From Lashawna C. v. Perez (a pseudonym), an EEOC decision (2017 WL 664453) handed down Feb. 10:
At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a term Workers’ Compensation Claims Examiner …. Complainant and [Supervisor S1 had] exchanged emails about Complainant’s work hours and schedule. During the exchange, Complainant stated that government employees generally work shorter hours than private sector employees, and she was “working like a civilian.” In response, S1 stated the following:
Wow … then I must be a damn fool … cause I’ve been working like a Hebrew slave the last 9 years and don’t have enough time to take off … at least somebody got it right.
… [W]e note that the word “Hebrew” is often used to refer to Semitic persons who identify as descendants of Abraham, the biblical patriarch of Judaism. Moreover, when used to generally refer to contemporary Jewish persons, it is sometimes considered archaic or offensive. Coupled with the word “slave,” the term “Hebrew slave” is particularly negative and offensive when used so flippantly. As such, we find that the use of the term “Hebrew slave” is inherently unwelcome when uttered in this particular context, especially when communicating with a Jewish person. There is no evidence that Complainant welcomed such a comment. Therefore, we find that S1’s comment was unwelcome…. [I]t is [also] apparent that the term ““Hebrew slave” pertains specifically to Jewish persons, and as such, is inherently based on religion….
S1 testified that during the relevant time period, he was aware that Complainant is Jewish because she requested leave for religious purposes, but he used the term “Hebrew slave” in his email to her because this was a “common term that’s used to reflect individuals who work with little means to produce great things.” He further testified that he understood that the [term] related to the trials Jewish people endured while in bondage in Egypt, as recounted in the Bible. The Agency maintains that S1’s comment was not severe enough to constitute harassment because he applied the term to himself, instead of to Complainant.
[Sentence moved:] [I]n evaluating whether the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, the harasser’s conduct should be evaluated from the objective viewpoint of a reasonable person in the victim’s circumstances….
Upon review of this matter, we note that the Commission has found that under certain circumstances a single or limited number of epithets or slurs may constitute harassment under Title VII. In this case, S1 made the comment in an email to Complainant, and S1 knew that Complainant is Jewish. Although S1 only made such a comment once, the comment packed a painful, potent punch. Specifically, S1’s comment made light of the long and painful history of Jewish persecution and genocide.
Moreover, the comment was especially personal for S1 because it dredged up memories of how her family was targeted for systematically murder, incarceration, and deportation during the Holocaust. Complainant testified that S1’s comments made her “incredibly sad,” which we find to be a reasonable response to S1’s actions. The fact that S1 may have intended his comment to be a joke or a cliché does not soften the offense any more here than it would if he had uttered an equally offensive racial slur. We determine that a reasonable person in Complainant’s circumstances would find that S1’s comment was severe enough to create a hostile work environment based on her religion. Thus, we find that the AJ properly found that Complainant was subjected to religious harassment….
Our finding that Complainant was subjected to religious harassment, coupled with Complainant’s testimony that she was negatively impacted by S1’s conduct, persuades us that the AJ’s award of $10,000 is supported by substantial evidence…. [We also] find that the AJ’s award of attorney’s fees in the amount of $10,980 is supported by substantial evidence.
There was no finding of any tangible discrimination, or any other offensive statements, or any real anti-Semitism; the religious harassment finding (and the $20,000) bill was based solely on this one statement.
Think about that: for one very mild remark, one made by a person with no history of anti-Semitism, the person is out $20,000.
This is one reason why America is falling apart socially. People can’t afford to take a risk of being, well, human around other people. This idiotic snowflake has ruined the professional reputation of a colleague, and cost him/her $20,000, all for two words that weren’t even spoken in hostility.
Sam Altman is a Silicon Valley anti-Trumper who went out into the country to talk to people who supported Trump. He wrote a remarkable piece detailing his findings. Among them:
“He is not politically correct.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot, probably in at least a third of the conversations I had.
“He says true but unpopular things. If you can’t talk about problems, you can’t fix them.”
“I’m a Jewish libertarian who’s [sic] grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Over the last few years, the mainstream left has resorted to name-calling and character assassination, instead of debate, any time their positions are questioned. This atmosphere became extremely oppressive and threatening to people, like myself, who disagreed with many of Obama’s policies over the past several years. Intelligent debate has become rare.”
“It’s a lot like political discussion was in Soviet Union, actually. I think the inability to acknowledge obvious truths, and the ever-increasing scope of these restrictions, makes it particularly frustrating. And personally, for whatever reason, I find inability to have more subtle discussion very frustrating — things are not white or black, but you can’t talk about grays since the politically correct answer is white.”
Conor Friedersdorf last week published an excellent interview with the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter. In it, he says that “the best scientists aren’t the dedicated drudges who have no other interests.
The best take after Newton, Einstein and tens of thousands of lesser lights in their devotion to science and other things too. As a scientist handing out advice on the study of science, something I do as a college teacher, one of my main messages is that you can’t be an educated human being on the basis of science alone; another main message is that, sometimes, you can’t even be a scientist or technologist on the basis of science alone.
If I were loosely gathering topics of study into categories, I might call them arts, religion, scholarship, and science. As important as scholarship and science are, arts and religion are more important. Those were my main goals (my wife’s, too) in educating our two boys, who are now both in their 20s. Arts and religion define, in a sense, a single spectrum rather than two topics. And this spectrum is where you find mankind’s deepest attempts to figure out what’s going on in the universe. A student who doesn’t know the slow movement of Schubert’s B-flat major op post sonata, or the story of David and Absalom, needs to go back to school and learn better.
He also says:
The ideological narrowness of mainstream commercial magazines is one of the deep, deep frustrations of my life. We have a thriving conservative intelligentsia in this country; it includes many (in fact most) of the smartest people I’ve ever met. (Think about Norman Podhoretz, George Will, Bill Bennett, Donald Kagan—radically different sorts of thinker, all four strikingly brilliant. There are a few dozen more even at this exalted level.) It’s a pleasure and a high honor to be part of America’s conservative culture. But the Left hears nothing we say: nothing. Nothing. Most have shrugged this off; only a few of us care. Because I teach at Yale and, more important, because I belong to the art world & have since birth, I can’t help caring—and sometimes being outraged, sometimes just grief-stricken. What a damned mess we’ve made of intellectual life in this absurdly wealthy, lucky, blessed nation.
The Left hears nothing we say. I think that is true. Gelernter is not talking about popular conservatism, à la Fox News or talk radio. He’s talking about at the level of deep ideas. For example, there are some really interesting critiques of liberalism coming from intellectuals on the Right (I’m thinking about Patrick Deneen and Ryszard Legutko, but there are others), but as far as I can tell, these are as yet making no impact beyond a smallish circle. The fact that Roger Scruton has been exiled from the academy is a scandal. As Gelernter writes, “Most have shrugged this off; only a few of us care.” It is fruitless to care insofar as an expectation that the closed, insular, immensely self-regarding intellectual caste in Western life will ever open its minds and its doors. But to think of where the lack of comprehensiveness, diversity, and vitality in intellectual life means for the future of our nation and our civilization — well, you can see why someone like Gelernter could become “grief-stricken.”
