Rod Dreher

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Girls on Film

In the above Fresh Air interview with Girls creator Lena Dunham, Dunham says that search for sex in college is “this sort of sad, sad hunt for validation.” Terry Gross asked Dunham how she thinks movies and the accessibility of Internet pornography affects sexual relations today. Gross said in movies today, there’s almost no foreplay, just ripping clothes off, unlike in the past.

“I do think that kids have been miseducated about what sex is by films,” Dunham said.

“I think that films have whitewashed sex in many ways, and sort of have tried to hide what is messy and what is challenging about it. And I feel like there are a couple of brands, ‘I’m so angry and I hate you so much and we need to have sex right now!’, which isn’t particularly healthy. Or I’m so in love with you that the minute we get in I’m going to shed my negligee and we’re going to do it.’ I think that most depictions of sex are destructive.”

Dunham says she’s not against pornography, but that the proliferation of online porn is “insane, because that’s how many boys are learning about sex. … That is female pleasure that has been designed for men to pleasure themselves to. And so it should not be a guidebook for anybody’s sexual relations. … I do think we are in an age when young kids are getting a totally unrealistic sexual education way before it’s needed.”

This part of the interview comes just past the 19-minute mark.

I was talking to someone today who told me that their kid recently started first grade, and is already having to deal with concepts that used to be first confronted by kids when they hit seventh grade.

[H/T: Sam M.]

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United States of Bankers

Did you hear the amazing story over the weekend from This American Life, about the secret recordings that a Federal Reserve banking regulator made of meetings she had inside the New York Federal Reserve after she began to get pushback within the office for wanting to, you know, regulate the banking industry. Jake Bernstein and Brian Reed are the reporters. Carmen Segarra is the ex-regulator (she was fired). Excerpt:

Jake Bernstein: This surprised Carmen because it seemed premature. They were only at the beginning of their factfinding. They’d requested documents and minutes of meetings that Goldman [Sachs] still had to give them. They were federal regulators. Their job was to ask questions and demand answers…and yet these colleagues sounded almost apologetic about it.

Unidentified man (on the recording): I would add to his comments in that I think we don’t want to discourage Goldman from disclosing these types of things in the future, and therefore maybe you know some comment that says don’t mistake our
inquisitiveness, and our desire to understand more about the marketplace in general, as a criticism of you as a firm necessarily. Like I don’t want to, I don’t want to hit them on the bat with the head, and they say screw it we’re not gonna disclose it again, we don’t need to.

Jake Bernstein: Wait a second, you guys are the Federal Reserve, doesn’t Goldman have to give you what you ask for?

Carmen Segarra: Absolutely.

Jake Bernstein: So where’s he coming from?

Carmen Segarra: A place of fear.

Jake Bernstein: Fear of ticking off Goldman. Though Carmen couldn’t imagine why
anyone at the Fed would be afraid.

Carmen Segarra: The Fed has both the power to get the information and the ability to punish the bank if it chooses to withhold it. And some of these powers involve criminal action. So there’s no reason to be afraid.

Brian Reed: Did you get the sense that other people around you were taken aback by that comment at the time, or did that seem like not such a strange comment for someone to make?

Carmen Segarra: No, I think business line specialists were very much in agreement with that comment.

Unidentified man: Don’t mistake our inquisitiveness, and our desire to understand more about the marketplace in general, as a criticism of you as a firm necessarily.

Carmen Segarra: I mean, they were all sort of afraid of Goldman and I think
they were a little bit confused as to who they were working for.

What I was sort of seeing and experiencing was this level of deference to the
banks. This level of fear. And just not really showing a lot of interest in putting
two and two together. It’s not like we would walk out of a meeting and they
would be like “Oh my God, when they said that, what did that mean? Let’s go
research it.” It was like “Oh well, next meeting.”

Brian Reed: I mean the obvious question from what you’re describing is: is that
regulatory capture?

Carmen Segarra: You know, if that isn’t I don’t know what is

Listen to the whole thing. And if you like, here is ProPublica’s print version of the story.

Your country and mine, they say. If conservatives and liberals both can’t stand against this, what good are they?

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Wildflower: A Love Letter

Stop what you are doing and watch this short film, Wildflower. It’s 25 minutes long, but believe me, you won’t be able to stop watching it, unless you have a heart of stone. It’s a marriage proposal that a young Baton Rouge filmmaker named Max Zoghbi made for his girlfriend Bonnie Kate Pourciau. You might have heard of her:

She finished early with home school requirements for finishing high school, freeing her up to travel to Haiti to do relief work with children. But the trip to the impoverished Caribbean country was cut short about seven weeks later when the 18-year-old developed gastroparesis, a debilitating ailment that makes it hard to keep food down. After many doctor visits came a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with her best friend, Elizabeth Sumrall, who was moving from Seattle back home to Baton Rouge. They stopped at sites like Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore. Pourciau loves wildlife and flowers, and the trip included lots of both. She was ecstatic.

The detour to the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., happened on a whim. When they were checking into their hotel for the night, the clerk mentioned she had tickets for a screening of The Dark Knight Rises that was within walking distance. The friends decided to go.

When the shooting began, the two friends crouched under their seats. Pourciau called on the God that she has come to know well over the years through prayer and a strong faith. She prayed even harder when she felt a whack in one leg and some stinging in the other. God answered her, she says.

“He just filled me with a peace that I don’t even know how to explain or tell you. He just wrapped his arms around me like a huge comforter,” Pourciau says. “I’ve felt God’s presence before and God’s peace, but I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

A bullet had destroyed her left knee. But watch the video to see what happened next.

I’m a sap for this kind of romantic thing, but boy, was that great. Max Zoghbi is a marvelous filmmaker, and his Wildflower is bursting with joy and life. These people are observant Christians, you learn in the film (but not in a pushy or cheesy way), and their faith is everything to them. I kept waiting for the false or manipulative note in the film, but it never came. The part that really got to me was his willingness to wait, and the hope that shines through this little valentine like shook foil.

