Abortion and the Resurgence of Idolatry

The following grim statement appears on the “Abortion” page of the World Health Organization (WHO) web site:

“Every woman has the recognized human right to decide freely and responsibly without coercion and violence the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health . . . Access to legal and safe abortion is essential for the realization of these rights. One in four pregnancies ends in abortion.” [1]

Think about this statement for a moment. According to WHO, abortion is a human right. That is, the deliberate killing of an innocent child is a human right. We see now what “safe, legal, and rare” really meant. [2] Such deception constitutes one of the more blatant examples of how seemingly mild, concerned, and responsible progressive language turns out to have an actual meaning that is viciously aggressive in its destruction of real human rights, such as the right to life.

The human race has not been laggard in implementing this “human right” of abortion. The Pew Research Center’s web page for Worldwide Abortion Policies reports that 134 of 196 countries permit abortion to preserve the physical health of the mother. [3] In other words, in most of the world, the life of the unborn child is considered to be of no value compared to the value of the health of the mother, and that unborn child is therefore subject to summary execution.

Abortion is obviously a global scourge. But what is it that accounts for human acceptance of such a hideous practice? How have we humans managed to justify to ourselves that the taking of the life of an innocent child is not only a moral good, but it is actually a “human right?”

I have in the past thought that the main factor sustaining abortion is denial. Denial allows people to imagine that the object of abortion is not really a child. This is especially evident in the language surrounding abortion, the terminology of which is employed to hide the ugly truth:

  • “Fetus,” with its technical, clinical tone is used instead of “baby,” which might invoke natural maternal emotions.
  • “Termination,” another sterile technical term, is used instead of “kill,” or “murder,” because those words might indicate an actual human victim.
  • “Products of conception” is used to hide the reality of “dismembered baby body parts.”
  • “Control over my own body” conveniently ignores the fact that in the act of abortion there are actually two physically distinct live human bodies involved.

The use of such language allows some to figuratively avert their eyes from the truth of the horror that is abortion. But denial alone does not account for the pervasiveness of abortion. Denial facilitates the acceptance of abortion, but there has to be something more going on here. There has to be a root cause explaining the epic scale of this unjust taking of innocent human life called abortion.

If we listen to advocates for abortion, their thought process is simple: pregnancy (and the lifelong commitment to a child that goes with it) sometimes interferes with their lives. Therefore, to deal with the interference, they get rid of it. Consider the following statement from “Christian ethicist” Rebecca Todd Peters:

“If we truly value women and healthy families, we must accept that “I do not want to have a baby” is an imminently [sic] appropriate reason to end a pregnancy. And we must trust that pregnant women are the only ones who are capable of making these decisions.” [4]

Although this statement does not include in its scope those abortions forced by a state actor, it is still an important assertion because it gets to the heart of the matter in explaining why abortion has taken such a tenacious grip on much of the supposedly “free” world. Notice what is missing from this reasoning. There is no acknowledgement of God’s interest in this matter, nor is there any consideration given to the life of the child. The entire rationale for the legitimacy of abortion is based completely upon the autonomy of the woman. Nothing else matters.

What, then are the underlying forces propelling this idea that human female autonomy is the cornerstone of human life on earth?

For that answer, I will look here to the Psalms, one of the mainstays of Christian prayer. It just so happens that one of the psalms that comes down to us from Jewish history is particularly instructive in answering this question. We are often told these days that Christian teaching has to somehow be adapted to make it more palatable to the modern world. Which has me somewhat flummoxed, because I see in the Psalms a very un-adapted set of prayers which continue to hold a central place in Christian prayer. After all, the Psalms are ancient. They were probably assembled in the post-exilic period of Jewish history, several hundred years before the life of Christ. [5] They can be confusing at times, with meanings that are sometimes obscure, with repetitive themes, and occasionally with harsh judgments which appear to be inconsistent with modern-day sensitivities. Throughout the two thousand year history of the Church and her saints and her faithful, countless prayers have been written, and yet these pre-Christian prayers, these Psalms, dominate the official prayer of the Catholic Church, known today as the Liturgy of the Hours:

“The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated.” [6]

But what exactly is it that is so exceptional about the Psalms? Antonio Fuentes of Catholic Answers helps us to appreciate the Psalms with these insights:

“Psalms contains a unique religious and spiritual treasury, without equal in world literature. It provides a synthesis of all the teaching of the Old Testament and reflects the consciousness of an essentially believing people, a people who, in spite of all sorts of vicissitudes, stayed faithful to God . . . The Jewish people were always at risk of being tempted or forced into idolatry by the neighboring peoples. But the whole climate of the psalms is one of strict monotheism–faith in one God, who is personal, who rewards man, who is creator and lord of the whole universe, its king and sovereign judge.” [7]

