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Cardinal Müller & The Benedict Option

Cardinal Gerhard Müller (michael_swan/Flickr)

An Italian friend reports that the influential Italian newspaper Il Foglio published today an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the German cardinal who was recently dismissed by Pope Francis as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal office. It’s an important position; one man who held the office previously was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who left when he was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

The interview is behind a paywall, but I have been sent the Italian text. I’ve run it through Google Translate, and cleaned the English up a bit, but beware that what follows could be mistaken inadvertently. I have pasted in the original Italian text below the jump.

Here’s the part of the article that’s relevant to our purposes here:

About the German Church: From there, in the last three years, the strongest winds of change have come, with Cardinal Marx saying in front of the microphones that “Rome can never tell us what to do or do in Germany”. But how is the situation today in that land?

“Dramatic,” says Müller, who for ten years was bishop of Regensburg before being called to Rome by Benedict XVI. “Active and actual participation is greatly diminished, even the transmission of faith as a theory, but as a meeting with living Jesus Christ has fallen. And so religious vocations. These are signs, factors from which we can see the situation of the Church. But it is the whole of Europe that is now experiencing a forced dechristianization process, far beyond simple secularization.

“It is” – says our interlocutor – “the dechristianization of the whole anthropological base, with the man defined strictly without God and without transcendence. Religion is experienced as a feeling, but not worshiping God as creator and savior. In this great picture, these factors are not good for the transmission of the lived Christian faith, and for this reason it is necessary not to lose our energies in internal struggles, in conflict with each other, with the so-called progressivists seeking revenge by hunting all so-called conservatives.

“If you think about it” – says Müller – “it gives an idea of ​​the Church as something strongly politicized. Our a priori is not being conservative or progressive. Our a priori is Jesus. Believing in the resurrection, ascension, or return of Christ on the last day is traditional or progressive faith? No, this is simply Truth. Our categories must be truth and justice, not categories that go in the spirit of time.”

The cardinal calls the current situation “serious” because “sacramental practice, vocal prayer, and private prayer have been reduced. All the elements of faith lived, of popular faith, have collapsed. And the drama is that you no longer feel the need for God, the sacred and visible word of Jesus. One lives as if God did not exist. Responding to all this is our great challenge. We are not propaganda agents of our own truths, but witnesses of saving truth. Not an idea of ​​faith, but of the reality of the presence of Christ in the world. ”

… Regarding dechristianization, we ask Cardinal Müller what he thinks of the “Benedict Option”, the theme launched years ago by writer Rod Dreher who speculates on a way to live as Christians within the Christianized West or, to put it to the former prefect For the Doctrine of the Faith, the de-Christianized West.

The essential thing to say, Müller explains, “is that Christians cannot return to the catacombs. The missionary dimension is fundamental to the Catholic Church. We can not avoid contemporary battles. Christ said that he did not come to the world to achieve superficial peace, but to challenge, so that Christians would gain the grace of living by following the way He indicated. And so we have to do it even when conditions, like today, are not favorable. “

I know, I know. If somebody knows how I can get a copy of The Benedict Option to Cardinal Müller personally, please write me privately at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and I will mail him one. He and I agree on the “dechristianization” diagnosis, but he shares a common misunderstanding of the Benedict Option.

As I have said many times — and as is clear in the book — the Benedict Option is not a “head for the hills” or “fly to the catacombs” exhortation. It is rather a book that calls on Christians to withdraw partially from living in the world (as if there were no differences between the life of the world and the life of the Church), for the sake of rebuilding ourselves spiritually (in prayer, contemplation, Bible study, and practices), so that we can live more faithfully and resiliently in the world as Christians.

This passage from The Benedict Option captures what I’m getting at. The speakers are monks of Norcia:

Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world—to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’t really welcome anyone.” The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality.
Rather than erring on the side of caution, though, Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.”
The power of popular culture is so overwhelming that faithful orthodox Christians often feel the need to retreat behind defensive lines. But Brother Ignatius warned that Christians must not become so anxious and fearful that they cease to share the Good News, in word and deed, with a world held captive by hatred and darkness. It is prudent to draw reasonable boundaries, but we have to take care not to be like the unfaithful servant in the Parable of the Talents, who was punished by his master for his poor, fearful stewardship of the master’s property.
“The best defense is offense. You defend by attacking,” Brother Ignatius said. “Let’s attack by expanding God’s kingdom—first in our hearts, then in our own families, and then in the world. Yes, have to have borders, but our duty is not to let the borders stay there. We have to push outward, infinitely.”