(Or you can laugh hysterically at the absurdity of it all. Follow the terrific Twitter feed of New Real Peer Review for real-life examples of leftist crackpottery in academia. One imagines that if the academy had any real intellectual diversity in it, there would be a lot less of this nonsense in it, because it would have developed the antibodies to fight foolishness.)
When Gelernter complains about how hard it is to get a wide range of ideas before the American public, Friedersdorf pivots rather brilliantly to ask him for a few ideas that he, Gelernter, has wanted to get before the public, but hasn’t been able to because he hasn’t found the right forum. Gelernter gives him twenty. Some of them are odd, some strike me as not so great, others are brilliant — but all reveal an intelligence that is vibrantly alive, visceral, and engaging. Here’s my favorite:
We don’t understand great medieval churches properly.
The extent to which western churches are based on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is implicit in parts of the literature, but doesn’t seem to have been studied thoroughly, especially in the way that a Christian’s progression from the west-end to the sacred east-end recreates the pilgrimage in miniature—in the sense that the Christian’s steps trace an easterly path which is a literal part of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thus the font at which Christian life begins is usually at or near the west end. (Southern cathedrals such as Florence’s, with the baptistery as a separate building west of the main church, underline the start of the pilgrimage.) A pilgrim heads eastward through the nave and arrives at the crossing; moving into the choir, he is usually approaching the high altar, east of the choir. A saint’s shrine, in England especially, was apt to be east of the high altar (thus the Confessor’s shrine at Westminster Abbey, Becket’s former shrine at Canterbury, and many, many other cases).
The east end of the church is a re-creation of the Celestial Jerusalem—of Paradise, of the goal of the pilgrimage. This is true of the traditional French apse or chevet, concave to enclose the pilgrim—but also of the great eastern window at Lincoln (for example) or the glass wall at the east end of York or Gloucester. The English tradition of siting a lady chapel in the easternmost position—east of the altar, east of the shrine, as in Salisbury or Winchester or Exeter or Wells, and in some parish or former abbey churches (such as Abbey Dore)—underlines the pilgrimage theme. At Wells, for example, the great east window hovers above the altar. This is the main source of light from the east, the light of Paradise towards which a Christian life leads.
But beneath the great east window, light enters from a distance, from the beautiful reticulated windows of the octagonal lady chapel. Just as a choir within the west façades of Wells and Salisbury, singing through hidden sound-holes, welcomes pilgrims and processions into church on feasts such as Easter, the light of the easternmost windows sneaking in beneath the great east window, beyond the altar, calls pilgrims east, to the lady chapel and the celestial Jerusalem and Paradise.
Yes, and we don’t understand great medieval churches properly because we have lost what the medievals knew about the truth of the Christian faith, and how it is a pilgrimage. Our churches reflect the loss of the internal imaginative structure of the faith, and how the culture of Christianity (which includes church architecture) transmits that vision.
You really need to read the entire Friedersdorf-Gelernter interview. More like it, please! Readers, I’d love it if you’d take a look at the piece and talk in the comments section about your favorite of his suggestions (or your least favorite). I wish there were a David Gelernter Quarterly to subscribe to.
In a talk delivered in Amsterdam a few years ago, science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds outlined an unnerving future scenario for the universe, something he had also recently used as the premise of a short story (collected here).
As the universe expands over hundreds of billions of years, Reynolds explained, there will be a point, in the very far future, at which all galaxies will be so far apart that they will no longer be visible from one another.
Upon reaching that moment, it will no longer be possible to understand the universe’s history—or perhaps even that it had one—as all evidence of a broader cosmos outside of one’s own galaxy will have forever disappeared. Cosmology itself will be impossible.
In such a radically expanded future universe, Reynolds continued, some of the most basic insights offered by today’s astronomy will be unavailable. After all, he points out, “you can’t measure the redshift of galaxies if you can’t see galaxies. And if you can’t see galaxies, how do you even know that the universe is expanding? How would you ever determine that the universe had had an origin?”
There would be no reason to theorize that other galaxies had ever existed in the first place. The universe, in effect, will have disappeared over its own horizon, into a state of irreversible amnesia.
Read the whole thing. We would be truly lost in the cosmos.
This dilemma is analogous to the one Christians face today, with respect to our own past and our own future, and to a certain extent Western man’s dilemma too.
Continuing the cosmological analogy, for Christians, the Big Bang moment was the loss of primal unity with God — that is, the Fall, the aboriginal catastrophe symbolized as our expulsion from Eden. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the center of history. Now, though, in the post-Christian West, we are so far from those events, and from the events of the Bible — all of them in some sense stars that help us know where we came from and where we are going, and therefore who we are — that we are fast losing sight of them. Soon we will no longer be able to see them, except in the same way we see Greco-Roman myths of the pre-Christian past: as stories that were once vital to Western man, but which are today meaningful only as historical curiosities.
In my lifetime we have witnessed the collapse of Christian civilization. At first the process of disintegration was slow, a gradual and persistent attrition, but today it has moved into overdrive, and what is more troubling, it has become deliberate and intentional, not only promoted by the cultured despisers of Christianity but often aided and abetted by Christians themselves. …
Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture. The unhappy fact is that the society in which we live is no longer neutral about Christianity. The United States would be a much less hospitable environment for the practice of the faith if all the marks of Christian culture were stripped from our public life and Christian behavior were tolerated only in restricted situations.
If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.
This is very close to the heart of the Benedict Option. It is an attempt to keep alive the memory of the stars and their constellations in a time when historical distance and willed darkness occludes them. The analogy breaks down in that the universe moves in only one direction — outward — while history, though moving inexorably towards the Eschaton, nevertheless may double back in somewhat recursive patterns. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire did not result in the expiration of the Church, because the Church held on to itself despite everything around it falling apart, and because the Benedictine monks kept the faith and cultural memory alive in their monasteries, until such time as the new civilization was able to receive it.
I have written in this space before about the work of social anthropologist Paul Connerton, and his study of what it takes to preserve cultural memory in modernity, which he says is a time of deliberately induced forgetting. Religion is the only thing capable of standing up to modernity’s attempt to brainwash us, said Connerton, because it makes the memory of certain events sacred, locates them outside of time, and tells those events (the group’s sacred story) in rituals that involve the body. (On that last point, Connerton says his research has shown that it is vital that the group’s sacred story be “sedimented into the bone.”)
