Thursday, April 12, 2012

In praise of extremism

After a six-month (unplanned) hiatus, I am back in the pages of Catholic Insight. Many folk have asked why I was absent from so many issues, and the answer is: because. Sometimes when there is a pressing last-minute news story, the lightweight op-ed stuff (such as mine) gets bumped to the next issue, or the next after that. At other times authors (such as I) are invited to write for a particular issue, but due to pressing family circumstances surrounding that particular deadline, they must regretfully decline. And before you realize it, half a year has gone by. The important thing is (for the half-dozen of you devoted readers out there) I am still officially listed as a contributor and will, for the time being, continue writing for the magazine. No telling what the new editor will decide, but that is in God's hands, and I am happy to leave it there.

Since the April issue has been out for nearly two weeks, I feel justified in posting my April column (it's not available on the CI website). If you do not subscribe to the magazine, I think you should at least go out and buy this issue, if only for the smashing guest editorial by one Ryan Topping who is as articulate as he is brilliant. (I wonder if he's short-listed for the upcoming job of CI editor. I hope so.)

Anway, here is the text version of my April, 2012, column:

In praise of extremism

Did you cringe when you saw my title? Shame on you. It’s proof that the other side is winning the language war. The Church has many missions, one of which is to take back the culture and this includes language. Pro-aborts, the ‘mainstream’ media (MSM), the LGBT agenda, left-wing academe et al. frequently brand anyone who opposes them (or even ventures a timid opinion) as “extremist.”  Could anything sound more terrifying? As if our words, actions, or even our thoughts are simply beyond the pale.

Funny thing is, some forms of “extreme” are politically correct and/or socially acceptable, while others are not, so evidently the word “extreme” itself is not derogatory. To wit: some of us admire or even envy people who practice ‘extreme,’ high-risk sports: what guts! What moxie! (I tend to think: what a lack of common sense if not cognitive function! But that is neither here nor there). Popular culture venerates extreme celebrity; we swoon over singers, actors, and superstar athletes, obsessing over every mundane detail of their lives. We are fans of extreme weight loss reality TV shows; we love any “extreme makeover”, whether it’s faces, bodies, or people’s homes.

But if someone is extremely dedicated to Christianity (and by extension traditional marriage, family, parenthood, pro-life), then that is somehow monstrous and frightening. We live in a culture where dressing (and thinking) like Lady Gaga makes you normal, but believing an unborn child has human rights makes you part of the lunatic fringe.

Extremists are dedicated, enthusiastic, committed, zealous (another dirty word these days). What is the opposite of extreme? Lukewarm, moderate, mediocre, apathetic—since when did those attitudes ever win any culture wars? Christ in his Passion, Resurrection, and Sacraments gives of himself to the extreme: body, blood, soul and divinity. In turn, he asks us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Luke 10:27) 

Then there’s that other Bible verse: “I have come to inspire a feeling of warm fuzziness on the earth; how I wish that it were already moderately glowing!” Don’t recall that one? Funny, neither do I. How about this one: “Indifference for my Father’s house consumes me.” Oops, “consumes” sounds too radical. How about:  “Indifference for my Father’s house makes me want to enter into dialogue and find common ground with The Other.”

What in fact Jesus says over and over in Scripture is this (I paraphrase): “How I wish that you were either extreme or extreme! But because you are moderate, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Come now, do we really want to end up as metaphorical vomit on the floorboards of eternity?

The problem of course, is not with extremity per se (see popular culture, above) it is the type of extremity. Reality is a continuum with polar opposites (Christians know them as “good and evil”) and we must know where we stand. Left-leaning politicians, radical feminism, the MSM (really the left-stream media) imagine that they are in the middle: the centrists, the moderates. To their tiny and narrow view, the only “extreme” is the path leading to conservatism and tradition.

Their extremism masquerades as something else, such as “tolerance” or even “healthcare”. Consider the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, which attacks not only Americans’ First Amendment rights, but the entire Catholic Church.  In our country, consider various (provincial governments, ‘human rights’ tribunals) attacks on free speech, religious rights, and Catholic institutions. Are these not radical, extreme?

These people pretend there is only the center (where they reside), and the “far-right”, but as any competent fourth grade math student can tell you, a number line travels in both directions—positive and negative, up and down: life and death, the blessing and the curse. The center point is a big fat zero. Anti-life, anti-freedom, anti-God forces will not see themselves as extremists until we stop allowing the discussion to be held entirely on their terms and within their befuddled frame of reference.

There is nothing wrong with extremism—it is how Christ calls us to be: all-in, full-bore, heart, soul, mind and strength. Anything less makes him ill. Forget the mushy, moderate middle: stand up proudly for your extremism—make the enemy own up to theirs—and let’s do battle to take back the culture.

Copyright 2012, Catholic Insight and Mariette Ulrich


  1. Love it. Especially the part about vomit on the floorboards of eternity.

  2. That lady from the Opera in OttawaApril 13, 2012 at 3:25 AM

    I agree, this article is very excellent.