Saturday, January 3, 2009

Night gives way to day.

Beloved Richard John Neuhaus gave us a wonderful article this month: "The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960's."

It's a good, level-headed reflection on the irony that it is now the pro-choice contingent that enjoys the status of status quo and its attendant intellectual atrophy and refusal to engage in "meaningful dialogue." Neuhaus knows what he's talking about: he himself was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960's; he can recognize the striking similarities (and some differences) between the struggle for racial equality and for the rights of the unborn.

I wonder especially about his analysis of the two cultures here at war:

"Well yes, the abortion battle is over abortion and whether the unborn child counts as a human person, but where one comes out on that question is, I believe, powerfully influenced by a host of other beliefs and attitudes aptly summarized in the pro-life language of a culture of death versus a culture of life. There are two cultures, one focused on rights and laws and the other on rights and wrongs; one focused on maximizing individual self-expression and the other on reinforcing community and responsibility."

When he puts it that way, I find myself re-calibrating just how we ought to be defending our own "rights"--the right to homeschool, cultivate our land, practice our faith, wear religious emblems, etc. Any battle against injustice cannot just be a matter of "get the government out of my business." That maxim is true ot a certain extent, but we need to cultivate a more nuanced understanding of "my" rights and "my" business; we can't fall on the side of the culture war that focuses on "rights and laws ... maximizing self-expression." The push in any fight, in other words, needs to be for an understanding that our freedom is for a certain purpose: the good of every human being with whom we live. Or else we end up on the wrong side of the culture war. We need a healthier libertarianism, or our light dims; just as so many proponents of civil rights--who fought for a great good--have fallen into an apathetic shrug over abortion rights. Day became night.

I love Neuhaus's final perspective: "[A]ll of us would do well to ponder the wisdom in the observation that there are no permanently lost causes because there are no permanently won causes." That is his conclusion, and what precedes it is worth a read.

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