have made a rule change allowing two tributes to win together if they are from the same district. Immediately Katniss seeks out Peeta, finding him severely wounded, proceeding to nurse him back to health. In the end, it comes down to Katniss and Peeta versus one of the career tributes who is dispatched by an arrow to the hand and, quite literally, thrown to the wolves.

Just then, when they think they've won, another announcement is made that the prior rule change has been rescinded and the two "star-crossed lovers" must now fight each other in a theatrical final battle. Peeta asks Katniss to kill him, but Katniss produces a handful of poisonous berries and embraces Peeta's earlier idea. They each take some of the berries and prepare for their romantic suicide pact. They count to three, and just as they are about to eat the voice comes over the loudspeaker again and declares them the joint winners rather than allow them to disgrace the Government in this way.

And now we come to the heart of the potential problem with this movie. All appearances are that Katniss and Peeta have fallen so completely in love with one another that they can't bear to be without one another. Later Katniss says this very thing in an post-game interview. Faced with that painful possibility they would rather commit suicide, sticking it to the Man in the process, showing the powers that be that true love conquers all and what have you.

Is this the message we should be sending our children? Should we be telling them that, when life gets rough, it's better to die or to have never lived than to have to live in pain and suffering? That suicide is ever the right answer? To be sure they are presented with an awful, awful situation no one should ever have to face, but can one justify suicide even in such an extreme circumstance? Or should they just allow themselves to be killed by the Gamemakers in retribution for their refusal to comply?

I would argue that, in fact, what appears to be happening in this scene is misleading. First of all, Katniss isn't really in love with Peeta. She has definitely developed a kind of affection for him, but she is no Juliet to his Romeo. All the evidence presented to us in the film is that Katniss has one goal in mind: get home to her family. In the earlier scene where Peeta had first brought up his idea about committing suicide, Katniss' response was firm and straightforward: "I can't afford to think like that." In other words, "That's an interesting idea, but I've got a family to take care of, and I'm going to do my damndest to make sure that happens, whatever the cost." As far as we can see, she never wavered from this position. All the pageantry, all the romantic business with Peeta is all just her playing the part well so she can see to it she makes it out alive.

The suicide pact with Peeta is just another episode in the charade she's created. That is to say, she wouldn't have actually eaten the berries. She may have pretended to for Peeta's benefit, so that he could at least die "happy," thinking she loved him back. But at the end of the day, whatever her feelings for Peeta were, whatever her feelings toward the Government and the Gamemakers were, her only real conviction was of her need to get home to her mother and sister.

This may bear out in the sequel when she is forced to confront Peeta about her real feelings for him. Unfortunately, right now, this is a rather nuanced observation, and I don't think it will be clear to the average moviegoer. Instead, there will be a great many who are convinced that the suicide pact was the best decision they could have made. There will be a great many who see a film where suicide leads to a good outcome.  More than that, a mutual suicide motivated by romantic idealism! And that's dangerous.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gothic Art

Gothic art is said to originate with the Church of Saint Denis in Paris. Clearly, though, this Church represents only a kind of symbolic beginning, the true origin of the Gothic being impossible to pin down as it developed organically out of the Romanesque. In fact, the movement was so organic that it was only centuries after it replaced Romanesque as the preferred style across Europe (especially in the North and West) that it was even given a name. 16th-century Renaissance artists who sought a return to the more strictly Classical rejected the Gothic as a "barbaric" corruption of the "purity" of more Classical forms. The term "Gothic" is, then, retrospective and pejorative, being a reference to the violent Sack of Rome by the Gothic barbarians.

In one sense, these Renaissance artists were correct. Gothic is a kind of "corruption" of Classical purity and simplicity. The Gothic is, I would argue, a legitimate development of Classical art via the Romanesque. While similar development can be seen in all the artistic media, it's most clearly seen in the two styles' monumental architecture. For instance, let's compare these two arcades, one from the Pantheon in Rome, and one from Notre-Dame de Paris:

Both have columns with bases, shafts, and capitals, supporting an architrave and entablature with similar detailing, atop which sits a cornice. Even though in the former this all supports a pediment and in the latter the structure continues upward, the only significant difference between the two arcades is that in the Gothic example the columns can be skinnier, and in exchange more numerous, as a result of the arches which distribute the weight amongst them. (This is one of the ways in which Gothic architecture is able to feel so light and airy. By splitting the weight up amongst a larger number of thin columns, one prevents the heavy clunkiness of a small number of immense columns.)

