Forty years ago, in St. Louis, this writer was engaged in the great debate over whether Phoenix TV personality Sherry Finkbine should be allowed to have an abortion, then illegal.
Finkbine had taken thalidomide, a drug that had caused deformities in babies in Europe. She did not want a deformed child -- so, she flew to Sweden and mooted the debate by aborting her baby.
Within 10 years, the Supreme Court discovered that the right to an abortion had been there all along, in the Constitution, and 4,000 abortions were soon being done daily in this land we call God's Country.
And so it was with pornography. In 1968, Sam Ginsberg went to prison for selling a teenager a "girlie" magazine that can now be easily accessed on the Internet or found on the drugstore magazine rack. Pornographers like Larry Flynt do not go to prison today. They go to Hollywood to be lionized in films as First Amendment heroes.
So it has gone with assisted suicide. A few years back, this writer used to debate Jack Kevorkian on CNN's "Crossfire." Dr. Death, who assisted in the suicide -- or murder -- of scores of aged, sick, dying and depressed men and women, is now in prison. But a prediction: In 50 years, Jack will be considered a social pioneer, while those who fought assisted suicide will be seen as the reactionary enemies of human progress.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was ordered to stop interfering with Oregon's assisted suicide law. "The citizens of Oregon, through their democratic initiative process," declared Judge Robert Jones, "have chosen to resolve the moral, legal and ethical debate on physician-assisted suicide for themselves by voting -- not once, but twice -- in favor of the Oregon act."
Assistant Attorney General Robert McCallum responded to Jones with an eloquence rare in public office: "Medicine is the art of preserving health, treating disease or relieving pain -- assisting suicide is not medicine. ... Physicians pledge a sacred oath to preserve health, heal disease, relieve pain and not to terminate lives with deadly drugs. ...
"A just and caring society should do its best to assist in coping with the problems that afflict the terminally ill. It should not abandon or assist in killing them."
McCallum was speaking from a Christian tradition that holds that God is the Author of life, that life begins at conception and ends at natural death, that we have no right to play God and take innocent life. Indeed, we have an obligation to protect and preserve life.
But there is another belief system with roots even older than 2,000 years, and it has converted much of America. Under this neo-pagan philosophy, whether God exists is irrelevant, life begins and ends here, and each of us has the right to decide how his or her life shall end. Moreover, for the aged, suffering and dying, it is rational and moral to end one's life and leave one's family more material goods and a sweeter memory than to force them to watch a costly, painful, slow-motion death.
With abortion and pornography, conservative Christians were defeated by the edicts of undemocratic courts. But with assisted suicide, Oregonians voted democratically to reject the Christian proscription and endorse what Hamlet called "self-slaughter" as a commendable act, deserving of the assistance of doctors who once took a Hippocratic oath never to take life.
Who will own the future? Looking back at the trends of 50 years, it is difficult to argue that Christians, in Whittaker Chambers' phrase, are "on the winning side" of history.
The trends tell the story. Divorce, once rare, is commonplace. Abortion, formerly a shameful crime, is now a constitutional right. Pornography is now something to which all are entitled. Assisted suicide is here, euthanasia is coming. Exramarital sex is natural and normal. Relationships are what life is all about. Homosexuality is a valid, moral, healthy lifestyle -- only "homophobes" say otherwise.
Both autocratically through the courts and democratically at the ballot box, America is being de-Christianized; becoming a pagan country. As Vaclav Havel said, what we seem to be trying to create is "the first atheistic civilization in the history of mankind."
In the culture war for the soul of America -- yes, Virginia, it is a religious war -- there seems no doubt who is winning. But as every Western nation that has embraced the Sexual Revolution and New Morality has begun to die -- not one any longer has a birth rate that will enable it to survive in its present form through mid-century -- a new question arises.
Is the New Morality itself the drug invented by anti-Christians to bring about the assisted suicide of the Christian West they always detested? Today's children are going to find out.