They Can Put A Man on the Moon...
No way. That's the first thing that comes to your mind when you see it. No way they could get that thing up in the air.
But you know they did because you just saw the launch of Apollo 8 on tape, standing at the Kennedy Space Center in a room outfitted with original Mission Control consoles. Video screens arrayed across the room and huge, bass-enhanced sound speakers presented you the incontrovertible evidence that yes, this unimaginably huge thing shook and rumbled and struggled against the forces of nature and logic itself and rose, so slowly it seemed it would drop right back to the ground and collapse like a telescope into so many layers of metal and wire and human folly.
After the video is over and the images of cheering technicians with crew cuts and skinny ties have faded, the tour guides pronounce their lines simply and without emotion, partly because they are bored and partly because they know there is not much to say once the windowless steel doors swing open and you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Saturn V."
As long as a football field, thrusters large enough to eat dinner in, it lays on its side. We walk around it, under it, alongside it and try to understand how it could be shot up into the heavens and marvel at the ingenuity of those who knew it would go.
Odd thoughts come to my mind at times, observations weirdly juxtaposed that only a good psychiatrist could make sense of, and this is one of those occasions. Standing underneath this monstrous machine, the reverberations of its launch still echoing through my body, I found myself pondering the question: "Why abortion?"
They can put a man on the moon...
If you could shine a flashlight in my brain at that moment, what you would have undoubtedly glimpsed are memories, buried somewhere in the subconscious, of the debates I had viewed that week on C-SPAN, in which educated men and women had vigorously and passionately argued that it was necessary, vital and, it goes without saying, moral, to make incisions into the back of unborn children's skulls, suck their brains out and kill them.
Alongside those ringing voices were others I have endured over the years as veteran of the abortion wars, the warm and comforting tones of abortion clinic directors, representatives of NARAL and NOW whom I've debated on radio and in auditoriums, men and women who spend their lives and make their livings convincing us that killing preborn human beings with suction machines and curettes may be "tragic" but is a choice beyond reproach for no other reason than it is a choice and is - necessary.
I thought of broken lives and bodies dumped as so much medical waste, countless deaths urged on us as necessary solutions to impenetrable problems. The power of the Saturn V loomed above me, a power that came into existence only because a society decided it would be done, then poured out the time and energy to accomplish it, working patiently through the obstacles to its completion and success.
Why is it that we can do this thing and a million others like it, requiring just as much commitment and just as many resources, but an eight-pound bundle of human flesh confounds a society of educated, privileged adults to the point where the only answer we have to its presence among us is to kill it?
What are we so afraid of?
Before arriving at the Saturn V complex, the tour bus takes you past the Shuttle launch pads, rising from the dunes, swells of the gray Atlantic churning in the background. The structures are massive and silent, just so much metal until a human hand wills them to thunder and rise from their cages. There is the illusion of control, a dream that is seductive and powerful, teasing us into spending our tax dollars and our days and nights figuring these problems out until we have conquered and we know so much more and we can be so very proud of what we have done.
It is all worth the sacrifice.
But the baby?
The baby is laughably tiny, imperceptible next to the rocket. It seems a million of them could fill its inner cavities, giggling and tumbling as they crawled, fingering the shiny switches and poking at the brightly colored wires. Those babies are never still and have hardly ever be silent. Their eyes have been searching as soon as they opened, lit from within from the fire of their own being, in no need of external ignition.
We make sacrifices of every imaginable kind for the baby too, from the lifetime parents give to her to the medical care, education and support we all must provide as the community into which she was born. But the payoff is not as sure as the sight of a rocket conquering the heavens.
We can raise her, train her and try to guide her, but in the end she is her own. We cannot control her orbit as she goes off to make a path in the world we could not have imagined and might not even approve of. The rocket is dependent on us, and it can do nothing as it waits for our word. The baby, too is dependent , but it will not, cannot and should not wait.
At the risk of wrapping myself into a hopelessly Luddite cloak, it seems to me that the respective fates of the baby and the rocket indicate the power of technology to change the way we think about the value of human life. Technology, from the wheel to the computer chip, has always waved before us the prospect of more and better control over life, leading us to the point, late in the second millenium, when power, knowledge and mastery over nature are much more important in our social choices than attention to the human spirit.
As we put more and more faith into machines to save us and isolate ourselves in our electronic kingdoms, we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary because we have been once more seduced by the serpent who assures us our lives will be only richer if we but step into God's shoes.
The irony, of course, is that in turning from the treasure that is preborn human life, in shirking from the risks and surprises that enrich us more than a nationful of machines ever will, we have cut ourselves off from what links our natures to God's in the most intimate way - the act of creation.
The abortion debate rages on as I write and undoubtedly has not stopped by the time you read. As you listen to the arguments of those who declare that aborting children is an essential element in our society's struggle to solve problems ranging from poverty to gender inequality, imagine that rocket, as long as a football field, shooting into space simply because a society willed it to happen and consider if 1.5 million abortions a year is really the best we can do -
They can put a man on the moon.....
- c. 2002