Rod Dreher

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The Last Liberal for Religious Freedom

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

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

He also wrote about it in USA Today. Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hypocrisy of Marc Benioff & Co.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘How Dante’ for the Spiritual-Not-Religious


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Reader McKay writes:

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

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

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Indiana: A Religious Liberty Bellwether

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan T. Anderson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it can’t stop there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patrick Deneen gets what’s really going on here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is true too:


And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continues:

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

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

Life in post-Christian America, people.

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Losing the Language of Christianity

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it is happening.

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

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


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Hillary Milhous Clinton

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

ProPublica reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These people cannot be trusted with power.


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Lee’s Ghost Sister: An Abortion Storybook

Natasha Marie Llorens (l) and artist Mary Walling Blackburn (r). (Residency Unlimited/Flickr)
Natasha Marie Llorens (l) and artist Mary Walling Blackburn (r). (Residency Unlimited/Flickr)

Mary Walling Blackburn, a professor of art at Southern Methodist University, has written and illustrated a free online storybook for children, in which the child protagonist, Lee, comes to terms with the fact that Mommy and Daddy chose to abort his little sister. Excerpt:

Lee’s uncle asks: “Why is your sister a ghost, Lee?”

“Mama had an abortion before she had me.” Lee explains to Uncle.

“Sister is a happy ghost!” Lee reassures Uncle.

The author says on the dedication page:

To Little Friends, earthly and unwordly.

Masochists, look elsewhere; between these pages you will not find the “luxury of grief,” culpability’s sharp sting or salty guilt.

No, of course you won’t.

From the author’s SMU faculty page:

Artist, activist, teacher, writer, feminist, Mary Walling Blackburn was born in California. She works and lives between Dallas and New York City. An Art Matters grant has provided her support to examine extraterrestrials as both expatriate and vehicle for rethinking the terms of the “Other”…

Er, right. Here is an excerpt from a magazine interview with Prof. Blackburn:

AL: What does it mean to radicalize one’s anus?

MWB: My anus or any anus? A genderless, nationless floating anus that can be possessed by any and all and none is qualitatively different than my anus- which has been embedded in this biologically female, white skinned, American body. Furthermore, mine is not a “Professional Anus”…it does not earn money; lazy asshole?

So, are you asking me to reveal the radical potential of a universal anus, as category? Do you wish for me to firstly locate it within the European Art History pantheon: to frame it as the flip side of Courbet’s “Origin of the World” which would consequentially move against a hetero-normative grain, eh?

In this interview with Natasha Marie Llorens, MWB discussed one of her underappreciated masterpieces:

NML: The Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Lost Ivory Dildo project offers one of your own answers to this question, I think. It is a formal critique of capitalism, an attempt to visualize a break in the extant economic structure that does not rely on the female corpse. ESVMID is a complex project with various stages but the general premise is …

MWB: … that we start with our longing for an elephant-ivory dildo—we might imagine its use as an unconscionable pleasure because that thing could only be reproduced by extant colonial economies, by the erasure of a species. What is rendered by sorting out that conflict and sussing out impossible loopholes? ESVMID attempts to imagine what it would legally and illegally take to reconstitute this “artificial limb.” To begin with, First Nations carvers from Canada and Alaska would have to agree to create their own evocations from local ivories (walrus, excavated mastodon). None of my nascent research has conclusively revealed that any carvers would choose to do this. However, the speculative aspect of this project sets up a system for that impossibility. Participants, as collectors, will order these ivory sex-objects through a website portal I design. But perhaps the site will always crash before you could complete your order.

NML: Ivory, like a David Hamilton book, is a legally ambiguous material, one completely bound up with the violent history of capitalist colonialism. Inuit carvers are legally within their rights to make ivory dildos for use in Canada, but only some forms of ivory can be shipped abroad. Part of the work is that the participant must assume all responsibility for transportation across international lines. Perhaps, in your fantasy for the project, the viewer travels to Canada and back with the dildo inside him/herself in order to complete the transaction. Thus, the project implicates the viewer in a negotiation that cannot be reduced either to the realm of sexual fantasy or to the realm of an empirical legal structure.

MWB: Yes, that is certainly my intention—to instigate a situation where the viewer cannot land, cannot cross the threshold and cannot step back; hesitation is a politically productive state. For now, I made a spate of drawings and clay figurines based on coveted objects, anxious exchanges, and ancient gossip: after the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay died, her sister, Norma, destroyed Millay’s ivory dildo, burning it not without difficulty.

MWB did an entire exhibition, one that an actual museum actually staged, featuring her drawings and other images of disembodied testicles and man-parts.

Clearly this woman, this professor of art at Southern Methodist University, is deranged and in need of psychiatric care has a rich inner life.

You shall know them by their fruits.

