Eliot’s three facts of natural life have always beenncircumscribed with such custom and ceremony as tonbecome social and cultural facts. Birth, copulation, andndeath may be virtually the same everywhere, when youncome to brass tacks, but being born, getting married, andndying are experiences that vary from culture to culture andnmore resemble forms of art than facts of life. There are somensocieties in which expectant fathers experience the pangs ofnbirth and inany more in which men regularly name their daynof death.n. The facts of life are everywhere regulated by custom andnlaw, but the regulatory agency is typically the force ofnprecedent and the pressure of shame rather than thenpolicernan’s club or the judge’s gavel. Human societies havenalways taken an interest in marriage, but the paraphernalia ofnlicenses and permits are an outgrowth of the church’s moralnauthority, transmogrified by state bureaucracy. The medievalnchurch specified within what degrees of kinship whoncould marry whom and gave or denied last rites andnChristian burial. In the later Middle Ages the church wentnso far as to sanctify marriages that had been entered intonwithout the consent of the parents of both parties. While atnfirst sight this benevolent indulgence seems to extend thensphere of personal autonomy and individual liberty, the realneffect was to strengthen the hand of the ecclesiasticalnhierarchy at the expense of families.nOne of Martin Luther’s first orders of business was tonreestablish the family as the most honorable and privilegednsocial institution. Luther not only compelled his clergy tonundergo the rigors of marriage; he also attempted — withoutncoriiplete success — to restore the parental veto on theirn12/CHRONICLES ‘nPERSPECTIVEnThe Facts of Lifenby Thomas Flemingn”Birth, copulation, and death.nThat’s all the facts,nwhen you come to brass tacks.”nnnchildren’s marriages. But where the church was relaxing itsnpower, secular authority was already picking up the slack,nand although it is difficult not to agree with Luther’s attacknon the newly acquired privileges of the church, one of thenlong-term effects of the Reformation was to transfer socialnauthority from clergymen to administrators.nhi a unified Christian society, the moral and socialnauthority of the church makes a great deal of sense, evennwhen — as in the years preceding the Reformation — it isnmost subject to abuse. But in a secular and pluralist societynof the sort imagined by American propagandists, such moralnregulation becomes a powerful weapon of state despotism.nThe state’s moral authority is all the more dangerous,nbecause it is the most wholesome and religious elements thatndemand laws on divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. At thensame time as churches are fighting off the government’snconcerted attack on religious freedom, religious people arencampaigning for constitutional amendments on schoolnprayer and the “right to life.”nThe ethical and political confusion surrounding thesenissues is nowhere more evident than in recent SupremenCourt rulings on abortion and euthanasia. Upholdingnparental consent for abortion in Minnesota and Ohio, whilenat the same time upholding Missouri’s refusal to allow anyoung woman to die, might seem to reflect a consistentnstates’ rights outlook, but the Rehnquist court — any morenthan the Burger court or the Warren court — is not ansupporter of states’ rights except in cases where a decisionnstrengthens the hand either of the Court itself or ofngovernment in general.nIn both cases the best thing the Court could do is taken