Rod Dreher

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Russia, As Seen From Silicon Valley

Here’s a provocative essay by Max Skibinsky, a Russian emigre who is now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. A Russian friend passed it on to me, and said Skibinsky nails how it is in Russia today. I know this blog has some Russian readers, and readers knowledgeable about Russia, so I request their feedback.

Here’s how Skibinsky begins:

Many people in Silicon Valley inquired over the years why I was not coming back to Russia often (I visited once in two decades) or why I’m not spending much time helping Russian startups. I usually answered these questions in generalities while keeping my grim thoughts and predictions to myself. The events of the past few days, unfortunately, show that the worst predictions I feared all these years did come true. The nightmare scenario is now unfolding as we speak, and Russia position in the world is now altered forever.

Well, “forever” is a very long time. Anyway, Skibinsky says that modern Russia is a corrupt oligarchy in which the great masses of people are misled by state propaganda, and supported by oil revenues:

Modern Russia is not a weaker version of Soviet Union “empire of evil.” This capability is, thankfully, long gone. Russia is “cargo cult” of Soviet empire. It lacks competent professionals, leaders and minimal work ethics to accomplish anything on that scale. It just have enough capacity to cover everything in a blanket of lies, and as long as it works on captive domestic population that is all that it’s leaders need to keep channeling profits from Russia to London accounts.

The best way to understand modern Russia is to imagine a steep pyramid. At the very top there is a clique of KGB-affiliated oligarchs, who manage barely-competent class of middle-managers (which can and do steal a fraction of everything they touch) which in turn sit on top of largely brainwashed and deranged mass population living on life-long government welfare.

Needless to say this is most toxic environment imaginable to incubate a startup ecosystem.

He goes on to say that Russia’s political, legal, and social situation conspire to drive out the kind of people who could revitalize its economy:

Creative class was a minority in modern day Russia and there is a strong emergent behaviour that draining their numbers. That is a class of people with the skills most in demand in Europe and USA. During “peaceful” decade of Putin’s rule over two million people emigrated from Russia: this is a number higher then immigration after communist revolution and civil war.

By my estimate there is probably few hundreds of thousands of people in the creative class in Russia. This vocal, yet very small group so far never succeeded at thwarting russian mafia state at anything.

Skibinsky concludes that Silicon Valley ought to be doing everything it can to support Ukraine and to disassociate itself from Russia, from which, he says, “there is nothing of value to recover.”

What do you think? Do not assume that by posting this, I agree with him. Perhaps if I knew more about the situation, I would agree with him. Or not. I can say that of the handful of Russians I know, mostly emigres but also a Russian Orthodox academic in Moscow, and none of them liberals in the American sense, this fairly represents their position on prospects in their homeland, if not necessarily their position on the Ukraine-Russia fight (thought it might; I’m not sure).

What’s interesting to me about this is what it says about prospects for Russia, or any nation whose creative minority believes it cannot thrive in that country. I’ve been thinking a lot about exile lately, not only because of Dante, but because of a side project I’m working on. Few people go willingly into exile. Many are sent, but many also send themselves, as the lesser evil. At what point do things get so bad in a country that people who do not have to leave, either because they’re thrown out of fear for their lives, decide that they and their children have no meaningful future there, and so must become strangers in a strange land.

(Oh, earlier today an old (Catholic) friend wrote from Paris to say that with the latest spasm of Islamic anti-Semitic violence, he’s never been so downcast about the future of his country. So things are bad all over.)

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View From Your Table In Paradiso

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Sentimental me, I’m posting this through tears:

Here’s something i would never have done without reading your blog — I had dinner in Florence at the foot of Dante’s statue. The first pic is the man himself, looking as if he disapproves mightily; the second is the dinner of pasta with duck breast, green peas, and a glass of the house white.

Below, the other pic. At this time in my life, this is the greatest possible View From Your Table for me. It can be equalled, but it cannot be surpassed. Reader, I can’t find the words to thank you for this gift.


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Good Father/Bad Father

A Daytona Beach father walked in on Raymond Frolander, an 18 year old family friend, allegedly raping his 11 year old son. He whipped Frolander’s a**, then called 911 for the cops to come carry the dirtbag to jail:

The father has not been charged with a crime, and police sound as if they believe his actions were justified.

‘Dad was acting like a dad. I don’t see anything we should charge the dad with,’ Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told WFTS. ‘You have an 18-year-old who has clearly picked his target, groomed his target and had sex with the victim multiple times.’

