Remember That Smell

A couple of weeks ago, we watched an old movie with the kids.  First time in maybe twenty years I’d seen it.  Our oldest son had been talking about space, aliens, galaxies far, far away.  Could there be life out there, somewhere?  So we rented E.T., popped some corn, settled back.  As with all old movies, there were bits I remembered, sections I’d forgotten.  Maybe you remember this scene, the one where Elliot saves the frogs?  He and E.T. have gotten their wires crossed somehow, so that when the toady little alien downs a six pack, Elliot ends up drunk.  When Elliot stares down at his science-class dissection project, tender-hearted E.T. incites a revolution.  Soon Elliot has set a dozen frogs loose, and his classmates gleefully join in, throwing the lucky amphibians willy-nilly from the window.

Who didn’t smile to see the frogs go free?

etfrog-thumb-510x271-29546

Then last week, chatting with our youngest son’s science teacher, she reminisced about dissecting frogs, how in her day they’d open them up live, so they could see the beating heart.  “We’d just stick a pin right into its brain and twist it.”  Apparently this rendered the frogs not only motionless, but unable to feel, and before they finished the poor creature off, they chloroformed it for good measure.  Of course, the animal rights people didn’t like it.

We don’t do that any more.

Our culture gets a bad rap for celebrating death, but there are a great many folks from all different political persuasions who celebrate life.  It’s a constant theme in our movies, from E.T. to Charlotte’s Web, or over in the adult aisle, Unbroken, Schindler’s List, Marley and Me.  We root for the vulnerable, the prisoner, the unloved, the oppressed.  We cheer for the underdog and the pet dog.  We revile cruelty, whether embodied by fur coats, Nazis, slavery, or lion hunters.  Anything that tramples and obliterates what is beautiful or helpless or endangered receives the full measure of our American wrath.  But it wasn’t always so.

There was a time in our culture when unwanted kittens were routinely tossed into the river in a burlap sack and drowned.  No one thought much about skinny dogs or abused horses, let alone stray cats.

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Can you imagine the outcry today if they did to puppies what they did to frogs?

A culture that is cruel to animals is usually unkind to people, too.  There was a long, long time in our history when Africans, shackled and stripped, filled the cargo hold of ships.  It was expected that the majority would not make it to the East Indies alive.  In 1829, the Reverend Robert Walsh described a slave ship he’d helped to intercept and set free:

“She had taken in, on the coast of Africa, 336 males and 226 females, making in all 562, and had been out seventeen days, during which she had thrown overboard 55. The slaves were all inclosed under grated hatchways between decks. The space was so low that they sat between each other’s legs and [were] stowed so close together that there was no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position by night or day. As they belonged to and were shipped on account of different individuals, they were all branded like sheep with the owner’s marks of different forms. These were impressed under their breasts or on their arms, and, as the mate informed me with perfect indifference ‘burnt with the red-hot iron.’”  (“Aboard a Slave Ship, 1829,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000).)

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underwater slave memorial

The beautiful monument in the photo above (created by Jason de Caires Taylor) is located in Grenada’s Moilinere Bay.  It pays tribute to the many, many African people who died en route from West Africa to America.

How did we ever view other human beings as disposable?

I think it happens slowly.  A little meanness, a little envy, a little hatred.  We are careless.  We don’t speak up when we should.  We let things slide.  It’s not so bad, really.

At the end of the day, we are left with the bloody fruit of genocide:  mass graves, twisted bodies, piles and piles of shoes.

shoe pile black and white

That racial hatred, which for so many centuries justified unthinkable violence and perverse sadism, is still alive and well, though it has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts.

We wouldn’t stand for wholesale murder, remorseless torture, or straight-up genocide these days unless it was really, really well-disguised.  If somehow, we believed it was a kindness, if we believed it to be mercy…  If some propaganda convinced us it was harmless, and necessary for our liberty, perhaps it could continue to exist.

It’s hard to even imagine that ordinary Germans could fall for Nazi mythology, could move from happy couples and pretty girls to annihilating an entire race.

How does it happen?

Hang on.  Abortion isn’t comparable to genocide.  It doesn’t target anyone in particular, but is an equal opportunity tragedy.  Right?

“Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in America.  78% of their clinics are in minority communities.  Blacks make up 12% of the population, but 35% of the abortions in America.”  blackgenocide.org

eugenics, noun: the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.

Well, it’s unfortunate, right?  That so many African-Americans need to resort to abortion.  But it’s not really eugenics, it’s just a sad side effect of poverty.  Coincidence.  And although it’s kinda sad, at least it’s not cruel.