Nevertheless, development though it is, it is true the Gothic accumulates and innovates forms which "corrupt" Classical purity. Let's look at a reconstruction of the Parthenon's facade verses that of Cologne Cathedral:

I've chosen the Parthenon specifically because it's of the Doric Order rather than the more ornate Ionic or Corinthian to illustrate my point more forcefully. Even though the proportions of the two buildings are similar, this may be hard to recognize simply because of all the decoration glued onto the Gothic facade. Where Classical architecture was largely content to leave its structure as it was, for the most part adding only what was necessary to hold the roof up in a beautiful and orderly manner, the Gothic feels compelled (almost obsessively) to slap on as much ornamentation as the underlying bones of the structure can hold up.

I said the Renaissance was right to call this development a corruption. The trouble is, the Renaissance was incorrect in rejecting it. What the Gothic did was take the Classical (and true) notions of form (function), beauty (proportion), and truth (honesty of construction), and capitalized on them to create something both imminently Classical. The Gothic "baptizes" the good in pagan art which was attained by human reason, by adding the supernatural, the heavenly, the grace of Christ. Gone is the reticent austerity of Classical architecture, a building can now be a Sacrament of Truth, a material vehicle for the transmission of God's Life to us.

By virtue of the God made Man, things which were formerly unreachable, purely spiritual realities, are now accessible in and through the material world. Wood, stone, and glass are no longer mere tools to hold a roof up, but great mysteries that point to God's participation in the World. Suddenly they contain within them, analogically, hints of Christ's ongoing interaction with us. A wooden beam now calls to mind the Wood on which hung the Savior of the World. A stone, the Rock on (or out of) which Christ builds his Church. Glass, the heroes of our faith, the saintly intercessors, through whom Heaven's Light falls on the faithful. A Church building can become, quite literally, Heaven on Earth:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Suffering & Death

I like The Walking Dead. I must admit I haven't read a frame of the graphic novel, to my shame. Nevertheless, the television version is absolutely wonderful. I completely disagree with all those who would suggest this season has serious flaws. While it hasn't been as good in general as the first season, I won't condemn the show outright simply for its lack of action or whatever else. For example, I think the second season has dealt with major underlying philosophical themes and moral issues a bit too transparently, but it's still dealing with them, which is more than can be said for most of what's on television.

In last week's episode, the group were saddled with a problem. Rick had previously rescued nobly an enemy outsider who was certain to die due to a serious injury. After he was patched up, the plan was to drive him, blindfolded, 18 miles out and leave him somewhere where he would have a fighting chance at survival in a world overrun with hungry, revivified corpses. Upon arrival, though, it was discovered that the prisoner was from the area and knew exactly where the group has been camped out. Worse than that, after interrogating him when they return, it comes out that he had aligned with a very large and powerful group with little to no problem with murder, rape, and the like. How does one solve this problem?

It's clear that the prisoner is a threat. He cannot be allowed to leave for fear he will turn them over to the other group. On the other hand, he can't stay. As much as he might promise to play by the rules, he can't ever be trusted. Ever. And it's not as if the group can spare the manpower it would take to keep him supervised 24 hours a day. Even then it's still too risky. He also can't be driven further out on account of the grave peril that would present to those doing the driving. Rick resolves with the unlikely support of Shane that the only solution is to execute him.

Dale, the oldest and (usually) wisest member of the group, protests immediately, arguing that a young man's life can't simply be thrown away without a second thought. The rest of the episode Dale travels all around the farm attempting to win over the rest of the group to no avail. At sunset the entire group convenes to discuss the final decision. Though Dale argues vehemently for the prisoner's life, the rest of the group are convinced that the only viable solution to the threat is the one already decided upon. Sarcastically, Dale asks if they'll all be watching the execution too, or if they'll all go hide themselves away and try to pretend nothing ever happened. Glen rightly points out that this is the first time that Dale has ever been wrong.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the teaching of the Church is about the death penalty, quoting the encyclical letter Evangelium vitae of Blessed Pope John Paul II:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent," (Catechism 2267).
Unfortunately for the prisoner in this situation, it is absolutely necessary. There is no viable alternative. The threat must be dealt with in order for the group's continued safety to be guaranteed, and there is simply no other way to do this other than to execute the man who personifies that threat. Just like in war, if the only way that the society can be truly protected from another who means to do them harm is by his death, it must be done. But only as a last resort. This is not Divine Revelation, this is human reason.

On the other hand, Dale's sarcastic comment about the group watching was, I think, apt. While as far as I am aware there is no authoritative teaching on this issue, such an execution is the public act of the community. It is only fitting that they should witness it. It is on their behalf, and for their benefit after all. This is not morbid; it is just. As Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell put it: "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." Shouldn't those on behalf of whom that man acts at least witness the death of the guilty party?

