This morning when I walked the dog, it was not quite four degrees. Yet while there’s still plenty of winter left, winter will give way to spring and spring to summer. Soon it will be July when cars, vans, and campers arrive sporting bumper stickers that say: “Safety Third.” The International Climbers Festival (July 10-14) draws crowds of hard-core rock climbers who happily assume risk putting “Safety Third.”
Freedom Isn’t Safe
We Americans are, for the most part, devotees of the church of Safety First. We protect our kids as though they were made of blown glass. Seesaws along with tall slides, jungle gyms, and monkey bars were once playground essentials. Now they’re fading memories. We buy kids helmets for their activities and sports and shield them from anything that could be even sort of bring discomfort.
Then they go to college. Roger Kimball in the January New Criterion notes that Williams College recently considered a free speech statement. It read in part, “While there is an understandable desire to protect our students from speech they find offensive, doing so risks shutting down legitimate dialogue and failing to prepare our students to deal effectively with a diversity of opinions, including views they might vehemently disagree with.” That sounds about as obvious and commonsensical as you can get.
The students didn’t think so and their response was swift, vicious, and histrionic. “The ire of the student petition,” Kimball notes, “was directed chiefly at the idea that free speech and open debate are worthy ideals to pursue in an academic setting.”
Students, fearing ideas they do not already affirm, want safety so that nothing will disturb their intellects as they calcify into ideology and thoughtless prejudices. They think nothing of trading freedom of speech, association, debate, and belief for safety.
The bizarre attraction of socialism seems to be, for the most part, a rush to hide from risk under big government’s copious skirts. Lady Liberty is too scary; give us the Nanny State and safety.
Safety is Good, but It’s Not First
And you, gentle reader, how often do you read articles at Huffington Post or Daily Koz? “Oh, those people are idiots.” Actually no, they’re not. They are people with a very different worldview from those of us who write for The Stream.
Do we avoid their ideas because “they’re idiots” or because they make us feel unsafe? Years ago Tony Campolo — long excluded from the safe list — titled a book We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Partly Right. Not a safe idea, but one worth considering.
And speaking of unsafe people, do we know our neighbors including the people who fly the rainbow flag, who had lawn signs for candidates we’d never vote for, who are cohabitating? If not, why not? Safety first?
To be clear: I’m all for safety. In time for the snow, I put new all-season radials on our four-wheel-drive SUV. For Christmas, I got a long overdue ski helmet. Even on short hikes, I carry a first aid kit, rain gear, warm clothes, and bear spray. Yearly I get a flu shot and a physical. Safety is good.
It’s the safety first part that bothers me.
Reviewing a new edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction, Meghan Cox Gurdon points out that the editors included a passage from A Wrinkle in Time that had previously been deleted. “Security is a most seductive thing,” Mr. Murray tells his daughter, Meg.
“Well — but I want to be secure, Father. I hate feeling insecure.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion,” he goes on, “that security is the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great-great-grandmother, Meg, and all those like her, had worried about security? They’d never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg, as insidious as the radiation from a nuclear explosion. You can’t feel it or touch it but it’s there. So is the panicky searching for conformity.”
Besides, in an era where members of Congress can in all seriousness call the Knights of Columbus “a hate group” because of their pro-life and pro-marriage beliefs, safety and security can only be bought by selling out “the faith once delivered” to the prevailing and increasingly sick culture.
That, of course, is what the culture hopes we will do. Many who claim the name Christian have already sold out. Why should the Knights and other benighted types be permitted to hold out?
So along with the rock climbers who arrive in Lander each July, I’m adopting the motto: “Safety Third.” I urge you to do the same.
What, you ask, are first and second? Why the very same things the saints have always placed first and second: faithfulness and courage.
Safety in this fallen and fragile world is an illusion. Real safety is only available as we live out faithfulness and courage longing for the safety and security of our true home in Heaven. In this life, it’s Safety Third.