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On Abuse, Dark Clouds Gather Over Francis

What, him worry? He'd better. (
What, him worry? He'd better. (giulio napolitano /

For those who thought things would be dramatically different on the sex abuse scandal front when Pope Francis came to town, recent events in Chile have been a bucket of cold water in the face. Here, according to the Associated Press, is what’s happening:

Several members of Pope Francis’ sex abuse advisory board are expressing concern and incredulity over his decision to appoint a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite allegations that he covered up for Chile’s most notorious pedophile.

In interviews and emails with The Associated Press, the experts have questioned Francis’ pledge to hold bishops accountable and keep children safe, given the record of Bishop Juan Barros in the case of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

The five commission members spoke to the AP in their personal and professional capacity and stressed that they were not speaking on behalf of the commission, which Francis formed in late 2013 and named Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley to head.

“I am very worried,” said commission member Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and author on child sex abuse. “Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to meet with Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the commission to discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Françis.”

Another commission member, Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, said she couldn’t understand how Barros could have been appointed given the concerns about his behavior.

“It goes completely against what he (Francis) has said in the past about those who protect abusers,” Collins told AP. “The voice of the survivors is being ignored, the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored and the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection.”

The AP story goes on to say that as archbishop of Buenos Aires in neighboring Argentina, Francis would have known well the Karadima scandal when it broke in 2010. This is not a case in which a remote pontiff knows next to nothing about a local problem, and is getting advice from people who are misleading him. He can’t possibly not know what’s going on.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a Wormtongue in his ear. Says the AP:

The scandal implicated his friend, the then-Archbishop of Santiago,Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who admitted that he shelved an investigation into Karadima in 2005 but reopened it in 2010 as the global abuse crisis was erupting.

Francis has since made Errazuriz a member of his group of nine core cardinal advisers. Any wavering by Francis on the Barros appointment could open a Pandora’s box of renewed allegations against Errazuriz and others in the Chilean church heirarchy who dismissed allegations from victims and instead stood by Karadima.

Fortunately, the lay Catholics of that diocese are not content to take whatever Rome dishes out. The installation mass of Bishop Barros was a disaster. Scores of the faithful mobbed the cathedral in protest. American Catholic Kevin O’Brien writes:

I am becoming increasingly convinced that “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf”, and that a “leaven of malice” and perversion, a self-serving evil that holds God and neighbor in contempt, has infected the Church.  Think about this.  How can stricter procedures on the administrative level reform the Church?  What sort of bureaucratic alterations will change the heart of a bishop who facilitates sex abuse, making this bishop suddenly realize that’s the kind of thing a Christian should not be doing?

If you knew that someone under your authority and control was sexually abusing minors, would you aid and abet him, only changing your ways if new procedures forced you to?  And if you (sinful reader) would not do such a thing, why do your bishops?

The noisy chaos in the cathedral of Osorno was simply a glimpse into the silent chaos that’s taken hold of our Church.

It is possible, one must admit, that the accusations against this bishop — that he watched Fr. Karadima abuse kids, and said nothing — are untrue. John L. Allen, Jr., whose opinion on anything is always worth reading, adds:

All that may well be the case, but it still doesn’t explain why a clean record on the abuse scandals isn’t an absolute prerequisite for a leadership position in the Catholic Church in 2015. (Barros was already a bishop, so the move to Osorno was a transfer.)

In addition, the situation also raises questions about the oft-proclaimed commitment of Pope Francis and his Vatican team to accountability, not just for personnel who commit abuse, but also for bishops and other supervisors who cover it up or defend the guilty.

A perceived lack of accountability is “Exhibit A” for critics who believe the Church hasn’t done enough, and both Pope Francis and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, the president of the pope’s anti-abuse commission, have pledged that the gap will be filled.

Worse for Francis, says Allen, if abuse victims that Francis actually named to his panel say they and the people they represent are being ignored, that could cause a big hit to his reputation. It is one thing to sack a German bishop who is a stranger to you for living like a prince in an episcopal palace. It is quite another to advance the careers of people you know, a friend of your close friend, who may well be guilty of turning a blind eye to the rape of children by a priest. In ousting the German “bling bishop,” Francis said that he wanted bishops aligned with his vision of having “a poor church for the poor.”

Well, the poor may have inadequate housing, but they also have children that they love, and would prefer not to be raped by the clergy. Where is the social justice in promoting a bishop who is credibly accused of being knowledgeable about specific abuse crimes, but indifferent to that outrage?

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The Mideast War of All Against All

Sorry, but I was busy Friday morning with my dad’s doctor appointment, and waylaid by mono all Friday afternoon. I intend to get to the Indiana religious freedom bill soon, but first, while I wasn’t looking, the Middle East appears to be headed into Guns of August territory. Christopher Dickey writes:

But the question now, at the start of what could be the start of the next great Middle Eastern war, is: How far will Washington really go back its old allies? And will it risk alienating its new negotiating partner in Tehran?