So the Psalms reflect the encounter between the Jewish people and God Himself. Moreover, the wisdom found in the Psalms was frequently taught by Jesus Himself, [8] and as observed by Aquinas,

“. . . this will be the reason why the Psalter is read more often in the Church, because it contains the whole of Scripture.” [9]

The Psalms remain precisely germane to our life and society today. There is no need to reinterpret them to fit the vagaries of modern man’s mindset. They offer us truth framed by a perspective that can only accrue to wisdom which has been revealed by God and tried in the cauldron of human history. Psalm 106 (Psalm 105 in the Douay-Rheims version) is about repentance:

“The speaker invites national repentance by reciting from Israel’s history eight instances of sin, judgement, and forgiveness.” [10]

The psalm describes one of those 8 instances of sin, the adoption of child sacrifice:

“. . . but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;”

Ps. 106: 35-38 RSV Catholic Edition

The psalm reveals something significant, which is the linkage between child sacrifice and idolatry. The key here is that it was not just child sacrifice perpetrated without reason, but instead child sacrifice conducted with a specific purpose, which was sacrifice to idols, to false gods. The killing of their own children, an unspeakable atrocity, was conducted as a consequence of, and really as a requirement of, the worship of things which were not God. St. Robert Bellarmine’s commentary on this psalm noted this connection:

“God once commanded Abraham to slay his son, yet he would not allow him to do it, being satisfied with his readiness to obey; but the false gods, the demons, envying God for such obedience in Abraham, not satisfied with the same readiness on the part of their dupes, actually required of them to sacrifice and spill the blood of their own children. And such was the blindness of man then, that they did not feel such tyranny on the part of the demons, nor perceive the difference between the sweet yoke of their Maker, and the severe and bitter fetters of the destroyer.” [11]

St. Augustine warns of the self-destructive nature of such child sacrifice:

“ . . . for they themselves were slaying their own souls when they offered up their own sons, and when they shed the blood of innocents.” [12]

The psalm demonstrates that child sacrifice is inextricably tied to idolatry. From a Christian perspective, there can never be a legitimate reason to sacrifice a child. Therefore, if a child is being sacrificed, it must be for an evil purpose, and when we look to see what that purpose is, it turns out to be to satisfy an idol, a false god.

We must recognize that the taking of innocent human life in the womb is child sacrifice. A sacrifice is the giving of something of value in order to obtain something else. There is no question as to the incalculable value of the child in the womb, just as there is no doubt that in the act of abortion, a priceless child in the womb is being given up in favor of something else. So abortion does indeed fit the definition of child sacrifice, and it also fits the definition of idolatry. For the sacrifice of something so valuable as an innocent human child can only be demanded by a false god. God Himself, the real God, makes no such demand.

It is idolatry, the fundamental turning away from God, and toward the worship of substitutes for God expressed by disordered sacrifice, which is the engine that drives abortion. The object of such idolatry has changed over the ages: instead of worshipping false gods in the form of graven images, people now place things like career, or lifestyle, or sexual license, or money, on the pedestal that ranks first in their lives, above even God.

It should give us pause that the very first of the ten commandments given by God to His chosen people deals with idolatry:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Ex. 20: 2-3 RSV Catholic Edition

Jesus, when asked about the great commandment in the law, reiterates that command:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

Mt. 22: 37-38 RSV Catholic Edition

It is no accident that Jesus emphasizes the wholeheartedness of the devotion required to God. If our love of God must be so all-encompassing, then there can be no room left in our hearts for worship of idols.

So it is alarming then, that we, with our modern devotion to abortion, have gotten ourselves wholly invested in idolatry, the trangression which God placed first among those acts which affront Him. Perhaps this situation should not be considered surprising in an increasingly pagan society. But it is astounding to find widespread acceptance of abortion within our Christian congregations, which are comprised of people who profess to know and love God and His commandments. [13] Protestant congregations might be afforded some understanding, since their own leadership has led them down this destructive path. [14] When the shepherds themselves have gone astray, it is hard to blame the sheep for becoming lost.

However, the situation among Catholics is really hard to understand. The Catholic Church has never condoned abortion. [15] The Church has been steadfast in its teaching, which has been maintained in the face of persistent and enduring social pressure. The Catholic congregation is extremely disappointing in this regard. The Pew Research Center measured Catholic approval of legalized abortion at 48% in a 2017 survey. [13] Even more dismaying is the outspoken support of progressive Catholic political leaders for abortion. By their public rejection of the teaching of the Church these politicians undermine the Church’s credibility by continuing to call themselves Catholic while repudiating its teaching.

