Dear Dr. Dawkins…

I have always loved the opening lines of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

I was reminded of this passage today when I read a moving piece published over at First Things. It is an open letter from JD Flynn to the atheist Richard Dawkins, who recently tweeted that it would be immoral not to abort babies with Down’s syndrome. Flynn knows something about raising children with Down’s syndrome; he and his wife have two adopted children with Down’s.

In his letter, Flynn begins by meeting Dawkins on his own terms, engaging him on philosophical grounds. Flynn never appeals to his own moral authority as a dad with two kids with Down syndrome. He never berates or lectures Dawkins. Instead, Flynn does something different and delivers the coup de grace with disarming simplicity. (It was, in part, the way Flynn treats Dawkins with genuine humanity that brought to mind those beautiful lines from Gaudium et Spes.) Here’s how Flynn concludes:

“Culture of encounter…nice!”

I wonder, if you spent some time with them, whether you’d feel the same way about suffering, about happiness, about personal dignity. I wonder, if you danced with them in the kitchen, whether you’d think abortion was in their best interest. I wonder, if you played games with them, or shared a joke with them, whether you’d find some worth in their existence.

And so, Dr. Dawkins, I’d like to invite you to dinner. Come spend time with my children. Share a meal with them. Before you advocate their deaths, come find out what’s worthwhile in their lives. Find out if the suffering is worth the joy.

I don’t want you to come over for a debate. I don’t want to condemn you. I want you to experience the joy of children with Down syndrome. I want your heart to be moved to joy as well.

Any day next week is good for us except for Wednesday.

Sincerely yours,

JD Flynn

Now, does that “raise an echo in your heart?” Read the whole letter, here.


  • Chris

    Wow, great article.

  • Ann biz

    I read this last week, with great admiration of the writer… hope Mr. Dawkins has the decency to respond….and we are informed of the outcome..

  • monica pope

    i offer a mid-level quibble and a big complaint:

    my mid-level quibble:
    re: the the terminology used in this article and the title of the FB post associated with this article– I have a kid with Down syndrome. She’s not a Down’s [sic] kid. Or a Downs [sic] kid. She’s a kid with Down syndrome. Person-first language helps a lot. Getting the common term for Trisomy 21 helps a lot, too.

    my big complaint:
    Many of us parents of kids with Ds find ourselves in situations where we’re called to defend our children’s right to be alive. These challenges are usually subtle, but sometimes they’re outright, as in the case of Dawkins’ initial tweet and subsequent messages.

    We shouldn’t have to defend our kids, but we get it- this is the world in which we live. But, in defending their lives– defending their right to be alive, we keep using words like ‘healthy’, ‘happy’, ‘productive’ and ‘potential’. And the word ‘burden’ too, as in, “my kid is not a.”

    JD Flynn’s letter to Dawkins is lovely, but the premise is the same flawed premise under which we keep defending our kids. Certainly these personal attributes are VERY useful in raising awareness and promoting inclusion. A demonstration of such attributes can also be very helpful and a true blessing to frightened parents who have just received the fetal diagnosis of Ds and who may be contemplating abortion. But in arguing our kids’ very right to exist, these demonstrations only inadvertently perpetuate the wrong-headed, pro-death idea that some lives are not worth living.

    No human person should have to justify his/ her existence. Not through health, nor productivity, nor charming smile. No parent should be expected to give some apologetic (read: reason) for the existence of his/ her child.

    A person is more than his/her personality. An unproductive or emotionally unresponsive or unhealthy kid is… a kid. The burdensome kid, the kid in pain, the immobile kid is.. a kid. A person.

    Productivity, charm, pleasantness, or apparent happiness cannot be allowed to become the valuation of human life and we parents shouldn’t use it as the demonstration of their right to live.

    Some of my friends whose kids have Down syndrome didn’t get healthy children. Or productive children. Or emotionally responsive children. What they got was equally valuable children. Equally dignified human persons, equally precious to The Creator.

    • http://catholicvote Veronica

      BRAVO Monica Popes!!!!! Well said :)

  • http://Facebook Susan LaPisto

    Beautiful. I hope Dawkins has the courage to accept your dinner invitation!

  • Susan

    Beautiful. I hope Dawkins has the courage to accept your dinner invitation!



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