A subsequent mugshot showed that Frolander had been badly beaten around the face, leaving him with swollen lips and eyes, bruising and lacerations.

When the 911 responder asked the father if any weapons were involved, he said: ‘My foot and my fist’.

The 35-year-old man, who has not been identified, told a 911 dispatcher in the early hours of Friday: ‘I just walked in on a grown man molesting [name redacted]. And I got him in a bloody puddle for you right now, officer.’

The dad can be heard on the 911 call, addressing the unconscious Frolander, telling him “damn lucky boy that I love my God” — or he, the dad, would have killed Frolander.

Dad really was acting like a dad. Father of the Year!

But look what he did next:

The father who pummeled an 18-year-old man police say was sexually battering his son put his son’s picture on social media Monday and initially asked for $1 million in donations to help rebuild the child’s life.

“Rebuilding Innocence” was the headline atop a picture of a sleeping boy on a website called The father posted a link to the website on his Facebook page.

A few hours after the original Facebook post Monday, however, the son’s picture was removed from the gofundme page. More description was added and the headline was changed to “Help Restore My Son’s Innocence.” And by 9 p.m. Monday, the father had pulled down the page and removed the donation campaign link from his Facebook page. It was removed after the father reduced the initial $1 million request to $100,000 and donors had contributed $145.

In a manner of speaking, he “prostituted” his raped little boy, exploiting the child’s suffering, hoping to become a millionaire. Somebody should crack him over the head.

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Hobby Lobby & ‘The Bad Old Days’

Did you catch Brett McDonnell’s essay arguing that the left made a mistake in its reaction to Hobby Lobby? McDonnell, a liberal law professor, argues that the Hobby Lobby decision was actually a liberal one. Excerpt:

Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby answered two questions, and each answer channels core liberal principles.

The first question was: Can for-profit corporations invoke religious liberty rights under RFRA? The court answered yes. HBO’s John Oliver nicely expressed the automatic liberal riposte, parodying the idea that corporations are people. It is very funny stuff.

It is not, however, especially thoughtful stuff. The court does not argue that corporations are just like real people. Rather, it argues that people often exercise faith collectively, in organizations. Allowing those organizations to assert religious-liberty rights protects the liberty of the persons acting within them. The obvious example is churches, usually legally organized as nonprofit corporations.

The real issue is not whether corporations of any type can ever claim protection under RFRA — sometimes they can. The issue is whether for-profit corporations can ever have enough of a religious purpose to claim that protection.

To me, as a professor of corporate law, liberal denial of this point sounds very odd. In my world, activists and liberal professors (like me) are constantly asserting that corporations can and should care about more than just shareholder profit. We sing the praises of corporate social responsibility.

Well, Hobby Lobby is a socially responsible corporation, judged by the deep religious beliefs of its owners. The court decisively rejects the notion that the sole purpose of a for-profit corporation is to make money for its shareholders. This fits perfectly with the expansive view of corporate purpose that liberal proponents of social responsibility usually advocate — except, apparently, when talking about this case.

He goes on to argue that the Hobby Lobby decision also advanced the liberal goal of tolerance of diversity within a pluralistic context. But the left doesn’t see that.

Molly Ball writes that the Hobby Lobby fallout has “split the left” and is hurting the gay rights cause. Excerpts:

One chapter of the controversy is set to close on Monday, when President Obama plans to sign a long-awaited executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians, according to a White House official. But the debate that began over that order’s provisions for religious nonprofits has spilled over into a broader conflict. Many prominent gay-rights groups have now withdrawn their support from a top legislative priority, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, over the religious exemption it contains.

“The religious exemption debate has now been polarized to the point where people are saying, ‘All or nothing,’” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy for the center-left think tank Third Way, whose research and activism on gay marriage have been instrumental to that cause’s mainstream acceptance. “The narrative that’s now beginning to form is that Democrats are against religion. It’s not true, and it’s very dangerous.”

On what planet is Hatalsky living? Of course it’s true. It is obviously, incontrovertibly true. The Democrats are only “for” religion when it doesn’t threaten their other priorities. I wish it were not so, but I don’t see any way around it. For example, they are “for” progressive religious groups that accept their interpretation of gay rights, but not for tolerating religious groups that do not. Naturally one does not expect progressives, religious and secularist, to endorse religious beliefs and practices they find immoral or unpalatable, but toleration does not require endorsement. In fact, as Damon Linker has pointed out, liberalism requires broad tolerance if it is to be true to itself.