We should be worried. The resurgence of idolatry as evidenced by widespread abortion is a tragic reminder that there has been no evolution toward something better in the minds and hearts of men. We are still vulnerable to the attractions of even the worst of sins, and we are still desperately in need of the salvation offered by Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

However, there has been evolution of a sort in the wrong direction. We stand now at a dangerous precipice in man’s journey through time. Idolatry requiring child sacrifice, whether in its ancient form as practiced by peoples such as the Canaanites or the Mayans, or in today’s common use of abortion, has always been a sin to which man has succumbed to some degree. But it is only within the last century that abortion has become so extensively accepted that abortion throughout pregnancy has become the law of the land over large parts of the globe.

This is unprecedented. Until now, we, the human race, have never before achieved this level of rebellion against God. And in our calamitous arrogance, we have doubled down on that rebellion against God with another unprecedented worldwide acceptance of immoral behavior. As with abortion, the aberrations of homosexual behavior have always been with us. But now, in many countries througout the world, and for the first time in human history, homosexual “unions” are treated in the law as legitimate family units. [16] Representative Louis Gohmert, Republican of Texas, offers evidence that it is actually not the first time in history that such unions have been legitimized:

“According to rabbinical writings, the only other time in history where homosexual unions were authorized as marriage was ‘in the days of Noah.” [17]

That should get our attention. The last time homosexual marriage was legitimate was before the flood. Speaking to Mr. Gohmert, Faith2Action President Janet Porter made this observation:

“This is serious stuff because it matters to God and, historically speaking – oh my goodness, when I hear[d] the same thing the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.” [17]

With very good reason, it seems to me. Perhaps recognition of the criticality of the situation might motivate us to pull back from the edge of the precipice. In emphasizing the danger provoked by the eruption of these twin evils, I am in good company. Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, while expressing support for similar concerns voiced recently by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, [18] offered this indictment:

“The killing [of] innocent babies in the womb of their mothers and the turning upside down the created order of the two biological sexes and of marriage and family, is an expression of the attitude of the Anti-Christ, an attitude which is called in the Bible also revolt and apostasy, and the Anti-Christ is called also the man of the iniquity and the son of perdition, the adversary and the opposer of God and of the order God created in the level of nature and of redemption. The most characteristic attitude of the Anti-Christ is to put himself in the place of God. . . . this occurs in the case of abortion where man is in practice declaring himself as a kind of god, by declaring to have an unlimited right over human life and over the order of human sexuality.” [19]

I am neither an alarmist nor a prophet of doom. However, I do believe that we should use our reason to assess the hard evidence that we humans are accomplishing rebellion against God to an extent never before realized. It is intriguing to note the congruence between the observations of Bishop Schneider and the teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the Second Coming of Christ:

“Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.” [20]


1. “Abortion: Overview.” World Health Organization. Health Topics.

2. “From ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to ‘dangerous, imposed, and frequent.’ ” Washington Examiner. January 30, 2019.

3. “Worldwide Abortion Policies: Circumstances Under Which A Woman Can Legally Obtain An Abortion.” Pew Research Center. Interactives. October 5, 2015.

4. Russell-Kraft, Stephanie. “Christian Ethicist Says to Trust Women on Abortion. Religion and Politics. June 5, 2018.

5. N L de Claisse-Walford, “Reading backwards from the beginning: My life with the Psalter,”
Verbum et Ecclesia Vol 27, No 2 (November 17, 2006) a158.

6. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 1177.

7. Fuentes, Antonio. “The Book of Psalms.” Catholic Answers. May 1, 1995.

8. Kranz, Jeffrey. “Which Old Testament Book Did Jesus Quote Most?” Biblia Blog. April 30, 2014.

9. “St Thomas Aquinas on the Psalms.” Patristic Bible Commentary. Accessed May 12, 2020.

10. “Psalms, Chapter 106.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bible.

11. Bellarmine, Robert. “A Commentary on the Book of Psalms.” eCatholic2000. 2016. https://www.ecatholic2000.com/bell/psalms.shtml#_Toc417747245

12. “Exposition on Psalm 106 (Augustine).” New Advent. Fathers of the Church.

13. Masci, David. “American religious groups vary widely in their views of abortion.” Pew Research Center. January 22, 2018.

14. Masci, David. “Where major religious groups stand on abortion.” Pew Research Center. June 21, 2016.

15. Clowes, Brian, PhD. “Has the Catholic Church Always Condemned Abortion?” Human Life International. August 31, 2018.

16. Masci, David. “A global snapshot of same-sex marriage.” Pew Research Center. October, 29, 2019.

17. Chapman, Michael W. “Rep. Gohmert: Homosexual Marriage Was Legal Once Before, ‘In The Days of Noah’ Before The Flood.” cnsnews. October 19, 2016.

18. “In new biography, Benedict XVI laments modern ‘anti-Christian creed.’” Catholic News Agency. May 4, 2020.

19. Hickson, Maike. “Bp. Schneider thanks Pope Benedict for saying homosexuality, abortion inspired by Anti-Christ.” Lifesite News. May 4, 2020.

20. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 675.