Friday, June 10, 2011

Telling the truth is offensive


There was a story I once admired about a German diplomat who walked into Thomas Jefferson’s White House office and found a Whig newspaper, filled with scurrilous libels about the “Sage of Monticello”, sitting on the President’s desk. When the diplomat wondered that the editor of the paper had not been clapped in prison for his seditious nonsense, Jefferson handed him the paper with a smile, saying, “Take this back home with you; and when you hear your countrymen express doubts about the liberties we have, show them this, and tell them where you found it.”

Now that I’m older, the story disturbs me.

I’m all for honest disagreements in the public square, and I can understand it when people get their facts wrong — or right in the wrong way, as happened with Sarah Palin a few days ago. But the story now strikes me as though Jefferson considered the First Amendment a license to lie. And since SCOTUS’ unanimous decision in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which practically disemboweled libel laws, it’s a license with very few limits.

If freedom, as Bl. John Paul II said, is having the right to do what we ought, then the freedoms of speech and the press ought to be the right to tell the truth. Why? Because, even respecting the bounds of charity, prudential discretion and national security, we owe each other truth as a matter of justice.


I consider this after reading Jill Stanek’s post about the Latino abortion genocide billboard in the Los Angeles. Much like the billboard in SoHo this last February, it reads, “El lugar más peligroso para un Latino es el vientre de su madre” (“The most dangerous place for a Latino is in the womb”). Also like the SoHo billboard, it’s already provoking howls of outrage and disgust from the people most committed to perpetuating the Great Western Atrocity.

Keep in mind that pointing out disparities of effect and focus by race was an especially effective tactic for the civil rights lobby for many years, especially since it was the key to the Brown v. Board of Education (1953) victory. It’s only now, when the institution under the microscope is abortion, that the tactic becomes outrageous and disgusting.

It’s outrageous and disgusting because, as Col. Nathan R. Jessup would say, they can’t handle the truth. During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is worse than revolutionary; it’s uncivilized. Nekulturny, as the Russians would say.

Moreover, as Pope Benedict said so well in Caritas in Veritate, “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are … exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” It’s a form of charity that heaps coals of fire upon their heads (Prv 25:21-22; cf. Rom 12:19-21).

This gives us a key to a useful strategy. It’s taken for granted that the “culture of death” won key SCOTUS battles over flag-burning, obscenity and pornography laws by contending that illegalizing these practices violated their free-speech rights. In winning these battles, however, the “culture of death” has beaten down a path for us to follow.

In “Exposing Euthanasia through the Arts”, Barbara Nicolosi has laid down some general principles for winning the propaganda battle over euthanasia: 1) Using the media (so far as Hollywood’s liberal bias currently allows) to slip “culture of life” messages into the public consciousness; 2) Using the language on our own terms, with our own terms; and 3) Aggressively exposing the deceptions and lies of the culture of death relentlessly.

Furthermore, though, in the court battles that will eventually come, we need to re-forge the connection between freedom of religion and freedom of speech inherent in the First Amendment. Without freedom of speech there is no true freedom of religion; without freedom of speech, people of religion are locked out of the public square, unable to participate in the democratic process. In other words, we use the considerable body of case law built up to defend offensive speech and put it to work in defense of the truth.

Does all this look familiar? It should.

While you can find Herb Brooks’ pre-game inspirational speech from the movie Miracle in several places on YouTube, what you won’t find is another speech Kurt Russell made halfway through the picture, in the team film room. In that scene, Brooks tells the team that they can beat the Russians using their own style of hockey: “We take their game, and we shove it back in their faces.”

And that’s what we need to do. We take their game, combine it with charity in truth, and we beat them with it.

In the last essay of his series on God and human dignity, Jeffrey Mirus writes:

I began … by asking why anyone would want to keep God out of his account of reality, his account of his own nature, destiny and innate dignity. The answer, of course, is one with which we are all familiar. Each of us has, at one time or another, wasted a great deal of time and energy in obscuring, denying or altering what we know deep down to be true. Every time we rationalize away a personal shortcoming or a guilty desire, we engage in the same pattern of behavior that is systematically illustrated by atheists and Modernists.

We have to realize that whatever we say, the progressives will be outraged not because it’s based on hate but because it’s the truth. They will dislike it because it’ll expose the evil for what it is; they’ll dislike it because exposing the evil will cast an implicit judgment on their souls, as they rediscover the reality of sin.

We don’t have to lie paralyzed as the culture of death seeps in through osmosis. We need to take the offensive, and accept that it will be offensive. We should just tell them what they told us:

“Get used to it.”

Truth does occasionally hurt.