Is ‘Evasive Thinking’ slanting the marriage debate?

By: Natalie Plumb

With the marriage debate looming, for author Soren Johnson the battle hit a striking parallel between the academic thought of our day and the effect our “evasive thinking” could have on the family, our country and our future.

“Lost in all the cheery, evasive thinking, I fear, are the legitimate needs and rights of these children.”

This column originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

By: Soren Johnson, Catholic Herald Columnist

“On Evasive Thinking” was required reading in my college. The 1965 essay by Czech playwright and future president Václav Havel jumped to mind as I closed Attorney General Mark Herring’s Jan. 23 email entitled “The Right Side of History.”


In the 300-word message sent from “Mark Herring for Attorney General,” Herring explains his decision not to uphold the Virginia Constitution’s Marshall-Newman Amendment of 2006. Passed with the support of 57 percent of Virginians, the amendment underscored the commonwealth’s definition of marriage as “a union between one man and one woman.”

“Virginia is in many ways the cradle of democracy,” Herring expounds, providing the ostensible context for his decision.

“Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Monroe and others called our state home. And America’s first freedom, religious freedom, was written into law only a few blocks from my office in Richmond,” he writes.

“It is time for the commonwealth,” Herring concludes, “to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

“Click here to join me,” he invites, with a link to a petition.

Penned long before the dissident Havel’s imprisonment, “On Evasive Thinking” is a careful reflection on a mundane matter.

In quick succession in early 1965, two window ledges had come loose and fallen from aging buildings in Prague. Two pedestrians were killed by the falling ledges, one on Vodičkova Street, the other on Spálená Street.

Responding to widespread outrage, the Communist-controlled media immediately downplayed the deaths and urged citizens to free themselves from “petty, local, municipal matters” and instead recall Czechoslovakia’s “progress,” “the dignity of the human mission,” and the nation’s “prospects for the future.”

Those who questioned what the state was doing to prevent a third ledge from falling were accused of ignoring the “wider context” and utilizing “disproportion” and “tactics.”

“When we talk about window ledges,” Havel wrote, “we should talk about window ledges and not bring the prospects of mankind into it.” To do otherwise is to fall prey to what he called “evasive thinking”: a “model of thinking,” which, through “false contextualization,” dissolved “everything particular” within “the vagueness of all the possible wider contexts.”

“We live in a time of struggle between two ways of thinking,” he explained, “thinking evasively and thinking to the point … when reality is in conflict with platitude … when common sense is in conflict with a distorted rationality.”

Concerned that the institution of marriage was close to becoming a platitude, I called my state representative and senator in 2006 to urge their passing of something very specific — the Marshall-Newman Amendment. I joined the majority of my fellow Virginians in supporting the measure. One of the calls I made was to then-Sen. Mark Herring, of my home district, who cast his vote in support of the amendment.

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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