We Christians have been so formed by the spirit of modernity that we are in grave danger of losing our faith. The spirit of modernity tells us that the past does not and should not have any hold on us, in part because it interferes with our liberty. As Connerton says, our entire late capitalist economy depends on forgetting — on denying that there is anything that should come between the individual and his consumptive desire. Against this, popular Christianity has been feeble. As I write in The Benedict Option:
As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.
An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”
These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.
[Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
Don’t miss the statistic there: 91 percent of self-identified young adult Christians either see no problem with materialism and consumerism, or don’t think it’s a problem they can do anything about. No wonder MTD has hollowed out received forms of historical Christianity, and transformed it from the inside. MTD is the perfect religion for a consumerist civilization.
But it is not Christianity. If you, your family, your church, your community practice MTD, and not real Christianity, your faith is going to disappear, either in your generation or your children’s. An Evangelicalism that focuses more on emotional experience, a Catholicism that goes along to get along, keeping its own teachings from its flock, and an Orthodoxy that worships the tribe instead of the Lord — none of these forms of Christianity are going to survive this New Dark Age.
(And for that matter, the liberal forms of politics that emerged out of Christianity in the West may not survive having been severed from their roots in the Christian religion. But that’s another story.)
You will read in the weeks to come some reviewers saying that The Benedict Option is “alarmist.” They will be correct. I believe the alarm needs to be sounded. In my travels, I often talk to Christian academics, both Catholic and Protestant, who say that their students are all but vacant theologically. They don’t even know what they don’t know, and worse, they don’t care that they don’t know. This is not the fault of those young adults. They have been failed by their churches and their families — by pastors and parents who did not form these young people properly in the faith.
This is how Christianity dies.
Let me rewrite Geoff Manaugh’s final two paragraphs from the passage quoted above to reflect my point:
In such a de-Christianized future universe … some of the most basic insights offered by the Bible and historical Christianity will be unavailable. After all, he points out, “you can’t measure the loss of orthodoxy and orthopraxy if you can’t see a standard of right belief and a right way of living. And if you can’t see a standard of right belief and a right way of living, how do you even know that the faith is solid or heretical, healthy or corrupt? How would you ever determine that Biblical faith told the truth about mankind, about who he is, why he is here, what’s wrong with him, how he can be healed, and where he is going?”
There would be no reason to theorize that Christianity had anything unique to offer and to demand in the first place, because it will have been reduced just to one set of opinions among others. Christianity, in effect, will have disappeared into a state of irreversible amnesia.
This is what The Benedict Option is meant to fight. Michael Hanby told me at the outset of this process that what I needed to do with this project is to ask myself what Karol Wojtyla would do in our position. His point was that Wojtyla faced Nazi occupation by working underground with others through theater to preserve memory of Roman Catholicism and Polish national consciousness in the face of Nazi totalitarianism, which sought to obliterate them. We are not facing an Orwellian style of cultural forgetting, but a Huxleyan one. The effect, though, is the same: annihilation. There is no way that anyone who calls himself a cultural conservative can be indifferent to this.
UPDATE: Think of it this way. How can you, the 21st century Christian, be confident that something like this catastrophe hasn’t already happened? How do you know that the passage of time has not rendered certain truths and realities that we used to be able to see clearly all but invisible to the untrained eye? You look up and see darkness, or perhaps a few faint glimmers, hints that there might be something up there, but you can’t be sure. Do you conclude that there is nothing there? How is it that Christians of ages past saw so much there, and built their lives around it? Did they see more truly, more accurately, than we do? Have we progressed into enlightenment, or have we regressed into darkness?
How would you know?
At the end of Adolf Hitler’s 1934 Nuremberg rally speech, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess took the podium and declared:
“The Party is Hitler! But Hitler is Germany, as Germany is Hitler!”
You can watch it in this subtitled clip from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. If you don’t want to sit through Hitler’s speech, fast-forward to the 10:15 mark to hear Hess. You see what’s happening here: the identification of the Nazi Party with the person of Adolf Hitler, and the person of Adolf Hitler with the German nation, was made manifest and complete.
At the risk of going overly Godwin, those Hess lines came to mind when I read this Politico story about CPAC, in particular, this quote:
“In many ways, Donald Trump is the conservative movement right now,” Jim McLaughlin, the Republican pollster who conducted the survey, told CPAC attendees. “And the conservative movement is Donald Trump.”
The story, by Tim Alberta, is about how thoroughly Donald Trump has conquered movement conservatism. Alberta goes on:
To spend three days at this year’s CPAC, the annual right-wing carnival of politics and culture, was to witness an ideology conforming to an individual rather than the other way around. The president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, set the tone Thursday morning when asked to assess Trump’s impact on the conservative movement. “Well, I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC,” she said. The moderator laughed and so did the audience members, but it wasn’t a joke: Anyone searching for a brand of conservatism independent of the new president would have walked away sorely disappointed.
To some extent, everyone expected to see Trump remake the Republican Party in his image; he became its leader upon clinching the presidential nomination last July and solidified that status for at least four years on November 8. But Trump was not supposed to bend conservatism to his will—at least, not this quickly. Certainly, he has thrilled the GOP grassroots with certain decisions, such as signing executive orders aimed at deregulation, beginning a crackdown on illegal immigration and nominating an originalist in Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But he has also done other things—facilitating a deal with Carrier in Indiana that smacked of crony capitalism; bullying private corporations and individual citizens; declaring reporters the enemy of the American public; asserting a moral equivalence between the U.S. government and Vladimir Putin’s – that would typically put any politician in the crosshairs of the right.
Trump, however, has encountered scant dissent from his party’s ideological base. So he came to CPAC not to pay homage to the traditions of conservatism, but to bask in the supremacy of his own movement, one that he and his allies believe will supplant the outdated orthodoxies peddled for decades by the very people who greeted him like a conquering hero on Friday morning.
Read the whole thing. What is astonishing is a) how quickly ideological conservatism has collapsed within the core of movement conservatism, and b) how Trump has filled the vacuum with his own personality. Alberta:
It wasn’t just the ubiquitous deification of Trump that was so jarring. It was the degree to which his worldview was accepted, championed and cheered by conservative speakers and attendees with no obvious connection to the new president.
It can’t be a complete surprise that the basic catechism of movement conservatism has lost the loyalty of the faithful. The Iraq War and the financial crash revealed the bankruptcy of GOP claims to competent leadership, but they also revealed the threadbare nature of the left-right establishment consensus in favor of globalized free trade and American interventionism. We need a new conservatism. We have needed a new conservatism for a long time.
