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“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”-Barry Goldwater

Kind of interesting, the issue of vice, virtue, and justice came up a few times yesterday, so I have been giving these things some thought. First of all, language is hard, so what is “extremism?” It’s thought to be, “any ideology (particularly in politics or religion), considered to be far outside the acceptable standards of the society….”

Well shoot, I live in a very secular area, very left leaning, and frequently find myself on the wrong side of “acceptable standards for society. ” One of my favorite mind-benders is the disgust a few people have expressed towards the “oppressiveness of heteronormalcy.” How can I even come within the bounds of acceptable society with standards like  that?

So extremism it is. Extreme love, extreme faith, extreme forgiveness, extreme patience, these kinds of things are not bad. “Extreme” actually means, “utmost, very great, greatest, greatest possible, maximum, maximal, highest, supreme, great, acute, enormous, high, exceptional, extraordinary.”

Works for me. I’ll even go so far as to claim an extreme love for liberty and freedom.

“Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” I think that’s really true. Someone mentioned justice as being a “noble compromise,” which really pushed my buttons, because while I love the civilized, law-abiding approach to justice, one that blends consequences with mercy, right is still right and wrong is still wrong. It is not “just” to compromise with evil. If someone robs my house am I now supposed to go to mediation so we can resolve our differences and come up with a noble solution that appeases all parties?


In faith I suppose we are all the thief on the cross, and so some would claim we must approach our thieving brothers with the same grace and mercy Jesus Christ showed us. But hold up here! That guy was actually being crucified, so executed for his thievery. While he may well have found redemption and salvation, it is not as if Christ cut him down from the cross and sent him to mediation so he could pursues a noble compromise with his victims, one that “benefits all parties and provides justice for all.”

Mercy is awesome, but mercy and forgiveness are extremist acts, radical even. They are not “moderate.” Moderation in the face of evil is not justice at all, it is irresponsibility that fails to protect and attempts to make vice and virtue equal partners.

As I said before however, language is hard, and Barry Goldwater’s quote is a good example of that. We people can get our vice and virtue all confused, so add in a bit of false humility, and stir in some super spirituality, and suddenly the things we perceive as “virtuous” become anything but, and the things we would label “vice,” are actually our greatest strengths.