SIDELIGHT ON THALIDOMIDE EPISODE
Newspapers in Europe and in America have commented elaborately on the expose given the use of the German drug Thalidomide (U.S. trade name: Kevadon) which is now officially connected with the birth of thousands of deformed babies abroad. Prominently associated with the discussion about this drug is the name of Dr. Frances O. Kelsey who is being hailed as the American “heroine” in the expose. Meanwhile the Vatican in Rome lost no time in condemning the abortion performed on Mrs. Sherri Finkbine in Stockholm, Sweden, who feared her fifth child would be born deformed because she had taken the drug. The Vatican radio termed the abortion a “crime.”
Aside from the technical aspects of the use of the drug, it is to be observed that with those who approved of the above-mentioned abortion there appeared to be the assumption that a deformed child is useless to society and therefore should not be brought to birth. This assumption does not deserve the generalization given it. There have been, and still are, many physically deformed people whose personal contributions in the arts and sciences are more than even ordinary. A noteworthy instance is that of Dr. Lansing Wells (1892–1954). He was born with flipper-like arms and only a few fingers. In 1919 he was awarded a Ph.D. in chemistry by the University of Illinois. In 1930 he joined the U.S. Bureau of Standards as a mining production chemist. He enjoyed a full and active life using both of his “hands” for writing, swimming and even playing golf. In tho laboratory he deftly manipulated the chemist’s scale. At the time of his death he was a chief chemist and consultant for the Bureau. How fortunate for the U.S. Bureau of Standards that this distinguished scientist was not deprived of his life before he was born!
IS NOT MY SON A SINNER?
A devoted mother had tears in her eyes as she asked, “Pastor, should not my teenage son be told that he is a sinner who needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ?”
The minister, reluctant to comment on another’s work, counter questioned. “Surely your Pastor preaches about the need for a daily confession of sin on the part of the youth of the covenant community, does he not?”
Mother spoke on, somewhat haltingly, desperately sincere. “No, he does not! I have spoken to him about this matter more than once. I dislike being critical. I know it isn’t easy to serve the spiritual needs of a 100 family congregation. Besides, I realize that the gospel is good news. The Christian may not neurotically preoccupy himself with sin in a morbid way. I don’t want this either, but I do believe that we cannot rejoice in the good news of Christ without facing the bad news about our personal guilt.”
While the Pastor listened, refusing to invade the silence of various pauses, the pained Christian mother bared her heart.
“You see, I feel somewhat alone in the battle of faith. To believe, really believe, is not easy for me. My husband—and I love him—is not a Christian. But my son is! He is a member of the covenant of grace. God in free grace claimed him for himself, My son is holy in Christ. But he is only holy in Christ. He must face up to his own sinfulness. Without such sin-consciousness, genuinely personal, how can he joy in grace? My son is a genuine sinner, but he doesn’t realize it. And our minister never makes him face this fact. What can I do?”
Sensing profound concern, minister-on-the-spot replied, “Have you thought about transferring to a neighboring congregation? perhaps the accents from the pulpit there will help you and your son?”
In a broken voice she said, “I’ve attended there too. But the sermons there show no sensitivity to the dimensions of personal sinfulness.”
The substance of this conversation took place within the Christian Reformed community.
What shall we Pastors say to this? Shall we say, “Only an isolated case.” Should we say, “The woman is a neurotic, excessively morbid, hypercritical.” May we say, “Forget it, it is only a problem of communication. The message did not get through.”
May Christ who commissions us give us humility to pray, “Lord God, give me insight, compassion, and courage to declare the whole counsel of God to my congregation. Lord Jesus, use me to help thy sister, a lonely, concerned mother, who needs the full gospel for her family.”
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
When Thomas Jefferson suggested the pursuit or happiness as one of man’s inalienable rights, he was undoubtedly trying to improve on the list of human rights suggested by John Locke in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Locke had suggested life, liberty, and property. Perhaps Jefferson felt that he could cater to a wider audience and give the Declaration of Independence a broader appeal by substituting the pursuit of happiness in the catalog of rights. Not everyone can realistically aspire to the possession of property but happiness is pursued by all like a talisman because of the innate hedonism· which resides in every human breast.
In the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill was busy with hedonism in his ethics of Utilitarianism, the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Twentieth century movie makers took up the strain and gave the public the impression that marriage in particular is a happiness heaven where the partners are not getting their money’s worth unless they are kept in a perpetual state of erotic fascination by the physical charms of their opposite number.
The Madison Avenue commercials have also contributed their share to the superficial notions of happiness which are part of our present sense-oriented culture. Not only have the commercials fortified the Hollywood conception of marriage, but they have suggested that happiness depends on a host of physical comforts. For example, a whole family can be thrown into paroxysms of glee upon finding a new “Downy softness” in their garments. According to the commercials, happiness consists in totaling up a whole balance sheet of inconsequential trivia.
Nicolas Berdayaev in his The Destiny of Man rightly points out that the superficial approach to happiness receives its emphasis at the expense of a proper emphasis on duty. In fact, we have made happiness an end in itself in stead of a by-product that comes with the performance of duty. Perhaps we cannot agree with Berdayaev’s theology but we can hardly say that he is wrong at this point in his ethics.
The superficial concept of happiness fostered by our entertainment media undoubtedly contributes to the enormity of our national divorce rate. When happiness proves illusory, there is no pause for the question of duty. A new quest for happiness is considered the accepted solution. When a job calls for real sweat, for physical discomfort and endurance, we tend to give up because happiness has been outlined for us in terms of agreeable odors, comfortable temperatures, pleasant sounds, and perhaps most of all, maximum security.
We need to get back to a new emphasis on duty even though to the modern hedonistic temperament this may seem like an anachronistic, out of date reversion to a crabbed and outworn Calvinism. Duty arises out or obedience. Duty arises out of obedience to the call for service in God’s kingdom. In the past men have carried out this duty with very little by way of physical trappings. Perhaps all we need is camel’s hair raiment and a leathern girdle. Maybe we are standing still because we are too loaded down with the physical impediments of our hedonistic, pleasure-worshipping culture. The command still stands: Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.