But here’s the thing: Trumpism is not a coherent, principled worldview, nor is it recognizably conservative in philosophical terms. It is certainly possible that a philosophically articulate new conservatism will emerge from a Trumpified Right. However, seeing how quickly the movement conservatives of CPAC abandoned their principles in favor of worshipping Trump’s personality is a dark sign. Look at this, from the Politico piece:
“Last year we were talking about a walkout if Trump showed up, and this year it’s all Trump all the time. It has completely changed,” said Dominic Moore, a University of North Carolina student who attended CPAC for the first time in 2016 and backed Rubio in the GOP primary. “Last year the Make America Great Again hats were few and far between. Now they’re everywhere. Last year the speakers were attacking him and now everyone’s done a full 180. They’re all on the bandwagon. Everything has changed.”
One cannot fault Trump for intuiting the fragility of the GOP and of post-Reagan movement conservatism, and knocking it all over. But what is he replacing it with? A cult of personality that depends on demonizing the media? Or what? That Trump was able to overwhelm movement conservatism so thoroughly and so quickly, and that he is remaking it in his image, ought to send a chill down the spines of principled conservatives — even conservatives who (like me) find some of what he stands for (like economic nationalism) worth supporting, at least in theory.
No, I don’t think Trump is Hitler. Still, every American ought to be deeply wary of identifying a political party or movement with a personality over a set of principles. To paraphrase Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, if you’ve cut down all your conservative principles for the sake of investing Donald Trump with political power, what do you hide behind when Donald Trump turns on conservatives like you?
UPDATE: Carlo writes:
The comparison is weak because the reason for the identification is not so much the strength of Trump’s personality, but rather the complete cultural vacuum it is filling.
Well, that’s what I meant. Trump is too scatterbrained, abrasive, and incompetent to be Hitler, even if he wanted to be. The point I was making is that the conservative movement appears to be unmoored from any discernible principles at this point. I mean, love him or hate him, you knew where Reagan stood, because he had stood there for a very long time. Trump? No. I’m not so much worried about Trump as what follows him on the Right.
UPDATE.2: Eric Mader:
Watching the zombielike SJW crowds during the last of the Obama years, seeing the degree to which left liberals have abandoned real pluralism in the name of their non-discrimination regime, and now, on the other hand, seeing the rise of Trumpism, one might even conclude that authoritarianism is more likely than not as an outcome for us. With no principled moderates and conservatives in the room, are we going to be forced to choose between a left-authoritarian and a right-authoritarian regime?
It sounds alarmist maybe. But, in terms of left-authoritarians, look at 1) the self-righteousness and rigor with which the Obama administration pursued its LGBT policies, and 2) the culture on campuses. What will democratic politics look like when these hordes of PC students make up most of the population between age 20 and 40? On the other hand, in terms of right-authoritarianism, the question is simple: What will conservatives be willing to put up with in order to ensure they do not end up being ruled by SJW apparatchiks?
Yes, I think that a Trump-like figure on the left could accomplish the same thing, for the same reasons.
Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope’s own advisers question.
One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.
The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be defrocked, two canon lawyers and a church official told AP. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.
In some cases, the priests or their high-ranking friends appealed to Francis for clemency by citing the pope’s own words about mercy in their petitions, the church official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.
“With all this emphasis on mercy … he is creating the environment for such initiatives,” the church official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his 2005-2013 papacy and defrocked some 800 priests who raped and molested children. [Emphasis mine — RD]
Francis scrapped the commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.
And so, the precious concept of mercy becomes a byword for perpetuating clericalism and injustice, swaddling it in a slanket of sentimentality.
I don’t get this. At all. Fifteen years since Boston broke the abuse scandal wide open, and … this?
UPDATE: This story reminded me that the victims’ advocacy group SNAP has been hit with a lawsuit by a former official:
The news of his resignation followed the Jan. 17 filing of a lawsuit from former SNAP development director Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who claimed wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior. She had worked at the organization from July 2011 through February 2013.
Accusations against the group included alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims. Donations from sex abuse attorneys made up more than 40 percent of its annual contributions, Hammond said.
The lawsuit alleged that the organization disregarded the interests of abuse victims, neglected to provide sufficient counseling for victims, and used publicity about the victims to drive fundraising,
SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy. The group traveled to The Hague to make its case.
Hammond claimed SNAP used the funds raised for the trip “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.”
The lawsuit charged that “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”
Should Mormons take the Benedict Option? Hal Boyd of the Deseret News asks this question in a column published today. Excerpt:
Additionally, as Dreher admits, in order to preserve the basic rights that permit Christianity to flourish, political engagement is vital.
However, in an age in which America has begun to retrain its domestic focus to provide more help to regions of the nation that have been passed over in the modern economy, it’s perhaps fitting that Dreher is introducing a brand of Christianity that would shift its gaze from the nation’s capital back to local parishes and pews — satisfying the needs of parishioners before politicians.
By rebuilding congregations and the Christian core, Dreher seems to suggest that national influence will come as a natural consequence. After all, when the kingdom of God comes first, those other kingdoms usually seem to follow, even if they come ten minutes late, doubled over and sucking wind.
So should Latter-day Saints choose the ‘Benedict Option’? Perhaps start by reading the book.
I appreciate Boyd’s generous treatment of The Benedict Option in his column. In fact, I write in it that Mormons can teach the rest of us a lot about how to live the Benedict Option. Excerpts from TBO:
Why be close? Because as I said earlier, the church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays—it must become the center of your life. That is, you may visit your house of worship only once a week, but what happens there in worship, and the community and the culture it creates, must be the things around which you order the rest of the week. The Benedictines structure all their life—their work, their rest, their reading, their meals—around prayer. Christians in the world are not expected to live at the same level of focus and intensity as cloistered monks, but we should strive to be like them in erasing as much as possible the false distinction between church and life.
Recall that Brother Martin of Norcia believes that after experiencing life in Christian community, one ordinarily can’t be fully Christian, or fully human, without it. The Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) may not be orthodox Christians, but they are exceptionally good at doing the kind of community building that the monk suggests is a vital part of being a Christian.
Terryl L. Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and an expert on the LDS faith, says this is because Mormon theology and ecclesiology forge unusually strong social bonds within local churches (or “wards”). Mormons don’t believe in ward hopping. They are assigned their ward based on where they live and have no right of appeal. This compels them to work together to build a unified community of believers, not to wander in search of one. Givens calls this “Zion-building, not Zion-hunting”—a reference to the Mormon belief that adherents must lay the foundations for Zion, the community that Jesus Christ will establish at His return.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul urged the believers there to “have the same care for one another. “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” the apostle wrote. “If one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
The LDS Church lives out that principle in a unique way. The Mormon practice of “home teaching” directs two designated Mormon holders of the church’s priestly office to visit every individual or family in a ward at least once a month, to hear their concerns and offer counsel. A parallel program called Relief Society involves women ministering to women as “visiting teachers.” These have become a major source of establishing and strengthening local community bonds.
