Category Archives: Majority Outreach

Thomas Aquinas: Animals Cannot Choose – Only Man

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     What’s the difference? Is it a matter of degree? Are we just a little smarter? Do we just have more and different instincts, like a religious instinct?

Gregory of Nyssa says that irrational animals act willingly but not from choice … the difference between the sensitive appetite (animal instinct) and the (free) will is that … the sensitive appetite is determinative to one particular thing … whereas the will … is indeterminate in respect of particular goods. Consequently choice properly belongs to the (human free) will, and not to the sensitive appetite which is all that irrational animals have. Wherefore irrational animals are not competent to choose… . An irrational animal takes one thing in preference to another because its appetite is naturally determinate to that thing. Wherefore as soon as an animal, by its sense or its imagination, is offered something to which its appetite is naturally inclined, it is moved to that alone, without making any choice (I-II,13,2).

The difference between humans and animals is in two powers that we have that the animal does not: reason and free will, or free choice. These powers are not instincts. Instincts are unfree. They are necessarily determined to one thing only, as we are hungry only for food and thirsty only for drink and tired only for sleep and have sexual desire only for sex. We are like the animals in having animal instincts. But we are more. Animals see and will only the concrete particular good. We understand the universal good, and therefore are free to choose between various particular goods. That is why we have free choice.

     Only free choice is meritorious, praiseworthy, or blameworthy. God does not praise or blame us for our animal instincts. That’s why it doesn’t matter morally how you feel when you pray or when you choose (although good feelings help), only your free choice to believe God, hope in God, and love God, counts.

     How often we act like animals! How often we let instinct determine behavior.
Senses and sense appetites perceive only particular goods, like this particular piece of delicious food. Reason perceives good in general, and therefore—because of our reason—we can freely choose between different concrete particular goods, as animals cannot. They always act according to the strongest instinct that is driving them at the time: if they are more tired than hungry, they will sleep; if more hungry than tired, they will eat. They always see and respond to whatever particular good looms largest in their view.

     (1) Sometimes this is both good and necessary, like breathing or eating.

     (2) Sometimes it is neither necessary nor good, like sinning by following our passions contrary to our reason.

     (3) And sometimes it is not necessary—the instinct, once recognized, is freely followed—but it is good, like choosing to do for God what our natural instincts incline us to do anyway, like helping the suffering out of instinctive compassion, or giving thanks out of instinctive gratitude. Our instincts can help us as well as hinder us. Most of our life is lived on the animal level; we can use our instincts as we tame animals; we can transform that part of ourselves into the raw material (the “material causes”) for good choices. In fact much of moral character-building consists in forming and educating the instincts.

     This is less onerous than it seems, since we have more good instincts than evil ones. Most of the things we do out of a combination of natural instinct and some free choice to follow the instinct have positive moral value—eating, reading, working, conversing, caring for our own and others’ welfare—because they are acts that are natural and rightly directed to good ends. That is the refutation of pessimism. The refutation of optimism is the fact that our instincts are not unfallen, so that all of the things we do and all of our instincts are prone to infection by some evil, especially the master evil of selfishness.

     (4) And we can also act contrary to an instinct or animal passion, as animals cannot. For instance we can fast, as animals cannot; we can choose to offer up an innocent, orderly passion (hunger) for a higher good (God).

     (5) We can also avoid sin by choosing to offer up and “mortify” a disordered passion instead of obeying it.

     Kreeft, Peter. Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 2770-2782). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Surprising Ingredient To Creating A Pro-Life Culture

…Beyond “Cognitive Dissonance”

A Child is Waiting, Garland, Lancaster

An early 1960s film about parents of developmentally delayed children struggling to adjust. A 1998 article about the one-third of our brightest young women who can’t be reached with the Pro-Life message. Today, a young writer explains how our criterion of success forbids us from accepting bumps in life’s road and receiving the unexpected Gift of Life.

Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland, (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961) starred in the 1963 film A Child is Waiting. Lancaster is medical director at an institution for retarded children, dedicated to guiding young people with reduced expectations to the best possible life adjustment. (With calm dignity, actual developmentally-delayed children play many of the roles.)

Garland is a new employee of the institution whose overly emotional reaction to a young boy’s sense of rejection by his parents diminishes her ability to be of actual help to the children. The boy’s father seems to be aloof, to the point of refusing to visit his child—”A Child is Waiting”—when other children are seeing their families. Rather than uncaring, the father’s problem is shown to be acute discomfort with his son’s perceived imperfections.

