Rod Dreher

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Pro-Choice Taunters’ Deadly Logic

Murder, Inc. (Ken Wolter /
Murder, Inc. (Ken Wolter /

Erick Erickson nails it, and nails it hard. He says that the Planned Parenthood shooter was neither a churchgoer not a pro-life activist, but a violent crackpot who lived in a trailer in a field:

But the left had its narrative. It had been searching for a moral equivalence since Paris and could not resist the fundraising opportunity to claim pro-life Christians were even a bigger threat than muslims. After all, according to the left, if someone shoots up a Planned Parenthood facility, it is proof that all Christians are one degree away from a terrorist related rampage. But when a Muslim walks into a place screaming “Allahu Akbar,” it’s just workplace violence.

There is one surprising thing about the Colorado Springs shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic. It is that it is a rare event. According to NARAL, there have been eight people killed and seventeen injured in attacks on American abortion providers in twenty-five years. And they have been getting rarer: this is only the second such killing – after the 2009 murder of George Tiller – in this century. In Chicago alone over Thanksgiving weekend, there were eight people killed and twenty wounded.

Islamic terrorists have killed more than eight hundred this year. But the left would have you believe pro-lifers are just as bad, just as violent, and a bigger domestic threat.


Cecile Richards is about the closest we have come in the United States to Joseph Mengele. Under her leadership at Planned Parenthood, doctors have been killing children and harvesting the children’s organs. In some cases, the children are born alive. In some case, whole children are born and then carved up.

This has all been caught on tape repeatedly. The media and left would prefer you ignore it. They’d prefer you believe the tapes were altered, edited, or fabricated. But we should not be ashamed of speaking the truth. It is the truth that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts and its employees were caught on tape talking about the value, the sale, and the altering of abortion procedures to preserve organs for sale.

Planned Parenthood butchers millions of children. Three people died at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado. Every single one of those millions plus three lives is a tragedy and outrage.

The left is desperate to compare the American pro-life movement to terrorists. They damn well better be glad Christians follow a faith that tells them to honor and pray for their leaders, follow the law, love everyone, and let the state and not the individual act as the sword bearer for God.

Preach it, brother. Read the whole thing.

Some commenters on this blog have been saying since Colorado Springs that if we pro-lifers mean what we say about the sanctity of life, then we ought to be doing things like attacking abortion clinics. Be careful what you wish for, people. You may think you are trying to demonstrate how pro-lifers are actually hypocrites who, because we aren’t doing violent, extreme things to stop abortion, don’t really believe what we say — and that therefore you will shame us into abandoning our convictions. It won’t work, and (God forbid) there may be some unstable people on the fringe who respond to these taunts and provocations by agreeing with you, and calling your bluff.

And there the rest of us will be, condemning them, but also continuing to condemn abortion and Planned Parenthood — all of them, part of the Culture of Death. As Pope St. John Paul II said:

In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’ This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States.

Ask yourself: Would you really think it wise to taunt faithful Muslims by telling them that if they really believed what the Quran 8:12 says — “I (Allah) will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” — they are logically bound to start chopping off the heads and hands of infidels?


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Found In Translation

Jhumpa Lahiri in Venice (Andrea Raffin /
Jhumpa Lahiri in Venice (Andrea Raffin /

Here’s a personal essay worth reading, by the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, in which she recounts her struggle to learn the Italian language, and what she’s gained out of it. Lahiri writes about how she worked for years and years to master Italian, with several teachers, but nothing worked — until she decided to move to Rome. In preparation, she forced herself only to read in Italian. Excerpts:

I read slowly, painstakingly. With difficulty. Every page seems to have a light covering of mist. The obstacles stimulate me. Every new construction seems a marvel, every unknown word a jewel.

I make a list of terms to look up, to learn. Imbambolato, sbilenco, incrinatura,capezzale (dazed, lopsided, crack, bedside or bolster). Sgangherato, scorbutico,barcollare, bisticciare (unhinged, crabby, sway, bicker). After I finish a book, I’m thrilled. It seems like a feat. I find the process demanding yet satisfying, almost miraculous. I can’t take for granted my ability to accomplish it. I read as I did when I was a girl. Thus, as an adult, as a writer, I rediscover the pleasure of reading.

In this period I feel like a divided person. My writing is nothing but a reaction, a response to reading. In other words, a kind of dialogue. The two things are closely bound, interdependent.

Now, however, I write in one language and read exclusively in another. I am about to finish a novel, so I’m necessarily immersed in the text. It’s impossible to abandon English. Yet my stronger language already seems behind me.