More from Molly Ball’s piece:

The larger fear is that such splits could bring back the bad old days when gay rights and religious rights were seen as irreconcilable—and liberals suffered politically for the image that they were alienated from religious values. The advocates in the middle of this debate hope too much progress has been made for the current controversy to undo it. Sharon Groves, director Human Rights Campaign’s religion and faith program, acknowledged the events of the past few weeks have created tension. But, she said hopefully, “The deep work has already begun to happen in faith communities. I don’t think we’re going to see a return to the old culture wars.”

They are irreconcilable — and honest scholars were saying this as far back as 2006. In this NYT report on the debate back then, the law professor, lesbian, and gay rights advocate Chai Feldblum, who now runs the EEOC, says that gay rights and religious liberty are ultimately irreconcilable — and in her view, gay rights must always win. Back then, Maggie Gallagher wrote the piece to read on this, reporting from a Becket Fund scholarly conference on gay rights and religious liberty. Excerpts:

Just how serious are the coming conflicts over religious liberty stemming from gay marriage?

“The impact will be severe and pervasive,” [Becket Fund head Anthony] Picarello says flatly. “This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations.” Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don’t even notice that “the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it’s easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter.”

For scholars, these will be interesting times: Want to know exactly where the borders of church and state are located? “Wait a few years,” Picarello laughs. The flood of litigation surrounding each point of contact will map out the territory. For religious liberty lawyers, there are boom times ahead. As one Becket Fund donor told Picarello ruefully, “At least you know you’re not in the buggy whip business.”

Gallagher says in reading all the papers from the Becket Fund conference, she noticed that those scholars who favored gay marriage were much more aware of the nature of the conflict than those who opposed gay marriage. Chai Feldblum, for example, said that both sides fail to appreciate what’s really going on in this struggle:

“Gay rights supporters often try to present these laws as purely neutral and having no moral implications. But not all discrimination is bad,” Feldblum points out. In employment law, for instance, “we allow discrimination against people who sexually abuse children, and we don’t say ‘the only question is can they type’ even if they can type really quickly.”

To get to the point where the law prohibits discrimination, Feldblum says, “there have to be two things: one, a majority of the society believing the characteristic on which the person is being discriminated against is not morally problematic, and, two, enough of a sense of outrage to push past the normal American contract-based approach, where the government doesn’t tell you what you can do. There has to be enough outrage to bypass that basic default mode in America. Unlike some of my compatriots in the gay rights movement, I think we advance the cause of gay equality if we make clear there are moral assessments that underlie antidiscrimination laws.”

But there was a second reason Feldblum made time for this particular conference. She was raised an Orthodox Jew. She wanted to demonstrate respect for religious people and their concerns, to show that the gay community is not monolithic in this regard.

“It seemed to me the height of disingenuousness, absurdity, and indeed disrespect to tell someone it is okay to ‘be’ gay, but not necessarily okay to engage in gay sex. What do they think being gay means?” she writes in her Becket paper. “I have the same reaction to courts and legislatures that blithely assume a religious person can easily disengage her religious belief and self-identity from her religious practice and religious behavior. What do they think being religious means?”

To Feldblum the emerging conflicts between free exercise of religion and sexual liberty are real: “When we pass a law that says you may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we are burdening those who have an alternative moral assessment of gay men and lesbians.” Most of the time, the need to protect the dignity of gay people will justify burdening religious belief, she argues. But that does not make it right to pretend these burdens do not exist in the first place, or that the religious people the law is burdening don’t matter.

“You have to stop, think, and justify the burden each time,” says Feldblum. She pauses. “Respect doesn’t mean that the religious person should prevail in the right to discriminate–it just means demonstrating a respectful awareness of the religious position.”

Feldblum believes this sincerely and with passion, and clearly (as she reminds me) against the vast majority of opinion of her own community. And yet when push comes to shove, when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict, she admits, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”

Everything that has happened in the eight years since this conference vindicates the views of the pro-gay progressives. The right has been routed in the courts. Marc Stern, the general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, predicted then that some massive legal cases would be coming, including:

Finally, I ask Stern the big question on everyone’s mind. Religious groups that take government funding will almost certainly be required to play by the nondiscrimination rules, but what about groups that, while receiving no government grants, are tax-exempt? Can a group–a church or religious charity, say–that opposes gay marriage keep its tax exemption if gay marriage becomes the law? “That,” says Stern, “is the 18 trillion dollar question.”

