There is a video on the Internet of an abortion clinic counselor getting her own abortion. Her name is Emily Letts. You can see it here, Abortion Clinic Counselor Films Her Own Abortion. I could not bring myself to watch it even though it is supposedly not graphic. It’s just to grotesque to think about. A good deal of the video is apparently her talking about her feelings six weeks after the abortion. I think that would nauseate me or I would find myself yelling at the screen, “What in the world are you thinking about?”

abortionThe most bizarre statement at the end of the video, “I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby; I can make a life.” And then conspire to murder it? How can such an apparently smart person do such a horrific act and talk about it so calmly? Why make a video in the first place?

The answer is what J. Budziszewski[1] calls the revenge of conscience. I’m going to share some extended quotes from his book, What We Can’t Not Know.[2]

J. Budziszewski is a professor of political science and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, at least he was last time I checked and when he wrote this book. He got hired because he was a nihilist. Sometime after he got tenured he came back to the faith and apparently they can’t fire him. He is a formidable apologist. In his testimony he says that one day when he was about to pull out the last part of the motherboard that makes us human bravely facing the meaninglessness of life he was hit by a question, “If what I believe is true, why do I love my wife and children so much.” That pulled him back from the abyss. He says that it was like long shuttered windows to his soul began to bang open and shafts of light flooded in.

Budziszewski’s specialty is natural law with a focus on the how we repress what we know. I have not been able to confirm this but I think he is also a Roman Catholic. I am telling you this in case you discover it later and are tempted to throw out the baby with the bath water. So, before you blow this off and head for the door because you don’t believe in natural law or that Roman Catholics can make a case for the faith hear me out.

The first book of his that I read is titled, The Revenge of Conscience, Politics and the Fall of Man.[3] His thesis is that we are going about ethics all wrong in college. We are assuming we don’t know right from wrong and are trying to come to some agreement about the difference. He posits that the problem is not that we don’t know but that we do know and are doing everything we can to pretend we don’t know what we know. Where would he get such a crazy idea? From the Bible, especially Romans 1:18-32. It’s called total depravity in Calvinist circles. If you didn’t know better, reading him you might thing he was a Calvinist.

In What We Can’t Not Know, Budziszewski makes a cogent analysis of the 10 Commandments and why they are still the foundation of all morality and ethics for all people everywhere and in every age, the thing we know that we are pretending not to know. In this and another of his books titled, Written on the Heart, the case for natural law,[4] he makes the case that before the 10 commandments were written on stone they were written into the creation and into the nature of human beings. Sin entered the world and one of its results is the suppression of this truth. Therefore, God revealed the Law in written form as part of his plan to redeem mankind.

For those of us who do not buy the typical flavor of natural law that died when Darwin published his On the Origin of Species and later The Descent of Man, Budziszewski is not arguing that anybody anyplace can reason to the 10 commandments or a version thereof without a revelation from God. He also is not arguing that the natural law exists apart from God. His thesis is that our problem is not so much that we cannot reason but that we will not. In our depravity, we flat refuse to acknowledge God and what we now he demands of us (Romans 1:18ff).

A disclaimer: This is what I took away from reading Budziszewski, almost all his books. There are more sentences underlined and highlighted in those books that there are lines of pristine text. His ideas as I have presented them here are written on my heart you might say. They have been very helpful and I have never found anything quite like them until I found Rushdoony, Gary North, Gary DeMar, and Joel McDermon. If Budziszewski were to read this he might correct some misperception. In general, I think I’m pretty close.

abortionBudziszewski sounds downright theonomic and reconstructionist though I suspect he would distance himself from that characterization. Here is the quote from What We Can’t Not Know that helped me understand the bizarre behavior of this woman who filmed her own abortion and her thoughts about it. Her purpose was, as she put it, “to provide strength and support to abortion-vulnerable/abortion-minded women in similar situations.”[5]

After reading the following quote from What We Can’t Not Know, this statement by Emily will make all the sense in the world, “Emily further states that having an abortion does not make one a bad or sad person, nor should it make one feel guilty.”[6] The quote is a discussion of the conscience, how it works, what it does. Pay special attention to the 5 furies of the conscience.

