Address to the Second Annual "Proudly Pro-Life Award Dinner"
January 13, 2000
I earned the ambassadorial title during my Reagan
years. I kind of feel like I come this evening into this gathering as
something of an ambassador.
But what I wish to represent to you might seem a little odd, because what I want to represent to you is your country. I want to come to you as an ambassador pleading on behalf of your country, so that you understand the real significance of the pro-life cause to America.
I look around myself sometimes in the public landscape, in all areas and walks of life--it doesn't matter whether it's public policy, the media, whatever. When folks talk about the pro-life issue, they have a tendency to do it as if they were talking about--oh, I don't know--taxes or Social Security or trade. And we all know that there are people who have their axes to grind on this thing, and that thing, and the other things, and you kind of pay attention to them because that's their particular shtick and we'll see what happens to it.
And we have a tendency to think of the pro-life cause in that way. Even people who are part of it will sometimes act as if, or think as if, this is some special interest constituency, and therefore we operate in the way that people do in this society when they are pleading a special case in which they have an interest.
If I do nothing else this evening, I hope I'll be able to establish in some little way that it is not the case--that, in fact, the cause that we gather together here tonight to support is one that is not only vital in that we care enough to wish to save the individual lives of those infants in the womb; it is one on which depends the life and future of our republic, the life and future of our society.
I don't think that it's at all hard to prove that. The logic is clear. It's simple. It is based upon historic facts that no one denies. And yet, very often today we seem to turn our back on it because, I guess, for a great many people it's more convenient to try to forget who we are than to remember who we are at a time that we would do so to our shame. The facts are clear. We are a nation founded on a clear and simple premise. The fact that it is clear and simple, however, doesn't mean that it was easy to arrive at, easy to perceive, or easy to apply to human circumstances and affairs. It was not.
And, in fact, in all the thousands of years of human history before this nation was founded, this particular insight had certainly been around, but it had never been expressed in a form that actually led to and transformed political institutions and society.
But we are different. And in our case--I believe very much by the Providence of God Almighty--we live in a country where this special insight was, in fact, applied in a way that has born great and so far lasting truth. And the insight is quite simple. We start with the recognition that there is, in fact a Creator God. [We then] understand that that Creator takes an interest in human affairs, in human justice, and is, in fact, the foundation by His Will of the right understanding of human justice and social affairs.
And that understanding is such that each and every human being stands in the sight of that Creator God Almighty equal to every other human being in their moral worth and dignity--an equality that is not based upon human power or human assertion, upon human constitutions or human attitudes and judgment, but instead rests upon the will of our Almighty God; determined by His hand, His rules, by His choice and not our own.
Of course, there will be those, particularly those folks in the media--and anybody who knows me even a little bit knows that I have a kind of running battle with the American media. I actually think that, by and large, anyone of conscience would have a running battle with the media. But in this context . . . whenever I say this, somebody out there asks some question which implies that what I have just said to you--that simple logic I've just outlined, that premise, that rights come from God--is "Alan Keyes standing there articulating his particular sectarian religious belief."
Now it is very true that every word I just spoke to you is quite consistent with my Roman Catholic heart and my Roman Catholic faith. But it's also very true that every word I just spoke to you is not just a reflection of my heart and my faith, it is the American heart and the American faith.
This is articulated very clearly when this nation began, in the great documents that our Founders used to justify their willingness even to go to war in order to assert their independence. I think we ought to take that very seriously because we've gotten really careless about wars these days, as some events, I think, even in recent times have proven. And we go to war maybe without understanding what we ought to understand.
Every time a people like ourselves goes to war--even if that war is conducted by others, and even when it's conducted by a means of flying high up in the air and dropping bombs on people we don't even see, and folks die as a result--I hope we still understand that each and every one of us who has an opportunity to participate as part of the sovereign body of the people in this country is responsible for every life that is taken by America in war.
And we had better be awfully sure that what we're doing has a solid moral ground, or we will stand before God bearing the stain and weight of every life taken in injustice that we did not oppose. And I think that it's why our Founders, being that they were--many of them, most of them, almost all of them, in fact--people of conscience and faith, felt that before you risked war, you better justify what you were doing in moral terms. You've got to state the moral premises and the moral principles that inform your heart.
And that's what they did in our Declaration of Independence. It's a statement of the moral justification of that assertion of independence at the risk of war. And, in doing what they did, they set forth the basic moral principles that then informed the later deliberations that led to our Constitution and are the practical foundation of our liberty.
