There’s a powerful scene in “Breaking Bad” at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting where Jesse Pinkman, plagued with guilt over having murdered a man (but unable to admit it) “confesses” to having heartlessly killed a dog instead. When one woman in the group expresses shock and disgust, she is quickly quieted by the group leader and told not to judge.
The leader’s words, while well-meaning, are abrasively inadequate in the face of Jesse’s sorrow. Jesse responds, “If you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point? Oh right, this whole thing is just about self-acceptance?… So, I should stop judging and accept? So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I’m a great guy?”
We are a culture awash in self-acceptance. But human nature being what it is, we are also a people awash in guilt. We betray, we use other people, we tell lies to ourselves and to others, we are selfish and egotistical. Without a cultural vocabulary to put this guilt in its proper context, our only recourse is to deny that it’s there. This is seldom more apparent than in the way we speak of—and try not to speak of—abortion.
With the abortion tally close to 60 million at this point, almost no one can say he or she has not been in proximate or remote connection to one. Countless people go through life with the guilt of having been complicit in some way, either by accompanying, encouraging, abandoning, or undergoing an abortion.
The reason gang initiations, especially murderous ones, happen is because complicity is a powerful tool. You are in this tribe now, united in the blood of guilt. Complicity distorts our reason, perverts our objectivity, and leaves us with misplaced, irrational loyalties. It also makes us recoil when others state obvious truths. There’s nothing more offensive than hearing the truth we are trying to silence in ourselves.
We don’t want to face abortion. We generally ignore the March for Life despite it growing larger and younger. When the movie “Unplanned” came out, it was given an R rating and Twitter suspended its account. Other outlets simply refused to advertise it.
It is a hard and horrifying movie to watch, not because it is excessive, but because abortion is hard and horrifying. We know there is more there than “products of conception,” and that what is at stake is of greater consequence than the mere timing of our motherhood. But because we are all so complicit we have to pretend it is not what it is.
One striking scene in the movie is in the recovery room. Rows of young women in pink hospital gowns sit hollowed out, drugged, and despondent while a teenager next to them hemorrhages, close to death. We are like those poor young women—oblivious to the reality around us, barely able to acknowledge our own pain much less that of our neighbor.
Before she became awakened to the humanity of the unborn, “Unplanned” heroine Abby Johnson was complicit in tens of thousands of abortions, two her own. But no one who knows the truth about abortion looks at Johnson and sees her guilt, because her courage is so bright. She found the way out, not just out of the abortion industry, but out of her own guilt.
Confronted with his despair, Pinkman also sensed there would be only one way out if there was to be a way at all. It isn’t the thin compassion of generic self-acceptance, a teaspoon in the face of a flood. Nor is it despair. Instead, it’s the courage to look at wrongdoing plainly, acknowledge it, confess it, beg forgiveness, and shine a light so that others might see their way out as well.
It is painful to hear a hard truth that we’re trying to silence in ourselves. It’s much more painful to sustain the lie.