The Hollow Men and the Culture of Death
By Kimberly Baker
September 30, 2011
The culture of death so prevalent in today’s society reflects the emptiness and disillusionment so vividly expressed in The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. This famous poem depicts a world of “stuffed men” who do not fully live life, who go through routine motions awaiting “death’s twilight kingdom.” The lack of hope in today’s secular culture is evidenced by broken or non-existent family life and relationships, a breakdown of manners and common courtesy in social interaction, and indulgence in lavish lifestyles, sex, food, and media as ways to escape the emptiness.
As a result of this pleasure-seeking mentality, there is also a systematic effort to suppress and eliminate the weaker, more vulnerable members of society who present inconveniences to others and are seen as burdens. Legislative efforts to loosen or abandon restrictions on assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion are a direct result of the mindset that encourages us to eliminate people who are inconvenient or unwanted in our pursuit of pleasure. The result? “Hollow men” trying to keep themselves entertained on the death march.
The poem’s vivid imagery likens the world of hollow men to “a valley of dying stars.” Today’s dying stars are the unique lives which are unappreciated and disregarded by those who see them as useless. Parents are encouraged to terminate “unhealthy” unborn life. If the “unhealthy” are already present in the world, they are given the option to terminate their own lives so they won’t be a burden to others.
But eliminating the weak and defenseless will not lead to more happiness and convenience; it will only lead to increased fear and less freedom. When one category of human beings, such as the unborn, the elderly, or the sick are targeted for elimination, what is to prevent other human lives from being considered less valuable or worthy of protection? By what standard is this decided? The elimination and disregard of the weak and defenseless only puts pressure on the “healthy” to work harder to prove that their life has worth so they too, will not be marked for elimination.
Pope Benedict XVI writes in his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope): “A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and bear it inwardly through ‘compassion’ is a cruel and inhuman society” (#38). The ability to accept those who suffer, those who are weaker and more vulnerable, makes us more human. Christ himself demonstrated this nobility of heart in his treatment of the sick and rejected members of society.
With Christ, we are no longer hollow and empty; we are instead a people of hope, and therefore a people of life. We must not sit by idly as the “hollow men” systematically create a culture hostile to life at its most vulnerable stages. We must strive every day to counter these efforts by witnessing to the dignity and value of each person.
Kimberly Baker is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.