Seamless Garment Or Emperor's New Clothes?
Updated: Oct 21
Commitment to the protection of human life at all its stages has been compared to a seamless garment. You have most likely heard the analogy; perhaps you have used it. The analogy to the seamless garment of Jesus was first put forward in 1976 by the late Cardinal Bernadin in an attempt to make a bridge between Catholics who were fighting for the right to life for the unborn and those who were opposed to the nuclear arms race and to war. This analogy backfired, creating a false equivocation between abortion, which is intrinsically evil, and war, which can at times be just.
The seamless garment comparison is oftentimes still used to equate protecting the life of the baby in the womb to other social concerns of varying importance such as war, the death penalty, immigration, care of the poor, affordable housing, healthcare for all, and equality in education, among others. And the argument goes, “You’re not really pro-life unless you fight for affordable housing and the rest….” While it’s true that being “pro-life” is multi-faceted, there are many varied attacks on the human person, and to be a follower of Jesus Christ I must be concerned about them all, it is not true that all these issues are equal in gravity. The deliberate killing of an innocent child in the womb is an abomination that cries to heaven for justice. It is intrinsically different from all the rest. If the pro-life stance I take does not put the protection of innocent human life far and away above the rest, there is not a seamless garment—there is no garment at all.
In the 19th century Danish fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson, two cunning tailors sew imaginary garments for a vain emperor and spread the rumor around the realm that the magnificent clothing has a strange property of being invisible to those who are intellectually inferior or incompetent. All the people feign praise and adulation for the clothing which they cannot see, because they don’t want to appear to be unsophisticated, stupid, or worse. Even the emperor dons the imaginary clothing, embarrassed to admit that he can’t see them, further mystified that others apparently can, and compelled by the adulation of all around him who declare how supremely magnificent he is in his fake clothes; he parades himself stark naked all around his realm in a humiliating farce of vanity and pride.
If the pro-life position is to be a seamless garment, then the very fabric from which the garment is made must be the defense of the innocent baby in the womb from abortion. With no fabric—there can be no garment at all, only a vain attempt at fitting in with everyone else and remaining silent about a truth that needs to be proclaimed, a truth that carries with it consequences that are eternal.
The tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is about intellectual pride and the power of a crowd mentality to cause a person to choose fitting in over standing for truth.
At the end of the story, as you might recall, it was a child who finally cried out, “He’s wearing no clothes!” I won’t be the least bit surprised if, at the end of all things, it will be the children who cry out the indictment against us for making their deaths equal to so many lesser things.
Mother Clare, CFR