On These Slippery Slopes

We seem to be teetering on the edge, and there is fear that a President Obama will push us over into the long descent into the night. Those of us who value life and cling (bitterly or not) to our religion are, if not terrified, at least horrified at what Obama intends to do in office. Pass the Freedom of Choice Act, an attempt to legitimize abortion across the board. Make a national health insurance fund that is more appropriately labeled as health care. Raise taxes on the rich and give tax credits and refunds to the poor (definitions of “rich” and “poor” still pending) in order to “spread the wealth around.” Focus on Afghanistan to the detriment of Iraq and, in general, the War on Terror.

Most of our energy has been spent on showing exactly how bad an Obama administration would be. In a week, we’ll know for certain whether we have cause to fear Obama in office, or if we have dodged a bullet for another four years.

At which point, we get to fight our way through this mess all over again. If it isn’t Obama this time, then we can be assured that it will be someone just as liberal, just as anti-life as Obama. It won’t stop.

This is because the problem isn’t Obama. It never has been. Obama is just a symptom of the widespread malaise infecting our nation. Obama’s promise to pass the FOCA isn’t the problem; the problem is that roughly half the nation seems to think that FOCA is a good idea. Obama’s strides towards universal health care and other welfare and socialist policies isn’t half as devastating as the number of people who want redistribution of wealth, who want to be taken care of from the cradle to the grave, who want assurances that there will always be a net to catch them when they fall.

Electing McCain instead of Obama will not fix this problem. Nor, arguably, will electing another Ronald Reagan, or some other miraculous conservative candidate. If that is what we’re hoping for, then we’re an entire generation sitting by a country road, waiting for Godot.

In that sense, we’re very much like the Jews when Jesus began preaching to them. We’re waiting for a savior to rescue us from the secular oppressors, someone who will put everything to rights. Someone who will cut taxes and rein in government spending; who will ban abortion and contraceptives; who will defend us from foreign attacks but do nothing questionable in warfare; who will restore us to a Christian nation. We’re waiting for some great conservative to come and throw off the yoke of liberal bonds and deliver back to us the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, we’ve had all the saviors we’re going to get, and He came 2000 years ago. He told us what we need to do, and we need to do it.

The concern, of course, is that a President Obama will legitimize all those social evils that we are fighting against. The fear of such a scandal is definitely warranted: the Jews persisted in allowing idolators and Baal-worshipers to exist in their lands, and the scandal provoked generation after generation to fall away from God. Reading through the Old Testament is like reading the same theme over and over again: “And then the people fell away from God again, and they suffered God’s wrath, and so they repented.” Only in our case, it seems like once scandal takes hold, it will never let go. The people will never repent.

Our task, then, is not to hope for a massive societal upheaval that will change everything at once. Instead, we must work to change hearts and minds little by little. At a personal level, we need to make sure we are striving our best to be holy and perfect. At a family level, we must try to be a strong Catholic influence for our relatives. At a community level, we must most of all be visible. It is a shame when you only know that a family is Catholic because you went to CCD with their kids. Once we are visible, we have to be active. We have to be serious about living our faith, and that no only includes works of social justice, but also evangelization and apologetics.

We need to make clear what we are as Catholics. Too many people see us as just another Christian denomination, interchangeable with the rest, except for the backwards tradition of following the Pope. I had a friend who once complained about the arrogance of Catholics, and when I explained to him that the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ, that has the fullness of revelation and the wholeness of truth, it opened his eyes. It was a simple statement, but one that had never been made clear.

Now, if I start suggesting that we should act defiantly in terms of civil disobedience against those laws we find unjust, this will start to sound quite familiar. Indeed, this is nothing more than a page from the civil rights movements. And this page tells us how we got where we are today.

It started small. Change a few minds about the use of contraceptives within marriage. It is a small step, but one in the right direction, and we know that if married couples can use contraceptives legitimately, others will start to think that it should be okay to use contraceptives elsewhere. Once enough people agree, then we can make public the use of contraceptives. It will cause scandal and outrage at first, but once it has been present for a while, the outrage will die down. The fervor against it will eventually fade to prudish disdain, and eventually that will fade, too. Contraceptives will be the norm.

In some cases, this methodology works towards the good. The movements for civil rights for minorities and women have worked wonders and have done a great deal of good. But then, the movements for sexual “rights” (I would even dare say “rites”) have worked hard to degrade us.

