Sweet Sixteen: The Culture of Life in a Midwestern City


In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II warned us against what he famously called “the culture of death.”  The most obvious signs of the culture of death are things like the widespread acceptance of abortion.  But, as the pope taught us, abortion is not itself the culture of death, but only one of the worst manifestations of it.  Rather, the culture of death is first of all a culture of spiritual death, a culture of materialism, selfishness, and hedonism.  It is only when these deformities of soul and mind take hold that people can begin to think that abortion and other grave evils might be permissible.

And, since there is this broader and deeper meaning to the culture of death, so there is a broader and deeper meaning to its opposite, the “culture of life.”  For John Paul II, a culture of life is not just a culture in which abortion is illegal. It is a culture in which people understand that life finds its meaning not in enjoying material pleasures, but in generously serving God and our fellow human beings.  The culture of life is a culture of love, of overflowing generous love.  And one of the things that John Paul II wanted us to learn is that a good way to combat the culture of death is not only to denounce it, but to get busy living and building up the culture of life in our own lives.

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One midwestern American family has been heroically heeding and acting on John Paul II’s teaching.  They are the Bessmer family of Omaha, Nebraska, headed by Joel and Kathy.  They have sixteen children–thirteen by birth, and three adopted from Ethiopia.  This, I think it is safe to say, is the kind of generosity of spirit John Paul II was talking about when he called for us to build up a culture of life, a civilization of love.

I mention them because their family is actually the occasion for two hopeful signs about our culture.  The first is the family itself.  The second is that they were the subject of an admiring profile in the Omaha World Herald.  It is worth taking notice, and giving praise, when an outlet of the mainstream American media pays attention to and gives credit to a Catholic family living out the teachings of John Paul II on the culture of life.

So three cheers (or maybe sixteen cheers) for the Bessmer family, and for the World Herald‘s Erin Grace for bringing their inspiring story to the public’s notice.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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