GK Chesterton once wrote of the Catholic Church as a “wild” and “untamed” force and warned against falling into the “foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe.” He wrote about orthodoxy in a time rife with heresies. He wrote about the human person as created in the image and likeness of God while ideologies that violated human dignity were just coming to fruition, threatening human life on a massive scale.
But the inhuman ideologies that were spawning like spiders in Chesterton’s day are now neatly woven into our culture. The radical Eugenic and economic theories against which he battled so robustly have now conquered our culture, transforming it into the complacent, soft and murderous Culture of Death. In fact we could look to Chesterton as a patron of our time, since he was a battler against the Culture of Death “before it was cool.” We can take a cue from him: “It is always easy to be a modernist,” he wrote, but it is also “easy to be a snob.” We must avoid being either. I recently heard a speaker who seems to pursue this golden mean.
Jason Jones was the key speaker at a recent event in NH. I was in the audience, and I thought that the statements he made rang beautifully true. But he struck me as unlikely to be well-received by “modernists” or “snobs.” When I got the opportunity to interview him I asked him to follow-up on a few of the points he made in his speech:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Stephen Herreid: You made a stark observation: that we, as citizens of a democratic republic, will be judged on the same terms as were the kings, emperors and pharaohs of the past. With regard to the abortion issue, what are some ways for Americans to execute their sovereignty?
Jason Jones: We are responsible for the laws of our land. Oftentimes I hear Conservatives proudly say “I do my part: I vote in every election.” Well, if you think that all you have to do to live out your civic duty is vote every two years, then you’re a D- student. That is not what self-government is. That is not what being a sovereign is. That is not taking responsibility for the laws of your land.
We live in a constitutional republic. We are called to full participation in our republic. Now I don’t mean that we all have to run to be representatives. But we do all have to participate in choosing our representatives. And we have to participate in a real way. The real way of participating is not just voting, but also being active in political parties, especially in the positions that those parties hold at the platforms.
So we should be involved in our party, whether it’s the Republican Party or the Democrat Party. We should push to be on the platform committee, we should make sure that the platform of our party corresponds to what we hold dear on the most important issues, especially life and marriage. We should do more than just vote to assure that the people we want to represent us get elected. We should work to raise money for them, we should start political action committees—that’s being active in a very real sense.
Not all of us have money. Not all of us have time. But all of us have either some money or some time. And we should use that money and time to make sure that we have representatives that respect marriage and the dignity of the human person. And we need representatives who will not only mouth that they’re pro-life, but actually act pro-life once they get in office.
When he was a young Lutheran minister, Father Richard Neuhaus, founder of First Things Magazine, said that the greatest tragedy in American political history is that the pro-life flag is being planted on the Republican side of the debate. I think that Father Neuhaus was wrong. The greatest political tragedy in American political history is that the pro-life flag is not being planted firmly in both of our major political parties, and in our independent parties.
We can disagree on many things. We can disagree on how best to provide education, on how to take care of the poor, on foreign policy, et cetera. But we must have agreement on the founding principles of this country. We must have agreement that all men are endowed by God with inalienable rights. We must have agreement that marriage is a fundamental institution for the well being of the person. We must take these issues off the table. We must settle the abortion issue and the marriage issue soon in favor of life and of family if our republic is to survive.
S: You also made the point that the entertainment industry is a key playing field when it comes to abortion. You said (in a room full of politicians) that even if the Right succeeds in taking Washington by storm, the battle will never be won until the pro-life movement has taken Hollywood. Do you think that if we don’t establish a pro-life influence in the media, political pressures on Washington will remain fruitless?
J: I do. In fact, we can achieve every political objective that we strive for, but if we don’t take responsibility for the songs of our nation, we’ll lose our nation. Damon of Athens said: “Give me the songs of a nation, and it doesn’t matter who writes its laws [sic].” The modern American Conservative movement, in its march after the Goldwater defeat through this second or third generation of conservatives, has had many successes. They took the House, they put Reagan in a governor’s mansion in California and then they put him in the White House. So we’ve had the White House, we’ve had both houses of Congress, we’ve had tremendous success at the state level … but we haven’t managed to have any real, long-term success with regard to the abortion issue.
Our abortion laws are still more permissive than those of France and Sweden. So what kind of success have we really had? And our lack of success is due to the fact that, while we were fighting in Washington, the radical Left was fighting from Hollywood. They have the songs of our nation.
And these Jacobins have divorced themselves from the sources of beauty. God, family, culture, tradition—the radical Left has absolutely divorced itself from these sources of beauty. So all they can communicate is vulgar pornography—just a rapid succession of sound, images, sex and violence. That’s their formula, because they cannot really share beauty.
But I believe that Christians grounded in their culture, their tradition, their faith in God—we will be able to communicate Beauty in the entertainment industry. And we must do that. We have a responsibility to do that. Not just through film, but in so many other ways. There are so many ways that we can communicate our understanding of the human person. Even through architecture, for instance. I have a friend who is the president of a bank in a major American city, and he recently was very excited to show me his new building. He said, “Jason, this building was designed according to Pope John Paul II’s understanding of the human person. This building was designed to celebrate the dignity of our customers and of my employees in every level.”
But of all the many ways to do it, I think that the entertainment industry, especially film, is the most powerful way we have to share our understanding of the human person with the world.
S: You actually mentioned a few people on the entertainment scene today who already show a pro-life attitude. Do you think that many of the clean, decent and respectable folks in the pro-life movement will be likely to shake hands with the likes of rapper Lil Wayne, comedian Seth Rogen, or South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone? You showed these entertainers to be pro-life influences, but what if the pro-life movement won’t have them?