Knowing that there are people like these crazy kids in the world gives me hope for my children and their future. Showing true goodness on film is difficult. I find that watching evil or sadness or tragedy on film doesn’t move me to tears; watching goodness does. This is not Oscar bait; it’s a 25-minute movie a guy made about how and why he fell in love with a girl, and how he asked her to marry him. But it is magical, and I couldn’t believe how emotional it made me at times.

Understand that Wildflower is not a preachy short film at all. At all. There is no altar call or anything like it. Max Zoghbi just says briefly at the end that he and Bonnie Kate love because God first loved them, and he says that God can bring good out of horrible things, if we stay faithful and love. That’s pretty much the only overtly religious message in the nonfiction movie. But the short film is a thoroughly Christian work. Serious point here: this sweet, romantic, heart-on-its-sleeve little film, and the people in it, will do more to illuminate the Christian life, and true, deep goodness and joy, than 10,000 sermons, or any big-budget explicitly Christian pop culture artifact.

When Pope Benedict XVI said that the best arguments for the faith are the saints and the art that it produces, this tiny love letter from a guy to his girl is what he was talking about. I cannot wait to see what Max Zoghbi does next with his camera.

UPDATE: Drew, from the comments:

So I had my reaction to the film. Just to make sure I wasn’t nuts, I watched it again with my wife and waited for her reaction…. She, to say the least, was a little creeped out. Her assessment: “No woman should have to bear the weight of such an obsession.”

I think that’s a completely valid reaction. Had Bonnie Kate not been receptive to his attention, even when she was not interested in a relationship with him, it would have seemed stalkerish. Still, I’m a Lloyd Dobler type, so I relate to the movie.

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Inferno, Cantos 11-13

Barque of Dante, Venice Jim Forest/Flickr
Barque of Dante, Venice Jim Forest/Flickr

Canto 11 is key to understanding how the Inferno is organized, which is to say, how Dante classifies sin. This canto explains the logic of Hell.

To summarize there are three parts to Hell:

1. Upper Hell: where Sins of Incontinence are punished (e.g., Lust, Gluttony, Greed & Prodigality, Wrath; Heresy is a strange sin that, in Dante, marks the transition between Incontinence and Violence).

2. Middle Hell: Sins of Violence are dealt with here, e.g., violence against one’s neighbor, violence against oneself (suicide), and violence against God.

3. Lower Hell: where you find Sins of Fraud punished. These are the worst sins, in Dante’s conception, because they must involve premeditation — that is, they involve wholly turning the mind toward evil, and having it corrupt the will. These are not sins of passion, which, as Dante sees it, are more understandable. These are sins that strike at the essence of what it separates man from beast: our reason. Worse, fraud “severs the bond of love” that unites people in society, Virgil teaches, and makes living peaceably together impossible. This is why traitors are in the deepest pit:

Virgil says:

“Every evil deed despised in Heaven

has as its end injustice.

This is important. What does it mean to say that every sin is rooted in injustice? A just order is an order in which everything is where it is supposed to be, doing what it is supposed to be doing. To sin is to introduce disharmony into the system. It is to insist that justice is really unjust, as long as it doesn’t satisfy the individual’s passion. As you know from our having read Purgatorio and Paradiso, the entire universe runs on Love, in Dante’s view. Sin, therefore, can be thought of as like a blood clot that disrupts the smooth flow of Love. Or like rocks in a river that obstruct the flow. The popular conception of sin is that it breaks a rule or a law, and that is true, or at least not false. But that doesn’t account for the depths of Dante’s vision. For him, sin is a metaphysical phenomenon. If you don’t grasp that, you don’t grasp Dante.

His journey through Hell is not meant to instruct us as to how unrepentant sinners literally will spend the afterlife (though Dante no doubt believed in a literal Hell). Rather, the mode of their punishment is meant to teach us something essential about their sin, and how it corrupted the soul and offended against justice. He could have each set of sinners sitting in the same fiery pit, but that would not only be boring in terms of drama, it would also teach us nothing about sin other than it’s a bad thing. It matters that the Lustful are tossed and turned on a raging tempest. It matters that Gluttons live for eternity with their faces down in stinking muck.

The poet’s explanation (via Virgil) of why usury is a sin helps us see where he’s coming from. Today, the idea of usury as sinful has all but disappeared, except in the case of high-interest “payday loans” (which our legislatures, even in Red States like my own, and in the face of clergy protest, protect under law). Virgil Why, asks Dante, does it offend against “God’s goodness”? An interesting answer from Virgil, one that combines Aristotle with Christian exegesis:

‘Philosophy, for one who understands her,

observes,’ he said, ‘and not in one place only,

how nature takes her course

‘from heavenly intellect and its operation.

 

And, if you study well your Physics,

you will find, after not too many pages,

‘that human toil, as far as it is able,

follows nature, as the pupil does his master,

so that it is God’s grandchild, as it were.

 

‘By toil and nature, if you remember Genesis,

near the beginning, it is man’s lot

to earn his bread and prosper.

 

The usurer, who takes another path,

scorns nature in herself and in her follower,

and elsewhere sets his hopes.’

The usurer — one who makes his daily bread from moneylending — doesn’t work for his living, and produces and therefore violates the natural order. Genesis tells us that we are supposed to create things, but the usurer creates nothing. He’s getting away with something. His is almost an artistic crime. Given that Florence had become and was becoming a powerhouse in Europe on the basis of its having invented modern banking, it’s interesting to consider that Dante believed the basis of his city’s prosperity was fundamentally sinful, because it violated the God-given natural order.

(Note well that you don’t have to agree with Dante’s medieval view on usury to consider what it has to teach us about the Dantean vision of sin, redemption, and justice.)

To make sure you get the point, I offer this clarifying passage from Peter Leithart, excerpted from his Commedia study Ascent To Love:

The central question for Dante is how one has used his will, his power of choice. Men can misuse their power of choice in one of three ways. Sinners in the vestibule have not used their will at all, and therefore they are outside Hell. Circles two through five house sinners who did not sin out of ill will but out of incontinence, an inability to control their desires. Though the things they sought in life were good, their desire for this good was too strong. Thus, these circles punish sins of lust, gluttony, greed and wrath; that is the order from higher to lower. Lust is an excessive desire for carnal love, which is a good thing in itself but should not become an idol. Gluttony is an excessive desire for food and drink. Greed, an excessive love of money, can manifest itself in two ways. A man who hoards money is greedy, but a man who is careless in spending money is also hoping for happiness from material wealth. Finally, wrath is an excessive desire for the good of vengeance and justice.