One of the new generation of pro-life thinkers, First Things Junior Fellow Tristyn Bloom, examines our fixation on perfection and resistance to the unexpected, in “Beyond the Pro-Life Pep Rally: Where Do We Go From Here?” (The Federalist: “The Surprising Ingredient To Creating A Pro-Life Culture: Are Kids These Days ‘Too Responsible’?“ ).

. . . . .Tristyn Bloom holding speaker’s gavel

The reason people continue to defend abortion is because, essentially, of existential terror: fear of what will happen when something unexpected, uninvited, unplanned bursts into our lives demanding action.…We are pathologically terrified of risk and … we have this enslavement to our own ideas of respectability, our own ideas of our life plan, our commitments, our existing duties such that something as radically changing as a new life doesn’t fit in with those existing duties. To accept that life would be the irresponsible choice, and that’s the framework from which a lot of people are operating.…When we have something unchosen, unplanned, uninvited, it’s a direct attack against the very core of our being.

Ms. Bloom’s insight points toward a solution to an enduring mystery, a fly in the ointment marring the past generation’s great success in turning around public opinion about the issue of Life.

Fifteen years ago, news of a population of up to one-third of young women practically unreachable by the Pro-Life message was carried in another First Things article, “Abortion: A Failure to Communicate” by Paul Swope of the Vitae Caring Foundation. The article was largely concerned with a self-defeating misapprehension among the Pro-Life mainstream: the “Adoption: The Loving Option” solution is, unexpectedly, completely contrary to a basic psychological premise for many of the most success-oriented, “upwardly mobile” young women. (Our front-line experience is liable to confirm the fact that it’s much easier to communicate the Pro-Life message to women of more modest “socio-economic” background than those of the educational and economic elite.)

pregnancy-optionsAdoption, unfortunately, is seen as the most “evil” of the three options [giving birth, adoption and abortion], as it is perceived as a kind of double death. First, the death of self, as the woman would have to accept motherhood by carrying the baby to term. Further, not only would the woman be a mother, but she would perceive herself as a bad mother, one who gave her own child away to strangers. The second death is the death of the child “through abandonment.” A woman worries about the chance of her child being abused. She is further haunted by the uncertainty of the child’s future, and about the possibility of the child returning to intrude on her own life many years later. Basically, a woman desperately wants a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind, adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved, with uncertainty and guilt as far as she can see for both herself and her child. As much as we might like to see the slogan “Adoption, Not Abortion” embraced by women, this study suggests that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser.

“Lifesaver”, Vitae Caring Foundation “I am a Life”, Heroic Media

(Woman firefighter handing a child she just saved to the Mom.) “Being alive today has special meaning–for both of us. There have been times when I almost didn’t make it. But the one time I had the most to lose, was before I was even born. My Mom was young, single, no money. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to give me a chance. But today, I know she’d be very proud, that her decision saved more than one life.”—”Lifesaver”, Vitae Caring FoundationMany in the mainstream of dedicated, Pro-Life stalwarts, seem unaware of the fact, that much of the credit for turning around American public opinion about abortion goes to groups like the Vitae Caring Foundation and Heroic Media which have employed to best effect, sophisticated consumer-psychology research and Madison Avenue marketing expertise to support the cause of Life. Yet many Pro-Lifers remain rather in the dark about our failure to reach so many of the best and brightest, the very people who should be at the forefront bringing forth new generations to help ensure future prosperity and the health of society.

Vitae Caring’s “Lifesaver” commercial overcomes many of the hidden biases against Life by recognizing and affirming the special requirements of feminine psychology: It portrays a successful woman heroically–potentially, self-sacrificially–giving life to another while maintaining control over her own life and remaining personally successful. This flies in the face of the presumption of the upper-crust of young women that having a child when they’re reaching for success means the effective end of their lives.

It’s high time to take stock of our current course, to help the right-thinking majority on the Life issue overcome the unthinking bias against Life on the part of the “better classes” which have so much influence over the fate of our nation and our world.

Pro-life activists are still viewed as dangerous extremists.…The pro-life movement’s own self-chosen slogans and educational presentations have tended to exacerbate the problem.Paul Swope, 1998
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