The Five Furies pp. 140, 141
Everyone knows that conscience works in two different modes. It works in a cautionary mode; it alerts us to the peril of moral wrong and generates an inhibition against committing it. In the accusatory mode, it indicts us for wrong we have already done. The most obvious way of doing so is through the feeling of remorse, but remorse is the least of the Furies. No one always feels remorse for doing wrong; some people never do. Yet even when remorse is absent, guilty knowledge generates objective needs for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification. These other Furies are the great sisters of remorse: inflexible, inexorable, and relentless, demanding satisfaction even when mere feelings are suppressed, fade away, or never come. (Emphasis mine.) And so it is that conscience operates not only in the first two modes but in a harrowing third: The avenger, which punishes the soul who does wrong but who refuses to read the indictment.

Conscience is therefore teacher, judge, or executioner, depending on the mode in which it works: cautionary, accusatory, or avenging.

How the avenging mode works is not difficult to grasp. The normal outlet of remorse is to flee from wrong; of the need for confession, to admit what one has done; of atonement, to pay the debt; of reconciliation, to restore the bonds one has broken; and of justification, to get back in the right. But if the Furies are denied their payment in wonted coin, they exact it in whatever coin comes nearest, driving the wrongdoer’s life yet further out of kilter. We flee not from wrong, but from thinking about it. We compulsively confess every detail of our story, except the moral. We punish ourselves again and again, offering every sacrifice except the one demanded. We simulate the restoration of broken intimacy, by seeking companions as guilt as ourselves. And we seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves.

All of the Furies collude. Each reinforces the others, not only in the individual but in the social group. Perhaps you and I connive in displaced reconciliation by becoming comrades in guilty deeds. Or perhaps my compulsion to confess feeds your compulsion to justify yourself. In such ways entire groups, entire societies may drive themselves downhill, as the revenge of conscience grows more and more terrible.

My examples focus on abortion, which is both the chief means by which our own society is losing moral sanity and the greatest symptom of its loss. The discussion has been seasoned with other illustrations just to show how broadly the Furies do their work.

Two other telling quotes that shed light on what would possess a woman to video the murder of her unborn baby, one about suppressing remorse and the other about suppressing the need to confess.

The First Fury: Remorse pp. 141, 142
The most dreadful way remorse grows is by repetition of the deed, and the bitter fact is that although our efforts to dull the ache by not thinking about it may work after their fashion, they also make repetition more likely.

Needless to say, there are many other ways to keep from thinking, some of them stone-cold sober. One way is to set up a diversion. Because I refuse to give up my real transgressions, I invest in other things with inflated significance and give up those things instead. Perhaps I have pressured three girlfriends into abortion, but I oppose war and capital punishment, I don’t wear fur, and I beat my chest with shame whenever I slip and eat red meat. Easier to face invented guilt than the thing itself.

“Clinic workers may say they support a woman’s right to choose,” said former Planned Parenthood clinic worker Judith Fetrow, “but they will also say they do not want to see tiny hands and feet” (from the need to reassemble the largely pureed remains of an early suction abortion)

The Second Fury: Confession pp. 145, 146.
So driven are we by the urge to get things off our chests that we share guilty details of our lives with anyone who will listen. In its diarist mode, this kind of confession is associated with writers like Anaïs Nin. In its broadcast mode, it is the staple of talk shows like Jerry Springer, which has featured guests with such edifying disclosures as Ï Married a Horse.” But the tell-all never tells all; such confessions are always more or less dishonest. We may admit every detail of what we have done, except that it is wrong. Or we may make certain moral concessions, but only to divert attention from “the weightier points of the law.” We may tell even our cruelest or most wanton deeds, but treat something else about them as more important – perhaps their beauty, or perhaps how unhappy we are.

A person who has already repented and thrown himself on the mercy of God may no longer need to confess; the need to tell the story has been satisfied already. If he does tell the story, he now tells it less for himself than for others. But for the unrepentant man, the opposite is true. His heart is still hot, and the need to confess is still fiery. He tells his story to appease his conscience; because he is unrepentant, he tells it crookedly; because conscience is not in fact appeased, he must tell it again and again.

The Third Fury: Atonement pp. 148, 149
The third Fury draws its power from the knowledge of a debt which must somehow be paid. If we deny the debt, the knowledge works in us anyway, and we pay pain after pain, price after price, in a cycle which has no end because we refuse to pay the one price demanded. It is something like trying to fend off a loan shark. We pay the interest forever because we cannot pay off the principal, and the interest mounts.