… All sins displease God, but Virgil tells Dante that God is least displeased with sins of incontinence. Therefore, the incontinent have their place outside the city of Dis. The sins that are punished most severely are those that arise from a malicious will. Among sins of malice, sins of fraud are more serious than sins of force. The rationale for organizing the sins of malice in this way is that man alone can act fraudulently and deceptively, while animals can act violently. Fraud is a distinctively human evil, and evil that defaces in a particularly serious way the image of God in man. Further, Dante believes that the most serious sins are those that are most disruptive of social and political order. Following Aristotle, Dante assumes that man is a social being and the city is the highest point of civilization. Thus, sins that affect the city are more serious and more severely punished.

Anthony Esolen’s translation of Dante’s line quoted above from the Hollander translation, is perhaps more revealing:

All malice meriting the hate of God

Has, for its end, injustice.

As Esolen explains, “malice” is a philosophical term implying the deliberate embrace of evil. The sins of incontinence are a failure to control the natural passions. Two kinds of malice: violence, which turns men into animals (who can be violent), and fraud, which is a singularly human kind of malice. It does the most to offend God, because it defiles the part of us that is most like God.

Finally on this point, I want to show you a passage from Peter S. Hawkins’s essay collection Dante’s Testaments. This is from an essay on how St. Augustine’s thought influenced Dante’s moral vision:

Abel chose God, not himself, as his good; in so doing, he fixed on the only object of desire that others can share without rivalry or fear of loss. Not only can they share such a love, they can actually increase it by doing so. Less can become more, and living partnership can be, not a compromise of power, but a source.

… Augustine turns a cause of strife into the source of concord; he shows how one heart can be made out of many. What he also does, of course, is stand the values of the earthly city upside down. Pointing past the obsession with lesser goods that characterizes the children of Cain, he upholds the possessio bonitatis as itself the highest good. It alone is the source of real power, power that is not lessened with sharing but that indeed must be shared to be possessed at all. The prizing of this love of goodness above everything else makes concord instead of antagonism, abundance instead of want – and all because the end of such desire is divine and thus infinite. To share true love is in fact to multiply it. This discovery makes it possible to imagine a new order of civitas entirely, one in which partnership … is not only possible but necessary.

Sinners choose themselves over God. The righteous choose God, which is to say, Love, and if they choose truly, they make things better for all. They will deny themselves rather than deny the good. All the problems of divided Florence, and divided Italy, and indeed our strife-filled world, begin with individuals choosing something other than God as their ultimate end. And to choose anything other than God is, at bottom, to choose yourself. We go to elaborate lengths to conceal this fact from ourselves, rationalizing our sins by saying they were inevitable, or the fault of others. But in every case, there is an element of consent to do evil present.

To be sure, it is up to God alone to judge the degree to which an individual soul consented to a particular sin, and what exculpatory circumstances may be present. It is only important here for us to recognize that, as the Bible says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And if all have sinned, all are in need of repentance and God’s mercy. That is the bottom line. You can make it into Heaven (via Purgatory) if you show the slightest sign of repentance, even in your dying breath. But no one who dies without expressing sorrow for their sins and asking for God’s mercy can hope to see God in the afterlife.

We move on. Canto 12 is a transition canto, in which Dante and Virgil make their way toward “the river of blood that scalds those who by violence do injury to others.” In these circles they encounter the nonhuman creatures who populate the realm of the violent. These beasts — the Minotaur, who guards the realm, Centaurs, and Harpies — are half-human, half-animal. This teaches us that sins of violence involve both our minds and our bodies. Esolen’s commentary:

Violence is about the only sin that modern man still recognizes, and fitfully at that. That is because sin, which is to trespass upon the rights of God, has collapsed into coercion, which is to trespass upon the rights of the almighty individual will. We must strain to consider it violent if two men freely decide to kill each other, and we are on the verge of forgetting how to formulate any sort of argument against suicide. But for Dante, as for most philosophers, religious teachers, and poets before him and after him, the wickedness of violence is seen less in what it does to others than in what it does to the violent, not as a consequence but in the very act. To kill, rape, maim, and pillage is to be as heartless and ferocious as a tiger. It is unworthy of man. For the Christian, it violates the rights of God (as all sin does), for it turns the created world into an arena of destruction.

This brings to mind an Iraq war veteran I know. He served in combat there. He cannot speak of the things he did there. Literally, he can’t; it’s too painful. There is no reason to believe that he did anything illegal, but war is war. His wife told me that the pain he carried home, a pain the source of which even she doesn’t know in detail, is so great that he cannot bring himself to enter church. He seems to believe that the violence he committed, though legal, so defiled him that he is unacceptable to God. His pain is overwhelming.

It does no good to tell this poor soul that he bears no ultimate fault for doing a soldier’s duty in war. He might believe that as a matter of legality. But in his bones, he feels the essence of the sin of violence. This is why the Orthodox Christians require soldiers to undergo confession, a rite of cleansing, after returning from the battlefield. Even if they fought in a just war, all war is violence, and requires repentance. A necessary evil is still evil. We cannot shed blood without getting it on our hands. We cannot strike another with our fists without, in some sense, striking ourselves. As Wendell Berry wrote about modern warfare, ”You cannot kill your enemy’s women and children without offering your own women and children to the selfsame possibility.”

Canto 13 opens with Dante and Virgil in a dark wood. The language Dante uses to describe this hellish arbor directly recalls the language he used to describe the dark wood in which he found himself back in the world, in the poem’s beginning. Going through this wood, Dante hears lamentation, and can’t figure out where it is coming from. Virgil counsels the pilgrim to pay attention to what is about to happen. This is why Virgil is such a good authority and guide; he has passed this way before, and knows the territory. Dante:

Then I stretched out my hand

And plucked a twig from a tall thorn-bush,

And its stem cried out: ‘Why do you break me?’

 

When it ran dark with blood

It cried again: ‘Why do you tear me?

Are you completely without pity?”

