Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who just made deeply troubling comments on abortion, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who just signed the country’s most radical abortion law, have been the subject of intense ire in recent days. The outrage is coming not just coming from “radical” pro-lifers, but people from across the political spectrum.
Why? Because virtually no one but the far left believes it is morally acceptable to allow infants to be murdered seconds before birth, or to be left to die after delivery at the behest of the mother.
Yet the nation has been shocked by radical left’s boldness in their mission to define preborn human beings as disposable non-persons. Where is this evil coming from, and how do we stop it?
The Slaughter of the Young and the Elderly
Abortion and infanticide have historically been common practices. In the first century AD, infanticide was a common and culturally accepted practice across the world. The murder of infants was a regular occurrence in Europe into the Middle Ages and beyond, despite being condemned by both church and state.
The practice was not confined to the desperate, illiterate, impoverished masses, as if “enlightened” thinkers knew better. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law, admired by Cicero, contains the command that, “A dreadfully deformed child shall be quickly killed.”
Likewise, the wealthy first century Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote, “We doom scabby sheep to the knife, lest they should infect our flocks. We destroy monstrous births, and we also drown our children if they are born weakly or unnaturally formed; to separate what is useless from what is sound is an act, not of anger, but of reason.” This from a Stoic, who supposedly believed virtue to be the highest good. Notably, Seneca was Nero’s tutor.
Infanticide was an acknowledged option for any child who was deformed, sickly, of uncertain paternity, the wrong sex, or simply unnecessary to the household. Aristotle, revered by many a university professor, wrote that, “As to exposing or rearing the children born, let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared,” and “if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life.”
The Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans all practiced child sacrifice to appease their gods. The Chimú civilization, located in what is now Peru, sacrificed more than 140 children at one time some 550 years ago. The children’s chests were slashed open, presumably to remove their hearts.
The citizens of the powerful ancient city Carthage in Phoenicia ritually sacrificed their infants. Archaeologists believe the preferred age of sacrificial infants was less than three months old. According to the writing of early AD Greek biographer Plutarch, “But with full knowledge and understanding [the Carthaginians] offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds.”
The residents of the broader region of Canaan (late second millennium B.C.) were condemned numerous times by the ancient prophets of Israel for their child sacrifice. The prophet Jeremiah, in his judgment against apostate Israel, foretold that the valley of Hinnom, where the Israelites were sacrificing children to Baal, would be called “the valley of Slaughter” (Jeremiah 19:5-6).
Evidence for both ritualistic and utilitarian murder can be gathered from around the globe. In times of famine, the Inuit would abandon the elderly (both with and without consent) or dispense of them by quicker means. The Bactrians of ancient Persia were reported to have fed their sick and elderly to dogs trained especially for this purpose. Nearby cultures were supposed to have had similar senicidal customs. Among the Massagetae, Herodotus wrote that, “Human life does not come to its natural close with this people,” but that the people sacrificed their elderly, boiled their flesh, and ate it.
Not every single community on earth had such evil practices, but the embrace of death as the first solution to a family or tribe’s problems has been wickedly banal, historically speaking.
Judeo-Christian Morality Has Saved Us from Much Evil
Northam’s endorsement of infanticide by exposure is only shocking because we have lived in a rare cultural moment in which infanticide is considered abhorrent. This extraordinary development is no accident. A sense of morality about life and death is not the product of evolution over the last 2,000 years. Rather, humanity’s progress out of death culture is due to nothing less than Judeo-Christian influence.
As formerly mentioned, the Christian God condemned child sacrifice through his prophets; Israelites were specifically commanded not to kill their children. The concept of bloodguilt is found throughout the Old Testament, even in cases where death was seemingly accidental.
Murder was an abomination. The blood of Abel, the first recorded murder victim in the Bible, “cried out” to the Lord from the ground. The gravity of taking a human life was no less firm among the followers of Jesus, who consider the Hebrew scriptures the word of God. As the gospel spread, so did the idea that all human life is precious.
The belief in the sanctity of life overrode even the commonly accepted practice of abortion. Contrast the evil of Aristotle’s belief with what Tertullian, an early church father, wrote in “Apologia”: “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb…To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.”
Elsewhere, he wrote: “Thus, you read the word of God, spoken to Jeremias: ‘Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee.’ If God forms us in the womb, He also breathes on us as He did in the beginning: ‘And God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life.’…Was it, then, a dead body at that stage? Surely it was not, for ‘God is the God of the living and not the dead.’”