We’ve evolved past all of that.  Right?

Testimony from Holly O’Donnell, a StemExpress technician entrusted with procuring fetal remains, describes a post-abortion procedure that is eerily reminiscent of dissecting frogs.

“So she has one of her instruments, and she just taps the heart, and it starts beating.  And I’m sitting here, and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think.”  O’Donnell is instructed to harvest the brain.  Her coworker “gave me the scissors and told me that I had to cut down the middle of the face.”

Is it human?  Is it alive?  Is it an “it”?

At least the frogs were given chloroform.  And I’m thinking, as I see this video, as I hear the horrific description, that we’d never allow this to happen to frogs in a public school science class, not anymore.  We’d never let it happen to a stray dog.  So why do we let it happen to a human being?

compassion, noun: PITY, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, care…

Having compassion means to suffer with.  When I am roused to compassion, I feel a pang in my heart accordant with the pain of the person on whom I have compassion.  We Americans, the “milk of human kindness” in our veins, we feel compassion on creatures in distress.  We exert energy to bring justice to end oppression.  We fight for equality.  We cry out for victims, people and animals alike.

Scientifically we have no room to differentiate between unborn and born members of a species.  A tiny being is no less a being than a big one.  A human with fingers, toes, face, gender, beating heart, is it not deserving of our protection?


time magazine prenatal surgery

Oh, my pro-choice friends, I know it’s repugnant to you to see this rash of unscripted videos.  You have believed for so long that abortion is a necessary evil to preserve the freedom of the unfortunate.  But you have been led astray.

margaret sanger

Abortion is evil, on so many levels.  It has specifically been designed and used to rid the population of the poor, of particular racial groups.  It unleashes cruelty and unthinkable horror on the helpless, regardless of race.  It’s presented as a gift to women, who are often manipulated at the moment of their greatest fear and despair.

These videos remind me of a scene from Amazing Grace, the film.  William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, could not evoke the pity of his fellow Englishmen enough to overturn slavery.  At last he resorted to some bait and switch.  To “thank” his well-heeled friends, he offered an afternoon cruise around the harbor, tea served, violins playing.  When they pulled alongside a recently returned slave ship, the stench of death from its cargo hold was overpowering.  Wilberforce stopped the boat.  Out came the handkerchiefs to cover delicate noses.  No! cried he.  “Remember this smell!”  These were the liberal elite of his day, above such disgusting matters.  It took a visceral blow to break through their defenses.

We’ve had a visceral blow this month, images we didn’t want to see, stories we didn’t want to hear.  If ever you’ve spoken out for the rights of frogs and dogs, if ever you’ve rallied for peace, if ever you’ve wept for the casualties of war, now is the time for a tender-hearted revolution.  Maybe a culture that champions the well-being of animals can harness that compassion for human beings.

Remember that smell.

5 thoughts on “Remember That Smell”

  1. Very powerful!
    I recently heard a christian say “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t want to think too much.”
    As a believer, I am responsible to think about the world I live in & how I relate to it. Some people may not like to consider what you have written here, but it needs to be said.
    Thanks for your thoughtful remarks, Catherine.

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  2. Oh my sweet Kate how articulately you defined, described and expressed the reality of abortion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us. I will pass your writings on I promise. God has truly gifted you.
    Please don’t hide it under a bushel, “How then shall we live??” when we know the real truth. Will we forever do what is right in our own eyes that justifies everything evil?
    Love You
    Dee

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    1. Hi Catherine- I’m Will, from Canada. We tend to take a lot of cultural cues from you guys- sometimes it is a little ridiculous actually (For example, after SCOTUS’ gay marriage decision many of my school friends up here were posting “Love Wins”, etc… even though it’s been legal in Canada since 2005, we celebrated (and lamented) your decision just as much as our own).
      As for abortion, Canada is one of the few countries in the world with no law restricting it… It’s not a common topic of debate at all, but some of my friends posted “Stand with PP” articles after the CMP videos were released. Still, I gotta reiterate: abortion is RARELY discussed. As far as hot-button moral issues go, homosexuality is a far more common topic here, both for Christians to decry and non-Christians (generally) to defend.

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      1. That’s so interesting! Even from one Christian circle to another, I think we assume that our hot topic is everyone else’s, too, so from one country to the next, there are bound to be varying cultural temperatures. I read somewhere that several European nations actually have much stricter abortion laws than we do, which surprised me. Usually I assume we are heading down a more and more liberal path, but the hue and cry against PP over here makes me wonder if we will actually ratchet up the restrictions once more. Guess we’ll have to wait and see! Thanks, Will!

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