This talking shrub is Pier della Vigna, a great poet, was the chancellor of Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor (and fellow denizen of Hell). Envious people in the imperial court gossiped about him, and framed him as a plotter. Frederick had Pier (a version of the name “Peter”) arrested, blinded, and imprisoned. He killed himself in prison, and he awakened in Hell, eventually incarnated there as a shrub. Here is Pier, to Dante, justifying his suicide:

“My mind, in scornful temper,

hoping by dying to escape from scorn,

made me, though just, against myself unjust.

 

“By this tree’s new-sprung roots I give my oath:

not once did I break faith

with my true lord, a man so worthy of honor.”

Pier also says:

“I am the one who held both keys

to Frederick’s heart, and I could turn them,

locking and unlocking, so discreetly…”

So, the suicide, one who has destroyed the body, the roots of its own earthly existence, lives for eternity as a plant — with consciousness, but unable to move. This is its torture for scorning the body: to live forever, and to have rationality, but to be denied the freedom of movement that is the body’s. To choose one’s own end instead of waiting for one’s natural end, as God intends, is wrong.

(It should be said that Dante’s view on suicide is not simplistic. In Purgatory, you will recall, we meet Cato the Younger, the virtuous Roman politician who killed himself as an act of protest rather than submit to the rule of Caesar. Dante views self-murder as blameworthy, but Cato’s rationale was not the same as Pier’s — and God, presumably, sees the difference, and punishes accordingly.)


Dante doesn’t waste any lines. Pier says he “held both keys to Frederick’s heart,” and that Frederick was his “true Lord.” This is a reference to St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, the one to whom Jesus gave “the keys to the Kingdom” (the Angel near the base of Mount Purgatory is now the master of these two keys, as we see in Canto 9 of Purgatorio). Pier’s role in the Emperor’s life is the same as Peter’s was in the life of Jesus.

But Frederick turned against him, and Pier lost everything — his status and his liberty, and his eyesight. Pier’s “true lord” was a spiritually corrupt earthly sovereign; Pier had defied the Biblical admonition to “put not your trust in princes.” In the misery of his exile, Pier concluded that life was not worth living, and so he ended it. As Cook & Herzman point out in their lectures, Pier loved life when things were going well for him, but when fortune turned against him, he refused it.

This past week I was eating lunch in Baton Rouge when a friend I haven’t seen in a while passed the table and stopped to say hi. I asked her what she was reading these days, and she mentioned some serious theological books. My friend said that she and her husband are feeling acutely the need to understand their faith more deeply, so they can provide good answers for their growing children when the kids, one of who is a young teenager, start asking them. We got to talking about what a challenge that sort of thing is in our culture, and how so many Christian parents don’t take it seriously, figuring that these things will take care of themselves.

“Just the other day,” she said, “I was on an e-mail list sent out by a woman I know, and she was saying how she knows God is in her life because she has this blessing, and that blessing, and so on and so forth. You got the idea that she thinks she is one of the elect because she has all these material things. But what would happen to her faith if she lost it all? What does that kind of spirituality say to the person who has cancer?”

“What does that kind of spirituality say to the Christians who have everything taken from them, and have to run for their lives because ISIS is coming to kill them?” I said.

“Exactly,” she said. “We ought to be grateful for God’s blessings, but I just think that so many of us worship the things He gives us, and think we’re worshiping him. So when we get to the time of testing, our faith doesn’t last.”

I thought about that conversation this morning, reading about Pier’s fate. It’s as if he believed in a kind of Prosperity Gospel. Life was worth affirming as long as he was tight with the Emperor, but only then.

This has deep resonance with Dante’s fate. Remember, Dante too was a famous poet and a political leader at the time of his downfall and exile. He too was deprived of his status, his property, and his liberty (insofar as he wished to stay in Florence). The Commedia has no coincidences; the fate of Pier della Vigna could have been Dante’s fate. Surely Dante must have contemplated suicide, after having lost everything. When the poem begins, heaven has dispatched Virgil to rescue Dante, who is in danger of death. It is reasonable to assume by the context clues in this canto that Dante’s death would have been by his own hand, in despair over all his losses.

The Commedia is a poem about rebirth — about the way a man lost in his own sin and suffering found a way back to love, and life. Over and over, the lessons that the pilgrim learns on his journey is that to make anything other than unity with and service to God one’s highest object of devotion is to deviate from the straight path — a deviation that, over time, will lead one off the cliff and into Hell. The essence of life in Hell is to be deprived forever of the friendship and presence of God; this is the only thing the virtuous pagans and Muslims in Limbo lack. Pier had made the Emperor his god, and when he was cast out of the Emperor’s presence, he thought he was in Hell. Because he made a false idol of the Emperor, and finally embraced and affirmed the dark wood of his despair, he became the Dark Wood for all eternity.

For all their similarities, the difference between the Pier della Vigna and Dante Alighieri is that Dante made the Lord God his “true lord,” not a prince of this world.

Let’s also note, as Hollander does, that Pier puts his rhetorical gifts to work making himself out to be a noble, tragic figure — a sort of Cato the Younger. In fact, he was a pathetic sycophant who murdered himself because he couldn’t bear to live without the privileges he had once known as the Emperor’s right hand man.

For me, this was a great canto to read this morning. In Orthodox churches that follow the Old Calendar, today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Christians believe that through the humiliation, the pain, and the degradation of that instrument of torture came the redemption of the world. As I was reverencing the tender icon of the Virgin Mary and her infant Son, I thought, “And look at how it ended: with your Son nailed to a cross, and you having to stand there and watch it all.”

Three days later, He rose from the dead, and everything was made new again, just as He had told his mother He was doing as He dragged the Cross to Calvary. The lesson for Christians is clear: through pain, through suffering, through the loss of everything we love, even our lives if it comes to it, can come rebirth and renewal. If you don’t believe that the cross (symbolically speaking) can be a sign to us of victory over death, read Kara Tippetts’s blogs as she is spending her last days and weeks on this earth. She does not want to die and leave her husband and four children and all the good things of this world behind. But none of us will live forever. She joins her own passion to the Passion of the Christ, and look at the intensity of her life, even in death. Kara is in intense pain now; she wrote yesterday: 

We shared the edges and the fog within which we all still struggle. We ended in prayer, and by the end my spine and my hip were screaming in such pain I had to leave the room. Tears were coming on their own as the pain was so great.

