For the ancient Romans, infanticide was seen as completely normal. In fact, citizens were obligated to kill deformed infants. The ancient Greeks, too, practiced infanticide, but only through exposure, claiming that the act of abandoning a child in the wilderness itself did not constitute murder.
But what can we, living in the 21st century, learn from the ancient Romans?
We are quick to judge other cultures’ practices as barbaric and cruel—and rightly so. Killing children is something that no society should tolerate. But when we look back in time, we see that many societies tolerated it and in fact encouraged it! What is going on here? The truth of the matter is, just because something is wrong doesn’t mean that the majority of people will accept it as being wrong.
To the ancients, the humanity of the newborn wasn’t something that was entirely obvious, or if it was, they hid it behind euphemisms and technicalities. Taking a step back and looking at the situation objectively, we see that there is no difference between exposing an infant and killing an infant—the distinction was made only to appease people’s consciences.
We as a society should also take a step back and look at what we are doing. We are repeating the same mistakes that the ancient cultures before us committed. Just as the humanity of the newborn was hidden behind euphemism and its killing rationalized, the humanity of the unborn is also hidden by euphemism (the first step: referring to the unborn as “just tissue” and “clumps of cells”) and its killing rationalized (how many times have people argued that the unborn cannot use its mother’s body or that abortion does not kill the unborn, but simply removes it from an environment it can survive in to an environment it cannot survive in?).
Just as we now look back and see infanticide as one of the atrocities of the past, I’m convinced that hundreds of years from now, our descendants will look back and say the same of us.
So don’t follow an idea or practice just because your society tells you to—society isn’t always right.