Cain & The Culture of Death by Fr. J. Michael Miller C.S.B.

   Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, is not an encyclical for the faint-hearted. In alarming detail chapter one bluntly describes the dark shadows cast over the world by the slaughter of the innocent.

As he does so often, the pope uses Scripture as his point of departure. The biblical account of Abel's murder by Cain (Gen 4:2-16) is the backdrop for his reflections. It is a story, he says, that involves everyone: "a page rewritten daily, with inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of human history" (#7).

According to John Paul II, "we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life’" (#28). Today's attacks on life are both more serious and more numerous than in the past. When looking out on the world, God asks us the same question that He addressed to Cain: "What have you done" (Gen 4: 10)?

The pope believes that humanity has done, and is doing, plenty to endanger life. We force untold millions into dire poverty by unjustly distributing wealth between peoples and social classes. We shed blood in war and scandalously trade arms. We spread drugs, recklessly tamper with the world's ecological balance, and encourage immoral sexual activity involving grave risks to life.

Even this list, however, does not tell the whole story. Science and technology have come up with "systematically programmed threats" against life (# 17). It is these new perils that ignite the Holy Father's ire. Among the symptoms of death infecting society, he notes especially the following:


Enormous sums of money are now being spent to fund research and promote drugs which make it possible to kill an unborn child without recourse to medical assistance. Furthermore, while prenatal diagnoses are licit if carried out for the good of the fetus, all too often they provide an excuse for ending human life. If the child in the womb does not measure up to the parents' desires, eugenic abortion is then practiced.


Equally worrisome is the increase in infanticide. Children born with serious handicaps or diseases are denied the most basic care, so as to hasten their deaths. The justification for this practice, the pope observes, follows "the same arguments used to justify the right to abortion" (# 14). When society accepts abortion, infanticide is waiting in the wings.

ARTIFICIAL REPRODUCTION Techniques of artificial procreation also lead to new assaults on life. Because the number of embryos produced is often greater than what is needed for implantation in the womb, such practices expose many embryos to grave risks. These so-called "spare embryos" are either destroyed or used for research. In the latter case, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, life is reduced "to the level of simple 'biological material' to be freely disposed of" (# 14).


Faced with a high rate of population increase, some nations are enacting anti-birth programs which deny parental rights to procreation, enforcing immoral methods of birth control.

The rich and powerful countries are alarmed lest the rapid increase in the population of the developing nations upset their peace and prosperity. To protect their interests, the developed world is encouraging, and sometimes imposing, programs of contraception, sterilization, and abortion on poorer nations. In addition, wealthy governments and international institutions frequently tie their offers of economic aid to the implementation of anti-birth policies.


Today the incurably ill and the dying are also exposed to serious risks. The pope believes that people are more and more succumbing to the temptation "to resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death so that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable" (#15). In some nations, causing the death of the severely handicapped, terminally ill, or elderly is, if not legalized, at least tolerated.

This "truly alarming spectacle" of assaults on life is lent support by broad strata of public opinion which now justify violence against life. Human beings are attacked at the dawn and dusk of life. Often such actions are no longer held to be "crimes," but are claimed as "rights." Many demand not only exemption from punishment for these offenses but also state authorization and financing.

The "conspiracy against life" unleashed after man's banishment from Eden continues unabated. Cain's murderous act is repeated daily. The ill, handicapped, or "burdensome" pose a threat to a comfortable way of life. These unwanted individuals, born and unborn, are regarded as "enemies" to be defended against, and even destroyed.

The pope's account of contemporary violations of life is sobering. Signs of a ‘culture of death’ are rampant. The sacred value of human life is under siege. More than ever, he says, Moses' invitation rings out loud and clear: "Choose life, that you and your descendants may live" (Dt 30:19).

This is the second of a series on the Gospel of Life by Fr. J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., which first appeared in our Sunday Visitor. Used with permission. To subscribe to Our Sunday Visitor, phone toll free: 1-800-348-2440

  Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the August 1999 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.