And yet, she staggers onward, rejoicing. Lift high the Cross, indeed.

This is what it means to die to oneself to gain oneself, to accept defeat to conquer. This is what Dante the pilgrim learns on his journey. This is what Pier della Vigna refused to accept.

 

 

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Corrie ten Boom, Part 3

I heard late today from the Pacific Justice Institute, which sent me scanned copies of their original letter to the Springs Charter Schools, and the schools’ response. First, the gist of the August 22 letter from PJI senior counsel Michael Peffer:

We have been advised by our client, a parent of one of your students, of some troubling news from your Temecula library. Our client was in the library within the last couple of weeks. She was told by one of the library attendants that the library has been instructed to remove all books with a Christian message, authored by Christians, or published by a Christian publishing company. The attendant advised that the library would no longer be carrying those books. Indeed, in our client was told that the library was giving those books away, and she actually took some.

We believe that purging religious books from the library is unconstitutional and violates, among other laws, the First Amendment.

The letter goes on to cite a 1982 Supreme Court decision in Board of Education Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, a case that limited the power of school boards to ban books from school libraries.

Dr. Kathleen Hermsmeyer, superintendent of the schools, responded. This is the gist of her letter:

Our school caters primarily to a homeschooling population of families. In order to help provide curricular choices to our families, we allow homeschool parents to borrow or purchase a wide array of secular textbooks and other educational materials. We call the warehouse where we store our curriculum our resource “library”. It is designed to house and distribute curriculum materials that we purchase with State funds for our families.

We are a public school, and as such, we are barred by law from purchasing sectarian curriculum materials with State funds. We only keep on our shelves the books that we are authorized to purchase with public funds.

At the end of each school year, when we collect returned textbooks and supplies, parents often donate books and materials that they purchased with their own money to our “library”. We put those materials on a rolling cart to give away to parents who visit our warehouse.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion. We do not purchase sectarian educational materials and do not allow sectarian materials on our State-authorized lending shelves. At no time, however, have we discriminated against Christian authors or publishing companies who create secular educational materials.

I note that the question of Corrie ten Boom’s memoir The Hiding Place did not come up in the correspondence. It was first mentioned in PJI’s press release on September 18, to wit:

A parent of students enrolled at Springs Charter Schools was recently shocked to see some of the books being targeted for removal, including the well-known account of Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place.  The parent contacted PJI after library personnel explained to her that they had been directed to remove Christian books, books by Christian authors, and books from Christian publishers.

Joel Miller, from whose blog entry I first learned about the controversy, has been on the phone today with . From his update:

I spoke this afternoon with Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus directly about the situation. He sent both PJI’s original letter to the school and the school’s response, both available here for viewing.

“We have,” Dacus told me, “eyewitness to what was said and done—and what was said to justify what was done.”

Dacus not only vouched for the eyewitness, but the attorney running point on the case, Michael J. Peffer, said in the comments below that the account was corroborated.

Based on the precedent cited in PJI’s letter, the reported book purge is more than a little problematic. “They are functioning as a library, and libraries cannot adopt that as a policy,” said Dacus.

In the superintendent’s comments, she says that the school is barred from buying religious books and that the books in question were acquired from parents and given away to anyone who wants them. Yet the eyewitness, according to Dacus and Peffer, said the book bore library tags—that is, were the property of the library and identified for lending.

Check out the comments section of Joel’s blog. A California homeschooling parent said that when she tried to check out Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from the library of her charter school, she was told the same thing.

If this Corrie ten Boom flap is going to be settled definitively, it looks like people are going to have to come forward and put their names to the accusations. Which library worker said what to whom? I share Joel Miller’s suspicion of the language Dr. Hermsmeyer used in addressing concerns about all this. She has not denied the specific allegations, nor has she clarified what the directive was to the library staff. Was The Hiding Place marked as a library book, and if so, was it ordered removed from the shelves? Why or why not?

Are there any school parents or staffers who can shed more light on this situation? Please comment here, or email me at rod (at) amconmag.com.

Here is a depressing commentary on the situation from someone at Library Journal, the leading trade publication for librarians, who blogs as “Annoyed Librarian”. This gives you a sense of her approach:

The PJI appears to be a bunch of bigots who hate homosexuals and don’t mind stretching the truth to advance their cause. Thus, it’s pretty hard for non-bigots with any critical thinking skills to take their press release seriously.

She says she has never read The Hiding Place, and never heard of it. But boy, does she not want it on school library shelves. Annoyed Librarian says the removal of The Hiding Place didn’t happen, and if it did, Corrie ten Boom deserved it, because Jesus:

If you want to teach kids about the Holocaust, using the testimony of a Christian evangelist doesn’t make a lot of sense, so only teachers who wanted to evangelize their students would have used it, and most of them probably don’t teach in California charter schools.

After all, there must be some other book that might help students learn about hiding Jews from Nazis during the war, maybe one whose main audience is broader than that of evangelical Christians, perhaps a book written by an actual Jewish person who was in fact hidden from the Nazis, and maybe she could be roughly the same age as the students who are learning about her, helping the students to identify with her more.

There must be a book like that out there somewhere.

This anonymous person is a blogger at the most influential publication for the librarian profession, and she is perfectly comfortable denouncing for school use a book she concedes she has never read, or even heard of, because its author — who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews and went to a concentration camp for it, and lost her Jew-saving sister and her Jew-saving father to the Nazis — was a Christian who evangelized.

And people wonder why complaints like PJI’s sound credible to the rest of us.

UPDATE: The reader Surly sends in this explanation of the statement put out by the school superintendent. Surly says she works in a large organization, and the lack of clear writing skills among employees murks up communication within the office:

[Dr. Hermsmeyer wrote:] On August 22, Michael Peffer of the Pacific Justice Institute contacted my office at Springs Charter Schools about a conversation that had occurred last summer between a parent of a Springs Charter Schools student and an employee of Springs Charter School, neither of whom were identified.

