And, to be really fair, he's caved to the secular culture in just one real (public) front of the culture war, and that a front which many consider lost. He himself considers it lost, though to read his long and rambling post on Commonweal, to say nothing of his briefer rebuttal to the early responses on facebook, one would come to the conclusion that it is a fight not worth winning. Others among his defenders have said so and in roughly so many words: and this is a large part of why we appear to be losing this particular fight.
Many people, including many Christians in general (who should probably know better) and many Catholic in particular (who should definitely know better) consider our efforts against legal recognition of "gay marriage" to be a waste. This is certain, and it's been stated. Less certain, by really not in much doubt in my mind, is that many consider the effort a waste because they want to see "gay marriage" become a reality, and not merely because they think the fight is using up political and moral capital which could be better spent elsewhere.
Elsewhere tends to be vague: it may be on the very important issues of fighting abortion, or the culture of death in general, or of poverty, or what-have-you. Anywhere else.
The thing is, the two reasons for giving up on this issue look too much alike. "Spend political and moral capital elsewhere" might be advice you'd give a friend because you want to see him succeed elsewhere, but it might as easily be a ruse to get him to stop fighting a fight which you don't want him to win. And reading through Mr Bottum's essay, I notice that while the words mostly say the former, the tone of the thing seems to say the latter. If this is reading too much into Mr Bottom's essay, it is certainly not overreading the sympathetic defenses of that essay, some of which have said in so many words that fighting against "gay marriage" is not a good fight (if a losing one):
"I just also happen to agree with Joseph Bottum, that the fight over gay civil marriage is not the good fight we should be fighting....Attempting to stop legalized gay civil marriage because of the “grave threat” it poses seems disingenuous, not just to gay people but to everyone. Even to me."This reads a lot closer to "stop fighting, because I don't want to risk your winning" than to "stop fighting, you're wasting energy here that could be spent on a winnable battle." Many of these essays read like the "gay marriage" equivalent of "personally, pro-life, but politically pro-choice" which provided cover to Catholics who didn't want a pro-life victory (of any sort).
Perhaps they're meant to read this way, and perhaps not.
The fact that so many of them do does give us a clue as to why the reaction against Mr Bottum was so harsh. Some of the posts are downright vitriolic, and many comments look like they come from Two Minutes' Hate. Many more posts were (or attempted to be) charitable but blunt. Only a scant handful were the least bit tactful (I'll admit, I didn't particularly worry about tact here). Such is how the internet (and beyond) often reads, but this felt a little different.
I suspect that the reason is because those of us who still try to fight the good fight in a loosing battle feel more than a little betrayed by Mr Bottum. As mark Shea put it, he sold out, but only after explaining (as if to placate his own conscience) that he never really believed in this cause to begin with. But he didn't just leave the battlefield gracefully: he sold us out, he attempts to sabotage teh efforts of those who remain (or so it seems).
Intentional or otherwise, he became a traitor of sorts, every bit as much as Mr Doug Kmiec became a traitor who sold out prolifers during the 2008 elections. At the very least, he made us all feel betrayed by the way in which he exited the fight--a way which is opening the gates for a seeming exodus of other deserters. Worse still, many of the arguments involved have made it feel less like a desertion and more like a sudden switching of sides, like so many double-agents and turncoats. They aren't just wearily leaving the battlefield, but rather have retreated to the edge of the field and then turned to fire a parting volley into our flanks.
Is it any wonder, then, why there is so little sympathy for them from those who attempt to fight on? He (and they) may have largely been allowed to leave this front quietly to focus his energies elsewhere had he just been a little more gracious in departing and disengaging. Sloth might be forgiven; choosing to focus one's energies on another front would surely have been forgiven, as would choosing to fight on this front with different tactics. But treason, betrayal: this is quite possibly the hardest thing of all to forgive. There is a reason why the traitors occupied the lowest depth of Hell in Dante's Inferno, and it is not merely a matter of Dante's view of the role of kings in the cosmos. Betrayal is like the anti-salt, which makes any other offense taste that much more bitter to the offended.
Yet, in the end, forgive we must.