Twenty years ago it would have been inconceivable that a Christian or Jewish organization that opposed gay marriage might be treated as racist in the public square. Today? It’s just not clear.

“In Massachusetts I’d be very worried,” Stern says finally. The churches themselves might have a First Amendment defense if a state government or state courts tried to withdraw their exemption, he says, but “the parachurch institutions are very much at risk and may be put out of business because of the licensing issues, or for these other reasons–it’s very unclear. None of us nonprofits can function without [state] tax exemption. As a practical matter, any large charity needs that real estate tax exemption.”

He blames religious conservatives for adopting the wrong political strategy on gay issues. “Live and let live,” he tells me, is the only thing around the world that works. But I ask him point blank what he would say to people who dismiss the threat to free exercise of religion as evangelical hysteria. “It’s not hysteria, this is very real,” he tells me, “Boston Catholic Charities shows that.”


Marc Stern is looking more and more like a reluctant prophet: “It’s going to be a train wreck,” he told me in the offices of the American Jewish Congress high above Manhattan. “A very dangerous train wreck. I don’t see anyone trying to stem the train wreck, or slow down the trains. Both sides are really looking for Armageddon, and they frankly both want to win. I prefer to avoid Armageddon, if possible.”

If this issue interests you, it is really interesting to go back and read Gallagher’s 2006 story from the perspective of 2014.

So, when Molly Ball speaks of “the bad old days” when gay rights and religious liberty were seen as irreconcilable, I don’t understand what she’s talking about. What she really means, I think, is the days before homosexuality was as widely accepted by churches, so as to give a religious veneer to gay rights. The progressive religionists don’t see a conflict between religious liberty and gay rights because they have none, and don’t see any because they believe that orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims should violate their own scriptures and traditions to accept the pro-gay line. It is an ideological smokescreen to say that the idea that there’s a conflict between gay rights and religious liberty is an outdated concept of a past culture war. When the gay rights activist Sharon Groves tells Ball that she doesn’t foresee returning to “the old culture wars,” I agree in this sense only: a decade ago, the religious liberty side held much more ground, both in law and in public opinion. That’s gone.

The war could be averted if the left were to do as Stern suggested the right should have done when it held the high ground: adopt a live and let live attitude, consonant with pluralist democracy. The left can’t and won’t do that, because Error Has No Rights. The culture war will continue until there is total surrender. And the Democratic Party has chosen its side. This is true, and while it may be “very dangerous” in Hatalsky’s view, the danger consists in voters who prize religious liberty waking up and understanding what is happening to their rights, and who is pushing for it to happen. From a religious liberty perspective, these are the bad old days — and they’re getting worse.

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Bacevich On The Greater Middle East War

A reader passes on a short, clarifying essay by Andrew Bacevich titled “Lessons From America’s War For The Greater Middle East”, a war he says we have been fighting since 1980, and are not likely to win. Hence the lessons, among them:

No single explanation exists for why the War for the Greater Middle East began and why it persists. But religion figures as a central element.

Secularized American elites either cannot grasp or are unwilling to accept this. So they contrive alternative explanations such as “terrorism,” a justification that impedes understanding.

Our leaders can proclaim their high regard for Islam until they are blue in the face. They can insist over and over that we are not at war with Islam. Their claims will fall on deaf ears through much of the Greater Middle East.

Whatever Washington’s intentions, we are engaged in a religious war. That is, the ongoing war has an ineradicable religious dimension. That’s the way a few hundred million Muslims see it and their seeing it in those terms makes it so.

The beginning of wisdom is found not in denying that the war is about religion but in acknowledging that war cannot provide an antidote to the fix we have foolishly gotten ourselves into.

Does the Islamic world pose something of a problem for the United States? You bet, in all sorts of ways. But after more than three decades of trying, it’s pretty clear that the application of military power is unlikely to provide a solution. The solution, if there is one, will be found by looking beyond the military realm — which just might be the biggest lesson our experience with the War for the Greater Middle East ought to teach.

Readers, I’m going to be away from the keys for the next few hours. Please be patient with comment approval. I’ve scheduled some posts to go up, but I won’t be able to approve comments for a bit. Thanks.

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When Wahhabism Was Western

Reader Anastasia sends this fascinating blog post by Philip Jenkins, commenting  iconoclasm as central to the Reformation. Excerpts:

For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy. Those visual and symbolic representations of the Christian story had to decrease, in order for the world of the published Bible to increase.

In terms of the lived experience of people at the time, the image-breaking is the key component of the Reformation. In the rioting and mayhem, a millennium-old religious order was visibly and comprehensively smashed.