“In theory, if not always in practice, every adult man and woman is responsible for spiritually and emotionally sustaining three, four, or more other families, or women, in the visiting teaching program,” says the LDS’s Terryl Givens. He adds that Mormons frequently have social gatherings to celebrate and renew ties to community. “Mormonism takes the symbolism of the former and the randomness of the latter and transforms them into a deliberate ordering of relations that builds a warp and woof of sociality throughout the ward,” he says.
Non-Mormons can learn from the deliberate dedication that wards—at both leadership and lay levels—have to caring for each other spiritually. The church community is not merely the people one worships with on Sunday but the people one lives with, serves, and nurtures as if they were family members. What’s more, the church is the center of a Mormon’s social life.
“The consequence is that wherever Mormons travel, they find immediate kinship and remarkable intimacy with other practicing Mormons,” Givens says. “That is why Mormons seldom feel alone, even in a hostile— increasingly hostile—world.”
I would love to hear more from LDS readers of this blog about these things. Let me say up front that if any readers want to start an argument over whether or not Mormons are “real” Christians, I’m not going to publish your comment. It’s not relevant to this discussion, which is about the kinds of practices that build a thick and healthy religious community.
That’s Marquette University, a Catholic college. The reader who spotted this poster and sent in the image said:
I get having the Vagina Monologues as an act of feminism, controversy, and empowerment. And I get banning them because they’re transphobic. But simultaneously advertising for them and denying their underlying premise makes no sense. It captures well the confusion of Catholics who have sought hard to accommodate the world only to find the world continue down its path, leaving their heads swimming.
Look at this tweet by the CNN anchor:
i wonder if she is the problem or her overprotective and intolerant dad? teach tolerance. https://t.co/DbxAkrrH7n
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 23, 2017
You can read the whole thread here, on his Twitter feed.
I bring this up not for clickbait reasons, but because it says a hell of a lot about why it’s so difficult to talk about the broad LGBT issue in a way that would satisfy the concerns of folks like Emma Green and Matthew Loftus. Here’s what David French has to say about the Cuomo tweet:
Not long ago, if school policies purposefully exposed girls to male genitals, they’d be subject to a backbreaking sexual harassment lawsuit. Suddenly, however, “tolerance” looks a lot like indecent exposure, and indecent exposure is what freedom looks like. This is beyond strange. I’m certain Cuomo would still object to a member of the football team walking straight into a girl’s locker room and disrobing, but he not only doesn’t object to the exact same anatomical features if they’re attached to a trans “girl,” he condemns those who feel uncomfortable. If the declaration that “preteen girls shouldn’t see penis at school” doesn’t resonate, I wonder if there’s really any hope for a common moral language when discussing the sexual revolution.
In this circumstance, not even consent — the final moral firewall — matters. We used to be told that boys and girls should shielded from unwelcome sexual images. Now we’re told that they can be exposed to genitalia even over their strenuous objection, and they’re intolerant if they argue otherwise. Extraordinary.
I completely agree. For Cuomo, this is about nothing other than tolerance. I find that to be morally insane. I mean that seriously: morally insane.
What’s so extraordinary about this is that Cuomo doesn’t even think there’s a rational argument to be made against his view. It’s all bigotry. Because a father doesn’t want his 12 year old daughter to have to see a naked boy’s penis in her high school locker room.
Nothing in this language suggests that Dreher is ready to live tolerantly alongside people with different views. If progressives wrote about the Bible as “a lot of babble about Jesus and God,” using language similar to that of the parent Dreher cites, he would be quick to cry foul against the ignorance and intolerance of the left; his language is dismissive and mocking, and he peppers in conspiratorial terms like the “LGBT agenda.” At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity. The book seems to suggest that mere proximity to people with alternative beliefs about sexuality, and specifically LGBT people, is a threat to Christian children and families.
As I said in this space yesterday, it astonishes me that this is how she read the relatively small parts of the book that deal with homosexuality (and do so in the context of resisting the entire Sexual Revolution, which I see as profoundly antithetical to orthodox Christianity). More Green:
Of course, it will be impossible for conservative Christians to fully escape any aspect of mainstream culture, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans. In fact, many of those people grew up in Christian households much like Dreher’s, or may identify with the feelings of cultural homelessness he describes. Their lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people unlike them—including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?
To his credit, Dreher nods to this, ever so briefly. “The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church,” he writes. “Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.” He does little to specify these past errors, though, and he never tries to answer the broader question: how Christians can live as one people among many in America without learning how to respect and relate to those who challenge their beliefs.
I don’t want to rehash yesterday’s response to the Green piece — you can read it here if you like — but I do want to point out that she has done me a favor. Several friends have told me privately that this is exactly how the mainstream secular media is going to read the book. One sympathetic friend who works in the national media said that it’s going to be impossible for most liberals to read this book with an open mind, because they are feeling so besieged by Trump that they lash out reflexively at anything culturally conservative.
The thing is, it’s not just cultural liberals. At Mere Orthodoxy, the Evangelical Matthew Loftus writes, commenting on Emma Green’s review:
Rod rightfully acknowledges that Christians do need to repent of the ways in which we have harmed gay Christians in the past and briefly mentions the need to love LGBT people, but then brushes off any concern that he needs to spell this out any further. Quite frankly, this doesn’t cut the mustard because all sorts of Christian mistreatment of LGBT people comes under the banner of “love”. I am sure that Rod means what he says by this, but the problem is that his readers don’t know.
By not being more specific, Rod does not distinguish himself between those who have harmed gay Christians in the past. Would forbidding someone who is gay and celibate to be employed by a church be “mistreatment”? (This is by no means a given, as many celibate LGBT people can attest to). Would letting one’s child spend time at a friend’s house with gay parents “disrupt our ongoing formation in truth”? What would “love and hospitality” mean if a child in Rod’s church realized he or she was gay? In places where Christians do continue to mistreat LGBT people, how do we root that out? If we are trying to avoid the “LGBT agenda” and that agenda is usually carried out by people, how do we relate to those people?
If Rod and other BenOp enthusiasts want non-Christians to parse between not wanting LGBT activists to drive Christians out of business and not wanting to get away from LGBT people, they’re going to have to start that parsing themselves because Christians have failed to do this over and over in the last few decades. If they don’t want journalists to make bad faith assumptions about their work, they’re going to have to stop making bad faith assumptions about every possible manifestation of LGBT activism. Most importantly, if we expect the Church to endure the threat posed by the Sexual Revolution (and thrive beyond it!), then explaining how Christians love and serve LGBT people– particularly under the regime which the BenOp anticipates– is inevitably part of bearing witness. A Benedict Option that isn’t good for LGBT people will not stand the test of time.
Read the whole thing. I take it as a good-faith effort to challenge me, and hope that this response is taken in kind.
