“Daddy, what’s an abortion?” my seven year old son asked me one day.
“An abortion is when a mother kills the child she is carrying in her womb,” I replied before I had a chance to consider how to approach this subject. There was no reason why the most straightforward, factual answer was not appropriate, but it still felt a little jarring to say it out loud.
“Why would she do that?” he asked.
The “What” of Abortion
We didn’t get into the Why of abortion during this conversation but we did address the What from the onset. After all, it is hard to talk about the motivations for doing something until you know what it is that you are actually doing. Likewise, it is hard to discuss a moral issue with clarity and conviction without having a firm foundation on which to stand and expound. That is why Leila Miller and Trent Horn’s latest book, “Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids To Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues” (Catholic Answers Press), is a kind of “life raft book” for Catholic parents today who feel like they are drowning in the sea of moral relativism in which we live.
William of Ockham was a 14th century Franciscan friar who was credited with the phrase: “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” (i.e., “More things should not be used than are necessary.”) Known in philosophy as “Occam’s Razor,” it suggests that the more assumptions one must make in a given scenario, the more unlikely the explanation. Thus, it ascribes primacy to a kind of philosophical minimalism as it relates to logic.
Boiling it Down
Miller and Horn adopt an “Occam’s Razor” approach to what might be seen as the complex moral issues of our times. Using Natural Law, Scripture, and the teachings of the Catholic Church as the foundation, they lay out a practical and effective way for parents to talk with their kids about issues like same sex marriage, divorce, abortion, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and transgender identity. These issues are not going away anytime soon, and they need to be tackled head-on by parents who are the primary educators of their children in matters of faith and morals.
Underpinning each of the ten chapters dealing with these touchy subjects is the assumption that God made us for a reason and that our bodies were designed for a purpose. A century ago this could be classified as an article of faith but would also be regarded by the overwhelming majority of people of that time as what we might call “common sense.” Common sense is in rare supply today, so it is refreshing to see a book that unapologetically advocates for a return to a foundational approach to modern moral dilemmas.
The Natural Law
Natural Law can be an intimidating subject even for the most educated Catholic parents, but Miller and Horn do a great job of distilling Thomistic philosophy into something that makes sense. Miller quotes the famous Notre Dame Law Professor Charles Rice, who describes Natural Law as “a set of manufacturer’s directions written into our nature so that we can discover through reason how we ought to act.” In her signature and charmingly logical way of making complex philosophical concepts understandable, she uses the example of putting molasses in a car’s gas tank; we refrain from doing this because cars were made to run on gasoline, not molasses, and doing so would harm the car’s mechanical nature. Likewise, we should not harm our human nature by acting immorally in ways that contradict its design.
Made this Way is rooted in the common sense of faith. It is not a flowery work of literature nor a philosophical text, but a playbook used to win a game. It is wholly pragmatic. Much like a chef would utilize a variety of spices and dressings to enhance a meal, or a baker would enhance an ordinary loaf of bread with cinnamon, sugar, or dried fruit, Miller does a good job of making these potentially rote subjects palatable with examples from her own life as a Catholic mother of eight. Each chapter follows a common structure of opening with a personal anecdote to introduce the topic at hand and the teaching of the Church on that subject. Two sections are then appended to the chapter that are wholly practical in an age-appropriate manner: one section is entitled, “Advice for Little Kids,” and the one that follows is entitled, “Advice for Big Kids.” Simple and practical.
Science and Faith
In contrast to the accusation that Catholics are “anti-science,” it is evident that the Catholic authors, in fact, hold science in high regard. This is especially true in the life and reproductive issues. Life begins at conception. Men and women’s bodies complement each other sexually. For all the marvels of reproductive technologies, the authors raise moral concerns worthy of consideration, even for non-Christians. As faith and reason are the two wings of the human spirit as it stretches toward truth, as Pope St. John Paul II said, so faith and science do not contradict one another. As Fr. Stanley Jaki maintained in A Late Awakening, “There had to come a birth, the birth of the only begotten Son of the Father as a man, to allow science to have its first viable birth.”
Children are not dumb. They listen to everything their parents say (at least when they are younger, and maybe not as much when they are teenagers!) and watch what their parents do. They appreciate healthy boundaries. They note inconsistencies and mentally catalogue them. When we skip Mass, they deduce by our actions that Mass is not that important in the grand scheme of things. When we rationalize behaviors that are inconsistent with Catholic moral teaching, using theological acrobatics or subjective reasoning, it can be confusing for children.
The Work of Parents
As Miller states from the first chapter, we have one important job that takes precedence above all others: that is, doing everything we can to get our kids to Heaven. We do that by praying for them, having integrity and being consistent in our own lives of faith, but also in doing the sometimes hard and uncomfortable work of instructing them in what we believe as Catholics, and why. This is best done clearly and by way of easy-to-see examples. Thankfully, Made This Way does a lot of the heavy lifting in giving parents a playbook for how to understand human nature and address the tough moral issues of our day in an easy-to-read, concise, and wholly pragmatic way so we can indeed, as Miller writes, “go forth with joy and confidence into a weary world, giving glory to God in the way only humans can!”