I am old enough to remember Barry Goldwater saying, in the midst of the 1964 campaign for President of the US, that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Actually I was so moved by his campaign that I put some Goldwater bumper stickers on cars parked in front of my father's place of business -- something that I learned was a good intention gone awry. Strangely, we generally only remember the front half of that quote. The rest of it being "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
You have to remember that 1964 we lived in the after math of the Berlin blockade and with the Berlin Wall, still wounded by the assassination of President Kennedy, facing the uncertain future of communist aggression and the start up of the Viet Nam war, as well as racial tensions that threatened to divide our nation. It seemed to me that Goldwater was just the fellow we needed then. In any case, I was too young to vote and was barely even a foot soldier in the cause for which he stood.
The quote has stuck with me but in part because the landscape has changed so profoundly and with it the quote itself. Extremism in defense of liberty may be called a vice in our present age but extremism in the causes du jour of liberalism is, apparently, no vice at all. We have seen a Roman Catholic university dismiss a conservative tenured professor for violating a right guaranteed to us as citizens and to him within the definitions of academic freedom. We have also seen Kevin Williamson fired from the Atlantic ostensibly because his extremism was on the wrong side. He has identified this as symptomatic of progressivism’s intolerance and hypocrisy. According to Williamson, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, cheerfully published the pugilistic Christopher Hitchens, but could not tolerate Williamson. “Hitchens was in the family,” Goldberg says baldly. “You are not.” In other words, it is not the extremism that Atlantic objected to but the direction of that extremism. Williamson was fired from the Atlantic not because he was extreme, but because he was extreme in the wrong way [his was the defense of the pro-life position].
I am not at all suggesting that we should be as extreme, irritating, or as in your face as some authors have been (on either sidee) but I am pointing out to the hypocrisy that once presumed some objectivity on the part of the media and now shows that there is a real and not imagined bias against positions that violate the accepted liberal line of politics, religion, morality, and truth. It seems that we live at a time when not advocating the correct politics, religion, morality, or truth will get you fired. In other words, we live at a time when censorship in pursuit of the liberal line is alive and well. If and when the day comes when no other views but the accepted views of the majority (or at least the liberal elite) will be heard, we will have seen the fulfillment of Orwell's fear in Animal Farm and 1984. It may have taken longer that Orwell predicted for some to be more equal than others or some truth to be found intolerable, but that day has arrived in the public square. And, as I have written here before, one can only wonder how long it will be before the right of free speech and freedom of religion will find limits depending upon what is said and what is proclaimed. In the end, the powers that be will attempt to muzzle God the way out of season voices have been silenced in the public square. It is then we will see if the faithful and their leaders have the backbone to resist and choose faithfulness to the Lord over the acceptance of their peers.
All of this has not only great bearing upon the state of religion in America but the religious enterprise. Here I am thinking of the ability of churches to maintain colleges, universities, and even parochial schools in the face of a context that abhors what they stand for. It might be nice to go the way of a Hillsdale College and disassociate yourself from government funds and their strings but nearly every educational institution receives something from the government even if it passes through the hands of the student first (student loans and grants). Eventually there will be rules to define who can receive that money and who cannot -- rules that will effectively force the churches to decide if they can afford to do it without the government money or if they have to given in or close the doors. That day is coming.