Touch(ing) Down: Gabe White vs. Richard Dawkins

There has been ample coverage from various publications about Richard Dawkins’s recent shocking Twitter comment that, rather than carrying to term an unborn baby known to have Down Syndrome, the mother should “abort it and try again.”  Any other choice but this, asserts the purportedly pro-choice hero, would be “immoral.”

Ignoring (for now) the fact that a sound basis for atheist morality is as non-existent as their non-god, I’d like to introduce Mr. Dawkins to Gabe White.  Is it possible for a football game to end with both teams being victorious?  Watch it happen.

Gabe is an 8-year-old football fanatic and honorary “manager” of his older brother’s freshman football team -- the Rhinelander High Hodags.  Gabe also has Down Syndrome.  The Hodags played their last home game of the season on Oct. 16, and unfortunately for them, when the clock ran out, their score was the lower of the two on the board.  But there was still one play left to be run -- a play that could only be executed by special teams -- and as we’ve seen so often in the storied history of America’s most popular sport, it was to be a miraculous moment that would forever alter the outcome of the game.

One last time, both teams took the field and the Mosinee Indians kicked off.  In the back field to receive for the Hodags, geared up for the first time in helmet and shoulder pads, was Gabe White.  As the ball dropped into play, one of Gabe’s teammates bumped it to him.  Gabe wasted little time picking it up and charging down field as fast as his little legs would carry him.  Immediately he was surrounded by a phalanx of friends who protected him against the opposing team; but occasionally an Indian would break through in a dramatic dive, only to end up face down in the grass with Gabe still on his feet and full steam ahead.

Nearing the end zone, it was Gabe in green surrounded by nothing but white jerseys in pursuit, diving this way and that, but magically always missing.  As he crossed the plane for a touchdown, he turned in celebration and was quickly swept up on the shoulders of his Hodag teammates (with a few Indians mixed in) as the crowd roared and shouted his name.

It’s true, this touchdown -- this touching down -- was unofficial, having taken place after the regulation clock had run out.  It’s true, officially Mosinee had won.  But did Gabe know that?  Or did he just win the game for his team?  I don’t know the answer to the first question; but the second has only one unmistakable answer: absolutely.  In fact, Gabe won the game for both teams.

So I’d like to pose a question to Mr. Dawkins: Where is the immorality?

Let’s give Mr. Dawkins the benefit of the doubt: let’s assume that the immorality argument against bringing a Down Syndrome child into the world stems from purely selfless humanitarian concern for the child’s well-being and quality of life.  If that’s true, anyone making such an argument must be able to demonstrate clearly that the life of someone with Down Syndrome is inherently more painful -- to them, not to us -- than that of any other human.  In this case, Mr. Dawkins must be able to prove incontrovertibly that the personal human experience of a person like Gabe is, by its very nature, suffering. With all observable evidence to the contrary, Mr. Dawkins has his work cut out for him, to understate it grossly.  In fact, in the absence of supporting testimony from someone he claims to be protecting, e.g. from Gabe, it is quite impossible for Mr. Dawkins to make such an authoritative assertion without suggesting that he himself is the same omniscient intelligence he has made millions of dollars emphatically denying.

One could argue that Mr. Dawkins’s position stems from his own discomfort with special needs individuals, which “suffering” he transfers onto them in order to justify their extermination.  In this way, he argues that his actions are not reprehensible, but are instead utterly noble and honorable, which I guess means that his advice to “abort it and try again” should be esteemed by him and his followers as “honor killing.”

The sentiment beneath Dawkins’s position is not new.  It hearkens back to the age-old philosophical challenge known as The Problem of Evil.  In short, the Problem of Evil asks, if there is a god and if he is a benevolent being, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?  What purpose could a loving god have, for example, in allowing a Gabe White to be born into a life of certain suffering?

In Richard Attenborough’s 1993 film, Shadowlands, screen writer William Nicholson interprets the writings of renowned Christian author C. S. Lewis into living dialog, brought to life brilliantly by Sir Anthony Hopkins.  The film allows us to experience with Lewis -- himself an expert on the spiritual meaning of human suffering -- one of the greatest trials a human can endure: watching one’s most beloved suffer and ultimately succumb to cancer.  At one point in the story, having received news that his wife’s condition had at last begun to improve, one of Lewis’s friends, an Oxford chaplain, offers him congratulations, saying he knows how hard Lewis has been praying.  “And now God is answering your prayers,” the chaplain assures.  Lewis responds that seeking to influence the will of God is not why he prays so hard.  “I pray because I can’t help myself,” he observes wisely.  “It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

Maybe the purpose that Mr. Dawkins and his like fail (refuse) to see is not to spare a child like Gabe White the life they are so certain will only be full of suffering; but rather, it is to find ourselves elevated beyond what we can reach of our own will and wisdom as we lose ourselves in efforts to ensure the child’s life is not full of suffering.  An entire stadium of people was elevated to a new level of existence before our eyes, if only temporarily, because of one child with Down Syndrome in their midst; not because he scored a touchdown, but because they -- all of them together -- wanted him to.  In that miraculous moment, there were no more teams, no losers, no us and them: there was only us.  I challenge any “normal” person such as Mr. Dawkins [insert “Dawkins isn’t normal” jokes here] to do anything that accomplishes more on the scale of moral righteousness and virtue for society at large than Gabe White did on October 16, 2014 simply by being alive.  The miracle of Gabe’s touchdown wasn’t what it meant for him: it was what it meant for us.

As for my initial question to Mr. Dawkins, I’ll answer it myself: There is no greater purpose, no greater dignity, no greater victory for a person than for his life to mean the fulfillment of another’s.  The only immorality in the life of a Down Syndrome child -- or any child, for that matter -- is ending it before it has the chance to fulfill its purpose in glorifying the rest of us.