Newspaper editorialists don’t write their own headlines. Still, the headline on Matthew Walther’s New York Times contribution to the United States’ current discussion of national abortion policy
is worth a look on its own merits — a look literally. Considered strictly as an arrangement of black characters on a white page, it seems to promise us no less than a definition by visual example of the verb live. Moreover, the body of the essay, the text that Mr. Walther did write, goes on to keep that promise.
An editorial note explains, “Matthew Walther is the editor of The Lamp, a Catholic literary journal,” and Mr. Walther holds his readers’ faces to the light when he asks them to acknowledge that, among other things, “in a post-Roe world many children who would not otherwise have been born will live lives of utter misery.” But he offers us a Catholic rubric for reading that sad text. It’s this: the word I’ve marked.
In a devotional text, rubrics like the two I’ve marked in blood-red serve as instructions for attaining a state of mind. Walther’s adjectives “joyful” and “blithe” guide you to licit Catholic emotion. But Mr. Walther leaves undefined for the Times’s readers the term I’ve greened: “what is right.” He contextualizes it in a quotation from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” — “the turbid ebb and flow of human misery” — but Arnold was a Protestant quoting a pagan, Sophocles. However, that is catholic in the small-c sense: ecumenical. It gives to the term “What is right” a universal value: something known and knowable in every context.
In that spirit, then, I make the further offering of this audio and this visual.
These, it appears, are also traits indicating the reality of value. They seem to offer us an ethics. They say: don’t listen to what the priest is actually saying or look at what he’s actually doing, kill the spirit of Charles Darwin in yourself with your own obsidian knife, get in the spirit of things, and live it up.