We cannot give the world what we do not have. Cardinal Müller speaks bluntly about the collapse of the faith in Europe. How, exactly, does he propose for those who still believe to strengthen themselves in community so they can evangelize the world? This is what I don’t get about Christian, like Cardinal Müller, who concede that the Church is in a very bad way — even that we are in an emergency! — yet seem weirdly unwilling to do anything different than what we have been doing, and that has been at best a matter of managing decline.

The Benedict Option may not be the complete answer for the Church. But I prefer my flawed attempt to come up with something constructive to stop the bleeding and prepare us for very hard times to come, to the unwillingness of church leaders to do much more than stand there lamenting the rising tide of dechristianization.

Below is the Italian text of the interview.

UPDATE: To clarify, I can’t really expect a German cardinal to have an informed opinion on the Benedict Option, given that the book has not (yet) been published in Germany or in Italy, or anywhere else in Europe. Thinking about his clerical and lay American counterparts among US church leaders (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), I very much want to know:

1. If The Benedict Option is too negative in its diagnosis, why are things with the Church not as bad as I say?

2. If you more or less agree with the book’s dire diagnosis regarding the state of Christianity in the US (and the West more generally), what do you propose to do about it, and why is that better than the Benedict Option?

Again, below is the Italian text of the relevant Il Foglio interview excerpt:

Read More…

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Trump’s Self-Pardon? Seriously?

He is not a crook — right? (Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

Scoop from The Washington Post tonight:

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

Which says to me, this is in the context of ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself.’

Seriously, though, if he pulls anything like this, he will have to be impeached. We cannot endure a president so contemptuous of the law, and of normal legal procedures. Congressional Republicans had better make this very clear, right now.

More from the Post story:

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”

Indeed it is. I’m shocked that Sessions did not resign. Is he that desperate to hold on to power? Or does he see himself as an Attorney General who will soon be called upon by duty and honor to stand up to an out-of-control president, and force that president to fire him?

Here’s the thing that worries me: that if President Trump decided to pardon his own family members, and even himself (what law would stop him?), a substantial minority of Americans would support him. If so, what that would reveal about how respect for the rule of law and basic republican order in the United States had decayed would be staggering.

Congressional Republicans had better draw a bright red line, right now, and publicly. If Trump continues down this path, then the fundamental integrity of our democratic order will be at stake.



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Summer Festival Of Dreherbait

My home air conditioner died this afternoon, one of the hottest days of the year in one of the most humid and miserable parts of these United States … but at least Hillary isn’t the president! So there’s that. My brain is too fuzzled by heat and humidity to think about anything right now except Dreherbait.

Enjoy, my people. Especially you, Gorsuch.

1. Adorable Deplorable! Punk rock tot rocks Manhattan! The New York Times publishes the lament of her grieving mother:

My 3-year-old daughter is obsessed with Donald Trump.

This is a problem if 1) you live in New York City, 2) you are liberal, 3) your friends are liberal, 4) your daughter attends a liberal school and 5) your relatives are affected by the Trump administration’s travel ban.

Yassi, my daughter, attends the kind of school that made counseling available in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections. Parents stood together comforting one another on Nov. 9 in an act of collective mourning that I hadn’t seen since Sept. 11. This is probably exactly the type of school that the Trump voters were hating on with their epic middle finger raised to the elites of this country.

On that same morning, Yassi made few friends by screaming “Donald Trump!” at the top of her lungs in the crowded stairwell to her school. People whirled around to find the traitor. Red-faced and humiliated, I pulled her aside and said, “Shhhh, Yassi, we do not scream these things at school.” And so, an expletive was born, much more potent than any four-letter word.

“Annabel,” she would say, turning to her best friend, “I want to tell you a secret.” Annabel would dutifully move closer.

“Donald Trump!” Yassi would do her 3-year-old best to whisper, which, of course, turned out to be a poorly modulated stage whisper audible to anybody nearby.

Incredibly — or not, given that she’s a New York liberal — Mom doesn’t see the humor in any of this. More:

To me, Yassi’s obsession with Donald Trump represented the radical disjuncture between the brave new world we adults came to inhabit and the innocent world of a child, where even the names of autocratic despots are reduced to lyrical rhymes.

What a great kid.

2. Prominent federal judge believes Southerners are too stupid to vote:


3. USA Today film critic faults Dunkirk — a film about the 1940 rescue of British troops from France by British people — for not being woke:

The trio of timelines can be jarring as you figure out how they all fit, and the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way. Still, Nolan’s feat is undeniable: He’s made an immersive war movie that celebrates the good of mankind while also making it clear that no victory is without sacrifice.

Note well that this idiotic remark passed through at least two levels of editing.