J: Well, I think many of the “respectable” people in the pro-life movement won’t have them, but of course the “respectable” people in the pro-life movement are more or less useless. On the other hand, all of those “saints and sinners,” to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, in the pro-life movement will have these entertainers. Of course we’ll have them.
I came to the pro-life movement as an atheist. I was an atheist in the pro-life movement for 13 years. And by the way, my personal morality at the time was that of an atheist—I was no saint. But I worked arm-in-arm with many people in the pro-life movement. Of course, then as now, many of the “respectable” people didn’t want to be around. Again, the “respectable” folks in the pro-life movement are generally useless.
I like the saints and the sinners that get down to it and do the hard, day-to-day work of fighting with the Culture of Death. These are the people who really share the beauty and the dignity of the child in the womb and help mothers in need.
S: In a recent article for Crisis Magazine (Of Human Dignity and Shoes), you gave a brief synopsis of a film called Sarah’s Key. This movie is a good look at the present-day couple who have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. I remember a line that referred to the couple’s pregnancy as “an unasked-for intrusion on their lives, a biological accident like leukemia or cancer, a rebellion of mere matter that threatens what’s really sacred: their freedom to pursue the lives they wanted.” How do you think the idea of freedom can play a role in how people think about abortion?
J: Well that line about freedom was meant to be very ironic. The irony is that the “right” to abortion is a “freedom” that denies a human person all freedoms. Freedom rightly understood would seek to defend the dignity of the child in the womb as a person. Freedom misunderstood—this Ron-Paul-Libertarian idea of freedom that has the same birthplace as the radical Left, which is the French Revolution—is alien to the Western Tradition. This misunderstanding of freedom is a cancer in the Western Tradition. But if we rightly understand freedom, we will want to celebrate the dignity and freedom of the human person; we will want to protect life. There is no freedom without life.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” There’s no liberty or pursuit of happiness without life. When I heard that line from Sarah’s Key, I thought of something that Hadley Arkes wrote about Auschwitz. He wrote about an enormous pile of shoes in the concentration camp. The shoes tell you everything: “People to the left, economy to the right.” They destroyed the people. They saved the shoes. The shoes are still there, but the men, women and children are gone.
In Sarah’s Key, you have this Jewish family that was destroyed. And you have this apartment that was given like the spoils of war to another family. You have human beings destroyed and an apartment, like the shoes, being left. This is all because of a mentality that valued the economic over the human. The Culture of Death, like Nazism—and all of the ideologies of evil we see in the twentieth century—values the economic over the human.
So we are called to value the human over the economic. As I’m talking to you I’m looking at a statue I have in my office of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He’s depicted shivering, hunched over and dying in a bunker at Auschwitz. This is a man who chose the human. He sacrificed his life to save another man’s life. And I think that this is what we’re called to do: to show, through our actions, that we value the human over the economic, which is something every one of us has a chance to do daily, whether at the workplace or with our family or with friends or neighbors. Every day we all have a chance to demonstrate whether we value the human over the economic.
S: One way of showing how much we value a human being is sympathy. Do you think that people are likely to sympathize more with mothers than with children when it comes to abortion, and is that a good thing?
J: I think that if you sympathize with the mothers and the children, you’ll see that abortion devastates a woman and destroys a child. Everyone who has ever had an abortion or been close to someone who has had an abortion knows how devastating abortion is to women. Everyone! The only people who may not get that are those “respectable” folks we were talking about earlier, who have never personally known someone who’s had an abortion, but I know several people who have had abortions; friends and family members. And some of them still claim to be pro-abortion. But when they talk about their own abortion they talk about it as the most devastating event in their life. So to answer your question, it’s a mother and her child and they’re both victims of abortion. We should empathize with both.
S: We’ve reached a historically unprecedented low in church attendance. By comparison to any past point in history, few people worship God and even fewer believe in or give much thought to the human soul or the possibility of an afterlife. Given this generation’s lack of faith, is it always necessary for the pro-life movement to evangelize, or is it sometimes enough to appeal to common sense and humanity?
J: I think we should do both. And we can do both at the same time. When I was an Ayn-Rand-objectivist-atheist-pro-lifer, I found Christians in the pro-life movement annoying. I thought “if they would just get out of my way, I could end abortion.” But now I think of that attitude as very silly. The human person is made in the image and likeness of God. That’s the understanding of the human person that gives us our dignity and worth, makes us worthy of protection. It seems we have an irrational fear of letting people know the fact that our faith is what encourages us to fight for life. But it was also the faith of the Abolitionists, and it was the faith of the Civil Rights movement, that encouraged them.
It appears that even the modern-day Civil Rights movement is embarrassed of the faith of the Reverend Martin Luther King, because they’ve dropped “Reverend” and replaced it with “Doctor.” But it wasn’t Martin Luther King’s PHD that inspired him to risk his life and lose his life for Civil Rights; it was his faith. All of his most powerful speeches draw on his faith. And those of us in the pro-life movement—and who work for human rights in any capacity—should not divorce our message from our faith. In fact there’s one thing we should always strive to communicate in everything we do: that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God. I find that everyone, whether they’re Christian or not, is attracted to that.
When we allow the media to repackage our faith and present it with their own slant, it can sometimes be embarrassing. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to communicate our faith and our understanding of the human person. The Left will try to smear it. They’re going to smear anything we do.
If Catholics really want to end abortion, perhaps they will have to “offer up” their hopes for remaining unsmeared. As Mr. Jones so aptly put it, “anything we do” for the cause will get us smeared. To avoid trouble we must either take the “tame course” of the “modernist” or the “humdrum” way of the “snob.” But the right course is not always the easiest, or even the cleanest. In fact, the right course is that muddy, embattled golden mean between the easy ways; that difficult balance of the “saints and sinners” who carry on the war against death.
In the words of GK Chesterton: “The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.”