The Obama administration finds itself in a position that is full of contradictions and almost completely untenable. It is offering some behind-the-scenes intelligence support to the Saudi-led anti-Iranian offensive in Yemen, but at the same time it is using American airpower to reinforce an offensive by Iranian-backed forces fighting the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. Most significantly, the Obama administration is trying to negotiate a controversial deal to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“You couldn’t make this stuff up,” one veteran U.S. diplomat said with bitter irony.

 Pat Buchanan adds:

This week, the Saudis sent their air force against the Houthi rebels who had seized the capital of Sanaa, driven out the president, and have now driven south to Aden to take over half of the country.

Why is the Saudi air force attacking the Houthis?

The Houthis belong to a sect close to the Shiite and are supported by Iran. Yet the Houthis, who bear no love for us, began this war to expel al-Qaeda from Yemen. And their hatred for ISIS is surely greater than it is for us or Israel, as, last week, 137 of their co-religionists were massacred in two mosque bombings in Sanaa. ISIS claimed credit.

In summary, though the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militia in Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Alawite regime of Assad may not love us, they look on al-Qaeda and ISIS as mortal enemies. And, thus far, they alone have seemed willing to send troops to defeat them.

Where are the Turkish, Saudi, Kuwaiti, or Qatari troops?

I heard on the radio this week some American commentator quoting a Gulf Arab diplomat, who supposedly said to him, “The Iranians have been Shia for only 500 years, but they have been Persians for a lot longer.” This is a very, very old game.

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The Physiological Echoes of Trauma

I have spent the entire day so far with my dad at his cardiologist. A routine check-up, but when you are 80 years old and ailing, there are really no routine check-ups. Yesterday we were in Baton Rouge for most of the day at a different specialist. I am honored to be able to serve my father in this way, and indeed this is one of the main reasons we moved to Louisiana after my sister died: to help like this. Still, it takes a lot out of me, physically, even though it’s not at all demanding of anything but time.

Why does it affect me so? Because of this autoimmune condition that has come back on after a year in remission. I talked to the therapist who helped me, along with Dante, get past being so sick with it a year or so ago, and asked him why I was struggling today, given that, thanks to Dante, him, and my priest, I have put into the past the hard issues that initially kept me so sick. I mean, I know the three months of intense stress late last fall and winter spent writing the book was the most recent trigger, but why am I still struggling with this three months later?

During that long sick period before my Dante healing, I knew exactly why I was in the ditch. But now? I don’t get it.

The therapist explained that it’s not easy for any of us to watch our parents decline physically. Big changes are coming — death, he meant — changes that are a natural part of life, but if we already have compromised immune systems, even stress that’s not normally a big deal can have an outsized effect on us. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense. To see my once-strong father suffering so much is really hard, especially because I have always regarded him as a sort of monument to vitality and command. And now, he shuffles forward on a walker, his aging body a shell of itself, and can command nothing. At a subconscious level, said the therapist, it must be harder on me to see as one of his caregivers than I am aware of.

I bring this up now not only to explain the lack of extensive blogging yesterday and today (and because I’m about to have to go crash for a little mono nap), but because on a friend’s recommendation, I picked up a book called The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Dr. van der Kolk is one of the top specialists in his field. My friend, whose spouse suffers from a very serious autoimmune condition, said the book talks in part about the role of trauma in persistent autoimmune disorders (in which the body attacks itself), and suggested that I might learn something from the book.

I don’t have time to start it now, but I did find an October 2014 Krista Tippett interview with the psychiatrist. In this excerpt, Dr. van der Kolk tells the radio host that most people take difficult experiences and place them in context of a story that helps them make sense of the event, and therefore to process it. But traumatized people don’t do that; for them, the story remains the same. It’s like they are stuck on it, and can’t move on. Excerpt:

MS. TIPPETT: And also, that gets at the fact that it’s not just cognitive, right? It’s not just a story that you could tell. I mean, it may eventually become a story, but that it’s body memory. It’s a neural net of memory. It’s not just about words that you can formulate.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing to me what a hard time many people I know have with that. This is not about something you think or something you figure out. This is about your body, your organism, having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe. And it has nothing to do with cognition, with, you know, you can say to people, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “You’re not a bad person” or “It wasn’t your fault.” And people say, “I know that, but I feel that it is.”

It was very striking in our yoga study because we see yoga as one important thing that helps people who’ve been traumatized because they get back into their bodies. How hard it was for people to even during the most blissful part of the yoga practice called Shavasana, what a hard time traumatized people had at that moment to just feel relaxed and safe and feel totally enveloped with goodness, how the sense of goodness and safety disappears out of your body basically.

It’s as if the memory of the awful event becomes incarnate, and part of our flesh. I’m not sure what this might have to do with my own situation, but I find the idea fascinating. I know a couple of people who had traumatic childhoods, and who still, much later in life, never quite feel safe and at ease anywhere.

Your thoughts? I’ll be back with you in a couple of hours.

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