And so those words in the Declaration of Independence--"All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights"--are the basic premise of everything that, as a people, we claim to hold dear. Self-government and rights and due process and liberty and all these other unique hallmarks of the American way of life rest on that premise and that premise alone.
The intellectuals of our time who have real problems with some aspects of that premise want to come up with some substitute for it. They've written big fat tomes and books in which they try to do so. And every attempt has failed. And no attempt has been put in a form that can in any way, shape, or form move the conscience or the heart. And that is always the challenge of statesmanship, whatever your abstract theories. So here we are, a people whose very identity is defined in terms of that moral principle which says that our rights come from God.
All right, that's clear. I frankly don't see how anybody try to refute that. That's based on facts known to all. It is based on words that we can all go look at and read, that are pretty unequivocal in their meaning too.
I had a lady come up to me after I had gone through this logic the other night at a speech in New Hampshire and she said that she can refute what I said. (Because I invited anybody who could do so to refute me.) And she purported to refute me by arguing that it didn't apply until after the children were born. And I looked at her and I said, "Well, I beg to differ with you because I, at least, can read the document and the Declaration of Independence doesn't say we're all born equal." The Founders could have said that, by the way. They had read philosophers who, in fact, formulated it that way--as Rousseau did, among others. But, that's not what they said. Being conscious of that formulation, they, in fact, rejected it. And instead they ascribed that moment of our rights not to our birth, but to our creation. And by doing so, they took that ascription of rights out of the hands of human beings--out of the reach of human power and human choice--and put it squarely in the hands of God, who is solely responsible for that Creation.
So that's the first premise. Now comes the second step in this clear and simple logic. We claim our rights based on the existence and authority of the Creator, God. Let's think for a moment. What happens to our rights and to our claims to rights if we deny the existence, or reject the authority of the Creator?
I think that's pretty clear--don't you? Is there some way that the house stands when the foundation has been knocked out from under it? Last time I looked, that was kind of difficult. Doesn't work that way. No. If we are standing on ground that requires the authority of God, and we reject and deny the authority of God, then we have no ground to stand on when we claim our freedom. All the talk of rights, all the talk of liberties, all the talk of this or that champion of the cause of human dignity is all hogwash once you have rejected the fundamental premise of all, which is that God exists and that His authority commands the respect of human beings.
But I what I say there, again, I just want to remind you, is not just Alan Keyes expressing his Roman Catholic heart--influenced as it might be by reading Aquinas, and others who were pretty clear on the logical points that are involved in things like this. No, it's not that at all. Alan Keyes is just a plain old American fellow who has managed every now and again to take a look back at our heritage, and he finds there, written in fairly clear language, pretty much acceptable to everybody, everything that I've just said.
That's why I don't understand, then, how it is that we can be so nonchalant, some of us, about the implications of decisions and public policies in our courts and in our laws that obviously, overtly, clearly and explicitly rip up, throw aside, and reject the tenets that I just described.
We go on with this sort of shadow-play living; we go to the polls, we vote, we pretend with the Congress and the whole business. And yet, once we have turned our back on that fundamental moral principle, it is indeed a shadow-play without substance, a form without substance, a body that moves when the soul has fled.
And I'm sad to tell you this. For the time being, this is exactly what our nation is. And I know it's a harsh thing to say but I think we ought to realize that when our Holy Father, for instance, talks of the culture of death, he's talking precisely about us.
He's talking about, among other things, our country. Our country, its body politic, animated as it was by this life-giving principle that sourced our rights and our liberties in the living will of God. Our country now is dead because we have rejected that principle of equal rights.
And the period that we're in right now? We're finally deciding whether it's going to stay dead long enough for the corpse to rot and stink up the place. And I say that quite literally. Don't fool yourselves. The stench is already rising.
We are, right now, the greatest power on the face of the earth: the most successful economy, the greatest military power, the greatest leader. Nobody can challenge us. I hear our hubristic leaders talk about this all the time, strutting in their pride. But that means we have power for good or ill. And if we use that power for ill it is nothing to be proud of.
So what can we say? What can we say then? I can remember talking to folks whom I know who went to the most recent Women's Conference that the United Nations sponsored. And what did they find there but that the United States was in the league and twisting the arms and forcing the votes of countries that reject the heinous practice of abortion--threatening them: "We will cut off your aid! We will not give you the support of this great country the United States unless you march lockstep with us down the pathway of the culture of death!"
Already that power which we represent is being abused to spread the shadow of evil throughout the world.