This is precisely what Wahhabism, the extreme sect of Sunni Islam that is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and the creed espoused by many contemporary Islamic radicals, has accomplished, and seeks to accomplish. Jenkins:

Modern Westerners are rightly appalled by such acts as desecrations of humanity’s cultural heritage. But such outrage demonstrates a near-total lack of awareness of the West’s own history. Nothing that the Islamists have done in this regard would cause the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers to lose a moment’s sleep. They would probably have asked to borrow hammers and axes so they could join in.

I am sometimes bemused to hear Western commentators call for contemporary Islam to experience a “Reformation,” by which they mean an opening to freedom and toleration. That is of course an extremely distorted view of Christianity’s own Reformation. Arguably, Islam has been going through its own Reformation for a century or so, which is exemplified by the Wahhabis and Salafists. That’s the problem.

Read the whole thing. 

Orthodoxy went through its own iconoclastic controversy in the eighth century, a movement driven in part as a reaction to Islam. The victory of the Orthodox over the iconoclasts is celebrated to this day as a feast in the Church.

The starkest image I’ve personally encountered of the catastrophe the Reformation wrought on the Image was on a visit to England’s Salisbury Cathedral. The violence the Reformation’s iconoclasm wrought on the building was shocking to me. It reminded of ghastly images of the faces of Muslim women splashed with acid by men who hated them.

UPDATE: Gang, don’t miss Jenkins’s important qualification:

In comparing the Protestant Reformers with contemporary Wahhabis, I am not commenting on their theology, their attitude to violence, or to social issues like the status of women. I am speaking very specifically about attitudes to images in religious devotion, and the absolute supremacy of the written text, with the physical iconoclasm that followed from those positions. Could I make that any clearer?

More on this. Look, I don’t believe that contemporary Protestants are violent iconoclasts as their historical predecessors often were any more than I believe contemporary Catholics are holy warriors, as their medieval predecessors were. I think some of you Protestant readers are being thin-skinned. It is useful, I think, when regarding some contemporary Islamic practices with horror to reflect on the fact that we have done the same things in our Christian history. The Crusades were holy wars, same as the Muslims have (though our Scriptures don’t commend jihad, as theirs do). Wahhabi iconoclasm? Christian Byzantine emperors tried the same thing back in the day, as did Reformers in the West centuries later. And for that matter, secularist French Revolutionaries did the same thing to French churches and cathedrals in the name of anti-religion. Similarly with the Bolsheviks and Orthodox icons, relics, and churches. Furthermore, as the traditionalist Catholic David J. White remarks in the comments section here, the iconoclasm within the Roman Catholic church, both liturgical and in terms of Church design and ornamentation, in the wake of Vatican II caused tremendous auto-destruction.

Jenkins — who, I think, is Episcopalian, not Catholic — made his remark with reference to a new scholarly work of history out now that calls attention to the political meaning of iconoclasm. The author, James Noyes, writes about how religious iconoclasm preceded tectonic changes in the political order in various societies. I’ve not read the book, The Politics Of Iconoclasm, but it sounds quite interesting. It is, from what I’ve read, a comparative study of Calvinism and Wahhabism as purifying, reform movements within Christianity and Islam, respectively, that were, ironically, modernizers, and forerunners of the modern state. Noyes appears to contend that it is impossible to disentangle politics from theology in both cases, and he traces the connection and their historical effects.

This is important stuff, and it doesn’t go away by being outraged that somebody finds a connection between what Calvin et alia did in the Reformation and what Wahhab et alia did and are doing in Islam, any more than the connection between medieval Christian theologies and practices of holy war can be entirely disconnected from the contemporary Islamic practice of jihad. There are, no doubt, important differences, but also important similarities.

UPDATE.3: The more I think about it, the more this helps me to understand the struggle within contemporary Catholicism between the iconoclasts of the Second Vatican Council and the Traditionalists. The Novus Ordo Mass and the stripping of the altars was meant to signify a dramatic break from the past, and to shatter the old religion, all in the name of reform. I was writing just now to a Reformed friend who takes issue with this post, telling him that I’m starting to understand even more deeply why Catholic modernizers, which includes the institutional Church, feels so threatened by those who want to bring back the old Mass as something for their own use. It would be like a nostalgic Protestant sect petitioning the master of the Geneva cathedral to allow them to re-adorn a side chapel as it was in the Catholic days, for the sake of their group’s worship. This can’t be allowed in the new order, any more than a Catholic bishop could have allowed pagans who once worshiped where a new church stood to have a back corner for their own rites.