But then, how can the same methodology work in both directions? Shouldn’t people realize what is happening when the methodology is applied to our detriment? Well, to some extent we do realize that. We have the term “slippery slope” for a good reason. Why, then, do we find ourselves scrabbling frantically for purchase on the slippery slopes when we knew what would happen?

The abolition of truth is the only way we could have ended up on the slippery slopes. A person who knows the fullness of truth cannot be budged from it. But a person who holds a position, but doesn’t believe there’s any fundamental truth behind it—maybe he assumes a cultural relativism—can eventually be persuaded to compromise just a little bit. And once he has made that small compromise, he has opened himself to other compromises, and soon he has slid his way down the slope.

This is why we must not just be visible and do great works of social justice. We must also affirm the truth that is God, and we must not allow ourselves to be compromised from our positions. We must not concede to the demands of today, that it is somehow not courteous or even rude to say a person is wrong for believing the wrong thing. When that path leads to make-it-up-as-you-go deconstructive essays in English class and fuzzy mathematics, it is no wonder that religion finds little traction playing with the politically correct rules.

As a caution, though, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. We can declare the truth loudly and as persuasively as possible, and people will still not want to listen. It may be the case that the only thing we can accomplish, ultimately, is to ride out the storm when our nation reaps the terrible harvest it is now sowing.

And we must keep in mind that Obama is not a sower of destruction. Rather, at worst he is the first-fruits of what has been sown in the past, and what is now approaching harvest time.


9 Responses to On These Slippery Slopes

  1. crankycon says:

    Spot on. People forget that we live in a republican (turning more democratic) nation where the representatives are obsessed with catering to the popular will. Sure, our elected leaders have mucked things up, but they have been aided and abetted by the people who have put them into power. It’s not enough to elect the right people – that will happen, but we have to make sure the people voting understand why they are the right people.

    It’s a hard road, but especially for those of us who are Burkean in political bent, we have to appreciate that there’s a broader culture that has to be transformed, and we can’t expect certain ballot box results to make everything better.

  2. Steve says:

    I largely agree.

    Our cultural cesspool is a product of the people who have embraced abortion, the gay agenda, contraception, divorce, etc. However, a great deal of this has been imposed on the people by the judiciary. The culture of death has won most of its important victories through the courts, and public opinion changes to reflect the courts–which function as an oligarchy in this country.

    Personally, I doubt that 50% of the country would actually favor FOCA. For example, recent polls show 90+% of the population wanting some restriction on abortion. More than 80% wanted significant restrictions on abortion.

    A majority of Americans are conservative on social issues, but they’ve been tricked by sound bites (“Right to choose,” “Roe v. Wade”, Separation of Church and State”) that they are willing to accept things like FOCA even though they don’t agree.

  3. Subvet says:

    Very good. It’s been our own inaction, complacent attitudes and desire to “go along to get along” that have gotten us to where we’re at.

    I recently read a post that claimed Catholicism is always counter cultural. Kinda makes sense if it’s realized that the culture will be secular and oriented towards the material world. We can’t all be Mother Teresa but can strive to be more than we are.

  4. Tito Edwards says:

    Blaming ourselves and working on ourselves is part of the battle. We certainly need to practice our faith, pass it on to our children, and evangelize those around us through example and dialogue.

    The other part of it will be more difficult. The courts have played a significant role in changing attitudes in this great nation of ours. We are one or two more justices away from possibly turning over Roe v. Wade. With Obama as president we certainly will lose that opportunity.

    That is why we need to hit prayer really hard from here until November 4. Throw in some fasting to purify our souls and we may possibly change hearts and minds through the grace of God.

    We lose then this is what Ryan was saying about God chastizing us. We will reap what we have sown as a nation as a President Obama further embeds the culture of death upon American society.

    Ora pro nobis.

  5. Mark DeFrancisis says:

    “Make a national health insurance fund that is more appropriately labeled as health care. Raise taxes on the rich and give tax credits and refunds to the poor (definitions of “rich” and “poor” still pending) in order to “spread the wealth around.” Focus on Afghanistan to the detriment of Iraq and, in general, the War on Terror.”

    Sounds good and Catholic to me!