4. Creationist theme park owner gays up Noah’s Ark:

Some people are not happy:

“For crying out loud, no one took your rainbow! Please stop trying to pass this nonsense off as Christianity. There is nothing Christian about judging one another. Just think what this world could be if we spent just half this energy finding ways to show kindness and acceptance and understanding and love to people who aren’t just like us instead,” wrote Michele Bowen Woloszyk in a comment that drew nearly 3,000 reactions. “If you aren’t sending love into the world, you’re just doing damage. If your religion/church is teaching you otherwise, you need to find a better way to spend your time.”

[UPDATE: I think the outrage is pretty funny, and I’m tickled that Ham is annoying people like Mme. Bowen Woloszyk. — RD] In related news, Ken Ham has all kinds of reasons to explain why Christian America isn’t flocking to his monorail replica of Noah’s Ark built in the middle of rural northern Kentucky.


5. There will always be a Brooklyn:


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A Memento Mori For Social Conservatives

From a piece in Rolling Stone about Tim Gill, a gay tech skrillionaire who devotes his fortune to LGBT causes. The article identifies him as the linchpin of LGBT legal and political victories:

More broadly, for Gill and his allies, nondiscrimination is the new front of the movement: a campaign that pits LGBTQ advocates against a religious right that responded to marriage equality by redoubling its efforts. The election of Donald Trump, who claims to support gay rights but stocked his administration with anti-LGBTQ extremists, has only emboldened those looking to erase the gains of the past decade. Gill refuses to go on the defense. “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he says. “We’re going to punish the wicked.”

Emphasis mine.

This is extremely clarifying. Remember it. Make sure you are giving as much as you can to non-profits who defend religious freedom (e.g., ADF, The Becket Fund). The liberty they defend is our own.

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It’s Worse In Modern China

Air pollution in Beijing — but the Kultursmog is worse (testing/Shutterstock)

A reader sends this fascinating blog post by a young American living in China. It’s quite something. It begins:

One of the benefits of living in China is a certain sense of perspective.

China exists outside of the Anglophone culture wars. It would not be accurate to say the Chinese don’t have an opinion or even a stake in American cultural crusades. They do. But our fights are not their fights, and even when they squabble over parallel issues it is on very different terms, terms quite divorced from those that led Anglophone politics to its current trajectory.

My time here has thus given me a rare vantage point to judge many of the claims made over the course of these campaigns. In few places is this sort of outside perspective more useful than when judging the claims of an American jeremiad. Jeremiading is a fine art. Its practitioners hail from lands both left and right, but my sympathies lie with the cultural traditionalists. You know the type. In America they find little but a shallow husk. For some it is the husk of a nation once great; for others it is the decaying remains of Western civilization itself. Few of these gloom-filled minds deny that wonders have marked their days on this earth. It is not that advances do not happen. It is just that each celebrated advance masks hundreds of more quiet destructions. These laments for worlds gone by are poignant; the best are truly beautiful.  The best of the best, however, do not just lament. Every one of their portraits of the past is a depiction of a future—or more properly, a way of living worth devoting a future to.

At the heart of his piece is the claim, laid out below, that everything doom-and-gloomers (like Your Working Boy) say about the West is

Are you worried about political correctness gone awry, weaponized by mediocrities to defame the worthy,  suffocating truth, holding honest inquiry hostage through fear and terror? That problem is worse in China. 

Do you lament the loss of beauty in public life? Its loss as a cherished ideal of not just art and oratory but in the building of homes, chapels, bridges, and buildings? Its disappearance in the comings-and-goings of everyday life? That problem is worse in China. 

Do you detest a rich, secluded, and self-satisfied cultural elite that despises, distrusts, and derides the uneducated and unwashed masses not lucky enough to live in one of their chosen  urban hubs? That problem is worse in China. 

Are you sickened by crass materialism? Wealth chased, gained, and wasted for nothing more than vain display? Are you oppressed by the sight of children denied the joys of childhood, guided from one carefully structured resume-builder to the next by parents eternally hovering over their shoulders? Do you dread a hulking, bureaucratized leviathan, unaccountable to the people it serves, and so captured by special interests that even political leaders cannot control it? Are you worried by a despotic national government that plays king-maker in the economic sphere and crushes all opposition to its social programs into the dust? Do you fear a culture actively hostile to the free exercise of religion? Hostility that not only permeates through every layer of society, but is backed by the awesome power of the state?

These tooare all worse in China.

