Last night as I eagerly awaited another frustrating and mystifying installment of the LOST series finale, I stumbled upon a most bizarre juxtaposition of ideologies on the small screen. Flipping through the channels, I happened upon the latest episode of TLC's juggernaut of the moment, 19 Kids and Counting, and immediately found myself caught up in the storyline.
For those non-familiar with the (in) famous Duggar clan, Michelle Duggar recently gave birth to number 19 of their brood, a sweet micro-preemie they named Josie, delivered at just 24 weeks gestation. She's alive, but she's got a ways to go, and for better or worse, they're capturing it all on camera.
A commercial break jarred me from my reflection on the fact that technology and good medical care can sustain such a tiny life, and I mindlessly flipped through a few channels, stopping on a former favorite. Now I will be the first to admit, when I was a teenager I loved MTV. My sister and I would not have missed an episode of TRL for anything, and I was shamelessly up to date on the goings-on in the current Real World house.
I'm no longer a pop-culture consumer, and I've since learned a good deal about the marketing strategies and structure of MTV, along with the truth that basically every second of programming they feature is essentially a commercial. But in most cases, they're exporting (or distorting) culture, not products.
Nefarious social agenda aside, I was intrigued by the appearance of a spritely blonde high school sophomore tanning beachside with her girlfriends, sporting a bulging belly at least 8 months along. I immediately had two thoughts: "I will never look like that in my third trimester" and "How in the hell does this qualify as entertainment programming?"
I watched in a mixture of horror, fascination and sadness as the main character narrated her life for the camera, introducing the audience to her mother, mom's live in boyfriend, and the baby daddy himself - a 16 year old punk with a serious vocabularic deficiency and an even more serious drinking problem. I watched for about 5 minutes in my suspended state of disbelief before remembering the alternate storyline waiting for me on TLC.
Flash back to Arkansas, where all 21 Duggars are crowded into a hospital room, the smallest of the group encased in a plastic incubator and drawing coos and smiles from her prodigious family. Two women, worlds (and years) apart, both dealing with "complicated" pregnancies... one completely unexpected and the other utterly welcome... it really makes you wonder.
And two tiny lives, both born too soon in a way, one to a child mother, and the other to a mother of many children. Which one really stands a better chance at surviving, though, I wondered... a better chance at thriving?
I flipped back to MTV a few minutes later and watched as little mama narrated her frustration with baby Jace's deadbeat father, screamed at her own mother, and rolled her eyes (understandably) at mom's narsty looking live in boyfriend who allegorically compared her worth to that of a paper towel, eloquently illustrated by the (you guessed it) paper towel he was waving for emphasis. It was obvious that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong in this young life... and yet, God had allowed it all.
Why hadn't she had an abortion, some viewers must have been wondering? Why was she allowed to keep the baby when she was clearly unprepared to parent on her own? And why was she not on birth control of some sort in the first place, preventing such a tragedy from ever occurring? I'm sure plenty of people (some of my readers included) would ask these very questions, outraged at the circumstances surrounding little Jace's foray onto planet earth... but I would argue that their questions are wrong-headed... and mis-directed.
Because no matter the circumstances of one's birth, these alone can never, ever determine one's ultimate worth.
Little Josie Duggar is no less important - or unique - of a human being than is her oldest brother Josh... the fact that there are 17 other siblings in between them holds no bearing on whether or not she "should" exist. The point is, she does. Every life, particularly in this culture, is a victory - however brief - over death. No matter if Josie Duggar makes it to 6 months or 6 years old, she is here, and she is a part of a plan that cannot and will not be executed without her participation.
The same goes for Jace, the MTV progeny. His mom is an emotionally unstable high schooler. His dad will probably never give him paternal support in any form... but he exists, and his life is not measureable against the qualities or qualifications of the people who cooperated to create him.
This is what the pro-aborts don't grasp, won't grasp: that every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.
The moment we rule in judgment against someone's "right" to exist based upon financial, emotional, social, chronological, genetic, religious, or racial standards; we all cede claims to these same rights. Because we, as finite human beings, can never objectively rule on whether or not someone else has the "right" to be here.
Some would argue that the Duggars are irresponsible in their fecundity, that their children are a drain on society that it isn't possible to love and adequately nurture such a large family ... but they are wrong.
The Duggars are debt free. Their children play musical instruments and travel to foreign countries (not that it matters). Each child reads above grade level, and converses with adults on an alarmingly comfortable level. Not only are they well-provided for by their parents, they are known by them. The 20 minutes of quality time a week each Duggar child averages with mom or dad are worth more than 2 weeks of annual family vacation with 4 estranged members, each plugged into his or her own IPod.
Returning to the second story line, it is perhaps more easily justifiable to argue that baby Jace should have been aborted, that his mom should have been tagged or drugged to prevent her from pro-creating... but these also are wrong-headed assertions. The problem is not that Jace exists: the problem is not that his mom was able to conceive. The problem is not that when a man and a woman's body are united in fertile sexual intercourse, a new person is sometimes created. All of these "problems" are beter identified by another name: reality.
In reality, women can get pregnant. It means that our bodies are doing something right... and it is perhaps the most tremendous responsibility with which we will be entrusted in our mortal lifetime. The problem for little Jace goes back further, than one night after the Homecoming dance, and deeper than the contrast between his mama's roots and her peroxide-brightened hair.
You see, at some point, mama's parents checked out. Dad split, and mom did her best, but is now shacking up with an utterly unsuitable role model who leaves much to be desired in the way of paternal modeling. What's a 16 year old to do, you might ask, besides get knocked up?
But this doesn't alter reality. This isn't the way things are designed to function... and when something is broken, you don't re-organize and restructure the rest of the machine - or civilization - around the busted part. Our culture, and individual families, is tremendously broken. No amount of birth control or social programming is going to fix that, ultimately.
Pills, patches and welfare checks all treat the symptom, but fail to identify (or even acknowledge) the cause. Abortion is a far more destructive divergence from reality than a knocked up teenager. Now on top of parental uninvolvement, a lack of supervision, and sexual sin... you heap death.
The way our culture seems to approach teen pregnancy - or any type of "unwanted" pregnancy - is to wait around until something hits the fan, and then to react, violently. Are condoms the answer, then? Mandatory birth control regimens for underage coeds? No. Keep going back. Further back.
Because it will never be sufficient to treat the symptoms of evil, it must be taken out at the root. And make no mistake: the baby, the human person, is not the evil to be removed. People make bad choices, people sin... but there is always room for redemption. He left us that option. How dare we deny anyone else their due?
The very real problems I watched playing out on screen were ultimately rooted in a lack of love, in an unstable and imperfect family environment - and let's face it, who among us were raised in perfect families?
I'm definitely trying to cover too much in too little space, but the juxtaposition of these two families, the Duggars and the cast of "16 and Pregnant," was just too perfect, too chilling. One child welcomed with love and open arms, despite her physical frailty, the other received as an intrusion and a terrible burden, though blessed with perfect health and good looks. Who are we, really, to be the judges? And who's to say which life is more "worthy"
No one, that's who. Not in this lifetime, anyway.