One hears and sees many surprising things in New York City. Even today, as I write, I was treated to a breakdancing show on the subway, full of jumping, spinning, handstanding, headstanding, even backflipping off the doors—all on a crowded, and moving, train! The city—especially the subway—is surprising, exciting, jarring, and, at times, very loud.
On one recent evening, though, my ride on the subway—already noisy from rattling tracks, screeching brakes, and ambient rap music leaking from the headphones of my fellow riders—was rendered even noisier by a screaming baby in a stroller on a crowded D train. Having grown up with seven younger siblings, I’ve been around my fair share of screaming babies, but I was still surprised when a woman said to her friend as she got off the train, “Well, that’s good birth control.”
Now, it’s true that I can’t name anyone I know who finds the inconsolable wails of a tired infant to be a soothing and melodious sound, but I was nevertheless struck by the rash flippancy of her comment. Can it be that something as quotidian as the crying of a baby could dissuade someone from desiring children? Such a reaction seems to go too far, doesn’t it?
Admittedly, it’s unlikely that this child’s crying was the tipping point for this woman: “I was thinking about children, but after hearing that wailing? Forget about it!” Yet this episode is indicative of a more widespread attitude about the world, namely, that a small perceived evil indicates an inherent one: I don’t like the crying of children because it is unpleasant; therefore, children themselves are unpleasant and should be avoided. This is not a far cry from the attitude that identifies the man who does evil as an inherently evil man, or that perceives evil in the world and concludes that the world is itself evil. If this attitude is true, then sinners—and indeed the world—should be avoided, utterly rejected, and condemned.
But this is not the message of the Gospel! For “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17). Jesus came to save, not to condemn!
As it happens, this very problem was one of the first addressed by St. Dominic in his preaching against the Albigensians, being dualists who held that the world and the human body were fashioned by an evil creating principle and are therefore inherently evil. St. Dominic preached the goodness of the world and of everything else created by God, because God is goodness itself and is therefore incapable of creating anything inherently evil. The goodness of creation has been a hallmark of Dominican preaching going all the way back to the praedicator gratiae (preacher of grace) himself, and with good reason!
If God is good, it follows that all creation is good (cf. 1 Tm 4:4): the world is good, the body is good, even screaming infants are good. We read that when the world was made, God looked at what he had created and saw that it was good, and after he had finished it all, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gn 1:31).
Image: Thomas Eakins, Baby at Play