Mind you, the comparison fails because the Tridentine mass is not the mass of a different religion, but is still valid (and universally so). But to many of the Vatican II reformers, it’s a medievalist challenge to the Reformed modern church.

UPDATE.4: A Reformed friend and reader writes:

There was no such concept of “humanity’s cultural heritage” before the Reformation.  The Reformation was the very thing that made conceiving of religious artifacts as a ”cultural heritage” possible, thus enabled the opening of a new secular space within which such objects could be venerated as a “cultural heritage” and ultimately sponsored, created, and preserved.  It was the Reformation’s insistent transference of the locus of transcendence to the bible and to the community of the faithful that freed such objects from the wrath of the competing faithful and opened up a whole new flourishing of artistic and cultural expression that could occupy a newly created societal sphere–the secular.  This was not an unmitigated good, and many (myself included on occasion) have laid responsibility for the ills of the sacred-secular split at the feet of the Reformers, however, neither was it an unmitigated evil, and on the whole, I count myself glad, if in a qualified way, that the Reformation created the conditions out of which arose a secular sphere and all of the attendant cultural advances and political advances in freedom that have come with it.

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To Die In Love


Kara Tippetts is preparing for her death from cancer. She thinks back to having read Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, even before she met the man she would marry. The book is a memoir of the love of its author and his wife Davy, and it how it was transformed after the accepted Christ. She died early.

Absent a miracle, so will Kara, leaving Jason, her pastor husband, and their children behind. In her blog entry (linked above), she quotes a passage from the Vanauken book in which he chose to join Davy on the journey of life:

Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still the joy would be worth the pain- if, indeed, they went together. If there were a choice- and he suspected there was- a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths…..

Kara adds:

Me too Sheldon, me too….

What I thought was love 20 years ago has been beautifully reshaped in hard, grace, suffering- but the heights and the depths- yes. It has all been worth it.

Kara’s book about her cancer journey, The Hardest Peace, will be out in October; you can pre-order it on Amazon. I’ve read it, and it’s deeply moving. The long passage in which she writes about praying for the woman who may follow her, and love her husband, and care for her children — well, it tore me up. In a good way, but still. There’s real power in this luminous story. If you don’t follow Kara’s blog, please consider doing so.

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The Lies, The Endless Lies

Minnesota Public Radio’s Madeleine Baran is doing an incredible job of reporting on the roots of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’s current clerical sex abuse scandal. I was stunned to discover from her reporting that the present-day scandals there have their roots in the Diocese of Lafayette, La.

She got her hands on some unsealed court records and went down to south Louisiana to talk to people who knew former Minneapolis bishop Harry Flynn when he was made a bishop and sent to Lafayette to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor, who allowed the convicted child molester Fr. Gilbert Gauthe stay in ministry, despite knowing that he was raping boys. Bishop Flynn came to town with an agenda to heal the Church. When he left town years later, his reputation as a caring bishop who went the extra mile to rebuild the diocese and to help the families of the abused boys carried him to Minneapolis. Later, after Boston broke big, he became the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ point man on dealing with the sex abuse scandal. Who better than Harry Flynn, right?

Except, reports Baran, everything people thought they knew about Archbishop Flynn was a lie. Excerpts:

Another Catholic attorney who had represented victims, Anthony Fontana, was frustrated in his efforts to get the bishop’s attention. “There’s another problem you need to know about,” he told Flynn. A Lafayette priest named Gilbert Dutel had been accused of coercing young adult men into having sex.

Flynn offered a calm reply. He explained that Dutel was cured and that, regardless, he needed to keep him in ministry because of the priest shortage.

Fontana said that in a sworn affidavit that was part of the 1990s lawsuit. More:

The files do not support the claim that Flynn healed the diocese. They also contain no suggestion that Flynn called police about priests accused of sexually assaulting children. Hundreds of documents reveal that Flynn’s diocese used many of the same aggressive legal tactics that he would later employ in the Twin Cities.

Attorneys hired by the diocese argued that victims waited too long to come forward and that the public didn’t need to know the names of accused priests. The diocese fought efforts by victims to seek compensation from the church and focused on keeping the scandal as private as possible, which meant that fewer victims came forward to sue.

In the case of Dutel, the documents show, the allegations weren’t limited to young adults. Dutel had also been accused of sexually abusing a child. In an interview with a lawyer in 1992, the alleged victim said Dutel had abused him in the 1970s, starting when he was 9 years old.