Living in Rome — which is to say, in the Italian language — was very hard at first, but gradually Lahiri made the metamorphosis into a writer and speaker of Italian. And this occasioned a deeper change:

As I said before, I think that my writing in Italian is a flight. Dissecting my linguistic metamorphosis, I realize that I’m trying to get away from something, to free myself. I’ve been writing in Italian for almost two years, and I feel that I’ve been transformed, almost reborn. But the change, this new opening, is costly; like Daphne, I, too, find myself confined. I can’t move as I did before, the way I was used to moving in English. A new language, Italian, covers me like a kind of bark. I remain inside: renewed, trapped, relieved, uncomfortable.

Why am I fleeing? What is pursuing me? Who wants to restrain me?

The most obvious answer is the English language. But I think it’s not so much English in itself as everything the language has symbolized for me. For practically my whole life, English has represented a consuming struggle, a wrenching conflict, a continuous sense of failure that is the source of almost all my anxiety. It has represented a culture that had to be mastered, interpreted. I was afraid that it meant a break between me and my parents. English denotes a heavy, burdensome aspect of my past. I’m tired of it.

And yet I was in love with it. I became a writer in English. And then, rather precipitously, I became a famous writer. I received a prize that I was sure I did not deserve, that seemed to me a mistake. Although it was an honor, I remained suspicious of it. I couldn’t connect myself to that recognition, and yet it changed my life. Since then, I’ve been considered a successful author, so I’ve stopped feeling like an unknown, almost anonymous apprentice. All my writing comes from a place where I feel invisible, inaccessible. But a year after my first book was published I lost my anonymity.

By writing in Italian, I think I am escaping both my failures with regard to English and my success. Italian offers me a very different literary path. As a writer I can demolish myself, I can reconstruct myself. I can join words together and work on sentences without ever being considered an expert. I’m bound to fail when I write in Italian, but, unlike my sense of failure in the past, this doesn’t torment or grieve me.

Read the whole thing. It’s really quite thought-provoking. And here are the thoughts it provoked in me.

I have always wanted to speak French — not for complicated reasons of my personal psychology, as with Lahiri, but because I think it’s the most beautiful language (Italian, to my ear, is the only thing that can compare), and because of my deep affection for French culture.

On the other hand, how can I be sure there are no ulterior psychological motives behind my love of French? Lahiri explains that she came to the US from India as a girl, and never mastered her native tongue, Bengali. And, she became a successful writer in a language that was not originally her own. There are deep issues of identity here, issues that aren’t apparent to me, in my own life. On the other hand, I have written at length about how culturally alien I felt growing up in the rural South because I didn’t care for hunting, athletics, country music, and the other things that are part of our local culture. I turned first to my cosmopolitan great-great aunts, who lived in a cabin nearby. Their little cabin was a haven for me as a tiny boy, and I loved above all their stories about serving in France as Red Cross nurses in World War I.

Perhaps the seed of Francophilia was planted there, before I started elementary school. Perhaps I came to see in France the representative of all I aspired to be, and an escape from all that was in front of me, for which I seemed so ill-suited. Forty years later, when I read these words from the Francophilic essayist Adam Gopnik, I understood exactly the appeal of France, and especially of Paris, to me:

We are happy, above all, when we are absorbed, and we are absorbed when we are serious, and the secret of Paris, in the end, is that the idea of happiness it presents is always mingled, I do not always know how, with a feeling of seriousness.

That sense of serious happiness, of pleasure allied to education … this tincture of seriousness infiltrates our happiness, giving it dignity. In Paris, Americans achieve absorption without obvious accomplishment, a lovely and un-American emotion.

Paris is my favorite city because I feel “serious happiness” there in a way that I do not anywhere else. When we were living there for a month three autumns ago, I felt more at home in the world than I do in the place where I was born. What a mystery! I can’t explain it, but I recognize it. I envied my sister Ruthie so much because she was completely at ease in our home. She had a sense of harmony that I could not manage, and even cannot manage today. Truth to tell, I think that’s less a matter of place than of character. If I were rich and living happily in the Sixth Arrondissement, a block away from Poîlane and two blocks from Huîtrerie Régis, I would think every day about Starhill, and there would be a part of me that would not be satisfied living away from it.

Even so, the English language is not for me, as for Jhumpa Lahiri, a thorn in my side. In fact, it was, and is, my liberty and my joy. As a writer, my intimacy with the English language is so tied to it that I cannot imagine my self apart from English. I would love to try on French, to work at it enough to become fluent, to see what kind of writer I could be in the French language. Would I discover different parts of myself? Would I discover aspects of the world around me that were hidden to English-speaking me? Who am I apart from English? I would like to find out, but such an opportunity is unlikely to come my way. Anyway, it seems from Lahiri’s essay that her “infatuation” (her word) with Italian was driven in part by her conflicted feelings about English. I don’t have that whip driving me forward.

