Monday, October 31, 2011

The Moderate And The Radical

I went to a pro-life conference this weekend. There were some interesting speakers there. Two in particular made me think. One was a full time pro-life activist from CCBR. The other was a former publisher of Calgary's major daily newspaper. A guy named Peter Menzies. Menzies traced back the way the pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage won the media and eventually the public to their side. His point was they did it a little at a time. The changes they asked for were always incremental. He said the media love moderates. They don't like radicals. That is even more true in Canada than the US. Canadians are much more polite and not wanting to offend or even listen to someone who might be offensive to someone else.

His point was the social liberals have done a much better job of making their position seems moderate every step of the way even while the sum total of the change they have effected is quite radical. One example of how radical the change has been was the firing of Damian Goddard for tweeting that he supported traditional marriage. So his point was this step by step ever moderate approach has been working for the other side in this fight. We have not used it very well and have lost in large measure because we have been seen as the radicals.

His suggestion was to aim at some moderate gains. Gendercide is one battle we can win. Most people oppose aborting a child because it is a boy or because it is a girl. So we can sound moderate there. Making it a crime to coerce a woman into an abortion is another moderate gain we could aim for. How can a feminist oppose that? It is just protecting a woman's right to choose. These are battles we can win and we can move the ball forward. If we keep doing that and keep winning we can eventually move society a long way.

The other speaker, the pro-life activist, he does not care at all who thinks of him as a radical. He loves to show gory pictures of abortion fetuses. He wants to make people uncomfortable. He want to hit them over the head with the truth. He uses strong words like genocide and holocaust. His point is that it is not him who has taken the radical position. It is our culture that is radical.

So I ended up thinking these two guys should have had a debate. What one sees as counterproductive the other sees as the only way to make real progress. Both characterize the pro-life strategy to date as the opposite of what they are suggesting. The radical would say we have been too polite. The moderate would say we have been too offensive. The pro-life movement is large and diverse so examples can be found of each. But where should our efforts be concentrated?

One thought I had was that the pro-abortion and more recently the pro-gay movement did lie about their ultimate goals. OK, they may have been ignorant of where their own movement was going. I am a bit skeptical of that. Nevertheless, for pro-life people, they would definitely need to deal with pro-aborts saying this is a ploy to try and eventually make all abortion illegal. How would we respond? Would we lie? I have trouble seeing how you get around that. Satan can use deceit as a tactic. We can't. Even when we see deceit has worked well for him.

Thinking about the saints. How many saints were considered radicals and how many were considered moderate? I can't think of many moderate ones. Some were moderate on many issues and picked their spots about what position to take. But I can't think of any that consistently avoided taking radical positions.

For myself, I value logical consistency. Taking a moderate position on abortion might be an easier sell but it is fundamentally an incoherent position. Saying abortions based on gender should be illegal and not saying all abortions should be illegal is really ducking the central question. That is the question of whether the unborn child is a human person or not. The pro-life position appeals to me because it deals with the question and is not afraid of the logical implications of the answer. These more moderate ideas jsut don't have that property at all.

I wonder of God intentionally gives us radical truths that are hard to moderate without creating an incoherent position. The divinity of Jesus is one example. How do you construct a moderate version of that? I have thought that maybe if I encourage a person to go to mass more often then maybe they will drift into stronger Catholicism. But eventually a more radical choice will need to be faced. There is just no way around it.

The same is true of the church. How can you create intermediate steps between protestantism and Catholicism? It does not really work. Liturgically you can find a middle ground but in terms of doctrine and authority there really is no middle ground. Either you are your own pope or you let someone else do the job.


  1. I don't think the 'moderate' position really exists. The truth is, even when things come in increments, it's also done pretty forcefully. When the media wants to push an agenda, they naturally can publish whatever they want unopposed.

    What the 'moderate' position really is is more along the lines of Christ's teaching "be wise as serpents and gentle as doves," because some people (especially if they have had an abortion) will get burned by hearing 'the naked truth'. That said, there are also situations and times when telling it like it is is the best and proper way, so as not to sweep things under the rug or water down.

  2. The term "moderate" is just relative. Relative to other positions and relative to the culture. Even without changing your position you could change your communication strategy and become more moderate or more radical.

    Still you are right that there is something immoderate about any serious pro-life person in this culture. So there is something to be said for simply not worrying about how you will be perceived. Still pro-lifers complain that the media treat them badly. This guy was asked as a pro-life member of the media to explain why. It does not hurt to understand why and address as much of it as we can without watering down the truth.