Saturday, May 17, 2014

something you might not have known about Margaret Sanger

from the freely-available biography Killer Angel: A Biography of Planned Parenthood's Patron Saint (pp. 11-14):
Her father, Michael Higgins, was an Irish Catholic immigrant who fancied himself a radical freethinker and a free-wheeling skeptic.

He worked sporadically as a stone mason and a tombstone carver but was either unwilling or unable to provide adequately for his large family. Margaret’s mother, Anne Purcell, was a second generation American from a strict Irish Catholic family. She was frail with tuberculous but utterly devoted to her unstable and unpredictable husband—as well as to their ever-growing brood of children.

The family suffered bitterly from cold, privation, and hunger. … [Her father Michael] regularly thrashed his sons “to make men of them.” And he treated his wife and daughters as “virtual slaves.” And when he drank—which was whenever he could afford it—his volatile presence was even more oppressive than normal.

Sanger later described her family’s existence under the unenlightened and inhuman hand of Michael’s enlightened humanism as “joyless and filled with drudgery and fear.”

…As a confirmed skeptic, Michael mocked the sincere religious devotion of most of his neighbors. He openly embraced radicalism, socialism, and atheism. And he had little toleration for the modicum of morality that his poor wife tried to instill in the lives of their hapless children.

One day, for example, when Margaret was on her knees saying the Lord’s Prayer, she came to the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread,” and her father snidely cut her off.
     “Who were you talking to?” he demanded.
     “To God,” she replied innocently.
     “Well, tell me, is God a baker?”
     With no little consternation, she said, “No, of course not. But He makes the rain, the sunshine, and all the things that make the wheat, which makes the bread.”
     After a thoughtful pause her father rejoined, “Well, well, so that’s the idea. Then why didn’t you just say so? Always say what you mean, my daughter, it is much better.”

In spite of Michael’s concerted efforts to undermine Margaret’s young and fragile faith, her mother had her baptized in St. Mary’s Catholic Church on March 23, 1893. The following year, on July 8, 1894, she was confirmed. Both ceremonies were held in secret—her father would have been furious had he known. For some time afierward she displayed a zealous devotion to spiritual things. She regularly attended services and observed the disciplines of the liturgical year. She demonstrated a budding and apparently authentic hunger for truth.

But gradually the smothering effects of Michael’s cynicism took their toll. When her mother died under the strain of her unhappy privation, Margaret was more vulnerable than ever before to his fierce undermining. Bitter, lonely, and grief-stricken, by the time she was seventeen her passion for Christ had collapsed into a bitter hatred of the church. This malignant malevolence would forever after be her spiritual hallmark.

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