It is difficult — really difficult — to come up with hard and fast rules for how Christians are supposed to respond to LGBT people. Do Christians have hard and fast rules for how Christians are supposed to respond to heterosexuals who are living outside Christian sexual norms? Not really, and if they do, I’ve never seen the list. On the other hand, St. Paul is pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 5, at least concerning those within the church:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I was not including the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a verbal abuser, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Do we know better than St. Paul? Are we prepared to say that? If you are a believing Christian and you can dismiss this passage without a second thought, then you are not as serious about the faith as you ought to be. And I would say that if you are a Christian who can accept it without at least a twinge of conscience about people you know in your own life, you are not taking those people seriously enough.
I think the various circumstances under which we may be tested in this way are endless. Matthew is right that Christians are going to have to start parsing this, but it’s hard to know where to start. The only people who have an airtight case are those who accept everything, and those who reject everything. Most of us live in the broad middle, and work our way through these challenges as they present themselves in real life — always remembering that we are dealing with flesh-and-blood people, not ideological abstractions. This is not easy! For example, I’ve told my own kids on many occasions that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of their father. I’ve even explicitly told them that if they were gay, I would feel the same way. But loving them doesn’t obligate me to say that something I do not believe is true, is true.
Many of us white Southerners have had the experience of learning how to love aged relatives who hold horribly racist beliefs, but who are otherwise compassionate people. Many gays have had the experience of learning how to love family members who reject their sexuality, but not them personally. Many straight Christians have been challenged on how to love their gay friends and family while still holding firm to their convictions. These situations are only easy for people who are willing to reduce flesh-and-blood human beings to nothing more than their opinions. Whether you’re a Christian or not, I believe this is almost always a bad way to live.
Matthew raises the question of what, exactly, is a Benedict Option that’s “good for gay people”. Well, what is good? For orthodox Christians, the answer is to live obediently to what we are told is true — and that means lifelong celibacy for gays, as well as unmarried heterosexuals. We cannot abandon what we know to be true, even though it’s a hard saying, especially today. (More on this shortly.) I would submit that learning how to love and serve people who don’t share our beliefs, and who are sinners (as are we) is what serious Christians do every single day. In fact, it’s what everyone in a pluralist society does, or should do.
Do LGBTs and their allies ever stop to reflect on how they should relate to conservative Christians and others who do not share their beliefs about gender and sexuality? Shouldn’t they?
A particular challenge we Christians face today, though, is that our opponents often don’t want to give us any quarter. For example, lawyers are telling Christian colleges and schools that if they don’t want to have courts strip away from them the right to run their institutions according to their convictions about the meaning of homosexuality, they have to take a hard line against letting gay kids, or the children of gay couples, into their schools. I once spoke to the headmaster at a conservative Christian school who said that the board there did not want to take that hard line, but their lawyers said if they stopped short of that, they left themselves open to a lawsuit.
And look at somebody like Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington florist and faithful Southern Baptist. She knew that her client Rob Ingersoll was gay. She still befriended him and served him. But when, after nearly a decade of friendship, she told him that she couldn’t in good conscience arrange flowers for his same-sex wedding — and did so not high-handedly, but holding his hand and speaking gently — he turned on her, sued her, and she is now on the verge of being driven out of business.
There are so, so many stories like this. And now you have someone like Chris Cuomo saying that feeling uncomfortable with exposed penises in your female child’s locker room is bigotry. How are parents and others who do not accept the maximal interpretation of LGBT rights — a line that is constantly moving leftward — supposed to deal with this? When you cannot escape the accusation of hatred — and even legal consequences for it — unless you capitulate entirely, is it really so difficult to understand why some Christians want to avoid contact?
Why is this not obvious to progressives? When they convince themselves that dissent from their position is not only illegitimate, but a prima facie expression of hatred, finding common ground is impossible.
Please understand, I’m not trying to avoid the challenge Matthew Loftus and Emma Green have put to me. I am well aware from writing about these issues on this blog for many years that if I laid down some rules, that would elicit a storm of whatabouttery, e.g., “OK, you say that you wouldn’t object if your kid had a gay teacher, but what about the case where your kid’s gay teacher decided to stop using gendered pronouns in class as a matter of policy? Would you take your kid out of that school?”
Increasingly, we can’t even talk about these issues in good faith. The cost of dissent is too high — and this is a cost imposed on us by the power-holders.
I am open to hearing your suggestions, as long as you offer them in good faith — unlike the self-identified gay commenter in an earlier thread who said that we conservative Christians compel them to “destroy” us. Russell Moore has a very good essay advising Christians how to respond to transgenderism. Excerpt:
If Christians see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, we will be outraged and hopeless instead of compassionate and convictional. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it. [<— that speaks directly to me — RD]
We should stand against any bullying of kids who different from other children, for whatever reason. Children with gender identity issues are often harassed and marginalized. They should be loved and protected. Schools can do this without upending all gender categories. More importantly, churches and Christians can do this. We should hate the bullying of our neighbors, especially children, even more than the outside world hates it.
We Christians believe that all of us are sinners, and that none of us are freaks. We conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult. We must affirm that God loves all persons, and that the gospel is good news for repentant prodigal sons and daughters, including for those who have trouble figuring out which is which.
Alan Jacobs has a really interesting short reflection on Matthew Loftus’s post, with which he strongly agrees, except for the last sentence. Jacobs, who is a dear Christian friend and
a consistent critic [actually, a big supporter, but with some reservations] of the Ben Op, writes:
I, and most of my friends and fellow believers who have been highly critical of the BenOp, have very strong motives for thinking that Rod’s diagnosis and prescription are both wrong.
We have an interest in accepting the general cultural consensus about sexuality and gender. And if we can’t manage to accept it, we have an interest in soft-pedaling our beliefs, both publicly and to our children. Accepting, explicitly or tacitly, that consensus may in some cases open doors of professional and social opportunity to us and our families; vocally refusing to accept it would certainly close doors. We have an interest in believing that we can continue to live more-or-less as we have lived, that it is not necessary to change anything radically, or put ourselves or our families at risk.
Now, to be sure, there are certainly people whose interests lie in the other direction: who might lose social position, or be cast out of church communities, or even lose their jobs, if they were to express doubt about the traditional Christian take on sexuality. But that’s not where I, or my friends and BenOp debating partners, are. So what I would really like from many critics of the BenOp — and by the way, I don’t mean Matthew Loftus here, who has a very nuanced response to the whole movement, as you can see, for instance, in this post — is a frank acknowledgment of the dangers of motivated reasoning and an account of what they’re doing to avoid it.
He goes on to explain:
My particular situation, my particular personal and vocational path, leads me to want to be theologically conservative enough to be acceptable to the Christian institutions I love but not so theologically conservative that I can’t get published by reputable secular magazines and publishers. And lo and behold, my convictions perfectly match my interests! How remarkably fortunate for me!
Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. What he’s saying, with admirable candor, is that Ben Op critics among the faithful need to think hard about whether they are rationalizing their own failure to live up to their convictions.
One more thing in this long, rambly post. My friend Jake Meador, also writing at Mere Orthodoxy, has a good piece addressed to critics of the Ben Op. He begins by talking about why the Ben Op proposal makes more intuitive sense to Catholics and Orthodox Christians than to Evangelicals. This is really helpful for me to hear:
Evangelicals, however, hear the same language and react quite differently. There are a couple reasons for this: Partly, it is due to an understandable reaction against more schismatic fundamentalist versions of evangelicalism that seem to have done the same thing Rod is proposing. The consequences were frequently disastrous. (As someone who grew up in such a church, I understand this concern.)
A second motivating factor, I am increasingly convinced, is a classically evangelical craving after the approval of our peers. For 30 years we have been trying to tell the world “no no no, we aren’t weird like those otherChristians,” we say with our voice dropping on the word “other.” “We’re normal people like you.” The ways our parents did this differ from how millennials tend to do it, but the end result is the same.
Turning to Emma Green’s review essay, Jake writes:
Perhaps the thing I found most odd about Green’s piece is that she granted that Dreher is coming at the issues he talks about in the book from a fundamentally different worldview that than of most modern Americans, writing that “He is working from a different frame of reference, one that is increasingly out of step with Americans’ ways of thinking about culture.” But then she went ahead and judged the book on the basis of those, from Dreher’s standpoint, foreign moral norms anyway.
In one sense, this isn’t a problem: I don’t know Green’s own religious beliefs, which is to her credit as a reporter, but certainly the beliefs of many of her readers will overlap far more with the mainstream progressive American views on sexuality, which tend to emphasize individual autonomy, non-binary understandings of sexuality, and a high value on acceptance and inclusion. Critiquing the book in terms that your readers will find familiar and agreeable makes sense.
That said, I wish Green would have given more attention to what she called Dreher’s “frame of reference,” because it would have helped her get at one of the key points behind Rod’s book. As more and more polling numbers make plain, we increasingly live in a country that has multiple nations within it. The idea of a cultural consensus that exists across most of the population is increasingly foreign and even non-sensical. Americans increasingly do not simply have disagreements on select matters of public policy; they have disagreements about what goods public policy ought to be oriented toward and even about the basic nature of reality itself.
Green’s piece does a good job of highlighting key points of tension that many non-religious people and more liberal religious people will feel as they consider Dreher’s project.
But it would have been helpful for Green to try and say more about Dreher’s fundamentally different point of reference. What is that point of reference? How do people who share it end up believing the things they believe? She’s an excellent reporter and I’ve always found her to be fair-minded so I would have enjoyed seeing her delve more into this specific point.
Yes, this. Exactly this. Jake said what I have struggled with but failed to articulate. And to be fair to Emma, I could have and should have worked harder to articulate this in our interview. I’ve noticed that I don’t often try to explain why I believe what I believe about sexuality, creation, and teleology, because I have found that critics don’t actually want to hear it. I ought not be that way. I ought to give people more of a chance. Thing is, it can’t be summed up in a few slogans or a tweetstorm. I default to arguing for religious liberty, which entails the right to be wrong, because I know that what separates Christians like me from social progressives is metaphysical, and therefore irreconcilable at a philosophical level. The best we can hope for, I think, is some form of detente. Still, I would probably be better off taking the Ryan T. Anderson Option more often than I do, and offering some kind of case for traditional belief.
This post is already too long, so I’m not going to go into it at length here, but let me give you a rough outline of it. First, “because the Bible says so” is a strong argument within the church, or ought to be. The Bible is very clear about sexual behavior, including (but certainly not limited to) homosexuality. We cannot easily dismiss its authority.
But that is not a satisfying explanation for most Westerners in the church today, I’d wager, and certainly not for those outside of it. The deeper answer is theological, anthropological, and, ultimately, metaphysical. Traditional Christian thought holds that there is divine order (the Logos) that runs through Creation like DNA does a human body. It is the rational ordering principle. And it is not only a principle, but a Person, Jesus Christ. We Christians believe from Genesis that God created man in His image and likeness, and that God also created humans male and female. Because Creation is ordered by the Logos, it also has intrinsic purpose, which can be known. When we humans choose our own will over God’s, we violate the divinely ordained purpose for which we were created. We fail to harmonize with Creation as God intended it to be. This is called sin.
Over the past six centuries, Western man has come to reject the idea that there is intrinsic purpose built into Creation, and instead come to see meaning as something extrinsic — that is, imposed from outside. We put ourselves in the place of God, assigning meaning to our bodies, our acts, and the things of Creation, instead of receiving them from Him. Russell Moore, talking specifically about transgenderism, explains the stakes:
Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human. Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.
This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?
This basic question also applies to homosexuality. Traditional Christians believe that both the Bible and natural law disclose the purpose for sex, and how humans are to use it (as well as laying out the limits on the use of sex). Sexuality is inextricably bound to desire, and therefore is inescapably moral. You may think of it as morally good, certainly, but you cannot plausibly deny that it lacks a moral dimension, unless you’re willing to cheapen the most intimate act human beings can perform together by saying it has no more meaning than buying a box of laundry detergent at Walmart. This, by the way, is what makes sexual desire categorically different from race. Race has no moral component. Sexual desire has to do with how we use our bodies — and our bodies have meaning and purpose.
So, when you say to somebody like me that my views are bigoted, this is about like saying that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is an expression of bigotry. Michael Martin explains metaphysical realism cleanly:
Indebted to Plato and his Christian Neoplatonist interpreters, realism affirms the existence of universals: abstract, general concepts possessing objective reality anterior to particulars. For realism, universals, that is, are real things (res). The ideas of ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ for instance, precede and inform the actualities of particular women and men. Medieval nominalism, on the other hand, held that only particular things are real and that what the realists called ‘universals’ are only names (nomina), possibly useful for categorization (conceptualism), but devoid of any kind of reality in themselves. In a famous example, Roscelin (1050-1125) held that the idea of the Trinity is, in fact, only a concept that only the Divine Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — can claim reality. . . .
“Two centuries after Roscelin, the nominalist William of Occam (c. 1287-1347) divided reality into two categories: 1) that which we can know through intentionality (observation and experience); and 2) that which we can know by faith. Nominalism, that is, separated knowledge from wisdom and effectively divorced philosophy from theology. It placed most of what had been traditional metaphysics under the sphere of faith and claimed logic and analysis as the tools of the philosopher. Thus, at least at a conceptual level, the microcosm of the mind (or the soul) had been cut off from an integral, cosmological, and spiritual reality, at least as far as medieval epistemology was concerned. . . .
