By Jonathan Balmer
“Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream,” Malcolm Muggeridge, the English satirist, journalist and great contrarian, often said. If I ever was a two-bit parody of someone, it may be Muggeridge. He was a disaffected leftist who tired of fellow journalists’ platitudinous liberal views of history which assured their audiences, “moderate men of all shades of opinion,” that “wiser counsels” would “prevail.”
Loudly, Muggeridge protested that society was not one of “moderate men” and “wiser councils” overcoming dark ages but lamented, “The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment.” He was a fierce lone warrior against popular opinion. He could also be a senselessly contrarian hack.
The pit of his career was the televised Life of Bryan debates in which he took on Monty Python for charges of blasphemy without, apparently, having seen the end of the film. John Cleese of Monty Python, who respected Muggeridge as a satirist, found his regard for him plummeted during the debate. “He was just being Muggeridge,” Cleese commented, “preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all.”
It has been to my great frustration that this venue, the newspaper, is not used more by students to speak about uncomfortable ideas. I love the freedom to put my foot in my mouth, and I would rather have an uncouth opinion printed than none at all. But, therein also, is my sin.
The purpose of conversation is first to generate conversation, second to identify and hash out differences and third to bring meaningful constructive change. Surely I have only succeeded at the first. You see, sometimes I, while being contrarian for its own sake, forget my ultimate goals and (more importantly) the humanity of those of which I spoke of.
For all the times I devalued another for the sake of a hasty hyperbole or opinion I viewed as glitzy, Mea culpa. Please forgive me. There is a time and place for these things, which I too often abused.
What is the better model then? It is not silence. Perhaps at the campus’ current tumultuous state we may find a contemporary model in Andrew Marin (the man who shows us that “neutral” is non-synonymous with “noncontroversial”). Of course neutral is not the perfect term for Marin. He is very against plenty of things: revenge, the use of people as means to a political end and a politic of domination and subjugation.
Marin’s organization, the Marin Foundation, exists to promote mutual understanding, to bridge build, between religious people and the LGBT+ community. It does this by inviting progressively and conservatively-minded church entities and conservative and progressive gender/sexual minorities to transcend the dominating, polarized, winners-of-history-take-all political climate.
The Marin Foundation recognizes that people of various views can always work for the greater well-being of one another without “one side of history” trampling the other. The organization seeks peaceful living and respect—period.
Naturally, such a message has drawn criticism both from a slew of conservatively religious people (who think the Marin Foundation hasn’t done its duty in denouncing gay sex as a sin—a refrain which apparently has not been trumpeted enough) as well as liberally minded people. Dan Savage called the organization “sneakily homophobic” and “Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you — now with hugs!”
At length, Andrew Marin has responded to both complaints. Perhaps the best summary of his views is that “[t]he biggest misnomer in contemporary society is that everyone must agree in order to love each other well. Fighting for an end result of ‘agreement’ is called a dictatorship, not pluralism.”
While “neutrality” on today’s hot topics from the Ukraine, to Syria, to marijuana and gay marriage legalization, to budget cuts is not—what’s the buzzword?—sustainable for individuals, it must be attempted in some fashion. Work like that of the Marin Foundation is needed.
Such work recognizes people of differing views will always exist and they encourage not segregation or one dominating another but actual inclusion (the kind that isn’t an enforced police state wrapped in pretty pink wrapping paper). These bridge builders do what I have not: pave the way forward to actual coexistence among opposing views.
As we consider all the forthcoming changes here at Georgetown College we must realize nasty, difficult decisions will be made. They will, we hope, be constructive decisions which respect all parties even as all parties must make sacrifices.
The surgeon wounds to heal, and I fear Dr. Greene, and many others, will soon be our surgeons. We will also have to be our own surgeons. There will be much to think about. The newspaper, little-read-it-may-be, remains one of campus’ primary sounding boards: let us use it to not only deconstruct but to build.