A direct line of causality can be drawn from from a culture that embraces abortion, euthanasia and the harvesting of body parts from the sick to utilitarian philosophy. And a direct line can be drawn from utilitarianism to the unintended consequences of Calvinism and the Protestant work ethic.

Things that seem trivial in ordinary thinking are the point of departure for philosophy. Consider this: What is the second question people usually ask you after they ask you your name? It is usually this: “What do you DO?” What is your function? Where do you fit into the functional organization of society?” Now consider this: What does the unborn child in the womb and the sick and perhaps terminally ill person DO for society?” They DO nothing and so they are seen as nothing. In another sense, asking a person what they DO is equivalent to asking them their line of WORK? What WORK do you perform for society? Now what WORK do the every young in the womb and the very sick or elderly in the hospital perform? They perform no work and so from a functional point to view, they are nothing.

Now think on that long and hard and consider this. What verb is used in the English language to describe the health and well-being of things? The most common very used is WORK. “Is it working.” “Does it work?” “Why isn’t it working?” Study other languages and you will find that the verb WORK is not used like that. But the verb WORK is used like that in the English language. A trivial idea to the ordinary person, but a phenomenon of profundity to a philosopher. If a things value can be reduced to its material functionality, then as consequence, what is the “value” of the very young and the very elderly or the very sick, who do not in fact WORK? The harvesting of organs from poor souls is only done because those organs STILL WORK and so have some functional value.

Now Stalin could justify the killing of millions of Russians on the principle that their deaths advanced the worker revolution. Killing “works” to advance the Marxist workers utopia. And I suspect that Mr. Obama, who has been shaped by both the Calvinist work ethic and college courses taught by socialists and Marxists, is quite comfortable with reducing the value of persons to their functionality. There may even be a bit of anti-Catholicism in his Reformation faith.

Now communism and utilitarianism were not born in a vacuum. I do not question the great piety of John Calvin, but surely the Protestant work ethic, as one of its unintended consequences leads to a view that it is in WORK that a man shows his value as a member of the elect. There is an interesting little book, probably out of print, by Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, entitled: “Leisure: the Basis of Culture.” In it he shows how Catholic thought is based on the idea that the goodness and value of a person comes from being created by God and is ontological. Every man is an image of God even if the image is tarnished by sin. Man does not “work” to “earn” his value. It is a given, a grace. This also presupposed that Original Sin did not result in the total depravity of human nature. Pieper analyzes the Catholic Church and finds that its ontology of man is shown by how many feast days were created by the Catholic Church, feast days when men would not have to “work.” One cannot see John Calvin appreciating something like this. Even the most belabored serf in the Middle Ages was free on these Feast days. The multiplication of Feast Days was no accident. Nor was it an accident when St. Thomas Aquinas declared that although work is necessary for life, man is most human in contemplation and not action, not work. This might also explain why active religious orders are more valued in our secular society than contemplative religious orders like the Benedictines.

The great Catholic philosopher of this protest against reductionist functionality was Gabriel Marcel. Man cannot be reduced to his functions. Marcel was one of the first thinkers to show that science and technology have so permeated our thinking that we now envy machines their functionality. It is in technology that functionality reigns. “Do that theory work?” “Does that machine work?” And what a small but evil step it is from this to . . . “This baby or old woman is USELESS but maybe some of their organs still WORK.” “Maybe we can get some USE out of this USELESS person after all.”


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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