Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

2/18/2014 (8 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Those Catholics in politics who ask whether -this is a hill worth dying on- are usually reluctant to die on any hill, much less recognize the moral high ground in the first place

Like that of Socrates, St. Thomas More's dilemma is easily translated to the challenges facing Catholics who enter politics in the 21st century. For 50 years, Catholic politicians have been required to make a choice between life and death; first the abortion issue, then the abortifacient contraception issue, and soon it will be euthanasia. Voting records tell the tale of who chose life and, in doing so, chose to risk losing elections rather than putting principle aside (usually to some deep, dark hole in their private conscience). Those Catholics in politics who ask whether "this is a hill worth dying on" are usually reluctant to die on any hill, much less recognize the moral high ground in the first place.  When "electability" trumps all other considerations, defeat on election day doesn't leave the candidate lying on a hill representing the principles she fought for. No, she is simply forgotten, because there is nothing left to remember. Those who compromise and lose leave no legacy, no inspiration, their loss has no afterlife of gain.

Those Catholics in politics who ask whether 'this is a hill worth dying on' are usually reluctant to die on any hill, much less recognize the moral high ground in the first place.

Those Catholics in politics who ask whether "this is a hill worth dying on" are usually reluctant to die on any hill, much less recognize the moral high ground in the first place.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/18/2014 (8 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Crisis Magazine, Barbara Comstock, faithful citizenship, abortion, contraception, moral coherence, conservatism, National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru, sophistry, catholics and politics, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - The recent debate over the inconsistencies in Barbara Comstock's pro-life record has gotten me thinking about the old adage, "Is this hill worth dying on?" Its origins are military, but its usage is most often political, as when candidates are forced to decide what principles are worth holding onto even if losing the election is the result. 

The question is venerable and ancient: Socrates in Plato's Apology faced a choice of accepting a death sentence for a crime he did not commit or accepting an easy escape from his Athenian jail to an adjacent city state. To his friends pleading for him to escape, Socrates explained, "But I suggest, gentlemen, that the difficultly is not so much to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong."

"Escape from doing wrong." The phrase suggests life itself is a trial where each day we face the temptation to forget moral principles for the sake of utility, whether to succeed or to win, in short, to avoid suffering from the consequences of seeking what is good in the face of danger.  Those who reliably do what is good in spite of the consequences are called, in classical terms, the courageous.  Those who abandon principles when they become inconvenient or costly are called the opposite, cowardly.  

Socrates chose the ultimate consequence, his own death, in order to exemplify what he had taught his entire life, that a virtuous life was more important than any worldly wealth, honor, or plaudit.

In his classic book, The Death of Socrates (1947), Catholic philosopher Romano Guardini points out the many parallels between the example of Socrates and Jesus Christ who also could have chosen to escape from a death he did not deserve.  Guardini, writing with the wisdom of the Patristic Father, observes the "ultimate, almost absolute meaning" of Socrates' choice, representing a "deep piety that comprehends its own existence on the basis of God's word."

In other words, the life of Socrates exemplifies one that treated a moral absolute as a "hill worth dying on."  In the time of Socrates, those who scorned putting principles first were called "sophists," those who had only the appearance of wisdom.  The sophistry of the Sophists, however, did not die with Socrates but has persisted under various guises throughout human history. 

Many readers will recall the scene from A Man for all Seasons when St. Thomas More says to his son in law, Richard Rich:

"and when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you--where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast--man's laws, not God's--and if you cut them down...d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."

It attests to the power of modern cinema that the essence of Plato's Apology could be captured and embedded in millions of minds without anyone having to read a page, whether in English or Ancient Greek. Indeed, when students are asked to meditate through film on the moral corruption incited by political ambition or simply pure greed, it's this film that is chosen.

Both Socrates and More chose a "hill to die on" and "escape from doing wrong" rather than escape death.  Both were heroic choices, which left their friends baffled and their enemies elated, but at the distance of history we see their "loss" as a "gain" for all of us. What we gain is this: Heroic choices, though they look impractical and foolish, when made plant a seed of human hope for the future. The human person will never be so crushed and disillusioned that they recognize no more hills "worth dying on."

Like that of Socrates, St. Thomas More's dilemma is easily translated to the challenges facing Catholics who enter politics in the 21st century. For 50 years, Catholic politicians have been required to make a choice between life and death; first the abortion issue, then the abortifacient contraception issue, and soon it will be euthanasia. Voting records tell the tale of who chose life and, in doing so, chose to risk losing elections rather than putting principle aside (usually to some deep, dark hole in their private conscience).