Still, Flynn kept Dutel in ministry. No records exist of any reports to police.

Dutel, 69, now serves as the pastor of St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette. Over the 22 years since his accuser came forward, Dutel has worked in elementary and high schools and served in several parishes. There’s even a playground named after him.

Reached last week, Dutel denied the allegations and declined to say whether Flynn had informed him of the complaints: “I have a sense that I am not sure that I should be talking to you, because I don’t know where this information is coming from.” He declined an offer from MPR News to send him the documents for his review.

To this very day, Fr. Dutel is a pastor in the diocese, despite the Charter, despite all the promises.

Baran went to talk to the Gauthe victim families in the diocese. They remember Bishop Flynn as more interested in appearing to care about what had been done to their sons than actually caring. Wayne Sagrera, father of three — three! — boys molested by Fr. Gauthe, was one of the ones who met with him, but didn’t get anywhere. More:

Wayne Sagrera hadn’t given up on Flynn, though, and wondered if it would be better to meet with him alone. In several private meetings, he pleaded with Flynn to reach out to the parishes where Gauthe had served to find other victims and offer them counseling.

He told the new bishop that Gauthe had acknowledged abusing hundreds of children, but that only a few dozen had come forward. He worried about the other kids, particularly because many of the parents were in denial about what had happened.

Flynn’s response startled him. Flynn admitted that the church had been wrong to keep Gauthe in ministry and that it had mishandled the entire situation. But, he explained, there was nothing he could do.

“He used the excuse that he made a vow to protect the church,” Wayne Sagrera recalled. “He made it very plain that the church came first…On numerous occasions he admitted they were at fault, but he would not come forward and do anything about it.”

Wayne was furious. “I guess maybe I’m a little bit simple a human being, but to me your responsibility lies with your parishioners, not with the church,” he said.

In that grieving, angry father’s quote is one of the core issues of this thing: clericalism. Flynn thought that “the Church” was the institution and the hierarchy, and so, apparently, does Wayne Sagrera. If Baran’s account is accurate, the Sagrera family, as well as the families of so many other molested kids, were just collateral damage for the sake of maintaining a false front for the Church, and advancing Harry Flynn’s career.

Read the whole thing.  And you might want to read Chapter 2, where Baran reports on how Flynn’s predecessor in Minneapolis, Archbishop John Roach, covered for some horrible characters, including caring for a convicted pedophile named Fr. Gil Gustafson, who molested a boy named Brian Herrity. Abp Roach and his clerical leadership team worked out ways to make sure Fr. Gustafson was taken care of, including, according to documents, making an arrangement to quietly get disability payments to Gustafson under an arrangement that the archdiocesan chancellor, Fr. Kevin McDonough, wrote ”provided both of our institutions with a certain ‘deniability,’ so that we could use [Gustafson's] gifts without having to confront the concerns and even prejudice in the minds of some.” From Baran’s narrative:

Meanwhile, the Herrity family struggled. Brian’s classmates at Hill-Murray High School ridiculed him for having sex with a priest. The bullying got so bad that he transferred to a public school. The family stopped attending Mass.

Brian turned to drugs and alcohol and sought comfort in anonymous sexual encounters with men. In his mid-20s, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive.

“I watched my son, who was a loving little boy who used to get on my lap and watch football and giggle and just very innocent, go from that to something I couldn’t even explain,” Jeff Herrity said in a recent interview. “They murdered my child.”

When Brian fell ill, he moved back into his old bedroom and made a tape recording. “Hi, my name is Brian Herrity and the reason why I’m making this tape is because I know I’m dying of AIDS,” he said softly into the microphone. “And I feel a little awkward doing this but I hope that in the future, whoever happens to come across this tape and maybe if God puts this tape in your life for a reason that it will have some impact on somebody else’s life.”

He continued, “At 14 years old, well, I’d seen a lot of life. I’d been sexually abused by a Catholic priest for five years…torn up in court systems, left feeling even lonelier than I’d started.”

It wasn’t until Nov. 30, 1994 — more than a decade after Gustafson’s conviction — that Roach agreed to meet with Brian.

The archbishop described the meeting in a memo. “The principal thing that he is concerned about is that he feels that his life could have taken a different turn had he not been abused, and he wanted to say that. I listened to that and I think we had a good conversation.

“My guess is that that closes the chapter on this. His is a very sad story.”

Brian Herrity died the following year. He was 28.