“Our current, postmodern moment — materialistic, technological, technocratic, atheistic — exemplifies a nominalism writ large. Here there are no universals. There are no ideas, no archetypes. Only names. ‘Marriage,’ for instance, no longer embeds universal cultural archetypes of ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ . . . Marriage, previously assumed as the union of a man and woman into organic whole, has been relativized beyond the point of recognition. A collateral ontological shift has also occurred in the postmodern understanding of the word ‘family.’ Perhaps most emblematic of this shift is the new conceptualization of the term ‘gender,’ which, tellingly, has proved the most plastic of all. Does not the notion of elective gender reassignment surgery, like nominalism, assert in the clearest terms that universals do not exist?
Opponents of traditional Christians think we’re talking about morality when we talk about gender and sexuality, which, yes, we are. But more deeply, we’re talking about ontology. This may sound like philosophical jibber-jabber to you, but if you have any interest in being fair, and in understanding your opponents’ point of reference, you should explore this idea.
I can’t expect people who are neither Christians nor metaphysical realists (in philosophical terms) to agree with us, but I believe it is reasonable to expect them to try to understand why we believe what we believe.
Read the whole Jake Meador essay. There’s a lot more in it well worth your time.
It is true that we live in a nation that is no longer Christian in any thick sense, and that it has been many centuries since the West accepted nominalism. This is the world that traditional orthodox Christians have to live in, and to which we have to accommodate ourselves as best we can without violating our consciences. From my perspective, our opponents don’t come at this from the point of view of advancing pluralism, and figuring out how we can live together in a kind of peace, despite our radically different views, but rather treat it like the Inquisition, determined to stamp out heresy, and to promote tolerance by crushing dissent.
A national newscaster denounces a father concerned about his 12 year old daughter having a biological male undressing in her locker room, calling him a bigot. In other words, it is an irrational prejudice to do anything other than affirm and embrace the new order. And critics still wonder why so many of us feel the need for the Benedict Option!
“Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”
“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”
Preach. I’m thinking about this in context of the media freak-out over Trump rescinding Obama’s directive on transgender access to public school bathrooms and locker rooms. It never seems to occur to these elites that the Obama administration badly overreached by effectively federalizing bathroom and locker room policy. Do they really think that it’s so obvious that people should agree to let sexually mature teenage males into the bathroom and locker room with their daughters? Do they really think that this is the proper role for the federal government?
Trump didn’t order schools to cease and desist policies that permit this. He only withdrew Obama’s mandate that ran roughshod over public schools in the matter of a highly controversial, intimate decision. The Trump administration simply said that this is an issue that should be worked out at the local level. This makes sense. And yet, given the pious ardor with which elites have taken umbrage, you would think that the locker room door is the new Edmund Pettus Bridge. You have a problem with penis-havers sharing the toilet with your daughter? Bigot!
I just spent the past couple of days driving around Canton, Ohio, a Rust Belt city. Here’s a USA Today piece from last year, during the campaign, about life in Stark County, where Canton is. Excerpt:
Stark County — home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and the National First Ladies’ Library — is particularly fertile ground for the GOP candidate’s criticism of trade deals and his vows to return jobs to the Rust Belt.
The county has lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. To the extent that those jobs have been replaced, it has been with fast-food and health care positions with lower pay and stingier benefits. People don’t necessary believe that Trump can bring back those lost jobs — he can’t, and no one can — but many think he’ll make it more difficult and less attractive for employers to move jobs overseas.
Nowhere is the impact of manufacturing’s decline starker than in North Canton, where the hulking brick shell of the old Hoover vacuum cleaner plant stretches along Main Street. Founded here in 1908, Hoover once employed 3,000 unionized workers in 1 million square feet of space.
But over two decades starting in the mid-1980s, Hoover and later its new owners shifted the production jobs from North Canton to Texas, Mexico and ultimately China. Today, membership in Local 1985 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is down to 16. The union hall across the street from the plant is scheduled to close for good at the end of July.
The county’s largest and most important manufacturing employer, Timken, also faces tough times. Under pressure from activist investors, the company split into two concerns in 2014, one focused on making steel and one on bearings. The split is a long and complex story, but it provides more evidence that the system is rigged against working-class people in favor of Wall Street. Since the split, TimkenSteel, in particular, has been hurt by weak energy markets and foreign competition.
In 2008, Forbes identified Canton as one of America’s 10 Fastest Dying Cities. Nearly everyone I talked to there expressed passionate concern about the opioid epidemic, which is overwhelming resources. Just driving around the city, you can see evidence of hard, hard times. Yesterday, I drove past a scrum of men and women, black and white, standing on a street corner waiting for a bus. They all looked tired, overweight, defeated. And some of their public schools are about to take a big financial hit:
Canton Local Superintendent Steve Milano said the district, which saw its enrollment drop by 11 percent between 2011 and 2016, would receive a double hit if Kasich’s budget proposal is adopted.
He said the district still is grappling with Kasich’s phase out of the tangible personal property tax, which has translated to a $200,000 loss over the next 10 years. He said subtracting another $481,035 would significantly impact district operations.
“In order to make up losses like that, you have to look at when people retire and (ask yourself) do you replace them or not?” Milano said.
I wish Betsy DeVos, the billionaire Education Secretary who fought AG Jeff Sessions to defend the transgender bathroom mandate, would motor over to Canton, pull her limo over and ask those people how important it is to them that girls with penises be allowed to share the bathroom with their daughters.
Our elites, waging World War T, while most of America has a very different fight on its hands. In a CBS/NYT poll last May, 57 percent of Americans said that this issue should be left up to state and local governments — which is exactly the position of the Trump administration. Only 35 percent said the federal government should dictate bathroom and locker room policy in public schools.
“…highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.” Yep.
UPDATE: A reader commented on an earlier thread:
Did you have any time to explore Canton? It’s a perfect example of the post-industrial decay that spurred Trump’s victory. Downtown Canton is full of buildings that once were beautiful back in the late 19th through mid-20th century but are now mostly dilapidated and empty. The downtown is surrounded by shuttered factories and abandoned store fronts. The median income in Canton is below $30,000. The few people wandering around have a general air of sullen desperation. The whole atmosphere feels like visiting a country that lost a war, or possibly what it felt like to be in a once-Roman city around the year 650 AD. There’s a tremendous sense of loss.
If you visit Canton or places like it, you should be able to understand why the slogan “Make America Great Again” has resonance there. Canton used to be great. It self-evidently isn’t great anymore. It’s a shell of its former self.
UPDATE.2: Exhibit A, from the CNN correspondent:
i wonder if she is the problem or her overprotective and intolerant dad? teach tolerance. https://t.co/DbxAkrrH7n
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 23, 2017
How in your warped mind is that the choice? Why must the answer be something terrible? So many other options https://t.co/rabGDIYvyY
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 23, 2017