Essentially, this episode of The Walking Dead is just a rehashed court drama trying a case on the death penalty. While the majority of the characters in the show come down on the right side of the issue, it's clear the message the producers are trying to send: "Dale is the valiant lone wolf upholding justice against the others who have resorted to primitive savagery to solve their problems."

At the end of this same episode a character gets attacked and mortally wounded by a walker. In agonizing pain, with the rest of the group gathered around, they come to the hasty decision that he should be put out of his misery—euthanized, in other words. This certainly seems merciful. Why should a man be forced to go through unnecessary pain if it can be avoided? What possible reason could there be for allowing an innocent man to suffer? Aren't pain and death the most terrible things a human being can ever have to go through? If we can make it any easier, by all means, let's do it.

One major question has pervaded the entire second season of The Walking Dead: Is it the characters' job simply to survive at any cost? Or are there universal and everlasting principles of justice and morality which must be upheld even when the world has gone to hell? These two notions are championed by Rick and Shane respectively. In the first season Rick led an incredibly risky rescue mission to retrieve a man who had tried to kill him and seize power only hours before. What's more, he did this right after having been reunited with his wife and son against all hope. Early in the second season, Shane shot a man in the leg and left him to be eaten alive so he could get away. This was done in order that he could bring necessary medicine to Rick's dying son, but you know what they say about good intentions. These two characters have been butting heads over this issue constantly, and an outright fight is getting closer and closer to erupting.

If Rick is right, the group should do their best to uphold things like honor in spite of a world which will kill them no matter if they do or not. Worse than that, attempting to do so will put the group at substantially more risk than if they were follow Shane's advice and throw all morality to the wind and do whatever they had to to survive.

Here's the thing, though, if Shane is right, and there is no real morality or justice, and these are only ideas contrived by society for practical purposes, where does it end? The logical conclusion of such a position is that there are no principles except the survival of the fittest. What's to stop Shane from murdering Rick and taking his wife for his own (which he would very much like to do, by the way)? You get the idea. Without objective and universal principles, there can be no society, no community, no family.

"Why don't you take a look at your khal? Then you will
see exactly what life is worth when all the rest has gone."
Now, someone might say, so what? I don't need some kind of fuzzy "companionship" to survive. I just need my wits and a weapon or two. But here's where we get to the real heart of the issue. Practically speaking, Shane is right. One would probably survive significantly longer if he threw morality out the window and did whatever he needed to keep on living one more day. But would that extra day be worth living with the knowledge of what it took to obtain it? Without others in one's life to give it meaning and purpose? Without children to live on into the future on behalf of oneself and a wife with whom to make and raise them? The final episode of the first season of A Game of Thrones has an answer.

Suffering, and that most final and powerful of all pains, death are awful, awful things. They should certainly be avoided if at all possible. But it's not possible to avoid it all, is it? Certainly not death. The zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead is really not substantially different from our own world. Pain and death are still inevitable realities of life, even if they are somewhat less prevalent and harsh this century. What then? Do we put an early end to someone's life simply so they can avoid some pain? Here again, where does it end? The logical conclusion of this principle is the right of anyone, anywhere to end their life whenever they choose because it has gotten too uncomfortable. Even aside from the question of justice or morality, is this good for a society? How long do you think it could survive with such a policy?

Don't get me wrong, the world is a rough place, full of all manner of nasty and uncomfortable things. But isn't the point to find the good in life in spite of all the bad? In a recent interview with The New York Times, Stephen Colbert was asked to comment on the tragic death of his father and two brothers and how that painful experience affected him. Here's what he had to say:
“I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so. She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain—it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”
A Catholic would say that pain is a gift because it makes us like Christ, because it unites us to his suffering on the Cross. It does this because, like Christ's suffering and death, pain can be redemptive if undergone sacrificially. Like Christ, I can convert my personal suffering into something redemptive for both others and myself. How? Like he did, I can suffer for them, and paradoxically, do myself good in the process. This does not mean one should go around seeking pain. It does mean that unavoidable pain which comes our way is an opportunity. An opportunity to give ourselves away. And receive more of ourselves that we started with in return.

Like suicide, euthanasia is evil in part because it robs people of this opportunity. More importantly, though, it is evil simply because it is wrong to end a person's life unnaturally, unless the greater good demands they be brought to justice for a heinous crime they have committed because no other solution can be found. The only reason it seems merciful to euthanize someone in the first place is because, as a culture, we have forgotten how to deal with suffering—by looking to the suffering God underwent on our behalf.

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