HOW DO WE DEFEND FREEDOM AGAINST
THOSE WHO ARE FREE TO UNDERMINE IT?
It’s always painful when ideological principles collide.
Take, for instance, the recent announcement by Mount Holyoke College, a women’s liberal arts institution located in South Hadley, Massachusetts, that it was cancelling its annual production of “The Vagina Monologues.”
This work, by writer/performer Eve Ensler, is a collection of sketches interpreting womanly trials through gynecological imagery. It has become a staple of theater departments at all-female colleges, where the trials of women are routinely exalted.
Nowadays, however, we’re called to recognize a category of women — so-called “transgendered women” — who have no vaginas (at least none they were born with) and so are largely excluded from the shared understanding which Ensler’s work assumes.
Since exclusion ranks as the last unforgivable sin, “The Vagina Monologues” will never more be heard on the campus of Mount Holyoke.
Ah, well…that’s life in the world of cutting-edge academic thinking.
Meanwhile, in another world…
For two years in a row now, an organization with which I’ve had personal dealings has experienced collateral damage from shootouts over conflicting ideals. You may recall the hubbub surrounding comedian Bob Newhart who was to have performed at the 2013 annual summit of Legatus, the international fraternity of Catholic business leaders founded by my former boss, Tom Monaghan.
Newhart succumbed to heavy pressure and ditched the Legatus gig after complaints were heard about the group’s alleged homophobia. As I noted in my post of December 27, 2013…
“Legatus has never taken any kind of public stand on homosexuality or gay rights …. But it appears that, at some point, somebody noticed the organization’s advocacy of Catholic moral precepts. (What a scandal: a Catholic group adhering to the teachings of the Church!)”
This year’s summit was to feature Bret Baier of Fox News and actor/Catholic convert Gary Sinese. But both decided to follow Newhart’s path when their participation became known. As announced by Legatus…
“Gary Sinise and Bret Baier, our two headline speakers for the 2015 Summit, have cancelled their appearances. In concert with their respective advisors, both of their decisions were in reaction to the speaker presence of Paul Darrow, a gentleman who speaks about Same-Sex-Attraction and how the Catholic Church is addressing the needs of such individuals in a sensitive, compassionate manner through an organization called Courage.”
The Church addressing needs of gender-conflicted individuals with sensitivity and compassion?
Baier and Sinese’s quick exit occurred around the time when everybody else was declaring themselves imbued with the spirit of Charlie Hebdo, and it raised questions about the willingness of these two high-profile figures to stand in solidarity against the enemies of free expression. The moral terrorists who persuaded them to drop out were apparently worried that erstwhile fellow speaker, Darrow, was going to share his personal experiences in turning away from homosexuality.
Commenting on this matter in the National Catholic Register, pro-family activist Jennifer Roback Morse explained…
“The Gay Lobby needs for you to think that no change is possible for any person who experiences same-sex attraction. Under the Gay Lobby’s view of reality, no one has ever desired to change their behavior or their feelings or their patterns of attraction. No one has ever been harmed by participation in the same-sex lifestyle. No one has ever desired to just do something else, whether for religious reasons, health reasons, or any other reasons.”
One can appreciate that Baier and Sinese wouldn’t wish to be caught up in controversies that, I’m sure, had nothing to do with what they each had planned to lay before the good folks of Legatus. But they both came away with the proverbial egg on the proverbial face: Sinese, because he works on behalf of soldiers who have suffered for defending our freedoms, and Baier who represents “fair and balanced” Fox News, the major-media champion of free expression (“We report, you decide!”).
So much for ideals.
In the United Kingdom, Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, made a statement that crystallized the dilemma faced by societies committed to political openness. Speaking on the BBC, she insisted that while acts of violence “should be pursued to the full extent of the law,” people shouldn’t be prohibited from associating themselves with al-Qaeda or ISIS…
“…it should not be a crime simply to belong to an organisation or have sympathy with its aims, though it should be a crime to aid and abet criminal acts or deliberately fund such acts.”
How she would draw that sharp distinction is unclear, but as reported in The Independent…
“UK terrorism laws currently state that belonging to any of the identified terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda or Isis or the IRA, or appearing to support them, is illegal.
“Defending Green party policy, Ms Bennett said: ‘What we want to do is make sure we are not punishing people for what they think or what they believe.’”
Which, indeed, represents a certain kind of moral high ground — ironically so, in light of the fact that the Green Party (which in a more honest age would be called the “Red Party”) advocates a fair number of systemic changes in British society…
“Ms Bennett’s comments follow her strong stance on the abolition of the monarchy, and her views that the Queen should be evicted from Buckingham Palace and moved into a council house….”
But then, one shouldn’t be too picky.
Here is the essential problem we face in this age of high-stakes ideological conflict: There are a lot of people who proclaim the ideal of individual liberty but who actually exploit our freedom in order to subvert it.
Radical Islamists exploit it through both violence and what’s been called “stealth jihad,” attempting to inject Islamic principles such as Sharia Law into western institutions.
The Gay Left exploits it by attempting to silence the perceived opponents of its radical agenda — or even those who come into contact with the opposition, like poor Bret Baier and Gary Sinese — all in the name of sexual freedom (or as its put, “freedom to love”).
Feminist academics (like those at Mount Holyoke), ever seeking new genders to avoid offending, have turned freedom inside out and driven themselves into complete ideological lunacy.
One wonders how Eve Ensler feels about “The Vagina Monologues,” a true feminist manifesto, being suppressed by her sister feminists. By now she’s no doubt discovered that the most cutting-edge thinkers are often the greatest advocates of censorship (see my post of February 28, 2014).
As a nation, we have never resolved the question of how flexible our free society can be in tolerating ideologies hostile to our essential liberty.
This is a real conundrum for those who value individual autonomy.
And I have the feeling it’s becoming more urgent that we find a satisfactory answer.
(NOTE: With the revisions in my blog format, you can now link to articles by clicking on the media logos.)
Reason Magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown approaches the Mount Holyoke situation with a bit too much libertarian sexual nonchalance for my taste. But she puts her finger on the logical (and ideological) contradictions in suppressing “The Vagina Monologues”…
“Yet I am a woman with a vagina, and this becomes an area of my concern when people start saying that I shouldn’t reference or acknowledge that — that it’s in fact bad and intolerant, so 20th century, to even speak about it. The fact that some trans women don’t have vaginas doesn’t negate the fact that the vast majority of women do.”
Here’s a link to the National Catholic Register commentary on the Legatus abandonment from Jennifer Roback Morse, president and founder of the Ruth Institute, which focuses on helping those damaged by the false sexual ideologies of our day…
On a related note…
Interestingly, accolades for defending individual autonomy have lately gone to Michelle Obama for meeting the new Saudi king sans head covering. I don’t for a minute believe that this move was spontaneous. In the world of high diplomacy, gestures on the part of visiting dignitaries which have potential for cross-cultural offense are vetted in advance by the receiving country’s leaders.
I read Michelle’s bare head as a sign that the new Saudi king is very concerned about maintaining warm relations with the U.S. at a time when the Islamic State is beating on his northern border.
Here’s a report on Michelle’s sartorial statement from the Washington Post…