In Biblica reflection, the theme of false atonement is very old. The Psalmist implores the Author of his conscience,

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance…
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:14, 16-17)

The Fourth Fury: Reconciliation p. 153.
The need for reconciliation also explains why the movements for disordered sexuality – homosexual, pederastic, sadomasochistic – cannot be satisfied with toleration, but must propagandize, recruit, and convert. They do not suffer from sexual deprivation, for partners are easy enough to find. They suffer from social deprivation, because they are cut off from the everyday bonds of life. They want to belong; they want to belong as they are; there can be only one solution. Society must reconcile with them. The shape of human life must be transformed. All of the assumptions of normal sexuality must be dissolved; marriage, family, innocence, purity, childhood – all must be called into question, even if it means pulling down the world around their ears. The same thing happened in another great controversy a century and a half ago. “Why did the slaveholders act as if driven by the Furies to their own destruction?” asks John Thomas Noonan: “Why did they take such risks, why did they persist beyond prudent calculation? The answer must be that in a moral question of this kind, turning on basic concepts of humanity, you cannot be content that your critics are feeble and ineffective; you cannot be content with their practical tolerance of your activities. You want, in a sense you need, actual acceptance, open approval. If you cannot convert your critics by argument, at least by law you can make them recognize that your course is the course of the country.”[7]

The Fifth Fury: Justification pp. 154-156
In English, “to justify” can mean to make something just, to show that it is just, to maintain, that it is just, or to feign that it is just. The striking thing is that the first and fourth meanings are exactly opposed. According to the first, I am justified when I am finally brought in line with justice. According to the fourth, I am justified when “justice” is finally brought in line with me. Guilty knowledge demands the former; we attempt to appease it, however, by means of the latter. We rationalize. We make excuses. We preserve the form of the law without its substance.

Of all the games we play with the Five Furies, our game with the Fith is perhaps most dangerous. No one has ever discovered a way to merely set aside the moral law; what the rationalizer must do is make it appear that he is right. Rationalizations, then, are powered by the same moral law which they twist. With such might motors, defenses of evil pull away from us; we are compelled to defend not only the original guilty deed, but others which it was no part of our intention to excuse. At one point in the Congressional debate over partial-birth abortion, when a senator who opposed a ban was asked at what point in the birth process a baby acquires a right not to be killed, she replied, “when you bring your baby home.” It was only one of several inconsistent positions that she took during questioning, but no matter; it shows how the justifications that we employ for our deeds take on a life of their own.

Consider the way the sexual revolution metastasized. It all began when we decided to dispense with chastity. Now that was not easy to do; there had always been unchaste behavior, recognized as wrong, but this was different. For the protection of the procreative partnership, sex had hitherto been a culturally recognized privilege of marriage. Dispensing with chastity required destroying this privilege. But one thing leads to another; to destroy the marital privilege requires denying what sex is for. It has to be separated first from procreation and second from the particular intimacy that arises from the procreative partnership and is inseparable from it.

Now no one can really be oblivious to the deep claims of these goods. To set them aside, powerful magic is necessary. One must invoke another strong good against them; the moral structure must be distorted so that it can be set against itself. And so the genie of happiness was summoned to the task. But this was not easy to do either; as Samuel Johnson said, Almost all the miseries of life, almost all the wickedness that infects society, and almost all the distresses that afflict mankind, are the consequences of some defect in private duties. Likewise, all the joys of this world may be attributable to the happiness of hearth and home.” It could not be that happiness which was invoked, or the goods of marriage would not be defeated. Comprehensive happiness had to be confused with sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, moreover, had to be asserted not just as a good but as a right, so that all the moral force of justice could be conjured on its behalf. My right implies your duty.

Back to the original question, what in the world was Emily Letts thinking about that provoked her to make such a video? The revenge of conscience. The video has been viewed on YouTube 2,860 times. It’s like a Hindu prayer wheel; it keeps going around and around and around. Remorse seems to be dead in this woman’s conscience but the need for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification keep coming back and demanding their pound of flesh. Our entire society has driven itself mad, as the revenge of conscience has grown more and more terrible. Where is the church? Silent I fear. Time to speak up?

[1] Pronounced Bood-jeh-chef-ski.
[2] J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know, Dallas, Spence Publishing, 2003 (available in Kindle format)
[3] J. Budziszewski, The Revenge of Conscience, Politics and the Fall of Man, Spence Publishing, 1999 first edition
[4] J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, the Case for Natural Law, Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1997
[6] Ibid.
[7] Quoted from John Thomas Noonan, A Private Choice, New York: The Free Press, 1979, p. 82.

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