January-February 1997

The Hand of God.  By Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D. Regnery. 206 pages. $24.95.

Nothing less than the hand of God could have led a man who performed more than 75,000 abortions into the prolife camp. Dr. Nathanson was the co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and was instrumental in liberalizing the abortion laws in New York, which paved the way for Roe v. Wade.

His journey was long and painful, and he is brutally honest in recounting his past. The details are often sordid and shameful. While some of the subject matter is what can be found on trashy daytime television talk shows, Nathanson takes care to keep it in context. Rather than being sensationalist, The Hand of God illustrates the depths of sin from which Nathanson was able to escape.

Raised a Jew, Nathanson was an atheist as an adult. His introduction to abortion came in 1945, when he arranged for an illegal abortion for his pregnant girlfriend. Twenty years later, he himself performed an abortion on a woman whom he had gotten pregnant, thereby murdering his own child.

Nathanson reveals the deceptions and lies in the fight to legalize abortion, in which he fought so passionately. Taking advantage of the libertinism of the times, the proabortionists demonized the Catholic Church as the party responsible for the deaths of mothers resulting from botched illegal abortions. At one point, NARAL reported that 5,000 such deaths had occurred; in reality the number was 300.

The Hand of God offers an inside look at today's legal abortion industry. These revelations are not for the faint-hearted. The actual procedure is described. Many gruesome incidents of botched abortions that caused the death of the mother or the birth of babies with missing limbs are revealed. Curiously, the abortionists themselves are often the "medical losers," says Nathanson. The work is tedious, requires little skill, and does not yield the high prestige of other medical specialties. Therefore, Nathanson found, the primary attraction is greed. Some of his fellow abortionists were "drunks, druggies, sadists, sex molesters…."

When and how, one might ask, did Nathanson navigate his way out of this "satanic world of abortion" to God? Ironically, Nathanson did not find God and then realize the error of his ways. Rather, it was science and technology that opened his eyes. The advent of ultrasound, which provides a window into the womb, almost immediately made him recognize that what he had dedicated his life to was unequivocally wrong. He transferred his efforts to publicizing the humanity of the fetus and the crime of abortion. In so doing, he became active in the prolife movement and has been immersed in a world of faith, prayer, and love. This constant demonstration of the power of God has finally, after the publication of this book led him to be baptized in the Catholic Church.

Nathanson notes that there are "cleaner hands to do this work." But few others could be so effective in revealing the truth, reaffirming the validity of our prolife convictions, and emphasizing the need for faith. Despite the subject matter, this is a book to rejoice over, for if the hand of God could save a sinner such as Nathanson, then there is hope yet for this world.

- Maria Briggs



Mysticism, Death and Dying.  By Christopher Nugent. State University of New York Press. 127 pages. $12.95.

Nugent's book will be exciting to anyone of mystical bent, of strong interest to those hoping to rise above the earthbound Kubler-Ross treatment of death, and a deathknell to the cramped rationalist.

This is a work by a man of sound academic background and many years of teaching the spiritual classics. A gifted writer, Nugent is sufficiently intoxicated with mysticism to escape the rigor mortis of the "footnote everything" scholar. Adventurers of the spiritual will love the excitement he brings to the quest for God, while those who flee such excitement will feel a bit dizzy and scurry home for another cup of herbal tea -- and perhaps a couple of Triscuits. Death aficionados who feel that Kubler-Ross has said it all in the five stages of dying will see they've been deprived.

We learn from Nugent that mysticism is linked with death. Many deaths, those of the saints, for example, have manifested mystical phenomena and are even compatible with evangelical experience, as in the case of Francis of Assisi. This evangelical herald of the great King had the greatest mystical experience of the age in his combined vision of "The Crucified" and reception of the stigmata.

Modern man's fear of death is, for Nugent, tragic. Nugent feels that "our shadowy and repressed fear of self-knowledge" grounds this lamentable condition, and still further that it lies at the base of the moral collapse of our times -- the emptying of the churches and the simultaneous filling of the great sports coliseums. The decline of self-knowledge goes hand in hand with the pursuit of the transient. Death comes, not as an invitation to glory but as an end to the football season.

Nugent invites us to begin our quest with consideration of St. Paul, who, paradoxically, urges us "to know the love of Christ" and simultaneously assures us that it is "something beyond all knowledge." Nugent informs us that mysticism is more concerned with being than knowing. It focuses, not on the sickly human ego, but on the "human self made real through self-effacement." This brings him to affirm again an intimate connection between death and mysticism while rejecting the demystifying approaches of the Shirley MacLaines who dilute spiritual and moral reality. Martyrdom also reinforces the link between mysticism and death. This we witness in the killing of St. Stephen, who cried out his vision, "Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

Nugent's writing sparkles as he brings wisdom to a neglected area of inquiry.

- Howard Delaney





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