    BTW, Ryan, just what is Bush’s so-called “War on Terror” and how does it square with the Culture of Life?

  6. Steve says:

    I’m always confused when government social programs are cast as advancing Catholic social teachings. Jesus instructed us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. He didn’t instruct us to lay all responsibility at the feet of the government.

  7. Pandu says:

    With a population of 98% meat eaters and 10 billion slaughtered each year, it sure is a culture of death. Our vote choice is like arsenic or cyanide.

  8. Ryan Harkins says:


    1) The Devil is in the details. I don’t have a problem with the government providing health care for the needy, per se, but I do have a problem when the government wants to offer blanket protection to everyone. We can’t pay for this financially, so we’ll pay in other ways, such as time, as in long waiting lists for scarce resources. It isn’t the intent that I disagree with as far as health care goes; the implementation, however, is lacking. Same with the raising the taxes to give handouts to the poor. When historically, doing such a thing has only left more people poor and unemployed, is that really helping the poor? Again, it isn’t intent, but implementation.

    2) Bush’s so-called “War on Terror” is really a global police effort attempting to crack down on trans-national, violent radicals who set bombs and kill civilians in order to try to topple nations and governments. Whether his War on Terror squares with the Culture of Life depends on a number of issues. Does the US have the right to punish criminals that have committed crimes against the US when the criminals themselves are on foreign soil? If so, does the US have the right to send military units into foreign nations for the purpose of detaining these criminals? If so, does the US have the right to exercise lethal force against these criminals, which are wholly unrepentant and use lethal force themselves?

    The War on Terror squares with the culture of life, I believe, when falling within the Just War Doctrine. Do I think that it has remained within those constraints? We know that it was just to go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The threat posed by those groups is grave, severe, and lasting. The other conditions, though? We seem to have a reasonable chance for success, provided that we fight seriously, and not just in our spare time with our spare change. We know that no other means works–we’ve tried for years to negotiate with these people, and that has brought us nothing but grief. We can’t just ignore them because they won’t ignore us. So when the options essentially boil down to: be placid and allow them to continue to suicide bomb us, or take action and destroy these radical groups, the choice seems clear to me. A government has a duty to protect its citizens (when those citizens aren’t themselves violating law), and the intent to destroy Al Qaeda and end its radical terrorism is justified. Now, are we causing greater harm than if we had let the situation lie? From what I’ve read and seen in the news, the answer appears, to me at least, to be negative.

    What about the war in Iraq? After long consideration, I eventually concluded that we were not justified in going into Iraq. We had the option of letting Hussein rot, and from what I could tell, that would not have left us in a position of grave and lasting harm. But that point is moot. What we have to focus on now is what we do now that we’re in Iraq. We can’t go back in time and unmake the decision to go into Iraq, so need to figure out how to leave without making matters worse. We seem to have weathered the storm fairly well, and Iraq seems to be headed towards stability. Not perfect peace by any means, but stability. But here I would use the Just War Doctrine again: the damage of us leaving before Iraq has reached a stable point far outweighs the damage of staying. It is a certainty that an unstable Iraq will send the whole area up in flames. A region-wide conflict would inflict severe and lasting damage, perhaps even embroil us in a much greater war.

    So, a long answer to a short question, I know. But let me sum up my thoughts: Bush’s War on Terror sometimes squares with the culture of life, sometimes doesn’t. We know that his implementation of this global effort is far, far, far from perfect. Catholic voices definitely need to speak out against those parts–unnecessary warfare, torture, etc–that are squarely contrary to the culture of life. But because the whole plan has flaws doesn’t mean we toss it for a worse one. And I personally believe that Obama’s plan is a worse one.

    That doesn’t mean that I agree with what McCain will do, but as I should have mentioned in my post, McCain himself is a compromise. The choice is between voting for someone who is 0% pro-life, and 55% pro-life (numbers made up, so don’t fact check me on them). We want a 100% pro-life candidate, but we find ourselves forced to compromise to the 55% (assuming we wish to vote for one of the two main candidates). So even with McCain, we will reap what we sow.

  9. […] The Case For Not Voting? Peter Suderman has another provocative essay at Culture 11 bearing the above title, with the more interesting (and in the case of his actual essay, accurate) subtitle, “Why we care too much about politics”, in which he echoes some themes found in Ryan’s previous post on slippery slopes. […]

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