Only on one item from Esolen’s catalogue of decline can American society plausibly be described as more self-destructive than China’s. China has not hopped headlong down the rabbit’s hole of gender-bending. The Chinese have thus far proved impervious to this nonsense. But it would not be meet to conclude from this that Chinese society’s treatment of sex is healthier than the West’s. In far too many ways the opposite is true. Urban Chinese society is just as sex-obsessed as America’s, and in many realms (say, advertising) far less shameless about it. Prostitution is ubiquitous. For men over 30, visiting prostitutes is socially acceptable. In many situations these visits are not just acceptable, but expected. Many a boss believes he can’t trust his underlings until they have spent some time sinning together. No one blinks an eye at professional mistresses; a wealthy Chinese man is expected to keep up one of these “Little 3rds” and carouse about with karaoke bar hostesses and banquet call-girls. The worst of that culture has (thankfully) been cut down by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive, but there is no evidence that government campaigns have had any effect on pornography abuse. As the standard joke goes whenever some Chinese millennial wants to mock government weakness: “They’ve been at the anti-porn campaign for ten years now, but none of you have had any problem getting your hands dirty!”

And so forth. That’s all interesting information to have, but here’s what makes the post worth reading. The author writes that if modern China is an amplification of the problems we in the West have, traditional China also offers the solutions, or at least opens the door to finding solutions:

The 21st century is not the first era Chinese have been offered a stark choice between success and virtue. If there is one theme that threads its way through the great sweep of the Chinese tradition, it is a tragic recognition that the world we live in is not designed to reward the life most worth living.

Read the whole thing.  It’s exciting!

I’m interested to hear from readers who know something about Chinese tradition, including especially Chinese literary tradition, and who can expand on the claims made by this blogger.

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Donald Trump, Treacherous Loon

Sen. Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, in happier days (Brad McPherson/Shutterstock)

News flash! Something is deeply, deeply wrong with this man:

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

You think Trump can’t shock you anymore, and then he comes out with something like this. He threw Jeff Sessions under the bus because Jeff Sessions has a modicum of what Trump conspicuously lacks: a sense of professional ethics, and of what it means to live under the rule of law. Trump thinks the purpose of the Attorney General is not to serve the law, but to serve the president’s wishes.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

The law is whatever President Trump says it is. Ethics are whatever serves President Trump’s interests.

I don’t see how Jeff Sessions has any choice now but to resign. He has lost the confidence of the president. And I think Sessions will one day very soon be grateful that he got out of this Dumpster fire of an administration before it all went to hell.

The Republicans hold Congress and the presidency, and they can’t get a damn thing done. Far as I’m concerned, one of the few good things about the Trump administration is the fact that Jeff Sessions is running the Justice Department. And now Trump has humiliated the man for doing the ethically responsible thing in the Russia matter.

Once again, we see that Trump has no loyalty to anybody but himself. Jeff Sessions was one of the early supporters of Trump, and stood by Trump’s side when nobody else in Washington would. And this is how Trump rewards him. Aside from that, Trump is also crazy. Who does that to their Attorney General — and for such a petty reason? Trump has no judgment, only appetite. There is no stability in this administration. No reason to trust anything the president says, even if you think he’s on your side.

Who is foolish enough, malleable enough, and lickspittle enough to take that Justice Department job after Sessions goes, as he surely must, as he has a sense of honor and self-respect? Who holds their credibility so lightly?

Infuriating, just infuriating! How the presidency will recover after Trump is finished soiling it, heaven only knows. The stupidity of it all…

UPDATE: Adam.Ant says:

Which is why your ‘at least Trump doesn’t despise us’ take from the other day was so very off track. Is ‘crazy’ a metaphor here? If not, Trump’s intentions today or tomorrow, who he thinks is his enemy is as changeable as the weather.

I regret to say he has a point. When it suits Trump’s perceived interests to betray social and religious conservatives, I believe he will. I don’t know if the day will ever come in which I concede that even Hillary would have been better than this guy, but I think we are moving closer to it.


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Banning Bigot Books In Boston

Triple Hitler! The Mein Kampf of Moonshiners!

Douglas Koziol, who works for an independent bookstore in the Boston area, is pained that some people come into his bookstore asking for deplorable volumes, like the bestselling Mein Kampf of the Moonshiners, Hillbilly Elegy. What is a Puritan bookseller to do when people come in wanting to buy books that stand to corrupt them? Koziol writes:

I don’t intend to review Elegy here. More capable pieces have already been written about the book’s “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” message, its condemnation of a supposed culture of poverty, its dismissal of the working class’s material reality as a determining factor in their lives, and its callous claim that the welfare state only reinforces a cycle of dependency. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because these are the same rightwing talking points that have been leveled at the working class and poor for decades. As if that weren’t enough, the book also boasts glowing blurbs from the likes of Rod Dreher, whose oeuvre consists of transphobic screeds for The American Conservative; literal tech vampire Peter Thiel; and the National Review, which, under the guidance of William F. Buckley, promoted segregation and derided the Civil Rights Movement, among countless other odious stances, and which now primarily serves as a trust fund for a gaggle of #NeverTrump Republicans who hold the President’s views but gussy them up with a bowtie. And yet the customers where I work—largely liberal, well-educated and well-meaning people—have bought the book in droves.

