In the latest Catholic Register, I write about a I talk I heard by the esteemed author and professor of Jewish studies, Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto.

The article, Autonomy’s Open Road, goes through Rabbi Novak’s arguments against the notion of the autonomous individual.

As most of you know, autonomy has been used to justify all manner of sin, especially in the push to legalize euthanasia. It may be the most dangerous word in the lexicon today.

I quote too from a First Things magazine article that Rabbi Novak wrote in 1997, before the word autonomy became obsessive mantra for selfishness and atheistic secularism.

“Foundational autonomy asserts instead that in the most fundamental practical sense I am my own creator, which means that at the core I am alone,” Novak wrote.

As such, I am free to do whatever I please. My nature is essentially amoral; it is co-equal with my power. Thus my privacy is myself; everyone else is in truth a stranger.

Rabbi Novak demands our attention. We in the Church are not immune to such attitudes. We are swamped by a culture that falsely believes that the height of humanity is to declare oneself free of all constraints of the Judeo-Christian ethic.

There is a reason so many people are living with crushing financial debt. It stems in part from a belief that one should have anything anyone wants. That desire is a form of sickness. If you don’t believe me think about the last time you bought something that you knew was too expensive. Was that feeling in the pit of your stomach joy or low grade anxiety from knowing whatever you purchased was simply too expensive and the debt was about to become a tidal wave?

Shopping and euthanasia may seem miles apart but I think it comes from this weird idea of the autonomous individual satisfying one’s own need, like a drunk out of booze without wondering about the consequences.

Everything has consequences. When someone chooses to die by the needle it sends a message to all that person’s friends and loved ones that this is an okay way to come to an end. Don’t worry about struggle or character just get out before it becomes too uncomfortable. Life is only valuable when it’s fun. Run as fast as you can when it’s too much and don’t worry about all the people you will leave behind.

We in the Church are fortunate that we have a guide that teaches us how to live a good life and how to struggle with dignity. To ignore it is a tragedy.

Nothing will change, however, until each of us seriously looks at our own lives and see where we are wanting.

In Cardinal Thomas Collins’ pastoral letter on euthanasia a few months ago, he ended on the theme that should be our guiding principle. It should be memorized by all of us as a reminder of who we really are:

Our value as people comes not from what we can do, but from who we are. It comes from within, from our inherent dignity as human beings. Once we make people’s worthiness to live dependent on how well they function, our society has crossed the boundary into dangerous territory in which people are treated as objects that can be discarded as useless.



Charles Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register and a board member of the Catholic Civil Rights League. He has been writing for 36 years. He was also the religion reporter for the National Post until January 2014.


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