Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's Not Really That Controversial


It is obvious that the concept of liberty on which [modern European] culture is based inevitably leads to contradictions, since it is either badly defined or not defined at all. And it is clear that the very fact of employing this concept entails limitations on freedom we could not even have imagined a generation ago. A confused ideology of liberty leads to a dogmatism that is providing ever more hostile to real liberty.”

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 35-6

Reflection – You know, I’ve been sitting on this quote for some weeks now, reluctant to blog about it. As I said recently, I am Canadian, and don’t especially seek out or enjoy controversy. And I know that this passage from Ratzinger is controversial…

But we need to speak out, whatever we think about this or that issue, if genuine liberty is to be preserved. It’s not really all that controversial.

For example, there has been a brouhaha in the States this past week where the owner of the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain, widely known to be a devout Christian (the restaurants, remarkably, are closed on Sunday), stated his personal support for the Biblical notion of marriage and family. This was in response to a question asked in an interview, not something he just said randomly.

Now, these restaurants do not discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring or in their service. The actual quoted statements by the man were very mild, non-derogatory. But not only were there threats of boycotts of the chain (which I have no problem with), but politicians in Chicago and Boston threatened to deny business licenses to it, in defiance of all and any constitutional principles. You know, free speech and all that…

All of this was for stating a view that is held by roughly half if not more of the American population. And this kind of thing is becoming more and more common. The mere expressing, even in the mildest and most conciliatory of terms,  of certain ‘unpopular’ views, views that a mere twenty years ago were commonplaces of conventional morality and a mere fifty years ago were universally held, is increasingly liable to bring the full authority of the state down upon you with fines, lawsuits, loss of business permits, petty harassment, etc.

Like I say, I have no problem with boycotts. I won’t go to Starbucks, due to their aggressive support of same-sex ‘marriage’. People are free to spend their money wherever they please for whatever reason they please. It’s the coercive power of the state, brought to bear not on offenses against the public order or human life, but on peacefully held and peacefully expressed opinions, that is truly shocking, and it really is happening now, today, in my country and in the great land that is our immediate neighbor.

We need to think about these things, you know. It’s easy to fulminate, rage, rant, or mock the politicians involved (and I actually heartily support that last option, as ridiculous behavior by powerful people deserves to be ridiculed). But we need to go deeper if we wish to actually turn back the rising tide of fascism in our lands.

Ratzinger here helps us immeasurably. It is a wrong or confused idea of liberty that actually drives this neo-fascism. Either liberty is understood in a sort of Hegelian-Marxist sense of the unfettered march of progress, in which case ‘Christians to the wall’ is a perfectly rational position, or liberty is vaguely held to be the suppression of any statement by anyone that would impede my doing just what I please. Although how the Mr. Chick-Fil-A’s statement is going to prevent anyone from doing anything they please is beyond me, frankly.

It is this confused vague sense of liberty, this ‘don’t be a hater, dude!’ that I suspect many people act out of. The idea that to tell anyone that something they want to do is wrong or may be wrong is hateful and intolerable and somehow ‘must be stopped!’—that’s what is operating in the general population.

But to be honest (and I hate to sound paranoid) I suspect the Hegelian-Marxist concept of liberty is what animates the powerful when they act to curtail the liberty of those of us who beg to differ with the current orthodoxy.

And this is where the real threats to liberty are in the present situation. Restrictions on speech, restrictions on any religious action outside of worship, restrictions on what have always been normal legal uses of one’s time, money, and activity—these are all coming from the ‘progressive’ side of society. And they must be firmly resisted if we are to remain in any manner a ‘free’ country.

This is not really controversial. We can and do all disagree about all sorts of issues and questions of public and private morality and policy. But when one side seizes the reins of power and uses the coercive force of the state to silence, intimidate, and browbeat the other side, this is unacceptable, and all people on all sides of all issues should be able to agree with that.
So… agreed???