Imagine that. What’s wrong with liberal Bostonians? Don’t they understand that Hillbilly Elegy is just filled with Wrongthink? Bad people have said it’s good, and still, good liberals think it has something to say to them about the world. For shame!

More from Nanny Koziol:

So what can you do when a customer wants a book that you not only find objectionable but also believe actually dangerous in the lessons it portends amidst such a politically precarious time? If it helps, swap Elegy for any book that you find particularly insidious, whether it’s Atlas ShruggedThe Communist Manifesto, or The Bible. The question remains: without stooping to the level of crazed book-burning, does the bookseller’s role ever evolve past the capitalist exchange of money for paper and pulp? And are there meaningful ways to resist the continued sales of disastrous books?

Or, as a reader of this blog reframes the question, “How can we ban books without, you know, banning them?”

A lot of people on Twitter are laughing at prim Nanny K. today, and he certainly deserves it. But he does raise an interesting point. No bricks-and-mortar bookstore can stock everything, so decisions have to be made. How do we make them?

LifeWay Books, the Southern Baptist bookstore chain, recently decided to stop selling the books of Eugene Peterson when the well-respected elderly pastor publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage (the chain changed its mind after Peterson recanted). To me, that didn’t make a lot of sense, given that he had not advocated same-sex marriage in his published books. But then, you can’t buy my Christian books at LifeWay either, because I don’t fit their test of Christian orthodoxy. I am not offended by that.

Similarly, I wouldn’t expect to go to Eighth Day Books in Wichita and pick up smut like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” even though it was a megaseller. If we’re going to fault Nanny K. for his censorious ways, we have to avoid hypocrisy. If a bookstore branded itself as a left-wing bookseller, we couldn’t plausibly be offended by their refusal to sell right-wing books, could we?

The problem here, I think, is that Nanny K. doesn’t appear to work for a bookstore that considers itself to be anything other than a general book retailer. Nanny K. is trying to get away with enjoying the reputation as a “full-spectrum” bookstore without actually being one. Reader Annie explains why she’s bothered by this:

For many years I made it a priority to buy books, new, from independent booksellers. They provided a public space and service that should be treasured, I believed. Even though I was an underpaid, uninsured caregiver, it was very important to me to spend my money in an ethical way.

It never escaped me that the philosophy and religion sections were shrinking. Time after time I noticed the only books on theology would be “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell. I’d notice there would be three shelves on Jewish mysticism, two on Sufis, four shelves on Buddhism, and a scrappy half-shelf on Christianity. Usually that shelf would include Karen Armstrong and other critics; a really good bookstore would have a few by C.S. Lewis. That’s it.

This was more than a hobby to me. I visited bookstores all over the country, tracking them down like a pilgrim seeking holy places. Over the past fifteen years the subtle censorship has accelerated. Even the great, eclectic Powell’s has employees who have quietly spoken up in odd corners of the web about the censorship.

This is stealth indoctrination. Yes, some of these books are dangerous. They might change your life! To see booksellers try to keep the Holy Bible out of people’s hands is terrifying. This is our cultural heritage. Far be it from me to say any bookseller SHOULD stock certain books (though of course it’s deeply ironic that these same booksellers most likely insist upon Baking the Cake), but freethinkers should be aware that, excluding places like Eighth Day Books, most booksellers these days are servants of the progressive, intersectionality religion.

A great service on the parts of BenOp-minded folk would be to start up independent, full spectrum bookstores.

If I were an independent bookstore owner, I would stock a wide range of titles, both left and right, but there are certain kinds of books (e.g., books I considered to be pornographic) that I would not stock. Every reader of this blog, if he or she were an independent bookstore owner, would have to draw the line somewhere too. What principles would you use to decide? I would stock Atlas Shrugged and The Communist Manifesto, not because I agree with them, heaven knows, but because I think they are within the bounds of important and necessary discussion. For that matter, I would stock Muslim books, Jewish books, Hindu books, and so forth. But I would not stock works of the racialist right, or for that matter queer theory, or anything that serves what Annie calls “the progressive, intersectionality religion.”

Which, to me, is an interesting place to draw the line. Why would I stock books from what you might consider the “Old Left,” but not some on the Postmodern Cultural Left? I’m not quite sure. It has to do with drawing boundaries within which the discussion I would like to see can take place (as distinct from saying which books I believe people should or should not read).

What do you think? How would you handle this if you were the bookstore owner?

And by the way, a general interest bookstore that would deliberately not stock my books, or J.D. Vance’s book, is a bookstore that I would not patronize, period. As a customer, I too have boundaries.

UPDATE: St. Louisan writes:

“The question remains…does the bookseller’s role ever evolve past the capitalist exchange of money for paper and pulp?”

WAIT. Wait just a minute. For years now, Christian small business owners have been in the news for refusing to sell their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies to which they have religious objections. And for just as long the left, in general but overwhelmingly, has found this to be simply incomprehensible. ‘What? By what right does a seller of goods and services presume to limit who and what she’ll sell to? Surely once you enter the marketplace, you must sell to anyone who has money to exchange! If you don’t like it, you can just NOT HAVE A BUSINESS.’

But now that some Bostonians want to buy Hillbilly Elegy (of all places to draw the line), it’s suddenly dawned on our bookseller here that just maybe, the sale of goods and services may have some moral content not reducible to raw economics. He wonders sellers may have some ground for refusing business which would involve them in what they consider immoral. And he wonders this as if it’s a radical new insight which has only just occurred to him.

I’m curious if he himself sees any connection between his disinclination to sell books when he thinks doing so will be participating in something morally dangerous and people like Barronelle Stutzman’s disinclination to sell cakes for the same reason.

Not for nothing, but the other day was the feast of Saints Justa and Rufina in the Roman calendar–they were martyred aftered refusing to sell their pottery for use in a pagan ritual.

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The Ben Op Dialogue

A reader of The Benedict Option summarizes the dialogue (such as it is) between me and my critics thus:

Rod Dreher: Christians do not possess the weapons necessary to fight liquid modernity.

Critics: Yeah, but let’s fight anyway.

RD: With what? We are not well enough equipped.

Critics: You are absolutely correct, we are not well equipped, but we cannot cede our position.

RD: What position? The modern world has run the Christian, and largely the Western worldview out of any position of influence.

Critics: Yes, but we must continue to fight!

RD: With what? We have largely surrendered all of our weapons to the opposition. We have traded our swords for their pitchforks.

Critics: Quite true, quite true, we have made some mistakes in the past, but it would be a mistake to retreat now.

RD: Retreat is a means of survival. Washington retreated from New York. The Allies retreated at Dunkirk. Had either held their position, they would have been unquestionably annihilated and the world would be a much different, and likely worse, place than it is now.

Critics: Yes, but this is different. That won’t happen to us.

RD: How is it different? Why won’t it happen to us?

Critics: Because we have God on our side!

RD: So have thousands of men and women whose lives were lost at the hands of those who raged against God. Are you advocating martyrdom?

Critics: Not at all.

RD: So what will happen?

Critics: We will win! God will reward our courage!

RD: … so, martyrdom?

Critics: No, Rod. It would simply be unwise to retreat now.

RD: Ok.

The reader continues:

I share in your frustrations that your book has been so misrepresented. It is very clearly not at all what your critics claim it is, and a simply reading will show precisely that. By this point, there is nothing new under the sun to be said about this matter, but it is exceedingly silly that so many miss the very simple point of your book — that men and women of the West, whether Christian, Mormon, Jewish, or whatever else — must intentionally rededicate themselves that those values they hold dear, to the values and ideas that made Western Civilization what it is … was. For some that may mean finding new employment, or a new neighborhood, or church. For some it will be more radical than others, but those who are unwilling to experience discomfort, or those who are afraid of change, will be swept into the whirlwind that is coming.

That’s exactly it. Thanks so much for saying so.

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Intermarriage And The Future Of Faith

Can this really work? (Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

A reader tips me to this very good Emma Green piece on the crisis in Conservative Judaism over intermarriage. Unlike rabbis in Reform and Reconstruction Judaism, rabbis in Conservative Judaism — which is more willing to make concessions to modern life than Orthodox Judaism — have refused to perform interfaith marriages. Today, though, with Conservative Judaism fast shrinking, more and more rabbis are bucking this rule. Excerpts:

While evidence suggests that intermarriage is linked to less Jewish engagement, people tell different stories about the causes. “There’s a huge sociological elephant in the room,” said Daniel Gordis, an American Conservative rabbi who helps run Shalem College, a liberal-arts college in Israel. “Jewish identity is not clearly that sustainable in the absence of two parents who are Jewish.”

Gordis holds a view that is common in Conservative and Orthodox circles: When a young Jew marries a non-Jew, it is often a sign that they’re not very committed to Judaism and won’t be that engaged once they’re married. Most American Jewish Millennials have become integrated into the communities around them—they “are the most financially successful, the people with the most political access, the most culturally integrated,” Gordis said. “But they are also by far the most Jewishly illiterate Jewish community that has ever existed.”

Some rabbis hold the opposite fear, though: that refusing to oversee interfaith marriages and penalizing diverse families in ritual participation drives people away. “The rabbinate has these internal discussions that are almost in a vacuum,” Rosenbloom said. “They don’t want to hear what the laity has to say … but the laity are voting by their unhappiness when we refuse to marry their children, and their children are voting by not coming back to our synagogues after we’ve rejected them.”


