There is a lot to be said for progress. Yes, we get daily doses of horrible stories in the news, but the world is a lot better off today than it has been in the past. We live longer, medicine is improved, and all this good news is not relegated only to our hemisphere. 

According to data from the World Bank, “Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history.” So, what’s there to complain about?

Plenty, but in the interest of time, I’ll keep it to three things that recently popped up on my news feed.

Rather than succumb to the temptation of moaning and groaning about the sorry state of our culture, I like to think of this as being a kind of cultural canary in a coal mine. From the point of view of three unconnected and random news stories, I think the canary is beginning to choke.

And just as so much good and so much progress emanates from our little hemisphere, there is a lot of bad to go along with the good. 

Abortion — as bad as it gets — has been making a lot of news lately, but a “throwaway” story emerged last week about a couple that was suing Planned Parenthood. They were suing the nation’s premier provider of infanticide for botching the abortion of their own child. 

They were basically bringing legal action because the human grist mill known as Planned Parenthood was “incompetent” and did not provide the services they advertised. In Planned Parenthood’s world, they don’t “advertise” abortion much at all but culturally barter in Orwellian verbiage like “women’s health issues” or “reproductive rights.”

I did a little research and learned there is a lot of case law regarding both “wrongful birth” and “wrongful life” cases. Children also sue their parents for allowing them to be born.

Somehow, I don’t think this was the road map God had envisaged for his creation. But it is certainly the crooked road that results when men (and women) build their own moral highways.

The next story that had me wondering whether we had progressed so far after all was hearing that the voters in Toledo, Ohio, passed “The Lake Erie Bill of Rights.” Yep, a lake now has more rights than a 9-month-old baby lying on a warming tray after a botched abortion in many states. 

I wonder if the Lake, having been recognized thusly, now has certain responsibilities to go along with its rights. Do Ohio farmers now have the right to take the Lake to court and sue for damages if it floods? And, if taken to court, does the Lake pay its legal team with Northern Pike or Lake Erie Bluegill?

Hearing about a Lake having “rights” is like hearing about a Roman emperor making his horse a senator. Sounds ridiculous … but nonetheless true.

Like ancient Roman culture, our culture does have a propensity to fill its idle time — another byproduct of nonpoverty activity — with silliness. Which brings me to the last piece of popular culture wind direction. 

It seems there is a 2-year-old artist who has her own art exhibit in New York, where her finger paintings go for hundreds of dollars and her very first painting has a price tag of $23,000. How they came up with that figure I will never know. How they are getting hundreds of dollars for finger painting I do not know either.

A painting from 2-year-old Lola June's exhibit "Hope" presented by Pajtim Osmanaj in Manhattan. (IMAGE VIA CHASHAMA)

All great artists suffer, I guess. Vincent Van Gogh would have cut off his right ear … I mean he would have given almost anything to have sold his paintings in his lifetime. Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave. 

How has this little 2-year-old girl’s suffering impacted her art? Did she lose a binky behind the couch or did the cable go out and she wasn’t able to get her fix of Paw Patrol? I’m sure something equally traumatic has helped her connect with her muse and creative process to the tune of $23K.

Do these snippets from the world of popular culture represent the downfall of Western Civilization? Probably not. But they certainly point to a not-so-healthy one. As Pope Francis mentioned in one of his first communications after his election, the Church is a hospital. And if it’s a hospital, then, based on these three stories, the ER should be full of sickly canaries right about now.

Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.

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