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Profiles in Courage?

Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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In case you were wondering who the “Brave Thinkers” of 2012 are, the Atlantic has helpfully compiled a list of 21 people who are “risking their reputations, fortunes, and lives in the pursuit of big ideas.” There are a few people on the list worthy of commendation, such as Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who had to flee his native land after defending women forced to undergo abortions and sterilization procedures by their Communist government. But most of the people listed have risked little or nothing beyond terminal boredom at one of the Atlantic’s “Ideas” festivals. 

Courage

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Billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg is a “champion of big ideas” only if you think that the sale of large soft drinks is the preeminent public health issue of our era. Director and actress Lena Dunham has really put her reputation on the line with a critically acclaimed HBO show and her much-noted YouTube video urging girls to lose their voting virginity to that rake Obama. Then there’s the token conservative on the list: Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, whose bravery begins and ends with upholding the president’s health care law on a technicality. All he risked was a chilly reception at the next Federalist Society confab. 

However, the Atlantic’s agenda  runs a bit deeper than politics. Perhaps the most curious entry on the list is “American nuns.” It seems that “this year, doctrinal disputes over issues such as abortion and gay marriage finally came to a head. And the nuns haven’t exactly been timid.” It’s true that some liberal orders of nuns have been on a publicity tour thumbing their nose at the Vatican, with their expenses covered by George Soros, culminating in a “much-lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention,” where delegates ignited controversy by arguing about whether to take “God” out of the party platform and embracing abortion on demand. Courage, sisters! It’s worth noting that liberal orders of nuns are dwindling in membership and their political crusade hasn’t exactly been embraced by mainstream Catholics. Meanwhile, the ranks of nuns who support the Vatican and the bishops’ teachings on the sanctity of life are vibrant and growing. 

Also on the list is John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, for “court[ing] controversy in defending views running counter to the [Catholic] church.” And let’s not forget Reverend Oliver White of Grace Community United Church of Christ. White’s church was foreclosed on when his predominantly black congregants up and left after he started supporting gay marriage. Are we sensing a trend?

The inclusion of imprisoned feminist Russian punk band Pussy Riot also had us scratching our heads. The Scrapbook will be the first to stand and say that locking someone up for public expression is a monstrous human rights violation. However, here’s how the Atlantic justified their inclusion:

Indeed, the three arrested women—then 22, 23, and 29 years old—turned out to be more articulate than their lawyers, better educated than their critics, and more dignified than anyone who has spoken up in Russia since the dissident Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov. All that, and
a well-designed peaceful protest,
and where did they end up? In jail, where conditions could constitute torture. As their punk prayer went, “Sh-t, sh-t, holy sh-t / Sh-t, sh-t, holy sh-t.”

We’re all for a thumb in Vladimir Putin’s eye, but contrary to the Atlantic’s estimation, these were not Russia’s most “dignified” dissidents since Sakharov. Then again, this feature is full of curious adjectives. It’s almost like the editors of the Atlantic wrote “brave” when the word they were looking for was “liberal.”

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