There are striking parallels between the Russian disinformation campaign that continues to foul the global communications space in the third month of the war on Ukraine and the hysterical screeds of pro-abortion American politicians after a draft Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case leaked. In both instances, those who’ve lost an argument—or who had no argument to begin with—resort to creating an alternative reality through euphemisms that are the functional equivalent of lies.
President Joe Biden’s contribution to alternative reality was to declare that Roe v. Wade (which created the world’s most libertine abortion law) “says what all basic mainstream religions have historically concluded, that the existence of a human life and being is a question.” Buried within that muddled syntax was the pernicious claim that the question of when human life begins is religious, not empirical. It is not; it never has been; and it never will be. That human life begins at conception is a scientific fact, once known to high school sophomores from biology class.
And isn’t there an ominous parallel between President Biden’s nonsensical assertion that there’s no settled answer to when life begins and President Vladimir Putin’s equally nonsensical claim that Ukraine is neither a real nation nor a sovereign state, but rather an integral part of the “Russian world” that must be restored to its proper place within that “world”? Both claims bespeak an alternative reality to, well, reality.
Then there is the mantra invoked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, that the Roe v. Wade regime of abortion-on-demand is essential to “reproductive health care.” The corruption of language here is staggering—and finds its parallel in Putin’s insistence that his invasion of Ukraine was a “special military operation,” not an act of war.
In a seminal 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell argued that “ugly and inaccurate” language in politics “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” This is what Pelosi and Putin do when they refuse to call things by their right names, when they deploy euphemisms to mask the reality of something brutal and repulsive, and when, in doing so, they deceive the publics they claim to lead. Many Americans are rightly aghast at the levels of Russian popular support for Putin’s murderous aggression, which is partially the result of the Russian people being fed a steady diet of lies by state-controlled media. But isn’t that lethal diet of euphemisms and falsehoods analogous to tarting up abortion as “reproductive health care” essential to “women’s empowerment”?
President Biden and Speaker Pelosi have cut through the smog of Putin’s propaganda and told the truth about Russia and Ukraine. That they cannot or will not see that they are deploying Putinesque tactics in their support of the constitutionally indefensible Roe v. Wade tells us just how debased, even grotesque, the defense of abortion-on-demand has become.
Distorting the things of God for political purposes is yet another tactic in the creation of an alternative reality.
On May 3, the president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, decried pro-lifers’ efforts to “exercise theocratic control” over others and declared that, “As Episcopalians, we have a particular obligation to stand against Christians who seek to destroy our multicultural democracy and recast the United States as an idol to the cruel and distorted Christianity they advocate.” Thus, she concluded, “we must make our Christian witness to the dignity of every human being by insisting that we support the right to safe and legal reproductive health care because our faith in a compassionate God requires us to do so.”
Query to the Rev. Jennings: Does our “compassionate God” have nothing to say about the tens of millions of innocents killed in utero by “safe and legal reproductive health care”?
The Rev. Jennings’s May 3 summons to the pro-abortion barricades will have struck orthodox Christian ears as bizarre, even heretical. But was it materially different from a sermon preached that same day in the Kremlin’s Archangel Cathedral? There, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ declared that “Russia has never attacked anyone. It is amazing that a great and powerful country never attacked anyone—it only defended its borders. God grant that . . . our country [will continue to] be like this—strong and powerful and at the same time loved by God.”
Jennings and Kirill betray the gospel by embracing two forms of the culture of death. No humane society can be built on that lethal foundation.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.