The infamous “mystery clause” penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion of Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992) succinctly summarizes the modernist precept. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Kennedy’s definition of liberty is pure solipsism – atheistic or at minimum agnostic. This passage has become a byword for the progressive culture that has descended into the farthest abyss of Lockean individualism. This is a place populated by those who intuit life’s meaning from sensory experiences of the external world. The Casey decision authorizes amoral subjectivism and validates disordered individualism while it rejects objective universal truth-claims.
The “mystery clause” evokes the far greater and recondite mystery statement from Saint Paul’s 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12:
For the mystery of iniquity already worketh…[the Antichrist] whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power and signs and lying wonders: And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish: because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth but have consented to iniquity.
The Casey decision reaffirms a woman’s right to kill her unborn child. Amazingly, this ‘right’ (to privacy) which some legalists read in the “due process” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment absolutely abjures the fifth commandment prohibiting murder. In this “operation of error” that Saint Paul describes, lies are believed while the indisputable scientific fact concerning the moment human life begins is violently and blindly denied. Human pride, the root of all sin, and a darkened rational intellect reject the order of nature and science. Unhinged from faith and objective truth, Casey provides legal standing to individual liberty closed to grace and to the moral order. It is an illiberal justification for selfish acts which on a broad social scale misuses human freedom and destroys true peace and charity (pax et caritas).
We are experiencing increasing individual isolation, cultural division and chaos as this deception grows. Absent faith in God and moderated by belief in His divine and natural laws, human behavior devolves ever deeper into the selfishness and disunity of sin. Tocqueville foresaw the danger on a secular level that unregulated individualism posed:
“Egoism springs from a blind instinct; individualism from wrong-headed thinking rather than from depraved feelings. It originates as much from defects of intelligence as from the mistakes of the heart. Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue. In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism.” (Democracy in America, 1835.)
Sin, especially chronic sinful behavior, “dumbs down” sinners and leads to what can be seen as “wrong-headed thinking” and “depraved feelings”. In a similar manner, corporate or communal sin degrades and stains society. Killing millions of unborn children has tarnished and impaired the intellects of many individuals who grow incapable of overcoming man’s wounded nature. The corporate conscience, too, sinks deeper into darkness. In this penumbra of evil, individuals and society gradually accept and excuse evil while growing increasingly incapable of recognizing good. Evil is called good and good is attacked as evil. We are witnessing today that disintegration of order due to the increasing acceptance of abortion, unnatural marriage and the misuse of human sexuality:
Therefore God shall send them the operation of error to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth but have consented to iniquity.
This mystery of iniquity in our time can be traced to the “mystery clause.” Tragically, for millions of unborn children, many have been seduced into believing lies and their willing rejection of truth. The dangerously erroneous belief, the foundation of many falsehoods, is that life’s meaning or essence is discoverable through man’s unalloyed senses and feelings. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man that the sensate man (without a chest, the “belly”) who is divorced from the will (the heart) and the rational intellect (the head or cerebrum) will be incapable of knowing the truth God reveals to him. Ensnared by one’s feelings and base desires, man closes himself to grace and thus is prone to believe lies and falsehoods. Isaiah’s warning is realized: “woe to you that call evil good and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20) For one man, this is damnable, but for an entire culture? It’s worst for the innocents, the millions of unborn children killed in their mother’s wombs where they should be safest. These are the victims of the “men without chests,” subjected to visceral men’s tyranny and violence.
Evil triumphs when believers cower and retreat. Despite the Christian persecution which is sure to increase if a Biden/Harris administration prevails, the faithful must pray to endure all afflictions and witness to God’s Word, the Truth. During this Advent, may the gifts and graces of faith, hope and love impel mankind forward out of darkness and sin and make straight the way for the Light of the World to come.
Dr. Ralph Capone (MD, FACP) is a life long Roman Catholic, and a board-certified physician in Internal Medicine and Hospice & Palliative Care. He is also certified by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and taught Catholic Bioethics at St. Vincent College, and medical subjects in the Physician Assistant Program at Seton Hill. He is now retired, and he and his wife live in Pittsburgh, PA, where he spends his time writing. His writing has appeared in Ethika Politika, “Ethics & Medics” (a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center) and also their Bioethics Journals.