Caught in the Middle: On Abortion and Homosexuality

By Berry, Wendell | The Christian Century, April 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Caught in the Middle: On Abortion and Homosexuality


Berry, Wendell, The Christian Century


IN THE PRESENT political atmosphere it is assumed that everybody must be on one of only two sides, liberal or conservative. It doesn't matter that neither of these labels signifies much in the way of intellectual responsibility or that both are paralyzed in the face of the overpowering issue of our time: the destruction of land and people, of life itself, by means either economic or military. What does matter is that a person should choose one side or the other, accept the "thinking" and the "positions" of that side and its institutions and be so identified forevermore. How you vote is who you are.

We appear thus to have evolved into a sort of teenage culture of wishful thinking, of contending "positions," oversimplified and absolute, requiring no knowledge and no thought, no loss, no tragedy, no strenuous effort, no bewilderment, no hard choices.

Depending on the issues, I am often in disagreement with both of the current political sides. I am especially in disagreement with them when they invoke the power and authority of government to enforce the moral responsibilities of persons. The appeal to government is made, whether or not it is defensible, when families and communities fail to meet their moral responsibilities. Between the two moralities now contending for political dominance, the middle ground is so shaken as to be almost no ground at all. The middle ground is the ground once occupied by communities and families whose coherence and authority have now been destroyed, with the connivance of both sides, by the economic determinism of the corporate industrialists. The fault of both sides is that, after accepting and abetting the dissolution of the necessary structures of family and community as an acceptable "price of progress," they turn to government to fill the vacancy, or they allow government to be sucked into the vacuum. This, I think, explains both Prohibition and the war on drugs, to name two failed government remedies.

To believe, as I do, that families and communities are necessary despite their present decrepitude is to be in the middle and to be most uncomfortable there. My stand nevertheless is practical. I do not think a government should be asked or expected to do what a government cannot do. Y government cannot effectively exercise familial authority, nor can it effectively enforce communal or personal standards of moral conduct.

The collapse of families and communities--so far, more or less disguisable as "mobility" or "growth" or "progress" or "liberation"--is in fact a social catastrophe. It leaves individuals subject to no requirements or restraints except those imposed by government. The liberal individual desires freedom from restraints upon personal choices and acts, which often has extended to freedom from familial and communal responsibilities. The conservative individual desires freedom from restraints upon economic choices and acts, which often extends to freedom from social, ecological and even economic responsibilities. Preoccupied with these degraded freedoms, both sides have refused to look straight at the dangers and the failures of government-by-corporations.

The Christian or social conservatives who wish for government protection of their version of family values have been seduced by the conservatives of corporate finance who wish for government protection of their religion of personal wealth earned in contempt for families. The liberals, calling for some restraints upon incorporated wealth, wish for government enlargement of their semireligion of personal rights and liberties. One side espouses family values pertaining to homes that are empty all day every day. The other promotes liberation that vouchsafes little actual freedom and no particular responsibility. And so we are talking about a populace in which nearly everybody is needy, greedy, envious, angry and alone. We are talking therefore about a politics of mutual estrangement, in which the two sides go at each other with the fervor of extreme righteousness in defense of rickety absolutes that cannot be compromised. …

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