“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He was describing his frustration with some white “moderates” who gave lip service to his civil rights case but couldn’t bring themselves to join. “Lukewarm acceptance,” King wrote, “is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Lukewarm acceptance happens, too, when our shallow understandings allow unjust campaigns to flourish. Now is a time in America when radical cultural campaigns are driven by appeals to equality and social justice, hope and change, freedom and even women’s health. Beware when you hear these things in political campaigns or during marches on Washington.
At a march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, one Georgetown professor declared: “We have a dream, we need a team to join the women whose bodies are burdened by antiquated science and out-of-step politicians.”
The line was pregnant with ironies, including one surrounding a current choice the nation’s capital is set to make. While D.C. is not known to be an overwhelming bastion of clear thinking and lawmaking, it is currently a model on the topic of surrogacy, prohibiting the commercialization of wombs in a country where many states have made a mess of human dignity. “Surrogacy takes something as natural as a pregnant woman nurturing her unborn child and turns it into an unnatural, contractual, commercialized endeavor,” Jennifer Lahl, a nurse who serves as president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture said in testimony this June before the District of Columbia’s city council. “It opens the door for all sorts of exploitation.”
That’s not quite the way the current Washingtonian magazine puts it, however. The Beltway glossy features “Meet the Baby Carriers,” which might as well be a commercial for the Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act of 2013 now before the council. Surrogacy, despite both propaganda pushing the liberalization of laws and the real and painful experiences of married couples struggling with infertility, is an issue that is not confined by partisan politics. If looked at honestly — and that’s an urgent conjunctional challenge — we can rise out of a lukewarm acceptance that is allowing disorder to flourish. As with other contentious issues that divide us, our embrace of all types of third-party reproductive arrangements relies on scientific advancements that deny some natural arrangements that have served civilization well. To embrace surrogacy requires a denial of a mother’s intimate bonding relationship with her child in the womb.
The agitprop dropped during a week that also saw the awful Miley Cyrus-Robin Thicke Video Music Awards Performance. The pathetic display in the name of entertainment became an excuse for media outlets to endlessly reuse b-roll of a 20-year-old in her nude rubber underwear. Miley Cyrus’s is a sad story of innocence robbed in a culture that makes a mint off Disney girls gone wild as an expression of faux adulthood. There was much less outrage over a 38-year-old man insulting our intelligence by insisting that a song that has been described as “rapey” — “the hottest **tch in this place,” “you know you want it,” he repeats as his “Blurred Lines” refrain — is “great art” and even a “feminist movement in itself.”
Women deserve so much better than the multifaceted lies we are told today. As we say we seek to optimize choices, the celebration of women as having unique, natural gifts worthy of protection and desperately needed by the world is increasingly foreign. Surrogacy makes light of the maternal bond in the name of what has been determined to be progress; its advocates benefit from people of good will not really paying attention. Women, children and men become casualties in yet another unnecessary misery.
A worthy dream today is not just intolerance to a market on wombs, but the poisonous dehumanization of women, that pits her freedom and worth against her very nature. This may open a cultural and political Pandora’s Box, but as “going natural” trends, this may be the healthiest of proposals.
In 1956, Rev. King, posing as St. Paul, wrote a letter to America. In it, he advised that: “You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.” He also wrote, from jail, that “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” There’s a degradation afoot. And it cries for a sisterhood of good sense and an exaltation of the good gifts for which we are natural stewards.