How do parents trust after all this? Mind you, the Gauthe and Herrity cases happened a couple of decades ago, but the only reason it’s in the news now is that Catholics in Minneapolis today, right this second, are dealing with the ongoing legacies of Roach — who was very close to Cardinal Bernardin — and Flynn and now, Archbishop Nienstedt.

What’s it going to take to change all this? What? More happy talk and assurances from the hierarchy that All Is Well, and the Bad Years Are Behind Us?

And lest anybody think I’m only talking about the Catholic Church, I’m not. Staying a faithful Christian has meant having to take refuge in a tower of mistrust of institutional religion. It may not be the right thing to do, but you read these Baran stories, and you realize that these are not uncommon, and that it’s not just the Catholic Church (see here and here for how an Orthodox hierarchy moved to protect priests, with little thought for the laity).

The other day I was talking with a friend about the TV series The Wire. He said that the big lesson of The Wire is that within any institution — he mentioned the police department, political bureaucracies, and educational bureaucracies — corruption sets in when individuals within that institution start to identify good and evil with what is perceived to be in the institution’s best interest. The church is no different. The problem is that the stakes are so much higher when we are talking about people’s souls. No wonder Dante, in Canto XXI of Paradiso, depicted the rage of St. Peter Damian and the other saints in heaven howling against corruption in the Church as being louder than thunder.

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If Only Harper Lee Had Moved To Greenwich Village

"Please help a Southern writer, Dwight Garner, while he still has a life of the mind!"

“Please help a Southern writer, Dwight Garner, while he still has a life of the mind!”

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner is exceptionally good at his job, but boy, is this bit from his pan of a new biography of To Kill A Mockingbird writer Harper Lee a groaner:

“The Mockingbird Next Door” conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald’s, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling “Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!” Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage.

Dear God. Burger King salads and coffee from McDonalds. But the elderly Southern writer has not yet descended into scavenging from the garbage cans of Monroeville, Ala., for sustenance, intellectual and otherwise. Says Garner:

 There are hints of a life of the mind. She keeps British periodicals in the house…

Note to self: if Dwight Garner is to review my future books, do not let him know about my penchant for reading literary criticism while shoving a Super Sonic No. 2 with a Route 44 Coke Zero down my rusticated Southern gob. He’ll wonder, with sadness, how on earth I learned breathe through my nose.

Hat tip: Gawker, which remarks:

It’s irritating enough that conservatives charge intellectuals with elitism all the time; we don’t need to give them this sort of fuel for the fire! Funny this needs to be said but actually, drinking McDonald’s coffee will not keep you from reading the London Review of Books, last I checked.

Now, now, what would we do without the Times? Today it published a classic bit of old-fashioned Americana: a nostalgic essay by a writer reflecting on the golden-hued days of childhood when she had a penis.

UPDATE: Peter Lawler says this is evidence that I’ve come down off my crunchy-con culinary high horse.  Well, no, not really, because see, I’ve always loved Sonic, and never been embarrassed about it. It is superb junk food. But it is junk food, and not to be eaten as normative. Ours is a very conservative part of the world, but my cousin, who teaches culinary arts in the local high school, says that despite all the fresh vegetables that grow around here, so many kids eat almost nothing but junk food for every meal. So there’s that. How can that be a conservative way to approach food and the culture of food, unless conservatism re: food is nothing more than fulfilling individual preferences? You have an entire generation of kids around here who know all about Sonic french fries, but are alien to turnip greens, which generations around here have eaten.

This is an old argument. Still, I wanted to note this again. Also, “rusticated gob” is meant sarcastically. That is all.

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View From Your Table

Beachy Head, South Downs National Park, England

Beachy Head, South Downs National Park, England

James C. writes:

I’m sitting on the cliff edge of the Sceptered Isle, gazing longingly across to ma belle France. Those Lilliputians you see on the cliff behind you are full-size people—Beachy Head rises 531 feet out of the sea!

Being so close, my Francophilia flared up and I decided to bring a bottle of dry Breton cider to go with my tartelette aux pommes, croissant and pain au chocolat. Why the pastries? I needed the energy; I had a 5-mile hike ahead of me, undulating up and down the famed, brilliantly chalky Seven Sisters.

And all in a day from Cambridge. What a blessing and a joy to be able to do such things. Laus Deo!

As the concertgoer said to Beethoven, “Once again, maestro, you have surpassed yourself.”

Travel, food, and a heart full of gratitude to God from Whom all good things come — that’s the good life.

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