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The middle is a peculiar place. It's a position at an equal distance from the ends of something. It's often a blending of opposites or a compromise of ideas. The middle is also an important feature of our culture and politics.
All music lessons begin with Middle C. Its presence is universal in the ranges of all voice types for both male and female, and its nomenclature is clear across instruments and clefs. The incomparable Julie Andrews taught the solfège syllables by singing "doe: a deer, a female deer." Doe, or do, is Middle C. A Benedictine Monk, Guido of Arezzo, invented this teaching device by taking syllables from the first six lines of the Latin hymn in honor of St. John the Baptist called Ut queant laxis. We learn music by starting with the middle.
Dante's Divine Comedy, an epic journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven, begins "midway upon the journey of life." Only in the thick of human experience could such a journey begin.
At Calvary, our Lord was placed in the middle to die, hung between two criminals. When he died, "the veil of the temple was torn down the middle" (Luke 23:45). St. Thomas Aquinas writes that the temple was torn down the middle "to signify that mysteries which pertain to the Church were made known by Christ's death."
Aristotle teaches that virtue occurs at the middle of deficiency and excess. Courage is the exact middle between rashness and cowardice; temperance between self-indulgence and insensibility; generosity between stinginess and wastefulness; modesty between shyness and shamelessness; tolerance between impatience and passivity. In our polarized political environment, the middle is hard to find, and tolerance is in short supply.
The middle is vital to a healthy society. It is the space occupied by local institutions, families, social clubs, labor unions, and community organizations—known as intermediary institutions. Without a healthy middle, individuals are left to fend for themselves, often against the whims of the state and multinational corporations. The problem of widespread loneliness, which Pope Francis laments and encourages us to confront, is what happens when the middle collapses. It is part of our mission as Christians to build up the middle.
Religious freedom protects the middle.
The language of the First Amendment's Religion Clauses—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"— aims to create an environment where the virtue of tolerance can flourish. And the Church teaches in Dignitatis humanae that "it is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society." Both the American political tradition and Catholic social teaching recognize that human flourishing needs the space found in the middle.
The middle is where we find virtue, and it's where society will thrive.
Tyler Lomnitzer is Executive Assistant to the Office of the General Counsel, and serves the Committee for Religious Liberty.
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