[Surly comments; hers are in italics from here on out:] PJI contacted them in August 2014 reporting hearsay between two unidentified people that had occurred “last summer.”      Not a single provable, specific allegation here.

The conversation took place in the Springs Resource Library, which is a warehouse for textbooks we use in our school programs (it is not actually a library, in fact, we have since renamed it the Curriculum Warehouse to eliminate any confusion).

Due to the fact that our schools are independent study charter schools, we do not maintain traditional lending libraries.

[I take this to mean “we don’t stock book books, we only stock textbooks.”]

According to the letter, the unidentified Springs employee told the unidentified parent that he/she was instructed to “remove all books with a Christian message, authored by Christians, or published by a Christian publishing company.”

[People can tell other people anything they want.  That doesn’t make it true.]

At Springs Charter Schools, we’re pleased to welcome families of a variety of religious backgrounds, including many Christians, and do not discriminate against or disparage anyone because of their religious beliefs. We can and do provide educational novels with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families. Donated items are made available to our families at no cost. Any and all donated items are not incorporated onto the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse. The only materials we maintain on the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse are items we have purchased ourselves in accordance with the laws of our State.

[It may be the paragraph was not constructed to convey what the writer meant.  Try the sentences in this order:

  1. 1.      However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families. (You’re right-it’s not a religious textbook.  She could have just said that)
  2. The only materials we maintain on the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse are items we have purchased ourselves in accordance with the laws of our State.
  3. Donated items are made available to our families at no cost. Any and all donated items are not incorporated onto the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse.
  4. 4.      We can and do provide educational novels with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. (perhaps the author should have clarified that if a donated copy of this book is there, they can provide it)
  5. We regret that our policy has been perceived by some as hostility toward a particular religious perspective. It is not. We value all of our families and respect their personal beliefs, and each day strive to give our students a quality public school education in accordance with the laws of our State.”

Springs Charter Schools are tuition-free, public schools of choice serving more than 6,000 California school children and their parents. Many Springs parents choose to homeschool full-time, while others choose two to five days per week of a blended model that includes classroom instruction with home study. Springs serves students with 14 student centers in the Counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles.

[Hey, we’re catering to a fragmented market for free.  You can get the basics here, but we can’t custom tailor our inventory for every single homeschooler in a region that is larger than some small nations.]

UPDATE.2: Great comment by Fiddlinmom, who I’m betting gets closest to the truth of what happened here:

I homeschooled my kids for several years through a public charter school in California, though not Springs Charter School. I can easily imagine the school I used getting caught up in a similar kerfuffle.

Homeschool families here love the charter schools because of the free curricula and the money provided to pay for lessons or classes or books. But it is understood that none of that money from the charter can be used to purchase materials from religious publishers. That means if you want to use materials from Abeka or Sonlight or Memoria Press you have to buy it with your own funds. That is fairly cut and dry.

But it is still a touchy subject because of the large contingent of religious homeschoolers, which in the case of my charter included a large number of both Christian and Muslim families. Where do you draw the line on what is religious? Who decides? Can religious materials a family bought with their own money be used for the monthly work samples that get turned in and filed away? Should just the lines of scripture be blacked out with a sharpie? What if the entire essay or lesson was based on a Bible passage? Should something else be used for a work sample instead?

Those files with the samples of your child’s work do get audited for a variety of reasons. The charters have to be renewed on a regular basis. The schools also work hard to be accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), so that their high school college prep courses are indeed recognized as college prep. Some charter schools are physical schools while others are for supporting homeschool families, and each have their own sets of rules and regulations. The homeschool charters might offer classes, but those have to be labeled “supplementary”, even though families treat them as full-credit courses. I can easily imagine language that differentiates between a library and a warehouse, and the kinds of materials allowed in either. It all makes for a Byzantine bureaucratic maze.

On top of the issues of religious materials there is the added pressure to have homeschool families use only state approved curricula. Then there are the young teachers with freshly minted credentials and little life experience interpreting the “no religious materials mandate” and making decisions on what a family can and cannot use. I can easily imagine a young staff member making an off hand remark about removing The Hiding Place, never dreaming what those words would ignite.

This is not the case of a school library banning a book. It isn’t yet another example of a war against Christians. It is a book and a charter school caught in a Catch 22 because of the overly bureaucratic system tied in knots as it tries to be all things to all people.

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Why Poor People Act That Way

American family, 1940 Russell Lee, via Evan Bench/Flickr
American family, 1940 Russell Lee, via Evan Bench/Flickr

 

Linda Tirado, on why poor people like her do what they do, even though it doesn’t make sense to middle class people. Excerpt:

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.

There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

Read the whole thing. 

We have talked about these things many times on this blog. All I want to say in this instance is that a society that doesn’t offer realistic hope to people like Linda Tirado that they can escape poverty through hard work and self-discipline is an unjust society, and needs to be reformed.

Relatedly, Vicki Madden explores why college kids from poor or working-class backgrounds struggle so hard to succeed. Excerpts:

In spite of our collective belief that education is the engine for climbing the socioeconomic ladder — the heart of the “American dream” myth — colleges now are more divided by wealth than ever. When lower-income students start college, they often struggle to finish for many reasons, but social isolation and alienation can be big factors. In “Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College,” Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl analyzed federal data collected by Michael Bastedo and Ozan Jaquette of the University of Michigan School of Education; they found that at the 193 most selective colleges, only 14 percent of students were from the bottom 50 percent of Americans in terms of socioeconomic status. Just 5 percent of students were from the lowest quartile.

I know something about the lives behind the numbers, which are largely unchanged since I arrived at Barnard in 1978, taking a red-eye flight from Seattle by myself. The other students I encountered on campus seemed foreign to me. Their parents had gone to Ivy League schools; they played tennis. I had never before been east of Nebraska. My mother raised five children while she worked for the post office, and we kept a goat in our yard to reduce the amount of garbage we’d have to pay for at the county dump.

More:

In college, I read Richard Rodriguez’s memoir, “Hunger of Memory,” in which he depicts his alienation from his family because of his education, painting a picture of the scholarship boy returned home to face his parents and finding only silence. Being young, I didn’t understand, believing myself immune to the idea that any gain might entail a corresponding loss. I was keen to exchange my Western hardscrabble life for the chance to be a New York City middle-class museumgoer. I’ve paid a price in estrangement from my own people, but I was willing. Not every 18-year-old will make that same choice, especially when race is factored in as well as class.