For me, though, I turn to the language of cooking to work out an alternative sense of self. For me, the greatest joys in life have to do with language — writing, reading — and food (cooking, eating). I am not much of a cook, but I cook with enthusiasm. It thrills me to take ordinary ingredients and confect them in such a way to give people at my table pleasure. For some reason, cooking satisfies me in a way writing cannot. I never, ever know if what I’ve written is any good, and I find it hard to think about it, to be honest. I will never be as good a writer as I want to be. But when I cook, I know without any doubt whether it’s good, bad, or so-so — and I am confident in my ability to improve. I write because I am; I cook because it gives me pleasure.

A thought: what if I were told by an evil genie that I could never write again, but I would be paid my same salary to cook interestingly every day of my life? In other words, what if I had to confine my creative expression to the language of the kitchen, and master it? That — not learning French, but that — would be the rough equivalent of doing the Jhumpa Lahiri experiment.

How about you? For you readers who are speak more than one language, how are you different from language to language? How do you account for the difference? Are you more yourself in one language than in the other — and if so, what does it mean to “be yourself”?

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Wendell Berry vs. Political Correctness

Detail of controversial fresco (Maria Johnson/Flickr)
Detail of controversial fresco (Maria Johnson/Flickr)

A Kentucky reader sends this great op-ed by Wendell Berry denouncing the University of Kentucky’s repulsive decision to remove a Depression-era mural depicting, among other things, black slaves working in the fields. Excerpts:

Ann Rice O’Hanlon was a native of Lexington. She graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1930. She spent most of her life in Marin County, Calif. She taught art for many years at Dominican College in San Rafael, where her students were of several races. She was the sister of Dee Rice Amyx, wife of Clifford Amyx, once a professor in the art department of the University of Kentucky. My wife, Tanya Amyx Berry, is a niece of Ann Rice O’Hanlon, whom I therefore knew well and for many years. Ann was a liberal, if anybody ever was – too liberal, in fact, to approve entirely of me. I never heard her utter one racist word.

Ann painted the Memorial Hall fresco in 1934, when it took some courage to declare so boldly that slaves had worked in Kentucky fields. Nobody would have objected if she had left them out. The uniform clothing and posture of the workers denotes an oppressive regimentation. The railroad, its cars filled with white passengers, seems to be borne upon the slaves’ bent backs – exactly as the railroad near Walden Pond, according to Henry David Thoreau, was built upon the backs of Irish laborers.

I don’t believe Ann Rice O’Hanlon would willingly have painted “a painful and degrading personification of a false, romanticized rendering of our shared history.” I don’t think she did. I don’t think, to quote President Eli Capilouto again, that “the mural provides a sanitized image of that history” or that her “artistic talent actually painted over the stark reality” of slavery.


The president further objects to the fresco on the ground that it reminds “one black student . . . that his ancestors were slaves.” That statement has at least two arresting implications: (1) that black students should not ever be reminded that their ancestors were slaves, and (2) that white students should not ever be reminded that their ancestors were slave owners. Do students, then, study history at our “flagship university” in order to forget it?

Read the whole thing. Berry, who pulled his personal papers from his alma mater in 2010, is absolutely right, especially in the chilling intellectual implications of the University’s deed. We are not supposed to confront history that upsets us. We are to remove from public view art that reminds us of unpleasant historical facts. 

Social Justice Warriors and the gutless liberal college administrators who prostrate themselves before them are ruining art and scholarship. This tells us the most important thing we need to know about the intellectual courage of President Eli Capilouto.

In better SJWs-on-campus news, a couple of you have sent me a story about some Yale faculty who have signed an open letter defending the pre-Halloween e-mail sent by the university’s Silliman College co-master Erika Christakis, which sparked the racial protests on campus last month. From the Yale Daily News:

The letter, authored by physics professor Douglas Stone, argues that Christakis’ email — which criticized administrators’ efforts to encourage students to be mindful of culturally appropriative costumes — was a modest and reasonable attempt to spur campus debate. It pushes back against students who consider Christakis’ email irresponsible and insensitive and claims that some protesters have “recklessly distorted” the message in order to cast it as an endorsement of racist speech. Next Yale, a newly formed coalition of students of color and their allies, has demanded that Christakis and her husband, Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis, apologize for the email and resign from their posts.

“The email … did not express support for racist expressions, but rather focused primarily on the question of whether monitoring and criticizing such expression should be done in a top-down manner,” the letter states.

Stone told the News that the Halloween email was a useful contribution to campus discourse and that the Christakises are model faculty members who deserve admiration rather than criticism for their efforts to promote intellectual debate on campus.

Stone added that dozens of his colleagues agreed with the content of the letter but declined to sign it for fear of provoking more controversy.

