Even worse is indicated—the general embraee of euthanasia,rnas forecast in the 70’s and 80’s by such as Malcohn Muggeridgernand Walker Percy. No, no, no! object the proponentsrnof suicide. Never that! Personal autonomy is all they seek: thernright, not the duty, to die.rnWe have a saying in the South: that ol’ dog won’t hunt. Thisrndog won’t either.rnTo see why, we need to revisit medieval Florence for a briefrninspection of its foundations. Those foundations, on whichrnDante walked, and yes, Pier delle Vigne and Frederick II, werernreligious—specifically, Christian. The earth was the Lord’srnand the fullness thereof (as the psalmist said). Into that fullnessrnhuman bodies and souls were incorporated.rnU Pluralism,” the modern deity,rnhas made it impolite to toutrna religious sanction for life.rnYet what other sanctions exist?rnPier delle Vigne’s body, though he might inhabit it, was notrnhis own; it belonged, rather, to God. The malign and cruelrnthings that others did to Pier were thus the business of God,rnwho was certain, in response, to do two things: bless Pier withrnthe release of death —if not rrecessarily on Pier’s timetable —rnand bring retribution on his persecutors. Pier’s suicide, forrnwhatever poignant reasons, disturbed the divine symmetr}’ ofrnmercy and justice. Off he went to the dark wood, to bleed andrncry out.rnVery well; it was at best a long time ago, and as we all know,rnthe Divine Comedy is a great work of the imagination. Even beforernthe deconstructionist age, we knew Dante didn’t actuallyrnenter some “rough and stubborn foresf’ alongside a dead Romanrnpoet. What has all this to do with the price of eggs inrnArkansas? Only everything, I would venture.rnThe Pier delle Vigne story takes us, shakes us, wakes us. In itrnwe see—ourselves. Any of us, in the same posihon, might haverndone as did the old Florentine. But this is the merest startingrnplace. The delle Vigne story points up, it seems to me, at leastrntwo essential considerations. First, life is a religious proposition,rnWliich, of course, it has to be if God initiated it. Not thatrnmoderns are automatically persuaded of this view, which seemsrnnot to square, as the irrepressible Episcopal Bishop John Spongrnrecently put it, with post-Darwinian realit’. The interestingrnthing is, there are no full-blown alternative explanations—certainlyrnnone that invest hiurian life with objective value. ThernDarwinian view in fact exalts destruction and displacement.rnMove over! Get out of the way!rnThe value of human life, in God’s eyes, is one of Dante’s subtexts.rnIf life lacked objective value, Dante would hardly makernso big a deal of divine justice—the meting out of reward or punishmentrnin line with how particular lives are used. The assumptionrnof divine sovereignty, as differently as different timesrnand places spin that assumption, pro’ides a comprehensive understanding.rnSecond, the religious view is absolutelv, totallv, 100 percentrnindispensable in understanding who man is and —in the contextrnof our present discussion—what he must do. I make thisrnclaim with no deference whatever to, shall we say, secular viewpoints.rnThese viewpoints are as useless as a map of Bombay ifrnv’ou’re lost in Florence, trying to find the Duomo.rnIf the religious view enjoys nowhere near the dominancerncharacteristic of Dante’s time, that makes it urgent to recoverrnsuch a view. Look where we are othenvise: lost in a dark wood;rnunsure where the road is leading. The suicide question is idealrnfor framing this discussion.rnThe question, save perhaps in deconstructionist circles, isrnnot: Did this poor old man. Pier delle Vigne, deserve to becomerna thorn tree, just because he was tired and in pain? The questionrnis: Where does authorit- over life properly reside, with thernPotter or His vessel?rnTo come down on the side of Pier is to decouple theologyrnand justice. Justice becomes what we make of it, in our humanrnsearchings and musings, our cross-questionings and re-examinations.rnThe opportunities this affords! Against the backdroprnof the “assisted suicide” drama, these opportunities appear inrnplain relief The principal actor on the stage is the sufferer,rnwhose suffering no one in the audience doubts for a minute.rnLonely, wracked by pain, he cries out for release. Eyes moisten.rnWho could refuse him? As for rumors of eternal punishmentrn. . . forget such ahistorical and speculative rubbish!rnWhat Dorothy Sayers calls “the intimate and unbreakablernbond between spirit and flesh” is of scant interest to arnsecularized society like our own. Bond, what bond? Endingrnpain is what counts. And beyond the body’s escape —its flightrnfrom pain? Here the matter truly breaks down. There exists norn”beyond” that anyone is obliged to note. We do not run ourrnopen, democratic, pluralistic society on religious principle, yournknow.rnIndeed, we do not: not since the 60’s anvway. We run socieh’rnon another principle entirely—the principle that no onernprinciple is better than another one. We call it pluralism: ever)rnbody-for-himselfism. If Joe Dokes, counselor to the President,rnhas been pulled down by envy and jailed by the independentrnprosecutor and thoroughly ruined and wants inrnconsequence to end it a l l . . . well, who can object? Surely it isrnfor Joe to decide whether he would live or die.rnAnd “the intimate and unbreakable bond between spirit andrnflesh”? Dear, dear, certainly can’t judge that one! Some sayrnyes, some say no. Officially the United States of America i s . . .rnin agreement with both sides. Vast are the consequences of thisrnagreement—topped by the deterioration of the old sense thatrnhuman life is special; so special that the discarding of it, in painrnand despair, outrages some immemorial covenant betweenrndonor and recipient.rnThe so-called slippery’ slope argument is oversimplified: thatrnis, by allowing “A,” we find demand rising for “B,” which takesrnus to “G,” smack dab on the superhighway to “D.”rn”A” most certainly can lead to “B”: abortion to assisted suicide,rnassisted suicide to euthanasia as sensibilities go to sleeprnand mental resistance cruinbles. This skirts, even so, a still largerrnpoint—that the erosion of belief in the divine sanction forrnlife makes it all possible, and likely much more. Suicide is farrnfrom the whole of the matter. Indifference to life takes variedrnforms, including that of a teenager, armed with hunting riflern18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn