It is easy to forget past beliefs that were held and then rejected. Then, when you encounter them again, stumbling over them like a child’s sneakers lurking in the dark hallway, it is hard to fathom that you once held such beliefs. I recently had just this experience when I recommended The Cider House Rules to my wife on movie night. Originally published in 1985, it is one of America’s most-celebrated author’s best-known books. It spawned a stage play and a film of the same name. The film, chock-full of stars like Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Paul Rudd, and Charlize Theron, garnered 2 Academy Awards from 7 nominations.
I read the book in college and had kept the film in my queue for seemingly a decade, always intending to watch it at some point. When asked what sort of film it was, I positively affirmed to my wife that it was indeed a “chick-flick”. (Author’s note: I am not a glutton for punishment. I do not seek out opportunities to inflict the cinematic equivalent to waterboarding on myself. However, knowing that Christmas approaches and a Die Hard marathon is right around the corner, I saw the opportunity to pay it forward by pre-loading some chick-flickery onto the account.) What quickly became apparent was that The Cider House Rules is not a chick-flick…or an anyone-flick, for that matter. It’s a steaming pile of moral relativism, served up on a hot plate of self-righteous liberalism, delivered by a hatchet-faced waitress with a mole that would make Uncle Buck blanch.
The story takes place in Maine during the first half of the 20th century. The story centers around a young man, Homer Wells, who grows up in an orphanage without being adopted. He is mentored by the head of the orphanage, a doctor who is an ether addict and teaches Homer his craft (when he isn’t sleeping with one of the head administrators.) Homer is horrified by the doctor’s casual willingness to perform secret abortions on the girls who visit his orphanage for that purpose. Homer’s assertion that perhaps the women should have chosen not to engage in activity that could lead to pregnancy is ridiculed as naïve.
Homer makes friends with a young couple who come to receive the doctor’s services; and the man, an Air Force pilot headed shortly to the brewing conflict in Europe, offers Homer a job at his mother’s apple orchard. Over the next couple years, Homer is gradually corrupted by the world to the point that he steals his friend Wally’s girl while he is fighting Nazis overseas. When word comes back that Wally’s plane was shot down and he is now paralyzed from the waist down, Homer still wonders if his tryst might be able to continue. Homer also comes to realize that he has been given the power to perform abortions in order to Do Good in the world, and that his previous stance on personal responsibility and moral certitude was rubbish. In order to save the day, he performs an abortion and replaces his mentor as the head of the orphanage, when the doctor dies from an ether overdose.
I’m lucky we’re married. If this was a date, she would’ve gotten up and walked out (rightly so). As it was, we couldn’t even finish the film and turned it off midway through. I was stunned. Here was a vestigial remnant from my bleeding-heart days, staring me in the face. How could I have ever thought this was good?? The plot was teeming with obvious contrivances, meant to tug on emotions and discourage critical thinking. The moral (as funny as that sounds) seemed to be “Everyone is an icky bastard and so are you. Let’s party.”
I was fascinated, thinking how my moral trajectory developed in the exact opposite manner of Homer’s. I began as a moral relativist, steeped in the worldliness around me, eventually finding in God’s absolute morality what relativism could never provide. Homer began with an absolute view of morality and personal responsibility, bolstered by his upbringing in a house of unwanted byproducts of casual sexuality, and found more comfort in the quicksand of relative morality with its ever-shifting boundaries. The difference appears to be that Homer’s absolute morality was based in experiential truths, while mine is founded on the eternal truth of the one true God.
Supporters of abortion must value experience over innocence. They must view the cumulative life experience of the mother to be of more worth than the innocence of the life inside her. In a tragic way, it makes sense. Given that the pro-abortion crowd is forced to deny the intrinsic worth of human life, they frequently invalidate or minimize the existence of God and spirituality. And if existence has no spiritual component, then the Existentialists were right; and all meaning and worth is to be determined by acts of Will and the experiences we leave behind. Thus in one fell swoop, by aborting her child, a mother affirms her existence with a tragic act of Will and preserves her ability to live life on her terms, unencumbered by the consequences of her actions.
The one touching part of The Cider House Rules is when we see the impact that the love and care of Homer and the orphanage staff has on the younger orphans. The love of that community is portrayed as a gleam of hope in an uncertain world; yet no mention is made of all those souls who weren’t given the opportunity to experience that love, buried as they are in the small, cold graveyard behind the house built to shelter and protect unwanted children.
Photo credit: Hutson H (Creative Commons)