By Fr. Glenn Jones
Likely you’ve noticed that there sure is a lot of surrendering these days … and so unnecessarily (not to mention insincerely), too. Even the comics often ridicule the tendency. One makes an innocent comment on social media or in a speech or even simply in daily conversation, and can be immediately excoriated across the chasm of electronic insulation. Before you know it, the initial commentator is backpedaling as fast as their little fingers can type, almost to apologize for existing.
Our human social makeup tends to make most people want to “get along” for the good of the community; after all, such is no doubt a survival mechanism built within us from ancient times—being on good terms with the community for common defense and gathering sustenance. When we people are angry at us, I think our internal mechanism screams “Danger! You’re losing allies and thus mutual assistance and protection!”
And yet—especially in our day—criticism is free-flowing and often thoughtless, some critics shame commentators for perfectly reasonable comments or for positions simply because those positions go against what the critic believes or what is then trendy. Very often the critic’s goal is to shame the targeted commentator into abandoning—surrendering—his position publicly in effort to deflect additional criticism, and yet by doing so telegraph to the world that his position was wrong and while reinforcing the critic’s observation. Surrendering so as to not “feel bad” essentially.
No one likes criticism—especially the virulently vile criticism so often prevalent on social media. But let us remember that, like blood when we’re injured, a little can look like a lot.
Certainly it is only courtesy and graciousness to try not to offend others unnecessarily by unfounded criticism or ad hominem attacks, but neither should we abandon sincerely-held and well-founded principles simply because we receive criticism. In fact, criticism forces one to refine (or rightfully abandon if untenable) his own position. But it is weakness in character to abandon what we consider truth simply to “get along, especially knowing that criticism is pretty much inevitable regardless of one’s position. So, when someone says a negative reaction has gone “viral”, a proper response may be simply be “Yeah … so? Was the criticism actually warranted?”
Such is a time when that essential virtue of moral courage becomes even more critical—to hold one’s principles when under challenge. After all, if you can’t defend your principles, why do you hold them in the first place?
As cited months ago in this column, the Biblical example of the old man Eleazar’s courage provides a marvelous example. Eleazar, a man of high position, is willing to sacrifice even his life to do the right and the good, refusing to even feign capitulation: And we read: “But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs which he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared: ‘Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,’ he said, ‘lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, and…I defile and disgrace my old age…Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.’” (2 Maccabees 6:23-28)
One might hear: “Well … that’s just a story in a book!” Perhaps. But such events have occurred throughout history: martyrs for faith, defenders of nations in wartime, etc. How pathetic those persons would have been if they had abandoned ship because they were afraid of being disliked … or (gasp!) unpopular! To paraphrase Shakespeare: “A coward dies a thousand deaths. The brave man only once.”
Also, in this time of fragmentation elections looming, we hear speculations of possible riots if this or that candidate loses. But consider: if one capitulates under threat today, what will he do tomorrow with those threatening even more emboldened and powerful? After all, many if not most tyrannies came into being, not with an overnight revolution, but by slow but inexorable elimination of opposition. Read of the worst dictators and see that such tactics were their vehicle of attaining power.
So … to risk adage overload … as Edmund Burke wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” … and, following our theme for today, we might add: “…or for the good person to surrender good principles.”
One good, and even wonderful—albeit challenging—surrender, however, is that of surrendering one’s self to God … walking the way Christ has shown us. After all, the whole of Christ’s teaching is to love God and to love our neighbor; what is better than that? Should we surrender those principles, one could hardly call oneself “Christian”. Christ Himself was roundly excoriated, and even condemned for His principles; should His disciples do less? What pitiful soldiers of Christ we would be.
So … let us remember St. Paul again: “Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:13-17) And let us also take courage in Christ’s own word: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.