Those Catholics in politics who ask whether "this is a hill worth dying on" are usually reluctant to die on any hill, much less recognize the moral high ground in the first place.  When "electability" trumps all other considerations, defeat on election day doesn't leave the candidate lying on a hill representing the principles she fought for. No, she is simply forgotten, because there is nothing left to remember. Those who compromise and lose leave no legacy, no inspiration, their loss has no afterlife of gain.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2014
Peace:
That the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.
World Mission Day: That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.



Comments


More U.S.

BREAKING NEWS - School shooting in Washington state leaves 2 dead, five injured Watch

Image of Kids and parents react to news of the shooting.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A shooting has occurred at a school in Washington, in which authorities believe a bullied student shot and killed another. The shooter is also believed to be dead. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A school shooting has taken place at Marysville-Pilchuck High School ... continue reading


Guns Do Not Have Rights, People Do. Legitimate Self Defense is One of Them

Image of Guns have no rights, only people do.Yes, one of them is the Right to Self Defense - and the Right to defend your neighbor. You may ask,

By Keith A. Fournier

We live in a precarious time in the United States of America. Many of us are deeply concerned about the effort to infringe upon the fundamental rights which were delineated in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. I have written extensively about ... continue reading


Rest in Peace, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete: Communion and Liberation Priest Enters Eternal Encounter Watch

Image of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete was a leader in the ecclesial movement called Communion and Liberation. He was also a gifted writer, known for his naturally supernatural holiness of life. Those whom he touched are a living testimony to a life - and a priesthood - which was well lived. In encountering him, they encountered Jesus Christ. That experience is the very heart of the Gospel, the meaning of the Christian claim. It is the key to understanding the Church. It is the spirituality of Communion and Liberation.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

As we pause to honor Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, Communion and Liberation Priest, may our prayers accompany him, lighting his passage into the eternal encounter with the Lord whom he loves. Let us also ask for his prayers - and follow his example. Let us decide to ... continue reading


How far will it spread? A New York doctor has tested positive for Ebola Watch

Image of 33-year-old Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders, had recently returned to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Guinea.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A New York doctor who had recently returned from Guinea has tested positive for Ebola, the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Craig Spencer worked for Doctors Without Borders where he was treating ... continue reading


Same-sex couples line up to be wed in Wyoming Watch

Image of After the state formally dropped its defense of a law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, Jennifer Mumaugh says that attitudes across the state have shifted in recent years to be more open to gay couples.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Same-sex couples began lining up around the block in Wyoming for marriage licenses this week. U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl, appointed by President Barack Obama struck down the state's gay marriage ban last week. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Will they riot after this? Autopsy, analysis shows officer Wilson was telling the truth Watch

Image of New analysis and witness reports suggest that officer Darren Wilson was being attacked by Michael Brown and shot him in self defense.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

New evidence from Ferguson Missouri seems to vindicate the testimony of officer Darren Wilson, showing that the fatal shooting of Michael Brown may not be as cut and dry as many of the protestors in the area believe. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to ... continue reading


Is this a sign of things to come? 2014 midterm most expensive on record Watch

Image of Early voting has already started in several states including Kansas and Illinois.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Well underway, the 2014 midterms are set to be the most expensive midterms ever, according to projections that the Center for Responsive Politics released on October 22. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - While heavily overshadowed by global affairs like the ... continue reading


ACTIVE SHOOTER - Kids, teachers, community terrorized by admin, police at Thompson Jr. HS in Bakersfield in the name of safety? Watch

Image of Terrorization in the name of safety is still terror.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The latest school shooting did not make the national news yesterday because allegedly it was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated against kids and a working-class community in the name of safety. For about 30 minutes on Tuesday, students, faculty, and their parents ... continue reading


Catholic school forbids Hollywood lesbian drama from shooting on location Watch

Image of In the scene to be filmed at the school, Moore's character, a New Jersey police detective with terminal cancer, applies for a domestic partnership with her partner, played by Page in order to pass on her pension legally after her death.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While actresses Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are big names in filmland, their largesse didn't get them past the authorities at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, New York. The catholic school has declined their request to use their location for a ... continue reading


On the Feast of St. John Paul II, His Prophetic Warning to the U.S. Requires a Response Watch

Image of Deacon Keith Fournier standing under the beautiful bronze statue of John Paul II in Denver, Colorado.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

In an address given during that 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia for the bicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla spoke some words which I believe were prophetic. - We are now standing in the face ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:54-59
54 He said again to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 24th, 2014 Image

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24: Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter