Rod Dreher

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Ancestor Worship & Honor Culture

Detail of Soviet stamp featuring Rembrandt's 'Return of the Prodigal Son'. MarkauMark /
Detail of Soviet stamp featuring Rembrandt's 'Return of the Prodigal Son'. MarkauMark /

A line from my NRO essay on Dante and Holy Week has caught the eye of some readers. In it, I make a wisecrack that ancestor worship is the true religion of the American South. Here, from my book How Dante Can Save Your Life, is the context of that remark:

Back in the fall of 2012, when Father Matthew and his wife Anna first came to town to talk to us about starting [an Eastern Orthodox] mission, a local clergyman told him that the greatest challenge he would face in West Feliciana Parish is not hostility to religion. it would be the unwillingness of people to leave their family’s church, no matter how unhappy they were there.

“You’re right about that,” I added, laughing. “The real religion of our parish is ancestor worship.”

It was a joke, of course, but there is a lot of truth in the jibe. In the South, loyalty to tradition dies hard. After Father Matthew had been living here a year or so, I asked him what characteristic of the South stood out most clearly to him. He didn’t hesitate one bit, saying, “The way you all hold a grudge.”

I was taken aback by the swiftness of his answer, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

I go on to talk about how the shame-honor culture of the South, and the deep reverence for history and ancestry, can be a real burden, especially to the Christian life. It has been observed by many others (e.g., Walker Percy) that its honor culture makes the South more Stoic than Christian, and that this Stoicism was chiefly responsible for the abject failure of Southern Christians on the question of race. Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor and new friend of mine, writes in his 2014 book When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, that honor is a good thing,

But making it a primary thing is a Greek concept and not a biblical one. Shifting the concept of “honor” toward family and home and what that home ultimately represented in Southern society became a fatal error.

That gets very, very close to why I fell off the straight path and into the dark wood. As I talk about in detail in How Dante, I made a terrible mistake early in my life, of making idols of Family and Home, and believing that the only way I could redeem myself from the shame of having moved away was returning. A lot of this was subconscious, or something of which I was barely conscious. But it was very real, and for most of my adult life, it compromised my emotional life and my spiritual life, because I saw God as a Southern patriarch whose displeasure at me could not be appeased.

When I did everything I possibly could to redeem myself from the “disgrace” of having left Family and Home, and that still wasn’t enough, that’s when I broke. The code of honor meant that my father, in his mind, could not be wrong, nor could my sister have ever been wrong … and, to her children, honoring their mother meant that they could not go against her judgment and accept their uncle, who made himself a prodigal by leaving in the first place. Hannah predicted this in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming came true:

“Uncle Rod, I need to tell you something,” Hannah said, her voice rising. “I really think you and Aunt Julie should stop trying so hard to get close to Claire and Rebekah. It’s not going to work.”

“Why not?”

“Because we were raised in a house where our Mama a lot of times had a bad opinion of you,” she said. “She never talked bad about you to us, but we could tell that she didn’t like the way you lived. We could hear the things she said, and Paw too. I had a bad opinion of you myself, until I started coming to visit y’all, and I saw how wrong they were.

“I was fifteen the first time I did that,” she continued. “My sisters are still young. They don’t know any different. All they know is how we were raised. It makes me sad to see you and Aunt Julie trying so hard, me knowing you’re not going to get anywhere. I don’t want y’all to be hurt.”

Hannah was right, as it turned out. And I was badly hurt. But real good came out of it. It revealed to me the false gods of Family and Home, the gods I had unwittingly worshiped as ultimate goods, not partial goods. And more importantly, I understood the difference between God and the world in which I was raised. My story was like the Prodigal Son story in the Gospel, if it had ended with the father taking the side of the elder brother, the one who stayed, and refusing to welcome the prodigal brother home. After all, the prodigal had made his choice to walk away from what he had been given in his home and his family; let him live with it.

That’s not how God is. The law of Love trumps the Justice of the old honor code! I had to go through something close to the Prodigal Son’s experience myself to grasp, once and for all, the radicalism of Jesus’s teaching to the Semitic shame-honor culture, and to understand what that had to do with the relationship between God the Father and myself. I thought I understood, but really, I knew nothing.

So, when Father Matthew sees that we Southerners hold a grudge like nobody’s business, what he’s talking about is that we find forgiveness and humility alien to our spirit. We don’t think we do, but we do. That doesn’t make us bad, necessarily, but it does mean that there is a particularly regional quality to our brokenness. We do not like to lose face, because losing face means submission.

The acute challenge that my priest put to me — and this too is in the book — is that now that I see and have repented of the shame-honor lie in my relationship to God, how can I allow Love to defeat Justice in my fractured relationship with my family? Because it has to; as a Christian, I have no choice. This is hard. Honor culture is so deep in my bones, and there is a lot of undeniable good that goes with it (e.g., “a man’s word is his bond,” which people here really do live by). But ultimately it is not Christian.

What do you Southerners in the readership think? What are your experiences with the shame-honor culture we all grew up in? How has it shaped your relationships, and your faith?

By the way, after I started this post, I received the following e-mail from a young Evangelical friend in Washington DC, to whom I had sent a galley copy of How Dante Can Save Your Life. He writes:

I finished How Dante the other day and really enjoyed it. You succeeded in what you set out to do, which was to give your readers a picture of how interacting with the Commedia (and, potentially, other great works) can broaden a reader’s heart and stir the waters of the mind to receive healing and transformation.

This is a profoundly Christian book about the work of sanctification. What gives it particular force is that you wrote specifically through the lens of Orthodoxy (while taking pains to say that much of this is relevant to just about anyone). I think if you’d “Oprahfied” the spirituality it would have been a much weaker book. Instead, the way you wrote it allows your readers to trace the threads that are common across Orthodoxy and other Christian traditions, and even threads that can be found woven throughout creation as God’s “invisible attributes” (cf Rom. 1:20).

I found (as a Christian, but not a big-O Orthodox one) many similarities to the doctrines of grace and sanctification in the Baptist and Reformed traditions, among others. God’s grace is a freely offered gift, through Christ, that we can only receive when we acknowledge our own spiritual poverty. But it doesn’t end there; we must take hold of the promise by responding in faith and “rise, take up our bed, and walk.”

This is the unique achievement of your book: theology books tend to focus on limning differences in belief, and self-help books tend to tell you what to do without offering a first-person look at vulnerability and suffering, but you invited your readers into the story with you – as perhaps only a blogger can do. You took a real risk in writing so candidly about your internal struggles and your relationship with your family. I think you really brought it home at the end with the story about your dad in the hospital room – a really affecting image that I think many people will relate to.

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Indiana & the Benedict Option

'Belshazzar's Feast,' by Rembrandt ((Photo by Gary Caldwell/Flickr)
'Belshazzar's Feast,' by Rembrandt ((Photo by Gary Caldwell/Flickr)

A Catholic professor and lawyer who blogs as Sardonic Ex Curia reads the handwriting on the Hoosier wall. Excerpt:

The Indiana RFRA is welcome. But it is weak, and will fall in front of the storm. As predicted by a friend in a recent Facebook post, at some point in the near future, within 1 – 5 years by my own reckoning, the RFRA laws, federal and state, will be overthrown in a Supreme Court decision. This will surprise only those who have lived with their heads under rocks, for it will be the logical outcome of the Court’s long jurisprudence of sexual individualism.

We are at war. It is a war we did not wish, but it is thrust upon us. And the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can raise the barricades. We must take every opportunity in law to argue against the eventuality. But we should not expect the law to do much for us any longer. There are those who will say that what is written here is “divisive” or seeks no compromise. This is untrue. For we must compromise, if only to hold the peace as long as possible, while we form communities and keep alive what tradition and religion we can. But, while we will not breach the compromise (laughably, the RFRA is seen as such by many!), it will certainly be broken. The fleeting withdrawal from the federal RFRA has shown us as much. And the refusal to read and understand – this law, our religious faiths, the philosophy of the West – is evidence that compromise may be possible only for a little while longer.

I remind you of where the concept of the Benedict Option comes from. Philosopher Alasdair Macintyre, writing in 1981:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

It is quite possible that Sardonic Ex Curia is responding as hysterically to the Indiana event as so many on the left are. I tend to think not, because the left’s moral panic is driven by the most powerful elements in society, and they are on a holy crusade. Crusaders never take prisoners.

Hans Fiene at The Federalist says this is about “Selma envy” among his generation (Millennials). I would say it’s about Selma envy for older people too. Excerpt:

Then, one day, manna descended from heaven in the form of gay marriage. Here it was! The cause we’d longed for all these years had finally arrived! Here was an injustice no one had ever opposed before. Here was a group of marginalized people no one had ever defended. So by embracing this cause, we would instantly be more compassionate, more accepting, more saintly than every human being who had ever lived.

What did it cost us to embrace this cause? Absolutely nothing! It required no moral consistency, no financial sacrifice, no effort. We could sleep with as many people as we wanted, divorce as many people as we wanted, father and then abandon as many children as our hearts desired, and lose no credibility. We could spend our entire adult lives defecating on the institution of marriage and this could not sully our gay marriage halos.

On top of that, these oppressed souls were so gainfully employed that they paid for their own lawyers and lobbyists, so we didn’t need to give them a cent. All we had to do was change our profile pictures on Facebook and beatification was ours. Our prayers were answered. The bright, shiny diamond of righteousness no other generation could claim had been placed into our hands.

But after all those years of waiting for that diamond to arrive, we weren’t going to let anyone to tell us what we held in our hands was really a cubic zirconia. This cause made us righteous. We were certain of it, so no opposition was allowed. No debate on the issue could be tolerated. No damn, dirty facts would take our saintly status away.

So when you argued that disapproving of gay marriage didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as oppression of black Americans, we knew you were right. Of course we know that politely telling a customer you’ve served for nine years that you can’t, in good conscience, provide flowers for his wedding isn’t in the same moral universe as murdering a black teenager for talking to a white woman. Of course saying “you don’t get to vote because your skin has a different amount of melanin than mine” is logically indefensible, while saying “I don’t think a union that’s biologically incapable of procreation fits the definition of marriage” is an argument that needs to be fairly considered, even if we don’t agree with it. But we wouldn’t consider it, wouldn’t even let your words embed in our ears because we would not risk having to surrender our halos in the offhand chance that you maybe, sort of, kind of had a little bit of a point.

Fiene is right, and this is the important takeaway: the gay rights cause is not, as the pro-SSM conservative David Brooks wishes it were (as do I), a clash of competing principles whose resolution ought to be guided by tolerance and pragmatism. Brooks, on liberal absolutism:

This deviation seems unwise both as a matter of pragmatics and as a matter of principle. In the first place, if there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.

Furthermore, the evangelical movement is evolving. Many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all.

As a matter of principle, it is simply the case that religious liberty is a value deserving our deepest respect, even in cases where it leads to disagreements as fundamental as the definition of marriage.

I wish that were the world we lived in, but I see little evidence that it is. Indiana has been a clarifying moment in this respect. I have said in this space many times that I am grateful that we live in a time in which gays and lesbians are more free than in the past, and I acknowledge that my people — Christians — failed to treat our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters with due respect and charity. Those historical moral wrongs need to be made right, insofar as it is possible. I am a religious conservative who does not want to go back to the past when gays had to live in the closet. Those days are over, and good riddance to them.

But we must not exchange one closet for another.

It is not the case that sexual desire is in the same category as race — or if one believes that it is, it should be conceded that the equivalence is not straightforward. That is, it ought to be apparent that there are legitimate philosophical grounds for disagreement on the issue. I understand why many Americans today believe that there is no moral difference between sexual desire and race, but I cannot grasp why they do not recognize that the issue is not clear-cut for many others.

The issue of sex, generativity, and sexual complementarity goes back to the fundamentals of Judaism and Christianity, back to Genesis and the order of Creation. I’m not asking people to agree with me here; I’m asking people to recognize that the orthodox Christian conviction on this matter goes very, very deep, to the roots of the religion. For orthodox Christians, to capitulate on this issue would mean repudiating something we profoundly believe to be true, and an intrinsic part of the cosmic order. Again, we can’t expect everyone to share that belief, though nearly everyone did, until the day before yesterday. All of us, I think, concede, or should concede, that America has changed, and we are going to live in a republic that permits same-sex marriage.

But here’s the thing: if we live in an America that not only permits same-sex marriage and a broad array of gay rights, but also turns any religious dissenters into modern-day Bull Connors, criminalizes our religious practices, anathematizes us in common discourse, and drives us out of the public square — then it will be an open question as to whether this is still an America worth our allegiance.

It may well be. After all, well within living memory, black Americans were treated under law far worse than anything orthodox Christians conceivably face in the near future, and they remained patriotic, believing in the promise of America. Many white Christians — especially in the South — did nothing to relieve their suffering, and in far, far too many cases, exacerbated it. Yet they still believed in America. I met just such a black man last year, a World War II veteran who fought for this country, then came home to the segregated South, where he had to live as a second-class citizen in his own nation. I hope that if I am ever put to the test as that great man was, that I will bear up with as much courage and patience.

The point is, this conflict should not even be conceivable, but the righteous moral fervor of the progressives — including their allies in big business — is driving the country to this precipice, for no good reason. Consider this reworking of Macintyre’s statement:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the American republic and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that republic.

We aren’t there yet. We may never arrive at that point. I hope we do not. But for those with eyes to see, it is entirely foreseeable that we might, and as Sardonic Ex Curia points out, it is time to build the institutions to carry us through that time. This begins with facing the handwriting on the wall.

And that begins by looking through the ridiculous dishonesty on both sides of the issue. Cato’s Roger Pilon takes both left and right to task on this. He rightly pillories Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for being unwilling to say that the law does what it plainly does: provide grounds, however meager, to defend a business owner’s right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, if it violates his sincerely held religious beliefs — and (this is crucial) if he can demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that there is a reasonable alternative for the state to achieve its legitimate aims in that particular instance. 

Pence’s inability to tell the truth about this, and defend the principle that religious liberty, like free speech, is not an absolute right, but it only really matters when the religious practice or the instance of speech is unpopular. And this, says Pilon, is where the left is dishonest and wrong:

In truth, we have in this Act the analogue of what we see every day in the area of free speech, which the left assiduously and rightly defends—but this is religion, and for the left, that’s another matter. Just as we defend a person’s right to say what he pleases, which is not the same as defending what he says, so too here we can defend a person’s right to discriminate on the basis of his religious beliefs without defending those beliefs or the actions they may require of a believer. As one more sign of how modern liberals have turned the Constitution on its head, they would have the statutory rights created by our anti-discrimination law trump the constitutional rights the First Amendment was ratified to protect.

On this issue, the left has the media, the academy, much of the legal profession, and corporate America on its side. That’s a powerful coalition. It is the Establishment. And you will not escape its view. Two years ago, Erick Erickson wrote a piece that holds up very, very well today. Excerpt:

The left will allow no fence sitting. You may not believe me. You may think me hyperbolic. But the history of the world shows this. Events ultimately come to a head. They boil to their essence. And at that point you must choose.

That is why so many Christians are fighting. Because we see in Europe and Canada what will happen here. Christianity is a religion of the city square. Christ compels us to “go forth and teach.” It is the Great Commission. We cannot go forth and teach when the left bars us from the town square.

Many people say we should have legal gay marriage, but not have religious gay marriage. The left will not honor the distinction. Look to Canada. Preachers can be brought up for hate crimes charges merely for discussing passages of the Bible that deal with same sex sexual relations. You may not care that it is a sin, but the world surely does. Look at Louie Giglio, who could not honor the President at his inauguration because of his orthodox Christian beliefs on this subject.

In short, you may choose not to care and in so doing sit on the sidelines or give aid and comfort to the open minded and tolerant who want gay marriage so everyone can have equal rights.

But the world will one day make you care. Your church, should it open its doors to all, but refuse to perform a same sex wedding, will be accused of discrimination. In some places, the church will be forced to stop performing weddings. Many churches will lose their tax exempt status. The costs of sharing the gospel will go up.

Already Christians are being harassed by fellow American citizens for not wanting to participate in a gay marriage.

The time will come, more quickly than you can imagine, when you will be made to care.

It is time to write the Benedict Option book, so orthodox Christians and other religious dissenters will have a framework for thinking about how to live in post-Christian America. I am putting together a proposal now.

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Reading Dante on Holy Week


From an essay of mine in National Review Online today:

In the graveyard, I saw two men arguing. One of them, a proud older man, stood inside a flaming open tomb, trying with his authoritative manner to put the younger man in his place. His opponent could have walked on, but he stood there arguing pointlessly about their families and the place they came from. I couldn’t take my eyes off those two. The older man was dead, but didn’t seem to know it. The younger man was alive, but seemed to have forgotten it.

Suddenly it struck me: I am observing this scene from Dante’s Inferno, the book I’m holding in my hands, but in truth, I am watching my father and myself.


The Commedia is an icon, a window into spiritual reality and a doorway through which lies new life. Yes, it is a Great Book, an artistic pinnacle of Western civilization — and that monumental status is what intimidates people like me from ever picking it up. That’s a shame. The Commedia has to be the most practical Great Book ever written. Dante the poet wrote a letter to a friend in which he said he created the Commedia to help his readers understand why they suffer, and how they can be released from that suffering, because he too had been on that trail of tears, which God turned into a road that bound him for glory.

Dante’s method works, and it works because his extraordinary poem, seven centuries old, is not really the pilgrimage of an exiled Tuscan through the afterlife, but a journey for every reader into his or her own heart — as it is, and as it can be through the astounding grace of God.

Read the whole thing.

And if you like what you read, please considering pre-ordering my book about same, How Dante Can Save Your Life.

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Indiana: The Holy War of the Left


Today’s Indianapolis Star front page uses the headline approach usually reserved for war. Because that’s what this is: culture war, and the mainstream media, as a vital part of the progressive movement, is waging total war for a cause they believe is holy. I’m not exaggerating. To most of the media, there is no other side in the gay marriage debate, or on anything to do with gay rights. There is only Good and Evil. And so we have the spectacle of a moral panic that makes a party that is a chief beneficiary of the First Amendment — a newspaper — taking unprecedented steps to suppress a party that is the other chief beneficiary of the First Amendment: religious dissenters. In my experience, it is impossible to overstate how sacred this cause is to American elites, especially journalists.

If you thought this was ever about fairness, justice, tolerance, or reason, you now ought to have had your eyes opened.

The spirit of jihad has so overtaken the left that the Democratic governor of Connecticut has forbidden his state government to travel to Indiana on state business. Has that ever happened in America? Back when there was actual segregation, did states do that to each other? And get this: Gov. Dan Malloy is such a crusading idiot that he doesn’t even realize that his own state has a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that it passed in 1993!

Malloy’s act, like the Indy Star‘s, are characteristic of liberalism’s unhinged reaction to Indiana’s law. If you are not watching this and seeing the future of religious liberty in this country, if you are not observing and taking note of the power the Establishment — political, media, big business — is deploying to crush a law that even a pro-gay liberal like Boston University’s Stephen Prothero says is a fair and necessary measure to support a fundamental liberal value (religious freedom), and if you are not thinking about the Supreme Court and the next presidential election — if you are not watching and learning, you are a fool.

Ross Douthat is watching, and as he wrote a while back, all that’s left is to negotiate the terms of our surrender. We now see that the left is not content to win the culture war; they’re going to shoot the prisoners and bounce the rubble. In a blog post, he puts some questions to liberals, to clarify where they’re planning to take this thing next. Among them:

1) Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes orcovenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?

2) What about the status of religious colleges and schools or non-profits that don’t have such official rules about student or teacher conduct, but nonetheless somehow instantiate or at least nod to a traditional view of marriage at some level — in the content of their curricula, the design of their benefit package, the rules for their wedding venues, their denominational affiliation? Should their tax-exempt status be reconsidered? Absent a change in their respective faith’s stance on homosexuality, for instance, should Catholic high schools or Classical Christian academies or Orthodox Jewish schools be eligible for 501(c)3 status at all?

Ross further says:

One of the difficulties in this discussion, from a conservative perspective, is that the definition of “common sense” and “compromise” on these issues has shifted so rapidly in such a short time: Positions taken by, say, the president of the United States and most Democratic politicians a few short years ago are now deemed the purest atavism, the definition of bigotry gets more and more elastic, and developments that social liberals would have described as right-wing scare stories in 2002 or so are now treated as just the most natural extensions of basic American principles. (Rod Dreher calls this the “law of merited impossibility,” in which various follow-on effects of same-sex marriage are dismissed as impossible until they happen, at which point it’s explained that of course they were absolutely necessary.)

Understand the propaganda war here: things that were supported the day before yesterday by many on the mainstream left have now become “hate,” and their former positions have gone down the memory hole, shamelessly. It is by now clear that nothing is impossible with the left on this issue, because they have adopted the kind of scorched-earth attitude that scared so many of them when Barry Goldwater voiced it in 1964. The left’s version: “Extremism in defense of gay rights is no vice.”

Religious and social conservatives had better wake up and recognize the stakes playing out in Indiana right now. The people who hate us don’t want compromise. They want total victory, no matter how it tears this country up, and no matter how it eviscerates what was once a sacred value in this country: freedom of religion.

And watch the Republican Party’s presidential candidates. Jeb Bush and others have, thankfully, come out in defense of Indiana’s law. But nine Indiana CEOs have issued a letter to Gov. Mike Pence demanding that he change the RFRA. This is a time of testing of GOP leadership mettle, as the party’s business wing and its social-values wing clash. The Republican Party has got to stand firm for an American value as fundamental as religious liberty against the left’s witch-hunting hysteria.

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The Last Liberal for Religious Freedom

Very, very grateful for Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero for saying this just now on Facebook:

Distressing to see so many of my FB friends lining up to take down the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the grounds that it is a “license to discriminate” against the LGBT community. The original RFRA was passed unanimously by the US House (and with 3 dissenters only in the Senate) in an effort to restore religious liberty to Native Americans using peyote stripped from them in Employment Division v. Smith (1990). Recently, the federal RFRA was used to protect the rights of a Muslim prisoner to keep a beard. I support gay rights. I support gay marriage. I also support religious liberty. There are sometimes conflicts between these commitments–I recognize that. But it is a sad, sad day when there is so little regard for the rights of religious conscience for fellow citizens, especially among my liberal friends who should be their defenders. Religious liberty (and freedom of speech) are not just for people who agree with your religion (or secularity) or your speech. It is for people with whom you disagree, even evangelicals. [PS--I disagree with one key feature in the law, which extends this religious liberty protection to "entities" including corporations. But I support state RFRAs in general for protecting religious minorities.] Smart letter here by legal scholars for those who want to learn more about this law (versions of which have been passed in 31 states, for reasons have nothing to do with homosexuality)–rather than just venting about it without understanding the history of religious liberty in the US or the specific provisions of this law.

He also wrote about it in USA Today. Excerpt:

There is no excuse for refusing to serve a lesbian couple at a restaurant and to my knowledge no state RFRA has ever been used to justify such discrimination. But if we favor liberty for all Americans (and not just for those who agree with us), we should be wary of using the coercive powers of government to compel our fellow citizens to participate in rites that violate their religious beliefs. We would not force a Jewish baker to make sacramental bread for a Catholic Mass. Why would we force a fundamentalist baker to make a cake for a gay wedding?

For as long as I can remember, the culture wars have been poisoning our politics, turning Democrats and Republicans into mortal enemies and transforming arenas that used to be blithely bipartisan into battlegrounds between good and evil. Now our battles over “family values” are threatening to kill religious liberty. And liberals do not much seem to care.

In a recent speech at Boston University, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock observed that America’s sexual revolution seems to be going the way of the French Revolution, in which religion and liberty cannot coexist. Today pro-choice and gay rights groups increasingly view conservative Christians as bigots hell bent on imposing their primitive beliefs on others.

Rather than viewing today’s culture wars as battles between light and darkness, Laycock sees them as principled disagreements. What one side views as “grave evils,” the other side views as “fundamental human rights.” What is needed if we want to preserve liberty in both religion and sexuality is a grand bargain in which the left would agree not to impose its secular morality on religious individuals while the right would agree not to impose its religious rules on society at large.

Prothero makes a point that very few people on the left seem to care about:

The left sees this law as a blank check to discriminate. But RFRAs are not blank checks. They simply offer religious minorities a day in court, and only rarely do these cases concern gay rights.

He adds that almost all of his liberal friends disagree with him.

Read the entire USA Today column. Are there any other liberals who actually support religious liberty, even for religious people they don’t like?

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The Hypocrisy of Marc Benioff & Co.


Mollie Hemingway points out that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who is pulling all business from Indiana in the wake of its new religious freedom law, has no scruples about doing business in China, despite its horrific human rights record. Excerpt:

China isn’t just a place that tortures people for their religious beliefs. There’s the running over peaceful protesters with tanks, forced abortions under China’s one child policy, and the fact they send people to labor camps for tweeting jokes about the government.

A couple of days ago, the Daily Beast reported on the gay rights situation in China. Excerpt:

The state of LGBT rights in China is abysmal. Activists, in particular, face a slew of problems that stretch beyond the personal and become political.

“Hooliganism”—a placeholder for consensual homosexual conduct—was decriminalized in China in 1997, but things haven’t gotten much better for the LGBT community since then. Peer to peer, Chinese society is becoming more accepting of the LGBT community, but positive depictions of LGBT characters on the silver screen are still illegal. Films in which a major character identifies as LGBT are usually banned, like Brokeback Mountain, or Wong Kar-wai’s film festival gem, Happy Together.

More details on gay rights in China here. It’s not a pretty picture. Gays are incomparably more free as gays in Indiana than in China. It’s not even close.

Is this a problem for Marc Benioff? Is this a problem for Apple’s Tim Cook? Why do they swallow the Chinese camel while straining at the Hoosier gnat? In Cook’s case, it’s money: the $16 billion Apple made in China in the first quarter of the current fiscal year — that’s $16 billion in three months! — sure can buy some Tim Cook silence. He’s pushing around Indiana and other American states because it’s easy. It costs him nothing.

Besides, this is not really about human rights. This is about status competition among post-Christian America’s white elites. Actual harm done to Chinese people, including LGBT Chinese people, by its government does not matter to Marc Benioff & his Silicon Valley friends. Potential harm to Indiana LGBTs — however unlikely, and however minor by comparison — matters because it is all the fault of Christianist Republicans.

I do wish Republican grassroots voters who valorize big business would understand what exactly it is they champion.

What’s more, elites like Benioff, Cook, and the NCAA’s Mark Emmert almost certainly do not know any mom-and-pop Christian businesspeople who might take recourse to the RFRA in the face of gay-rights challenges. Very few if any of us do, I would wager, because this is rare; besides, in the case of corporate, media, legal, and academic elites, these people are Not Of Our Social Class, Dear. But Emmert et al. certainly know many people who consider themselves enlightened, and therefore enemies of such awful bigots. Taking a bold stand against a state law that would, in practice, offer slight protection to only a tiny minority of people wins people like Emmert, Benioff, and Cook lots of credit within their social milieu, while costing them exactly nothing.

Two years ago, the New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote a powerful piece calling out the NCAA and Mark Emmert for their sham ethics standards. Excerpt:

“The N.C.A.A. thinks it is the 51st state,” Johnson told me. Its investigators regularly solicit the assistance of law enforcement officials, acting as if they have some kind of equal standing. But they don’t. The N.C.A.A. is not a regulatory body. It is merely an association that creates rules designed to prevent its labor force — college football and basketball players — from making any money. Most of its investigations — investigations that are selective, highhanded and a mockery of due process — are aimed at enforcing its dubious rules.

Over the last year, as I’ve stumbled across one outrage after another, I’ve wondered when someone in a position to do something about the N.C.A.A. — college presidents, maybe? Members of Congress? — would stand up and say “enough.” It’s getting awfully hard to look the other way.

But now, Mark Emmert gets a smiley-face sticker for his progressive stand against the March of Theocracy in the Bozart. How nice for him.

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‘How Dante’ for the Spiritual-Not-Religious


I just saw an online comment about my upcoming book How Dante Can Save Your Life in which the reviewer, who has seen an advance copy, found the writing beautiful and at times wise, but who doesn’t believe that the Dante solutions I advocate is universal.

The commenter is not named, but my guess is that he or she is a person who has no religious sensibility at all — not even a “spiritual but not religious” one. If that’s true, yes, How Dante is going to miss its mark with such a person. In the book, I am upfront about my own Christian commitment, and, of course, Dante Alighieri’s. I’m not trying to put one over on readers, and it’s important to say that. But it’s also important for readers to realize that you can dive into the Commedia and take a lot out of it, even if you are not a Christian. I have written How Dante for both Christians and the spiritually-inclined-but-religiously-uncommitted. If you don’t believe that there is any such thing as the spiritual life, then How Dante won’t help you.

I received a very kind note the other day from a Hindu reader of How Dante, advance copies of which are making the rounds, who raved about how much wisdom was in it. He is a fan also of the Commedia. This is really gratifying to me. It was a delicate balance trying to be true to my own faith, and to Dante’s, while also keeping in mind that the book will be read by people who do not share Dante’s commitment and mine to Christianity, or who don’t share the depth of our commitment. These people can still learn from Dante, and I want them to know that. Toward the beginning of the Purgatorio section, I write:

Purgatorio is not about coming to believe the truth; it is about living out the truth in your daily life. to put it in secular terms, Purgatorio teaches us how to overcome destructive habits of thought and action that trap us in our own personal dark wood and will destroy our lives if we do not act against them. Dante’s way will be familiar to readers familiar with twelve-step programs, which map out the road to liberation from the slavery of addiction like this:

  1. Confront the depths and realities of your brokenness, and take responsibility for it.
  2. recognize your need from deliverance from your addiction.

3. accept that you cannot overcome addiction on your own, and call on the help of a Higher Power.

In Christian teaching, salvation was accomplished for humankind by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. Yet God, in his love for us, will not force us to accept it. we still have to say yes to his saving grace— and say yes again and again, aligning our wills ever more closely with his, cooperating with him to cleanse our hearts of the desires that draw us away from him.

Everyone who has tried to quit smoking, lose weight, or do anything else difficult to change their lives knows that you do it only by renewing that decision day after day. we face down cravings for the old life and, with the grace of God and the strength of our own free will, deny them. in time, the hold of these cravings fades, and we grow into freedom and wholeness. Purgatorio, then, is the story of how we recover from our addiction to passions, learn to love rightly, and create within ourselves the space for God’s grace to transform us.

You simply cannot understand what Dante is doing in the Commedia without understanding the Christian ideas that underlie his thinking. Late in the book — at the end of the section on Purgatorio — I write:

If you stop here, you will have traveled far enough to grasp the secret of the Commedia, the holy grail itself: The meaning of life is found not in serving the self and things of the senses, but in serving the Higher Power that unites and orders and transcends all created things. we call this power God, and it is in God that we live and move and have our being.

For Christians like Dante Alighieri and me, that Higher Power has a name, Jesus Christ. He is the incarnation of love. He is the way, the truth, and the Life, and no man can reach unity with God, or theosis, except through Him.

If you — Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, spiritual-but-not-religious, and so forth — can relate to the claims in the first paragraph of the second quoted section (the “serving the Higher Power” one), and you are not freaked out by the paragraph that follows, then How Dante Can Save Your Life is a book for you.

It’s strange, and disappointing, how so many people believe that no religious people, or no religious people of religious traditions different from their own, can possibly have anything to say to us. I have profited from reading contemporary books about Judaism, by Jews. Last week, a reader of this blog sent me a couple of books about Buddhism (presumably she’s a Buddhist). I’m grateful for this. One of my favorite books is Christ the Eternal Tao, in which an Orthodox Christian monk explores Orthodox themes in Taoism. A few years ago, that book inspired me to do some reading in Taoism, from which I really benefited (I still have the Taoist books on my shelf). From all of these non-Christian books, as from books by ancient pagan Greco-Roman poets and philosophers, I take what is good and useful, and give thanks for it. Isn’t that what it means to be a humanist, whether you are a Christian humanist, as I like to think of myself, or a humanist of some other kind. I expect that How Dante will attract that kind of readership and, if I’m successful, spark fruitful conversations across religious divides.

UPDATE: Reader McKay writes:

I see this kind of attitude all the time in academia, particularly from my colleagues in the social sciences. Sometimes I’ll recommend they read something from philosophy, or literature, or history, and I’m mostly met with blank stares and bemused smiles. It’s as if we don’t accept the epistemological tenets of something — or, worse, if we consider our own epistemological tenets to be the apex of ways of knowing — then we dismiss that something as irrelevant or incommensurable with our beliefs. But why? I’m willing to bet that if we all looked back at our lives, most of our “Huh!” or “Wow!” moments came in conversations not with people just like us, but with people with entirely different sets of assumptions and standpoints. It’s common to lament specialization in academia, and how much that keeps us sheltered in our particular intellectual hamlets. Surely we can’t let it happen to interfaith dialogue or intercultural exchange.

Well said. As you saw earlier today on this blog, reading that New Yorker article about efforts to save dying languages sparked some rumination within me on how orthodox Christians might save our traditions in a rapidly de-Christianizing world. Reading Rupert Ross’s book about things he learned about justice from working as a state’s attorney with Canada’s aboriginal peoples was also really enlightening for what it taught me about the way Canada’s Indians think of themselves and their relationship to the cosmos. Normally I wouldn’t have picked up a book on the religious teachings of aboriginal American peoples, but my Christian friend and sometime commenter Thursday sent it to me, and boy, am I glad I read it. So you never know where wisdom will lie.

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Indiana: A Religious Liberty Bellwether

I spent the weekend reading as much as I could about the controversy over Indiana’s new religious freedom law. What it tells us is very bad, from a conservative perspective, especially a religious conservative perspective. Let me explain.

First, the Indiana law is not substantially different from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, nor is it substantially different from state RFRAs in place in most other states in the US. Indiana law professor Daniel O. Conkle, who supports gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular, also supports the Indiana law, and explains why here. Excerpts:

It’s because — despite all the rhetoric — the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.

Conkle points out — as have others in recent days — that the Indiana law is not a free pass to businesses to discriminate against gay customers. All it does is grant religious people the right to a court hearing in such matters, to determine if there is a way that the state can better achieve its aims than to compel the business owner to violate his conscience. That’s it. In other states that have RFRAs, Conkle says, courts have heard cases related to supposed anti-gay claims, and ruled against the religious plaintiff. More:

In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination. The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a “license to discriminate,” and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

I repeat: this is the opinion of an actual law professor in Indiana, a professor who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights. Law professor Josh Blackman compares in detail the Indiana law and the federal RFRA, and says the Indiana law is essentially the same thing as the federal one. Excerpt:

I should stress–and this point was totally lost in the Indiana debate–that RFRA does not provide immunity. It only allows a defendant to raise a defense, which a finder of fact must consider, like any other defense that can be raised under Title VII or the ADA. RFRA is *not* a blank check to discriminate.

John McCormack has a helpful explainer about the Indiana law. Excerpts:

Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act really a license to discriminate against gay people? 

No. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, a former appellate court judge, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email: ”In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

So what is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and what does it say? 

The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer, and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.

The law reestablished a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases (a standard had been used by the Supreme Court for decades). RFRA allows a person’s free exercise of religion to be “substantially burdened” by a law only if the law furthers a “compelling governmental interest” in the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

So the law doesn’t say that a person making a religious claim will always win. In the years since RFRA has been on the books, sometimes the courts have ruled in favor of religious exemptions, but many other times they haven’t.

Ryan T. Anderson:

Again, Religious Freedom Restoration Acts don’t allow individuals to do whatever they wish in the name of religion. There will be times when the government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression—to ensure public safety, for instance.

But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom. The way we’ve learned to live in a pluralistic society, with diverse religious and moral opinions, is to have a balancing test like the one the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides.

A robust conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of his or her conscience—whether at home, in worship or at work.

And on and on. The Indiana RFRA, then, is not only common in America, in practice is has little to do with gay issues, and when it does, it is no guarantee that the “anti-gay” side will prevail. That’s it. Garrett Epps, writing in The Atlantic, says that the RFRA in Indiana really is different. Here is the gist of his argument:

Second, the Indiana statute explicitly makes a business’s “free exercise” right a defense against a private lawsuit by another person, rather than simply against actions brought by government. Why does this matter? Well, there’s a lot of evidence that the new wave of “religious freedom” legislation was impelled, at least in part, by a panic over a New Mexico state-court decision, Elane Photography v. WillockIn that case, a same-sex couple sued a professional photography studio that refused to photograph the couple’s wedding. New Mexico law bars discrimination in “public accommodations” on the basis of sexual orientation. The studio said that New Mexico’s RFRA nonetheless barred the suit; but the state’s Supreme Court held that the RFRA did not apply “because the government is not a party.”

Remarkably enough, soon after, language found its way into the Indiana statute to make sure that no Indiana court could ever make a similar decision.

That’s all he’s got? Of course the Indiana RFRA is tailored to a post-Elane legal environment. What did he expect? The Indiana law gives business owners recourse to the courts. That’s it. It does not guarantee that they will win. But Epps considers the possibility that the religious business owners might be due some consideration so horrifying that he is unable to tolerate it, and in fact — you knew this was coming — compares the whole thing to Jim Crow racism.

This total political and media freakout over the Indiana law is the real story. It’s a hysterical overreaction that, frankly, is scary as hell. Here is USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour:

The NCAA should be applauded for swiftly and strongly expressing its disapproval of Indiana’s new law that cloaks discrimination in “religious freedom.”

But it can’t stop there.

It is too late to pull this year’s Final Four from Indianapolis, given it is next weekend and there’s no other city that would have an arena and several thousand hotel rooms available. But the NCAA can – and should – tell Indiana lawmakers that their prejudice and mean-spiritedness has cost the state the privilege of hosting any other collegiate sporting event.

The 2016 women’s Final Four currently scheduled to be held in Indianapolis? Not anymore.

The early-round games for the men’s tournament that Indianapolis is looking forward to hosting in 2017? They’ll be moved somewhere else.

The 2021 men’s Final Four that was awarded to Indianapolis last fall? That will be going to a more enlightened state, like Minnesota.

The NCAA is reconsidering its relationship with the state. NCAA chief Mark Emmert said the other day:

The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events.  We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.  We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.

Corporate titans have weighed in, with Apple leading a Silicon Valley group protesting the law.  Angie’s List is putting a business expansion on hold. And now, this is apparently Democratic Party orthodoxy, with presumed 2016 Democratic nominee, whose husband in 1993 signed the federal RFRA (which passed with overwhelming Democratic support), tweeting:


Patrick Deneen gets what’s really going on here:

Over the weekend, a reader wrote to say he had been talking with a thirtysomething “conservative-ish” Evangelical pastor who saw no possible religious-liberty justification for someone to withhold services from same-sex customers (e.g., Christian wedding photographers). The reader said that the pastor could not understand why anybody would have a religiously valid reason to refuse to participate in a commercial transaction with gays. The reader tried pointing out to him that he doesn’t have to agree with the religious person’s reasoning to recognize that their right to be wrong deserves respect, but the pastor could not grasp this.

My reader wrote me to report all this, and to say he’s been skeptical of my dire warnings about where religious liberty is headed in this gay-rights environment — and this is true, as I can tell you from his comments on the blog — but no more. The Law of Merited Impossibility is being validated every day now. Writes the reader: “I agree we’re in trouble.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest who supports the Indiana RFRA, writes about why it will backfire:

This is because those who are campaigning for total sexual freedom will link the religious freedom laws with freedom to discriminate. It will confirm in their minds what they already feel at a gut level–that the religious people are the enemy. The religious people are the bigots.

They are already doing so, and doing so with violence–verbal and economic violence to start with, but be prepared for legislative violence and then punitive violence.

The “Restoring Religious Freedom” laws will therefore crystallize in people’s minds that religion is all about discrimination and the unthinking hordes will automatically conclude that if a person is religious (and especially Catholic) that they are homophobic bigots–and probably racists too.

The “Restoring Religious Freedom” laws will be portrayed as legalizing discrimination and religious people will be as marginalized as racists.

Yes, this is happening, and will continue to happen. And it’s going to happen because corporate America and the media are all-in to demonize religious conservatives. The pro-SSM libertarian David Harsanyi notes that many in the media — not op-ed media, but straight-news media — frame their reports as if there were no actual religious liberty issues at stake here. That it’s all made-up by right-wingers and theocrats. This is true:

And this is true too:


And this:

It seems to me that the media/elite freakout over the Indiana law is a moral panic analogous to the freakout over the UVA rape case. People rushed like lemmings to endorse as true something that turned out to be a hoax because it confirmed their prejudices about Bad Classes of People. This is why so many in the media are making no pretense to be fair in their reporting and commentary on the Indiana law. As Mollie Hemingway avers, the most interesting — and most worrying — aspect of all this is that religious liberty is not considered to be important at all to very many people in this country, especially the most powerful people.

Notre Dame’s Pat Deneen wrote this weekend on Facebook that law school friends tell him of plans underway now by progressive law profs to “Bob Jones” churches and religious institutions that have policies they consider discriminatory against LGBT people. That is, they want to campaign to take away tax exempt status from all religious entities that have traditional views and practices related to homosexuality. This is the next frontier. Many churches and religious entities operate so close to the margins, budget-wise, that they will not be able to survive this.

This is coming. Remember when they told us that SSM would not affect the rest of us? Do you now see that this was a lie? As I have been saying:

The Law Of Merited Impossibility is an epistemological construct governing the paradoxical way overclass opinion makers frame the discourse about the clash between religious liberty and gay civil rights. It is best summed up by the phrase, “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

If the Indiana witch hunt doesn’t convince you of the truth of the Law of Merited Impossibility, you are deluded.

A couple of years ago, Ross Douthat commented on the bizarre fact that so many otherwise intelligent people defending gay marriage write as if the idea that procreation has anything to do with marriage is some weirdo right-wing Christian idea that theocons only came up recently with to thwart gays. In fact, as Douthat easily showed, it has been embedded in marriage law for centuries. Here’s why that matters, according to Douthat:

That so many people find this claim credible or even self-evident is a small but potent example of exactly the two phenomena that my column’s conclusion discussed: First, the way that gay marriage inevitably has widening cultural ripple effects, in this case revising not only the law itself but also the stories people tell about where those laws came from and what they’re meant to do; and second, the way that some of these ripple effects are making it almost impossible for liberals to show magnanimity in victory, and accept the continued existence of people and institutions that still take the older view of what marriage is and means. After all, if that supposedly “older” view was just invented by Clinton or Bush-era homophobes when their Bible-thumping stopped working, then what’s to respect or even tolerate? Once you’ve rewritten the past to make your opponents look worse, then you’re well on your way to justifying writing them out of the future entirely.

He wrote that two years ago. It was prophetic. This is happening now. The media, academia, and big business are all of one mind. It is a juggernaut that is going to roll over religious liberty.

The overreaction, especially the blatant lies and completely invented controversy, in which the media and big business have engaged in the past few days about Indiana and religious liberty, has been a shock to my system — this, even though I am by now used to just about anything from that side. Because religious liberty is the most important political issue to me, it is hard to imagine sitting out the 2016 presidential election, as I have done the past two times because I couldn’t stomach the Republican nominee. It is impossible to imagine voting Democratic in 2016, because the Democrats are actively committed to legislating contempt for traditional Christians like me. If even mild attempts to give minimal protection to religious dissenters is condemned as Jim Crow redux by the Democrats, it genuinely frightens me to think about what a Supreme Court dominated by Obama-Clinton justices would do.

Voting Republican is no guarantee that religious liberty would be strengthened in SCOTUS rulings in the future, but there is some hope that a GOP president would nominate justices sympathetic to religious liberty concerns. With President Hillary Clinton, or any conceivable Democrat, there is no hope at all.

Je suis le First Amendment. Indiana shows why for social and religious conservatives, 2016 is all about the Supreme Court and religious liberty. The past few days have made someone like me, a conservative independent who has little use for either party, realize that I cannot afford to be on the sidelines in 2016. Religious conservative voters must be focused like a laser on religious liberty, right now. It’s that important.

UPDATE: A commenter on Facebook, whom I’ll identify once I verify that this was on a public post, [UPDATE: It's Larry Chapp] writes:

I do not trust the Republicans to stand by their rhetoric on issues like abortion, gay marriage, the family and so on. And they actively work against things I believe are very, very pro-family like extended maternity leave laws and a raise in the minimum wage. All that said, as jaded as I have become to our current political situation, and as disgusted as I have become with both parties, I have been jolted to my core by the deliberate lies and distortions that have been put forward by the media and the Democrats concerning Indiana’s new religious freedom law. It is now blatantly clear and there should be ABSOLUTELY no doubt in our minds: the Democratic party, in collusion with media and entertainment elites, are anti-Christian in deeply ideological ways. And this anti-Christian stance is now “out of the closet” with the gloves off and all pretense to it being anything other than a hatred for the Christian faith dropped. For this law, which 19 other states also have, and which is, like all of the others, modeled after the Federal law sponsored by Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Bill Clinton in 1993, and which passed a Democratically controlled Senate in 1993 97-3, to be characterized in CNN and NYT’s headlines as the “anti-Gay bill” is beyond irresponsible and reprehensible. And most of these articles, if you dig into them, never clarify the headline and never put the law in context, and continue to repeat the lie that the law will “allow businesses to discriminate against Gays on ‘religious’ grounds’”. It does nothing of the sort. Gays are never mentioned in the law. And the law has never been used in any state or by the Feds to discriminate against gays. Notice too how almost all of the headlines put the words “religious liberty” in scare quotes, implying that any concern with religious freedom is utterly bogus and false and intolerable if it even hints at the curtailment of a single homosexual entitlement. So in the context of this thread here is my point: I will still not vote for either Republicans or Democrats since, in my view, they are exactly the same party and owned by exactly the same people. But … that will change in favor of the Republicans depending on how they respond to this Indiana controversy. If they run for cover and repudiate the law then to hell with them. They will have confirmed my suspicions that they are insouciant liars on the social issues. However, if they develop a spine and some common sense and defend the law then I will start to vote Republican on the basis of the single issue of religious freedom. I am a devout and practicing Catholic. My Polish and Italian relatives, living and dead, have been proud, life long Democrats of the old-fashioned Catholic/immigrant/labor, variety. But if the Democrats want to spit openly in the face of my faith, my loved ones, and my friends, then quite frankly, they can kiss my a**.

He continues:

And to add to my screed above, I think the thing that has most gotten my attention about this Indiana law and its haters is that it signals a very significant tectonic shift in the tone and rhetoric concerning people of traditional religious faith. A mere ten years ago such laws were being passed in state after state with good support from Democrats. But since then, the Obama revolution has happened … and there has been a noticeable empowerment of the nihilist, pelvic, Left. And the language of the pelvic Left was adopted by the mass media creating a sea change in perception that is truly Orwellian: what is called “tolerance” is, in fact, cultural fascism and what is called “diversity” is in fact a monochrome jello. And its effects have been devastating. The HHS mandate, which is a clear violation of the Federal RFRA of 1993, and a clear violation of religious liberty, was turned on its head in the public rhetoric in such a way that the Church was adroitly cast as the villain of freedom and of women, when all it was doing was asking not be forced to pay for something. The Church objected to being forced to pay for something and yet they were vilified as the ones doing the forcing. Likewise, a gay couple, who could easily go to 37 other bakeries, decide to sue a single bakery, owned by an elderly Christian couple who have run the store for 30 years. And rather than the gays being viewed as litigious bullies who cannot just “live and let live”, they are held up as heroes of freedom and the bakers as the reincarnation of the KKK. What this signals is something dangerous for those of us of traditional faith and not in just a passing way. What the nonsense and lies over the Indiana law shows is that what is now playing out is that ANY LAW that is viewed as favorable toward people of traditional religious faith will be opposed with the full force these people can muster. The issue is NOT that they are lying in order to force the gay agenda on everyone, although that is part of it. The issue is deeper. The issue is that they want the destruction of the faith. They want people like us ruined. They want the kingdom of nihilist, pelvic Lefties to reign without opposition.

That rhetoric is sometimes shrill, but his essential point is right on: ANY LAW that is viewed as favorable toward people of traditional religious faith will be opposed with the full force these people can muster.

Life in post-Christian America, people.

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Losing the Language of Christianity

Outward manifestations are fine, but language is the thing (
Outward manifestations are fine, but language is the thing (steve estvanik /

There’s a quite good report in the March 30 issue of The New Yorker, talking about efforts to save languages that are fast going extinct. Judith Thurman writes:

The mother tongue of more than three billion people is one of twenty, which are, in order of their current predominance: Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Javanese, German, Wu Chinese, Korean, French, Telugu, Marathi, Turkish, Tamil, Vietnamese, and Urdu. English is the lingua franca of the digital age, and those who use it as a second language may outnumber its native speakers by hundreds of millions. On every continent, people are forsaking their ancestral tongues for the dominant language of their region’s majority. Assimilation confers inarguable benefits, especially as Internet use proliferates and rural youth gravitate to cities. But the loss of languages passed down for millennia, along with their unique arts and cosmologies, may have consequences that won’t be understood until it is too late to reverse them.


“Let’s be honest,” Kaufman said. “The loss of these languages doesn’t matter much to the bulk of humanity, but the standard for assessing the worth or benefit of a language shouldn’t rest with outsiders, who are typically white and Western. It’s an issue of the speakers’ perceived self-worth.” He suggested that I meet some of those speakers not far from home—members of the Mohawk nation. “The older people are the only ones who can tell you what their youth stands to lose,” he said. “The young are the only ones who can articulate the loss of an identity rooted in a mother tongue that has become foreign to them.” He told me about a two-week immersion program that takes place each summer at the Kanatsiohareke community center, in Fonda, New York, a village on the Mohawk River between Utica and Albany.

These kinds of programs are called “language nests,” and they were started by the Maori of New Zealand. Thurman points out that “a nest is a sanctuary from predation as much as an incubator.” The idea is simple but profound: the natural cultural forces around us are destroying these languages, and with them cultures, even cosmologies. The only way to save them is to pass them on to the next generations, and the only way to do that is to study them intensely a sanctuary/incubator setting, and then to put what you learn there into use in daily life.

Reading this, I thought this is the Benedict Option for languages. These speakers of dying languages and their children are not running for the hills to hide out, but they are creating communal institutions within which precious but severely threatened knowledge can be passed on, even as the younger generations live and work in the world. The elders know their children will be assimilated to a certain degree within the broader world, but they are trying as hard as they can to give them the knowledge and the love to hold on to their traditions and inheritance.

This is a good way to think about what I call the Benedict Option for Christians and other religious traditionalists. Think of Christianity as a distinct language, a way of construing the world. Like language, the Christian faith was not delivered perfect from heaven and preserved pristine and unchanged for centuries. But it does have a vocabulary and a grammar, so to speak, that set it apart from other languages. In its 2,000 years, Christianity has developed a number of what you might consider “dialects,” but because we in the West have lived in a recognizably Christian culture, it has been possible for us to understand each other, and to more or less hold on to the core concepts at the heart of the language.

We now find ourselves, though, in a post-Christian world, one in which the pressure to assimilate is causing tens of millions of people to lose the language — often without knowing that they’re losing it. You might say that “Christian” is the language that people who identify as Christians speak. But if that were true, wouldn’t it be the case that Chinese-Americans who speak not a single word of Mandarin Chinese, but rather English, could be said to be speaking “Chinese”? Clearly that’s absurd, but that is what it means to identify Christianity with whatever people say it is. If it is not firmly rooted in long-established standards, it will be a different language — or a different religion.

This is the great danger of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. As sociologist Christian Smith writes:

However, it appears that only a minority of U.S. teenagers are naturally absorbing by osmosis the traditional substantive content and character of the religious traditions to which they claim to belong. For, it appears to us, another popular religious faith—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—is colonizing many historical religious traditions and, almost without anyone noticing, converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness. Exactly how this process is affecting American Judaism and Mormonism we refrain from further commenting on, since these faiths and cultures are not our primary fields of expertise. Other more accomplished scholars in those areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of “Christianity” in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition,9 but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions. The language—and therefore experience—of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

Note well that this is not something that is being imposed on Christian young people by outside oppressors, like the cruel authorities of old who beat and punished Native and Cajun children for speaking their language. This is a soft colonization, with the speakers of the old language not even noticing what is happening.

But it is happening.

I am certain, though, that the world is quickly becoming the sort of place where the old-style language oppressors will find themselves empowered and active to force traditional “Christian speakers” to abandon their ancestral tongue. Even if this doesn’t come to pass, the language of Christianity is fast fading from our culture, and with it a cosmos.

Churches, families, and religious schools that don’t become “nests” will not be recognizably Christian within this century. I’m convinced of that. Hence the Benedict Option.


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Hillary Milhous Clinton

Can you trust this woman? US Embassy Kabul/Flickr
Can you trust this woman? US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

ProPublica reports:

Starting weeks before Islamic militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by  a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer, according to hacked emails from Blumenthal’s account.

The emails, which were posted on the internet in 2013, also show that Blumenthal and another close Clinton associate discussed contracting with a retired Army special operations commander to put operatives on the ground near the Libya-Tunisia border while Libya’s civil war raged in 2011.

Blumenthal’s emails to Clinton, which were directed to her private email account, include at least a dozen detailed reports on events on the deteriorating political and security climate in Libya as well as events in other nations. They came to light after a hacker broke into Blumenthal’s account and have taken on new significance in light of the disclosure that she conducted State Department and personal business exclusively over an email server that she controlled and kept secret from State Department officials and which only recently was discovered by congressional investigators.

So she ran a private intel service that reported to her on an unsecured channel. If you read the story, you’ll see that Hillary’s freelance spy network kept her informed about the fast-deteriorating security situation in Libya in the weeks before the Benghazi attacks that killed the US ambassador — this, even though Hillary, as Secretary of State, testified that the US was blindsided by the attacks.

And you will have no doubt heard that the investigation into her use of the private e-mail server has hit a stone wall because Hillary Milhous Clinton permanently deleted every e-mail on the server she used to conduct high-level, sensitive public business involving the national security of the United State. The Washington Post points out that Mrs. Clinton’s personal lawyers decided which of her e-mails should be shared with the House committee investigating Benghazi, which is headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy:

Gowdy said he was disappointed at Clinton’s lack of cooperation.

“Not only was the secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all e-mails from her server, ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest,” he said.

These people cannot be trusted with power.


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