In the Name of Progress...

It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.

French poet and polemicist Charles Peguy penned that thought almost a hundred years ago, but they’re words that could have been written yesterday, aren’t they?

Chew on them for a while, and consider how accurately Peguy has you pegged as you were once or even as you are now. Consider how accurately he’s describing countless interest groups, and even, just for a minute, wave the fog from your eyes and admit how often our Church falls into that cunning trap.

Catholic schools do it – much more than we’d like to admit. Certainly, Catholic schools, as a whole, are far superior to government schools, but don’t let yourself think for a minute that they’re immune from the latest educational fads. They’re not – from fake multiculturalism to the very expensive and largely pointless rush to computerize classrooms, Catholic schools have turned from the embarrassing scandals of “old-fashioned” rote learning, classical, proven texts and core subject material just a few steps behind their government school colleagues. I’ve been to the in-services. I know.

I also know that this fear of being perceived as reactionary grips individuals as tightly as it does institutions, and I know it because I’ve been tempted by the fear myself.

It struck me most acutely when I was in my early twenties, and, after my own first experience of pregnancy and childbirth, in the midst of developing my own pro-life views.

Struck by the wonder of the baby in my arms and horrified by the reality of what abortion would have done to him – a real little person, no anonymous blob of stuff – and what it was doing to other, real infants, I determined I must do something.

But then I paused.

What would that mean? Might “getting involved” entail actually coming into contact with (gulp) pro-lifers?

Well, I knew what that meant. It meant people with big hair – men and women both (this was the South), who were certainly well-intentioned on this issue but didn’t care about the poor, didn’t care about women and were undoubtedly either Protestant fundamentalists or Catholic ultramontanist monarchists.

But you know, this issue was pretty vital, so I found a meeting and went. I can’t say that I swallowed my pride, because it was still there, right on the tip of my tongue. My righteous self was ready, not only with a willing set of hands and brain, but with whatever mind-broadening enlightenment about things like seamless garments and root causes I could share.


I’m sure you know how this story turns now. The people at the meeting weren’t anything like my stereotypes. Why? Because they weren’t stereotypes. They were people.

They were very smart, passionate people. They were professionals with graduate degrees. They were keen on Chesterton and the Pope. One was an engineer. One was in marketing, and married to a laicized Catholic priest. Only one was a fundamentalist Protestant. And do you know what? The big lesson of the day was that it wouldn’t have mattered if they all were, either. What was important was not what cultural, social or intellectual cohort anyone thought they belonged to.

What mattered was they were all, to a person, determined to save babies and rescue women from terrible choices.

My arrogance, you’ll be glad to hear, had no choice but to melt away and reveal its cowardly core in the face of these brave, hardworking souls who had the courage of their convictions.

As we face yet one more tragic anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22 week, it’s worth considering if we, as a church, are just a bit too fearful of not being seen progressive when faced with issues of life and death.

“Progressive” politicians with generous-sounding words about poverty, immigration and health care don't hesitate to consistently smile at us on those issues, and then turn and support abortion from conception to unnatural death.

Do we call them on it? Or are we too fearful of the scorn of the New York Times and the Boston Globe? Not to speak of the National Catholic Reporter.

Do we speak boldly of what abortion is and why it is wrong, or do we hedge our arguments all around, using the opposition’s language and sharing their tut-tutting over graphic photographs of aborted children? Are we actually more frightened of being defined as “fanatics” than we are of having the blood of children on our hands?

And what does that make us? Does it make us what we hope and dream for – “progressive,” not to speak of “compassionate” and “sensitive?”

Or does it just make us cowards?

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