As the income gap widens and hardens, changing class means a bigger difference between where you came from and where you are going.

Read the whole thing. There is lots of truth in this.

UPDATE: It turns out that Linda Tirado’s tale of poverty is pretty much untrue, or at least not the sob story she presented. And she has a history of lying online. Dr. Mary Russell found this takedown. 

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Corrie ten Boom Follow-up

The full statement by the Springs Charter School on the Corrie ten Boom fiasco:

TEMECULA, CA, September 24, 2014 – Kathleen Hermsmeyer, Superintendent of Springs Charter Schools, released the following statement regarding an August 22nd query by the Pacific Justice Institute:

“On August 22, Michael Peffer of the Pacific Justice Institute contacted my office at Springs Charter Schools about a conversation that had occurred last summer between a parent of a Springs Charter Schools student and an employee of Springs Charter School, neither of whom were identified. The conversation took place in the Springs Resource Library, which is a warehouse for textbooks we use in our school programs (it is not actually a library, in fact, we have since renamed it the Curriculum Warehouse to eliminate any confusion). Due to the fact that our schools are independent study charter schools, we do not maintain traditional lending libraries. According to the letter, the unidentified Springs employee told the unidentified parent that he/she was instructed to “remove all books with a Christian message, authored by Christians, or published by a Christian publishing company.”
At Springs Charter Schools, we’re pleased to welcome families of a variety of religious backgrounds, including many Christians, and do not discriminate against or disparage anyone because of their religious beliefs. We can and do provide educational novels with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families. Donated items are made available to our families at no cost. Any and all donated items are not incorporated onto the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse. The only materials we maintain on the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse are items we have purchased ourselves in accordance with the laws of our State.
We regret that our policy has been perceived by some as hostility toward a particular religious perspective. It is not. We value all of our families and respect their personal beliefs, and each day strive to give our students a quality public school education in accordance with the laws of our State.”

Springs Charter Schools are tuition-free, public schools of choice serving more than 6,000 California school children and their parents. Many Springs parents choose to homeschool full-time, while others choose two to five days per week of a blended model that includes classroom instruction with home study. Springs serves students with 14 student centers in the Counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles. Springs Charter Schools’ administrative offices are located at 43466 Business Park Drive, Temecula, CA 92590. Phone: (951) 252-8800. Website: www.springscharterschools.org.

Here’s what I don’t get:

However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families.

Since when does The Hiding Place qualify as a religious textbook? What is the difference between works of fiction and nonfiction in which religion features prominently as a theme, and a “religious textbook”? This is why I don’t accept (yet) that the complaint against Springs is invalid. I don’t believe any school has an obligation to provide The Hiding Place or any other particular book to its students. I wonder, however, if the school is doing what many schools often do (inadvertently in many cases), and censoring itself beyond what the courts require for the sake of avoiding controversy or legal entanglements.

By the way, I just sent a note to the Pacific Justice Institute requesting to see copies of the letter of complaint they sent to the Springs school, and the full response letter the superintendent sent in return.

If PJI has manufactured a controversy where none exists, I will apologize and never rely on them again. I’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: At 8:46 Central this morning, I sent the following e-mail to the contact e-mail address at PJI (info@pji.org):

I wrote yesterday on my TAC blog about the Corrie ten Boom flap. Many readers have questioned the validity of PJI’s complaint. Would you mind providing me with a copy of the letter you initially sent to the Springs Charter Schools, and a copy of the superintendent’s response? Thanks.

It’s now 5:10 Central, and I have heard nothing from these people.

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The Sexual Totalitarian Campus

Campus love, exciting and new! Bill Lile/Flickr
Campus love, exciting and new! Bill Lile/Flickr

According to the University of Michigan’s website educating students and others about forms of abuse, this constitutes “sexual violence” (boldface mine):

Examples of sexual violence include: discounting the partner’s feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways; withholding sex and affection; always demanding sex; forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex.

OK, let me see if I understand this. According to the University of Michigan, a man who is insufficiently attentive to his partner’s desires in bed is guilty of sexual violence, and the woman who tells her partner that the sex they just had wasn’t very good for her because he didn’t pay enough attention to her needs is also guilty of sexual violence. A person who asks for more sex than his or her partner wants to have is guilty of violence, as is a person who denies his or her partner the sex they want to have.

These people are out of their minds. They are making these kids into complete neurotics by educating them to think that normal sexual give-and-take is pathological, and even criminal. Who wants to risk a relationship when if things go wrong in perfectly ordinary ways, one can find oneself officially accused of sexual violence, with all the penalties that carries?

Of course very few men would

From the College Fix:

As for the definitions given by the University of Michigan, asked by The College Fix whether they are extreme and erroneous, campus spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said they stand when taken in a larger context.

“The definitions of behaviors of violence … describe most accurately what occurs in an abusive relationship,” he said in an email. “Those behaviors not in the context of violence are not abusive.  A reader of this site would recognize that it’s described as one behavior in the context of a pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.”

[Janet] Bloomfield has a different take on what readers will “recognize” when perusing the website.

“Using the exact same logic and method of reasoning deployed by UMich – namely, that readers will recognize the behaviors within a larger pattern of behaviors – readers will also recognize that victims are implicitly female and perpetrators are male – even though the policy does not explicitly state that,” she said, adding such extreme examples essentially label normal relationship behavior “abuse” and throw men under the bus.

“Normal relationship behaviors are pathologized and framed as abuse when MEN do them,” she noted. “I am unaware of a single case in which the accused student is a woman and the victim is a man.”

As for the topic of the campus rape epidemic, she said she believes campuses are whipping up “rape hysteria” for a variety of reasons.

“It comes down to this: colleges are creating rape hysteria so college employees who run these sexual assault centers can keep their jobs and benefits. Women are encouraged to interpret normal sexual and relationship behaviors as abuse and encouraged to have the young men they are partnering with sanctioned by the college,” she said.

