Breaking Taboos

Among recent news stories are instances of people talking back, openly challenging the received wisdom in surprising ways. For example, Karen Handel calls Planned Parenthood a "gigantic bully" for pushing abortion on the Komen foundation.

The bishops of the Roman Catholic church finally nerved themselves to openly clash with the president in a public space, according to the New York Times:

Seven months earlier, they had started laying the groundwork for a major new campaign to combat what they saw as the growing threat to religious liberty, including the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the birth control mandate, issued on Jan. 20, was their Pearl Harbor. ...

“Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

A prominent supporter of global warming has recanted his belief in public. "I feel duped on Climate Change," said former German environment senator Fritz Vahrenholt. "He wants to break a taboo. 'The climate catastrophe is not occurring,' he writes in his book 'Die Kalte Sonne' (The Cold Sun), published by Hoffmann and Campe, which will be in bookstores next week. ... While books by climate heretics usually receive little attention, it could be different in Vahrenholt's case. 'His fame,' says Marotzke, 'will ensure that there will be a debate on the issue.'"

The significance of these public outbursts is that they come from quarters not notably famous for being confrontational. These are people and organizations that would have preferred to keep things running smoothly and quietly. Now they will pay a price. In the case of Vahrenholt, the punishment is already in progress:

The book is a source of discomfort within Vahrenholt's party. No one with the SPD leadership is willing to comment on the theories of their prominent fellow party member, from former Environment Minister and current SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel to parliamentary floor leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was given an advance copy of the book.

A lecture Vahrenholt was scheduled to give at the University of Osnabrück in northwestern Germany was recently cancelled.

The New York Times says that the bishops may find that they have overstepped the mark in challenging the president. "On the other side are religious Americans and clergy members who are unmoved by the religious liberty theme, and who regard the administration’s ruling as sensible health care policy."

The public policy arm of the United Methodist Church, which like the Catholic Church, runs hospitals and universities across the country, has applauded the mandate to cover contraception. And a coalition of mainline Protestants, Muslims and Reform and Conservative Jews released a declaration on Wednesday supporting the ruling.

The Rev. Debra W. Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute, a liberal interfaith group that works on sexuality issues and that wrote the declaration, said, “The mainstream religious voice has supported contraception for decades, at least for the last 40 years.”

And as for Karen Handel, she's no longer with the Komen foundation. But none of this has come as a surprise. Everyone fully expected to be punished.

But they spoke out anyway which suggests that the power of liberal orthodoxy, while still awesome, can no longer completely intimidate. The results are that orthodoxy has had to retreat, be it ever so slightly. "(Reuters) - As soon as the news hit, the deluge began."

Catholics from across the country began calling the White House within hours of the Obama administration's announcement on Jan. 20 that religious institutions would be required to offer free birth control to employees as a health-care benefit.

But these calls weren't protests from conservative bishops or the rank-and-file in the pews. They were calls from a kitchen cabinet of informal political advisers that President Barack Obama had relied on for years -- allies who had worked with him on various social issues and in some cases, campaigned for him.

They had access, and they intended to use it to drive change in a policy they said they saw as a clumsy, provocative and an unnecessary infringement on religious liberty.

All legitimacy, even that of authoritarian regimes, is fundamentally based on an accepted belief. In dictatorships, it is the belief that the secret police are all powerful. In the liberal West, it is the myth that the elites are the all-wise source of public approval. Just as Syria's Assad is suffering from a growing realization that he can't stop the rebels, the biggest danger facing the liberal orthodoxy is a growing awareness that they can't stop the heretics from speaking out in the public square.

Like Assad, the problem facing the ruling orthodoxy in the West is how to restore the myth. In Syria the Assads first tried ignoring, then selectively suppressing, the opposition. Lately, they've been using artillery and tanks. Now, according to the Washington Post, there are "growing signs that the Syrian elite, including people close to President Bashar Assad, are increasingly worried and beginning to prepare exit plans."

The Western orthodoxy remains very powerful. But recent events prove that it is not invincible; it is mainly founded upon bluff, which despite the recent outbursts by heretics remains largely unshaken. But a confluence of factors -- economic difficulty for the most part, and growing awareness in the street that the elites are not all they are cracked up to be -- suggests that the hairline fractures will grow and grow. Until ... well, who knows?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.


How to Publish on Amazon's Kindle for $2.99

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99

Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5