There are people in this country who believe there is a constitutional right to kill an infant in the womb. One of them is our commander in chief, who, aided and abetted by Catholics, abused the occasion of a commencement address at a Catholic university to further this heinous position. Many interpreted his speech as conciliatory, for his words were soothing and smoothly delivered. (And Brutus is an honorable man.)
George Weigel already has pointed out that the president used the speech to define for Catholics what it means to be a good Catholic. That is outrageous enough, but he also told us how we are to talk about our beliefs. He told the story of a pro-life Christian doctor who wrote to him because he was offended that Mr. Obama’s campaign Web site described pro-lifers as “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion,” the doctor wrote, “only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.” So Mr. Obama removed the offensive language. In return he expects us also to “speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”
There are a couple of problems with this tidy little story. The first is, WHY NOT? Why didn’t the doctor ask him to oppose abortion? What he said amounted to: “I’ll vote for you even though you support the murder of innocent children as long as you don’t say mean things about me.”
The second problem is in finding “fair-minded” words for this unspeakable act. What are the right, the fair, the just, the charitable words? The truthful words include “murder,” “baby,” “crushed skull,” and “dismemberment.” In this situation, “fair-minded” means “euphemistic.” Don’t say anything that will make me feel uncomfortable about supporting murder of the innocent. It’s mandatory participation in sophistry.
In Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Josef Pieper asks why Socrates hated the Sophists, those purveyors of soothing and smoothly delivered words. The reason, he argues, is that they are not interested in reality:
You can give fine speeches, but you simply cannot join in a conversation; you are incapable of dialogue . . . [because any] discourse detached from the norms of reality is . . . mere monologue. What does it mean, after all, to be detached from the norms of reality? It means indifference regarding the truth.
“Indifference regarding the truth” is what is being demanded of us behind the facade of tolerance and fair-minded words. On page 18, Alice von Hildebrand writes about the increasingly loud clamor for tolerance of different ideas. But the loudest voices for tolerance are more and more often telling those of us who disagree to shut up.