A modern mythology
In 1957, the French literary critic Roland Barthes published a lively collection of essays on mythologies that circulate in the modern world. From wrestling to red wine, from Citroëns to soap-powders, Barthes identified the unmarked, cultural myths prevalent in post-war France. In his view, myths are not simply ancient stories about philandering gods: they are a common feature of our daily lives.
Fifteen years after Barthes’ essays appeared, another French thinker, René Girard, made an even more radical argument about the nature of myths. In Violence and the Sacred, Girard argued that ancient myths were not just pious fictions, but actually had their origin in collective acts of violence against innocent victims. Like histories, myths are written by the victors: myths, then, are stories about scapegoats seen from the perspective of their persecutors.
Our cover story this month brings the insights of these two theorists together. The corrosive cultural fabrications about abortion are a part of our daily lives, but they are also myths in this second sense as well: they are stories behind which real violence is hidden.
The myths we discuss enable abortion by ignoring the rudimentary facts of modern fetology, obscuring the obvious health consequences of abortion, and debasing the language of human rights by numbering the euphemistic “choice” to kill a child among them. But these myths are also produced by abortion: they are invoked to defend an indefensible deed and conceal this terrible truth from the culture’s conscience. They try to convince us that violence is necessary while hiding that very violence from view.
Thus, the myths told about abortion are actually created by the thing they seem to justify. They are effects masquerading as causes, seductive deceptions which make abortion seem like a necessity. But this means that the logical knots which such lies produce can be safely and boldly cut.
And, when we emerge from the dark cave of mythic fictions, we will see the world aright. We have been told that abortion prevents cities from being overpopulated, and teeming with unwanted children; in fact, a flagrant disrespect for the family has produced emptying cities with the same problem. We have been told that abortion is medically necessary; in fact, it is deadly to the unborn, injurious to women, and debasing of our culture. We have been assured, finally, that abortion is a human right; in fact, it is the greatest, most pervasive human rights’ violation in the modern world.
The only way to overcome such a powerful and pernicious mythology is to unrepentantly take the side of its victims, and speak out courageously for the unborn. We must return truths for lies, and peace for violence. Although, at times, it seems as the mythology of abortion pervades the entire world, we must remind ourselves of the indestructible strength of the truth. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “one grain of truth outweighs the whole world.”