The rise of intermarried Jewish couples has prompted some rabbis, like Lewittes, to reimagine their roles as religious leaders—with job descriptions that aren’t primarily focused on the observance of Jewish law. “My success as a rabbi will be measured to the extent that I can help people access their own authentic understanding of themselves as Jews,” Lewittes said.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism consider intermarriage not simply a bad idea, but in fact a violation of Jewish law:

“To bless an intermarried union is … to in some way betray the very thing that I’ve given my life to, which is to try to maintain the Jewish tradition,” said David Wolpe, the senior rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “It may be beautiful, it may be loving, it may be worth celebrating on a human level. But on a Jewish level, it’s not fine, and it can’t be made fine.” Although rabbis would have to “have a heart of granite” not to feel sympathy toward young people who are in love and want to get married, “I don’t necessarily feel that someone else’s need is my obligation,” he said. “Someone else may need a rabbi to bless that union, or may want a rabbi to bless that union. It doesn’t mean that I have to do it.”

He’s right about that. But one Jewish critic points out that the Conservative movement has for decades been issuing rulings that violate Jewish law — including, recently, approving same-sex marriages — so why draw the line in the sand here? It’s okay for Jewish men to marry Jewish men in synagogue, but not for a Jewish man to marry a Gentile woman? Really?

Read the whole thing. It’s a complex story that has everything to do with the future of Judaism. A 2013 Pew study of Judaism in America showed the contours of this crisis:

There are a lot more Jews in America than you may have thought — an estimated 6.8 million, according to a new study. But a growing proportion of them are unlikely to raise their children Jewish or connect with Jewish institutions.

The proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all.

Overall, the intermarriage rate is at 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent.

Christians can — or should — be able to relate to this. Mary Eberstadt has written about how the passing on of Christianity across generations depends greatly on the religiosity of the family.  It has been well established in social science research that the stability of religious identification depends on the stability of the family and its relationship to religion. Intermarriage between faiths — or between a believer and a non-believer — makes it more likely that the children of that marriage will practice the religion.

The question, then, facing Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other religious believers living in the modern West is whether or not they can raise their children counterculturally, so that they reject the contemporary cult of individualism and egalitarianism. Here’s what I mean.

Law professor Mark Movsesian writes about how none of the students in one of his classes could even understand why a florist should have the right to deny wedding services to a same-sex couple. To help them understand the issues in play, he posited a case in which a religious florist declined, out of religious conviction, to provide flowers for an interfaith wedding. Movesesian writes:

In posing this hypothetical, I was not so interested in how the case would come out under current law. Rather, in good law-school fashion, I was trying to show the students that these are complicated questions and that they need to consider both sides. Much to my surprise, the students were uniformly unsympathetic to the florist. There should be no right to decline services in this situation, they told me. The florist was not acting reasonably and in good faith.

Now, multiculturalism comes very naturally to kids in this generation—they all support diversity. So, I pressed them. Didn’t they see that genuine diversity requires respect for difference, that difference implies boundaries, and that boundaries necessarily exclude? Couldn’t a member of a minority community believe, in good faith, that her community faced assimilation and decline to act, in her commercial dealings, in a way that promoted it? Wasn’t that a concern worthy of respect? No, they told me. The florist in my hypothetical case should have no right to turn away the interfaith couple.

Conservatives often assume that controversies like Masterpiece Cakeshop reflect changing sexual norms and an intolerance of resistance. That’s correct, in part; one definitely senses a “you-lost-get-over-it” sentiment on the other side. And yet, the students’ reaction to my hypothetical case suggests that something else is going on as well, that the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification. That’s what the florist was doing in my hypothetical case—and that, I think, was what bothered the students.

This really matters. It tells us that these students do not recognize any reality higher than the desires of individuals. There is nothing in our popular culture that supports sacrificing “love” — the desire of one autonomous individual for a romantic union with another consenting autonomous individual — for the sake of a higher value, like, say, fidelity to one’s religion, and the felt responsibility to keep it alive in future generations. But it must be done. The stakes are clear.

Before I met the woman who was to be my wife, I was starting to fall for a non-practicing Jewish woman I knew. I think she had the same feelings for me. She was beautiful, smart, funny, charming — really, a delight in every way. I really wanted to go out with her. But I forced myself not to act on my feelings, because by then my Christian faith had become of central importance to me, and I knew that it would be very difficult to sustain a marriage (if it got to that point) with only one of us believing in the Christian faith, or God, period. Plus, how do we raise children to be Christian if only one of us is? What would I tell the kids about their mother? What if their mother felt that they should have exposure to Judaism, not simply so that they knew this was part of their heritage (which would be a good thing), but such that they considered it a possible religious path for themselves — something that would mean apostasy from Christianity? I could not live with that.