And that ought to sadden us deeply. After all, we have in the course of this century, we Americans, have made many sacrifices in order to beat back the shadow of that very evil. Crosses stand row upon row in cemeteries in far-flung places around the world. Under them lie those who were our forebears, our spouses, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts, our uncles, our grandfathers. And they sacrificed their lives so that we would stand on the front line of that justice which we understood on the basis of this heritage we now reject.
What do you think becomes of the struggle against that shadow in the next century?
I know we've been through all this hoopla now in which we have celebrated the coming of the millennium. I've got to tell you there's something totally representative about what we just went through on January 1st, because as you all know, as far as the millennium is concerned, it's a false start. I feel--meaning no particular offense, and implying, of course, no political bias whatsoever--one would have to argue that it's kind of appropriate that one would make a false start during the Clinton presidency. But, we know the millennium doesn't really start until next January. We all do know this, right? We call this the 20th century because the year 2000 is included within it. Wouldn't make much sense if it wasn't.
But we go through all this hoopla, we are celebrating the coming of the new millennium. Ask yourself, what actually is going to happen in that millennium? I was reading about it today a little bit. We have the latest episode of animal cloning. Have you heard about this, where they've cloned the monkeys now? They're getting closer and closer to our human beings here. And, I don't know what you think of that but I do know that it implies--sure, it implies a kind of knowledge, it implies a kind of new power.
Many of the things that our science offers us now have placed us on the threshold of powers that not only reach to powers over the body, but powers, in one regard, over our very nature itself. As we confront the responsibility of those powers, what does it imply? Well, it could imply great good. Or, it could imply great and tragic evil.
And we confront the question, then, whether as the power grows, will the conscience grow? Will the basis and ability to make right moral judgment grow? If it does, then that power may be both used and constrained responsibly. If it does not, then that power will be abused. And again, its unlimited abuse would destroy our very humanity.
The century ahead of us may indeed be the great and glorious and bright century they all predict, or else it may be a century that casts even the atrocities of the 20th century into the shade and makes them seem just the dress rehearsal. That is the kind of power we are now moving toward.
And the question that faces us as a people is, "As we enter that century, are we going to be once again the nation that battles the shadow of evil or are we going to be the powerful nation that casts it?"
And it is not a joke. Because when we were good, we were enormously powerful by God's will for good. But if we go bad, we will go very, very bad.
And I have to tell you. I know that some people don't like this--"Oh don't get all gloomy on us Alan. Be optimistic!!" I have heard this from certain colleagues in my present line of work that criticize people like me for this.
I don't find it particularly optimistic to lie to yourself about the challenges that we face. As a matter of fact, I think that in reality, if you're walking toward a deep pit and nobody tells you about it, that's rather a pessimistic situation. I think I'd be very grateful for the guy who said, "Wait a minute! There's a pit there--don't fall into it!" Thank you for that optimistic suggestion.
Well there is a pit. It's a pit dug by our own abandonment of principle. It's a pit dug by our own judges and our own courts and our own law. It's a pit dug because we have ripped the heart out of American truth, and American justice, and American liberty.
And we will not restore that heart until we have returned to our allegiance to the fundamental premise that made the heart of America beat with strength and right and righteousness, that principle which understands that our rights come from God, and we cannot take them away from our posterity in the womb--not by the mother's choice or any other human choice.
And if all that is true, then what is at stake in the pro-life cause? It's the fate of our nation and the fate of all the goodness that it might do in the world ahead of us, in the years ahead of us. That fight is exemplified, I think, by the children in the womb, the generations yet unborn, our posterity. The ones--though we have forgotten it--who are, in the Constitution, put on an equal level with ourselves. Its great and culminating purpose is "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
Please remember that if somebody ever tells you that the unborn aren't mentioned in the Constitution. They're right there. And they're put in a position that is in utter contradiction with the notion that there can be any right to abortion whatsoever. How can such a right be compatible with securing the blessings of liberty for our posterity? I don't see how that works.
To secure the blessings of liberty by killing the posterity? It's a very interesting thought. I guess you're liberating them from life. It doesn't work. And the cause in which we gather here today, the cause that reaches the lives of those individual children, is a cause that therefore touches upon the future in a direct way: in the voices that will not be heard, the work that will not be done, the strong hearts that will not stand up to be counted for justice in any way, the songs unsung, the poems unwritten, the beauty of God's mind that shall ever be locked away in secret from us because we killed those who would have been the messengers.
In that way we kill our future. But more directly, we kill the future of our country and our liberty by destroying that moral foundation without which it cannot survive. What is at stake, therefore, in our pro-life cause is the future of our nation, but also the future of everything good that our nation has brought and will bring to this world.