As Tertullian recounted, believers in the early church would search through the heaps of refuse in Roman cities and rescue infants from among the refuse and broken pottery. There is archaeological evidence to support the fact that infants were thrown in the trash or into the sewer, sometimes deliberately killed instead of being out left to die by exposure. That children should never be trash was a revolutionary concept in the early centuries after Christ.
The fourth century Roman emperor Constantine, who is generally believed to have converted to Christianity and was at the very least influenced by it, considered infanticide a crime. Later, Emperor Valentinian, also a professed Christian, officially outlawed the practice by requiring that all children be reared.
Since that time, the belief that God made man in his own image and set him apart from the rest of creation for communion with his creator, that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that therefore God’s prohibition against murder is to be upheld, has been the basis for the protection of human life.
Christianity Deeply Shaped the Early Days Of America
Infanticide was outlawed in colonial America. The earliest recorded execution for infanticide was in 1648 in Massachusetts. Similar court cases from the 17th and early 18th century are found in Maryland, Maine, Virginia, and New York. Abortion was also a prosecutable offense. Between 1670 and 1807, there were 51 convictions of infanticide in Massachusetts.
The seriousness with which our forefathers considered the murder of children was not due to the influence of the “great” philosophizing of Aristotle, Seneca, or Cicero. It was due to the Christian faith. It is Christians who have historically run orphanages, adoption agencies, and pregnancy clinics. It is Christians who advocate most fiercely for heartbeat bills and abolition. It is Christians out on the sidewalk, day after day, begging women not to kill their babies and offering to connect them with church members who are willing to adopt. Christians take seriously the biblical command to “look after the orphan and widow in their distress.”
Where the kingdom of God* invades, death flees, both spiritually and physically. Where populations dwell in spiritual darkness, death finds favor. How can I know this for sure? How do I know our contemporary revulsion toward infanticide is not simply the result of human “progress” over the last two millennia? Because when Christianity is aggressively suppressed within a culture, as it has been under Communist and Socialist regimes, society chokes on the stench of death.
Recent Godless Regimes Did Not Value Human Life
Adolph Hitler’s genocidal socialist regime* practiced the euthanasia of “life unworthy of life” and murdered about six million Jews. Communist dictator Joseph Stalin had no qualms with mass starvation. A quarter of the Cambodian population died under Pol Pot. Altogether, godless collectivism led to the deaths of about 100 million people in the 20th century. Karl Marx’s philosophy implicitly assumed that some segments of the population must be “left behind” in the march toward utopia.
American culture has stood in stark contrast against this backdrop of death and misery, and it’s not because Anglo Americans are inherently better than any other people group. It is because this nation was founded on Christian principles, namely that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. First among those rights is life. The principles of Christianity have been deeply formative to American culture. Restraining evil and promoting prosperity bound us together with a common creed.
But as we are now witnessing, that influence is fading. Majority support for legal abortion has been steady for decades, and millennials are just as supportive of it as the previous two generations. We are less religious than ever, and it is no coincidence that the godless are some of the biggest proponents of late-term abortion and infanticide. Those who profess Christianity and publicly bless abortion clinics do so against the core teachings of their own faith––it is not an intramural dispute, but an aberration.
What we are seeing now is a return to a world that does not know God and does not want to know God. This is the consequence of our detachment from Christianity and its moral system. The truth is that you do not attain a culture where human life (albeit born life) is almost universally cherished without the knowledge of the one true God.
As the Apostle Paul reiterated from Old Testament writers: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The fact that we are surrounded by a wealth of resources and still 13 percent of all pregnancies in America and 28 percent in the state of New York end in murder should tell you something. This is not a matter of inequality of rights between the sexes or inequality of resources. It is a matter of the heart, and a heart without God is “desperately wicked.” The god of Progress has led its worshippers to embrace death as easily as the Canaanite gods that surrounded the people of Israel.
Where idolatry is not directly involved, a perceived lack of resources has, for millennia, been the excuse to choose death, not the reason. In such a wealthy and technologically advanced society, it is perhaps more obvious a truth now than it was 2,000 years ago, but the truth has always been there.
*I am not talking about the political Christendom of Europe and the Crusades. I am talking about the spiritual kingdom of God as referred to by Jesus and the New Testament writers.
**Before you tell me, “Hitler was a Christian!” watch this video of a “Christmas tree” with a Swastika suspended over the top. Hitler also is reported to have said, “I’ll have my reckoning with the church. I’ll have it reeling on the ropes.” The Nazis who surrounded Hitler deeply hated Christianity and wanted to see it destroyed.