Bloomfield is a men’s rights activist who writes on this libertarian website — a place whose editors say that they have about as much regard for traditionalist conservatives (like me) as they do for feminists, which is to say, very little. Still, they’re absolutely right about this, and it frightens me for my sons. If one of them gets caught up in a college relationship with a manipulative woman, they could have their lives ruined if, after a breakup, she denounced them to the university as guilty of sexual violence. And it would be a woman who did this; very few men would be so lacking in self-respect as to complain to the authorities that their ex-girlfriends are guilty of sexual violence because they withheld sex, or whatever.

And I am scarcely less worried for my daughter. I absolutely do not want her to accept abuse from her partners. But at the same time, I absolutely do not want her to believe that she is so fragile that ordinary sexual behavior and verbal, um, intercourse amounts to abuse. And I absolutely do not want her to have that kind of power over the men she dates.

Initiatives like the University of Michigan’s infantilizes undergraduates, which is bad enough. It is emotionally and psychologically crippling to train them to see intimacy as fertile grounds for grievance. Worse than that, though, is the way it totalitarianizes the sexual relationships of students. At the University of Michigan, even ordinary words passing between lovers can be construed as on the same level as punching and hitting. How can you trust your partner when you never know when your partner might report you to the secret police for saying something that hurts her feelings? Every lover is a potential informant with the power to destroy your life.

It’s madness. It warps the mind.

UPDATE: A reader who is a mom writes:

Let me clarify for the UMich representative that students don’t, in fact, understand the ‘one behavior inside a pattern of behavior’ as my son was the recipient of an accusation of ‘emotional abuse’ based on his ‘withholding of sex and affection.’ As a young adult in his first relationship, just trying to figure out his feelings, it’s very likely he did withhold now and then. That’s pretty typical teenage behavior. However his ex obviously didn’t get the “behavior inside the behavior” message until she’d rendered her verdict and sent my son into a tailspin of despair, thinking he was the worst of the worst. Tellingly, the girl later apologized for her intemperate word choice but the damage was done.

You’re absolutely right: I now have a son who is leery of any relationship and finding out how difficult it is to trust someone who holds all the cards. We are leaving these kids so confused and abandoned with these mixed messages. And if this is supposed to help women, I can’t for the life of me see how.

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Scarlett O’Horror

NPR aired a good short piece yesterday about the film Gone With The Wind, and how Kids These Days don’t care for it. Excerpt from the transcript:

But when I asked 13 students in a Georgetown University film class if they’d seen it, most either hadn’t seen the film or had seen only parts of it. These students are serious about movies. But a lot of them sided with Mike Minahan, 20, who said when it comes to Gone with the Wind — frankly, he doesn’t give a damn.

“Everything I’ve seen about it says it, like, glorifies the slave era … and I dunno, what’s the point of that? I don’t see that as a good time in history … like, oh, sweet, a love story of people who own slaves.”

The students had two issues with Gone with the Wind: race and rape.

Well, look, I don’t like Gone With The Wind, in part because I can’t bear much of that moonlight-and-magnolias foofarah, but mostly because I find it dull. Still, I know it is a film that many knowledgeable people admire, and my sense is that my inability to like it is a fault. I find it incredibly wearying, and even aggravating, that people like Mike Minahan assume that because works of art from the past present a point of view that is disagreeable to modern sensibilities, they can be safely ignored. What a philistine point of view.

I wonder how Mike Minahan would confront the Divine Comedy? After all, Dante has a level of Hell devoted to punishing gay people. If Mike Minahan bothered to examine the Divine Comedy, he would find that beneath the conventional 14th-century Catholic condemnation of sodomy, there is in the poem a sophisticated point about art and creativity. But I doubt Mike Minahan would be able to rise off his fainting couch to examine what the artist is saying.

One of the things I truly cannot stand about this era is the way people feel morally entitled not to have to be confronted with any idea that challenges their settled convictions. It goes beyond the way we view art. Ted Cruz felt that if the Christians of the Middle East didn’t share his views on Israel, he could safely write them off. There are plenty of liberals who look at the white working class and see right-wing rednecks, and think that they can therefore disdain them in good conscience. There are plenty of conservatives who look at inner-city black people and the chaos of their lives, and decide that their concerns and struggles aren’t worth paying attention to.

It’s something we all confront, or ought to confront. How do we care for people, or about works of art, that hold to a viewpoint we find offensive? Do we write them off as worthless, or do we struggle somehow to focus on the worth they have, and try to draw a lesson from it?

I think growing up in the South has helped me understand and embrace the nuances in this issue. I think about the oldest generation, and about the good and gentle white people I’ve known who hold wicked views on race. Their racial attitudes don’t make them devils, but their kindness and moral worth on other issues do not excuse their moral blindness on race. We can all think of examples like this, wherever we are. If we think about it, we are probably the same, in our way. I wonder sometimes what views I hold and think nothing of will be seen by my grandchildren as appalling. Do you?

Anyway, I object to people of the right and the left who would dismiss both art and human beings because they offend against moral correctness. The fact that people, and art, are wrong about something, even something important, does not render them unworthy of your attention or care. In fact, in some cases, the art, or the people, flawed as they may be, judge you; your failure to give a damn reflects poorly on your understanding.

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Florence

The Baptistery, Florence Neil Howard/Flickr
The Baptistery, Florence Neil Howard/Flickr

Oh, New York Times, must you tease me like this? Watch their “36 Hours in Florence” video, which went up today. Next week at this time, I’ll be there.

I have to confess that my gratitude and admiration for the paper for producing things like this is severely testing my grinchiness at them for their cultural prejudices.

I have never been to Florence. Today I have been up to my ya-yas in Dante. True: I am an emotional person, and I tell you, it is going to be hard for me to go to these places that meant something to Dante Alighieri without getting teary. I am so immersed in that man’s work. I feel in my bones how much that city meant to him, and what it meant to him to be exiled from it. Sitting here in my armchair in rural Louisiana writing this, I tremble to think about what it will be like to stand in the baptistery in Florence, where baby Durante Alighieri was baptized, and to know that the great man saw that place so many times in his life, until they sent him away forever.

Joy. Gratitude. Passion. I tell you, I am so exhilarated to be going to a Catholic country, where sensuality and spirituality converge.

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