My fellow-thinkers, it is time to grow up. Dorothy Sayers, friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, said that Christianity is a “religion for adult minds.” As we confront unprecedented economic and social issues, we must not be captivated by the bumper stickers and sound bites of either the extreme communitarian Left or the individualism that can ensnare the libertarian Right. It is possible to promote free markets and show compassion to the poor. It is possible to defend civil liberties and uphold traditional marriage. We can agitate with civility, debate with a view to concrete answers and forge coalitions to improve our world.
One of the tactics of my opponents – whether political or theological – is deflection. Instead of addressing an assertion directly, they deflect the conversation. For example, when I say, “Obama has failed to confront the deficit in a meaningful manner” my adversaries reply, “Well the problems come from the Bush administration.” At first this sounds plausible because our current crises are not all Obama’s making. We have tried to be a warfare and welfare statue for over 50 years and our trajectory is unsustainable. But notice the subversive point here: my counterpart refused to face Obama’s failures or even debate solutions, preferring the refuge of blame. Deflection is the tactic of the “pro-choice” radicals as well. Instead of squarely saying that abortions kill a pre-born human being, we are assailed by “right to choose” language that never confronts the most fundamental issue. There are a few honest radicals like Peter Singer that want to redefine human identity and restrict procreation to the intelligensia, but these darker thoughts do not play well on the news. When I debate the existence of God and/or moral absolutes, my sparring partners often counter with, “Look at all the evils of religion…” or, “I can be good without God.” Both of these assertions have some merit, but they miss the point. By never debating the issue at hand, we fail to refine our thinking or forge creative ways forward on any issues.
Minority activists reflexively reject peers that are conservative or voices calling for more personal initiative and responsibility because they are concerned that these are codes for racism and the refusal to deal with “structural” issues. Again, there is some truth in these fears – we are less than a lifetime removed from an era when millions could not vote or have access to education and work opportunities. We still have a long way to go. Too many corporations redline entire neighborhoods. At the same time, community activists find it hard to inflame angry mobs with chants of self-determination, marital fidelity and deeper values. The way forward is not ignoring our ignominious history or the current systemic issues. These must be addressed. But the future also rests on moral responsibility, spiritual renewal and racial reconciliation – all values affirmed by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
American and British leftists have characterized cvonservativism as the “refuge of the dim.” Some conservatives call liberalism a “mental disorder.” In both cases deflection rules as the actual ideas and policies are lost in the polemics. Leaving aside the extremes of Hitler and Stalin, there is room for real debate that includes historical evidence, economic observations and political theory. I strenuously diverge from Thomas Friedman on almost every issue, but his ideas deserve debate, not just castigation. I admire the late Willian Buckley; however, his eloquent thoughts are open to fresh evaluation. I love our Founder’s vision and values – and we have amended the Constitution to affirm its ideals more inclusively.
The Obama administration needs to stop lying about our real economic condition, as they doctor statistics in an election year. The Republicans need to qualify their paeans to Ronald Reagan, roll up their sleeves and partner with moderate Democrats to get things done. We are in crisis. We need to stand with Israel against Iran and others dedicated to her destruction – no more deflection from those who deny Israel’s legitimacy. We need to reduce the deficit and balance a budget – and everyone will feel some pain. No more “starving the children” deflections from the Left and “weakening our defense” deflections from the Right. Hard, principled and prudential decisions are necessary.
Unborn children deserve to live and be welcomed into the arms of loving people. The elderly deserve respect, not warehousing. Marriage is one man and one woman. Other adult arrangements may be made, but they are not marriage. Catholic health care providers must not be forced to dispense contraceptives, abortificents or perform abortions. Some San Francisco leaders saw the light and pulled back from their ban on male circumcision, realizing that multiple religious communities cherish this sign of God’s covenant. What is frightening is that they contemplated any ban at all. Private enterprise needs encouragement and all businesses need to play by the same ethical standards. We can create wealth and care for the world. Muslims are welcome in the USA, but parallel legal systems are not. Government is present to protect the natural liberties and rights of humankind, not bestow them. We must affirm for all others the rights we desire for ourselves.
The final form of deflection from real issues is the ad hominem attack. It is easier to caricature and stereotype opponents instead of applying critical thinking standards to important policies. Labeling Israel as an “apartheid” nation is the refuge of racist, small-minded folks unwilling to face the failure of the two generations of Palestinian leadership. A new Palestinian state as a good neighbor to Israel is welcome as long as Israel’s existence is not in doubt. Castigating climate change skeptics as extremists and fools and refusing to debate the issuers is easier than confronting scientific evidence that is complex. Conversely, calling all global warming adherents communists keeps the other side from objective evaluation of human impact on the environment. Questioning the sanity of religious adherents (Richard Dawkins) avoids confronting the paucity of most arguments against the possibility of a Creator. Maybe we should use the word “demonize” instead of deflection to describe this process. Villification spares the accuser the pain of correcting assertions and refining arguments.
Let’s argue the issues and create pathways that are as inclusive as possible. Let’s stop deflecting and choose to think deeply and act decisively.