It's not a small thing. Not a special interest. Not a petty cause. We come together in the general hope that we may save that hope that our nation is supposed to represent.
Now I think, in this regard, that as a people who stand in the tradition of faith--a tradition of faith that, among other things, enjoins us to a labor of love in this world. The pro-life cause is, in a very special way, one of the works of mercy that God enjoins upon us.
Our Lord tells a story of the Good Samaritan. And in doing so, He introduced a moral revolution into a world that, until He spoke, had seen only the glory of pride and strength and power, and not the glory of love and mercy and compassion.
But He told us that it was our responsibility not just to do the bidding of those who have the strength to make us do it, but rather to respond and to be governed by the plight of those helpless and lying in the ditch, mugged by the circumstances of life. To get down off our high horse and to lift them out of the ditch into which they have been cast by evil and circumstance.
Now I know that very often we interpret that story as if the only thing we're supposed to think about there is the body, and the feeding of the body, and the clothing. And it is told in that metaphor--right? He's been mugged, his clothes have been taken away, his body is mangled. But we know it's true that man does not live by bread alone, but, in truth, the greatest mercy is the mercy that leads souls to salvation, the mercy that turns the heart away from darkness to the light of God's truth. I think in a very literal sense our nation is like that wayfarer who's been mugged and thrown into the ditch. The interesting thing being, of course, that the concept that you've been robbed means you had something and it was taken away from you.
Our nation had truth.
It had, perhaps, the central and most powerful and most important truth: that God is, and that His will governs, and that He cares enough to respect our life and to establish by His hand our dignity and by His mercy our rights. And yet, in the course of the last decades, by stealth and by open denial, we have been robbed of that truth.
Literally, now, our nation lies mugged and bleeding in the ditch. It bleeds from a hundred places in the hallways of our schools, where children devoid of moral sense take one another's lives; it bleeds from a thousand places in the streets of our cities, where minds blasted by materialism put more value on money and things than they do upon life. It lies bleeding as well in a million and in tens of millions of places--in all those abortion clinics and in all those young lives snuffed out because we have substituted human choice for God's choice, and accepted the lie that we determine the dignity of all. Our nation lies mugged and bleeding in the ditch.
And I think that it is indeed our obligation of love--whatever may be our own hope for salvation--to turn aside from our past and to try as best we can to help this nation reclothe itself in truth, heal the wounds inflicted by those lies, so that it may rise again and walk the path of decency and justice that God in His providence seems to have marked out for us.
To me, that is the real significance of the pro-life cause for our country and for the world in which our country may still do so much good. Motivated by that understanding, then, I hope we'll realize that we have to show a dedication to this work that goes beyond every possibility of the usual success.
I often get that question these days because people think that everything in life should be based on some stupid calculation or other. And so they keep wondering, "Oh, how can you can keep doing this and speaking out? Why, you'll be defeated here and mangled there and destroyed in the other place!"
Everyone is pulling long faces at you, though. Colleagues who won't be quite as comfortable with you if you're outspoken. The family that won't be quite as friendly with you if you're outspoken. The friends, the community, the neighbors, the this or that who will turn away from you because, "Well--we just don't want to--we don't want to be bothered with that. We want to have a more positive and hopeful environment than you bring with all your gloomy talk."
In some way or another, each and every one of us faces the choice between the truth and our ease, the truth and our convenience, being witnesses for that truth or going along with this world's ways.
And I believe that of all that is at stake, we are each of us called upon--just as our forebears were, the ones who died on the battlefields and marched in the marches and did all that they could to move this nation and its place in the world toward greater justice and dignity for all--we are called now to be soldiers on the front lines of this struggle for renewed dignity.
We are called to do it in our businesses, and our families, and our work, and in our neighborhoods, and in our politics, and in our religious places--from every platform that we can lay hold of, we are called upon to be witnesses to this truth!
I can't be sure how, in some temporal sense, that turns out.
You win some. You lose some.
You want to know the truth? It's a truth that, in a very personal way in recent times, I've been by the grace of God discovering every day. There is a kind of peace, a kind of hope, a kind of certainty that comes from walking through the darkness by the light of God's will that you get no other way.
I believe with all my heart that it leads to that place of light and peace where we may not win the plaudits of the world, but where we will hear the One Voice of approval, where we will see the One Smiling Face--favor and mercy that will last not for a moment. It will last not as human fame lasts, even for an age of man, but will last forever, because it is God's word and God's voice and God's favor and God's smiling face that welcomes us to our eternal home to be there as we have been here: grateful servants of His truth.