Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

2/18/2014 (7 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 (7 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 September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.



Comments


More U.S.

Pope Francis names Bishop Blasť Cupich to replace ailing Chicago Archbishop Watch

Image of Ill from liver cancer, Cardinal George said at a news conference in Chicago that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has chosen Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich as Chicago's new archbishop. The ailing Cardinal Francis George welcomed his pending retirement after his 17 years of service, with only the highest praise for his successor. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) ... continue reading


World population could hit 11 billion by 2100 new study reveals Watch

Image of Africa will see the largest population boom, going from 1 billion to 4 billion by the century's end. Asia will also likely rise a bit, but will peak at 5 billion by 2050 and decline.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A United Nations-led analysis published on September 18 has revealed that the world's population may reach 11 billion by 2100, which would mean two billion more people than previously expected, largely due to high birth rates in Africa. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


As death toll passes 2,600 U.S. lawmakers worry about spread of Ebola Watch

Image of Red Cross workers in Guinea in protective gear. Currently, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the worst nations worst hit by the West African Ebola outbreak.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Legislators in Washington are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of Ebola and worry that it could become more contagious and potentially spread into the United States. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - President Obama's new plan to put 3,000 U.S. ... continue reading


Obama gains support from House to further fight against ISIS Watch

Image of President Obama, with the support of the House of Representatives, may now start arming and training Syrian groups to fight the Islamic State, and will continue to strike targets in Iraq.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While President Barack Obama told Americans-in somewhat ambiguous terms-last week that he intended to destroy the Islamic State, as of September 17, he promised that the United States will not fight another ground war in Iraq. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Values Voters: What We Can Learn from Ted Cruz Being Booed at the In Defense of Christians Conference Watch

Image of Senator Ted Cruz from Texas was the keynote speaker at what was billed as a Gala Solidarity Dinner. Sadly, it certainly did not demonstrate solidarity between Christians. A small group in the assembly, rudely and loudly, reacted negatively to some of the words Senator Cruz spoke as he expressed his convictions concerning the persecution taking place in this land which is properly holy, precisely because of its role in God's loving plan of salvation for the whole human race.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The events of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, at the Inaugural In Defense of Christians Gala make abundantly clear that there is a serious and urgent need for values voters to meet and discuss the crisis in the Mideast and ways in which we can work together to ... continue reading


Our Age Need Rebels of Love: The Christian Church is the Real Counterculture Watch

Image of As a young man I rejected secularist, atheistic humanism - but not humanism itself. As I studied the early Church fathers I came to understand that the true humanism is authentic Christianity, the kind professed, in word and deed, by the early Christians. As I read early Church history I was brought back to the mother church of the entire Christian movement, the Catholic Church. I came to believe that she offers the theological anthropology, ecclesiology and world view of the early fathers of the Church. I also came to believe that she was the real counterculture.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

We can - we will - change the culture of the contemporary West, if we are willing to suffer, struggle and offer ourselves to the Lord for the task. His power, the power of the Holy Spirit, working through us, will accomplish what we can never accomplish on our ... continue reading


What is a Catholic Deacon? Bishop Kevin Rhoades Gives the Answer Watch

Image of The Most Reverend Kevin Rhoades, the Bishop of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, presiding over the Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of six new Holy Cross Deacons

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

It is a privilege to ordain you permanent deacons.  No, I didn't make a mistake.  Don't worry: you are scheduled to be ordained priests next year by Bishop Jenky!  But what happens today in the sacrament of Orders is not something transitional; it ... continue reading


ISIS among us! New York man sought to kill Iraq war veterans Watch

Image of Mufid Elfgeeh, a 30-year-old, Yemeni born man who lived in New York, attempted to send three people to Iraq to fight for the Islamic State, and purchase firearms to kill veterans from the Iraq War.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Yemeni born food store owner in upstate New York sent funding to the Islamic State and attempted to sent three jihadists to Syria to fight alongside the terrorist cell while plotting to perpetrate attacks against American troops who had served in Iraq. LOS ... continue reading


Father Frank Pavone: 16433 Children Buried in One Grave Watch

Image of Fr. Pavone prays at the graveside of the children

By Fr. Frank Pavone

For many years, this mass grave had no marker or headstone, just as the children have no names. But now there is a stone, and we are going to name the babies. Supporters of abortion do not want people to see mass graves in our midst. It's too disturbing a ... continue reading


Nice try! Democrats try to distance themselves from Obama for midterm, but it's too late! Watch

Image of Kentucky Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, seen here with a shotgun in an ad where she attempts to distance herself from the disastrous and unpopular policies of President Barack Obama.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Democratic Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, is trying her best to let Kentuckians know that she is certainly not an Obama Democrat, releasing a campaign ad where she wields a gun to prove it. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Grimes' 30-second ad takes place in ... 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, Isaiah 55:6-9
6 Seek out Yahweh while he is still to be found, call ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
2 Day after day I shall bless you, I shall praise ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16
1 'Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner ... Read More

Reading 2, Philippians 1:20-24, 27
20 all in accordance with my most confident hope and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 21st, 2014 Image

St. Matthew
September 21: St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the ... 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