There were far, far too many problems and compromises in that future. I knew that if we fell in love, we would have every immediate incentive to minimize or even to deny those problems, believing that love would conquer all. So I never asked her out. It was the right decision — and I would say that even if I had never married anyone else — but in that moment, it was not an easy decision.

I can see how a childless couple who have two different faiths (or one with no faith at all) could make it, with difficulty. I don’t see how they can realistically hope to pass on one of those faiths to their offspring. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it can happen — but I think the odds are very much against it. There are these key quotes from the Green piece:

Now, marrying someone who is not Jewish is “not an expression of their diminishing desire to stay rooted in their Jewish lives and values,” she added. “It’s something they’ve experienced as being entirely consistent with … who they understand themselves to be as Jews.”


“It is extremely important for the Jewish community, especially in open American society, that there are different paths to take that are right for different people,” she said.

What is a Jew? What does it mean to be a Jew? Can people today have a radically different understanding of what that means, and still be Jews in a meaningful sense? Are there objective standards here, or is a Jew whatever people who think of themselves as Jews say a Jew is? These are not abstract questions. The survival of the Jewish people as Jews is at issue.

And, for Christians, though we are not a people for whom membership in the religious community is a matter of blood, the survival of our own faith is put at risk by the same forces. Is a Christian (in general, or of a specific branch of Christianity) whatever an individual who wishes to identify as Christian says it is? Or are there rules of orthodoxy that cannot be ignored or refuted without the religion becoming something other than itself? How does intermarriage affect the way we answer this question?


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Whiteness And Godliness

One in the bond of love? (pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock)

Lisa Robinson, a black Evangelical Christians, offers “Some Questions I’m Asking While Off To My White Evangelical Church.” She says that yes, it’s true that white Christians have historically been complicit with injustice against black Christians, and though things have gotten better, there’s still a ways to go with racial reconciliation. But these days, she says, church circles are buzzing with talk of overthrowing “white supremacy” in the church. And this has Robinson wondering:

What exactly do people want to see with respect to this dismantling of white supremacy in the church? Is it simply wanting for non-whites to have a seat at the table, invited to have a voice and valuable contribution? I think that’s an admirable and goal and in line with Scripture if we truly are regarding others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3). Or is it ensuring that white leaders are removed from power over the church and transplanted with people of color? Do we want to remove their presence altogether?

Is this a power struggle? Because it’s one thing to actually want reconciliation. It’s quite another to want to subjugate a group to an inferior status in the interest of dismantling white supremacy. Is the goal for our white brothers and sisters to suffer the same plight of marginalization that minorities suffered? Is our goal to silence their voices unless they capitulate to every sociological demand, including support of groups like Black Lives Matter who have no foundation or roots in Christian orthodoxy and prescribe anti-Christian sentiments? Because it is possible in the course of dismantling this domination to turn the tables. I was struck by this article from a few days ago from a self-professed social justice activist regarding concerns about present day activism; social justice activism;

Postcolonialist black Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon in his 1961 book Wretched of the Earth writes about the volatile relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and the conditions of decolonization. In it, he sharply warns the colonized against reproducing and maintaining the oppressive systems of colonization by replacing those at top by those previously at the bottom after a successful revolution . . . The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy.

He speaks from a non-Christian perspective, but there is a warning there, I think.

Robinson goes on to say that the jargon of this movement — whiteness, white supremacy, oppression, marginalization, colonization — is designed to put you into a hostile mindset, to teach you to start seeing your white fellow churchgoers with suspicion. And if you try to question any of this language, “you will be branded as endorsing whiteness and maybe even treated like an enemy…like them.” She asks what it does to her to start seeing the white people in her church as potential threats instead of fellow believers.

Read the whole thing. Talking across racial lines about issues of race and racial conflict will never, ever be easy, but if the church isn’t a place we can do this productively, where is? To do it productively requires humility on all sides. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If you want people to change, you have to show them mercy and grace. A white Evangelical friend of mine dropped out of a racial reconciliation group in his city — a group he joined because he’s serious about it — because it turned into a weekly ritual denunciation of Whiteness™.

If that’s what the encounter in church between blacks and whites comes down to, then there will never, ever be racial reconciliation. If facing the legacy of racism in the church in a healing way can only be done by whites hating themselves for being white, then all you will get is bitterness and defensiveness.

Christians ought to find this easier than most, given the faith’s teachings about humility and mercy. But we don’t. This is our failing, but this is also our challenge. To bring in the SJW rhetoric and categories into the church, though, is pure poison. Lisa Robinson recognizes that, bless her.

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