“We have an obligation to say something reasonable about this,” Stone said. “The silence of so many people in terms of really defending the Christakises has solidified the narrative that they did something wrong.”

Good on you, Prof. Stone! But raspberries to this professor:

Gerald Jaynes, professor of economics and African American Studies, said that although he does not believe the Christakises are guilty of racism, he will not sign the open letter because the debate over Erika Christakis’ email is a distraction from more important issues, such as faculty diversity.

Faculty diversity is more important than standing up for a professor who has been unfairly vilified by racial activists, and who have threatened the free exchange of ideas on campus? I’d say that tells you about all you need to know about the intellectual courage of Prof. Jaynes.

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Standing Up for ‘Hermeneutical Democracy’

This post by Richard Beck on the Experimental Theology blog is going to get a lot of you talking.  Beck is a professor and chair of the psychology department at Abilene Christian University. His post is a model of concision, analysis, and fruitful intellectual provocation. I wish I wrote them like this more often. Here’s how it begins:

I was recently consulting with a conservative Protestant organization that was wrestling with its policies regarding same-sex marriage. I was asked to be there to help articulate a liberal, progressive perspective to expand and enlarge their conversation.

Not surprisingly, time was spent using the adjective “biblical.” As conservative Protestants the group kept coming back to the aspiration to seek the “biblical” view. Their desire was to follow the Bible.

This is a very common desire among conservative Protestants, but it misses something important, something that Protestants need to be honest about.

Here’s the situation, I told the group, you have to own the fact that you are Protestants (as am I). Which means that you are never going to land on an uncontested “biblical view.” Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches. Underneath the conversation about the “biblical view” what you are searching for is a hermeneutical consensus, the degree to which your community can tolerate certain hermeneutical choices.

Stretch the hermeneutical fibers too thin and the consensus snaps. People can’t make the leap. The view is deemed “unbiblical.” But if you keep the changes within the hermeneutical tolerances of the community the consensus holds and the view is deemed “biblical.”

Beck goes on to make what I think is a solid point: that what Protestant churches and organizations are really doing in these debates are trying to find out if its membership wants to change, and if so, how much change will it accept. The truth is, says Beck, is that Protestantism is a “hermeneutical democracy,” in which the individual consciences of believers determine what is true and what is false. This, he says, is the “genius of the tradition,” and having to do all this “relational work” is a key part of what it means to be Protestant. The Bible doesn’t speak for itself; it has to be interpreted, and for Protestants, that means that everybody gets a vote.

“Own your Protestantism,” he says. “The ultimate authority in Protestantism isn’t the Bible, it’s the individual conscience.”

Read the whole thing. Discuss.

(By the way, you might want to check out Beck’s blog. I am neither a progressive nor a Protestant, but I think he’s going some interesting stuff to say.)

UPDATE: Alan Jacobs’s response is here. Excerpt:

There really is no way to promote general agreement among Christians about the interpretation of Scripture without some doctrine of Holy Tradition.

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Purity, Piety and Place

Over the long weekend, I finished I.B. Singer’s short novel The Penitent, which I recommend to you. It’s told as a monologue by one Joseph Shapiro, a Holocaust survivor who comes to America, puts his religion and culture behind him, and becomes a success in business. When his marriage falls apart owing to his own infidelity, and his wife’s, he is filled with self-loathing, and returns to God, eventually moving to Jerusalem and living there as a Hasidic Jew.

It’s not a great novel by any stretch, and in fact it’s fairly one-dimensional. But there’s truth in it, and I find that the tortured quest for purity inside Joseph Shapiro’s soul gave me a certain insight into why radical Islam appeals to some people. Indeed, much of Shapiro’s critique of the modern world strikes me as spot on, but what sets him apart is a burning anger at it. There is a certain strength and integrity to Shapiro’s life, certainly much more than in his old, secular, dissolute life, but it is difficult to find within him a sense of serenity, and of love. He loves the Almighty, and boy, is he mad about it. Yet Shapiro is an interesting character study (at least to me) because he gets so much right, even as his anxious longing for purity makes him potentially monstrous (not that Singer portrays him as potentially monstrous; though I know nothing about Singer’s other work, my sense is that he sympathizes with his character).

As I’ve said, I can see more than a little Joseph Shapiro in myself, both for good and for evil. When I took Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations inventory — I strongly suggest that you go here and take the test — I found something very revealing, as I blogged about in 2011. First, an excerpt from Haidt’s explanation of Moral Foundations Theory:

Moral Foundations Theory was created to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that five innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations are:

1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).


I took the test, and posted my own results. That image has disappeared from the post, but you can get the results from my discussion of them:

What you see above is how I scored on the test. The blue bar is the average score across the field registered by Liberals. The red bar is the average scored by Conservatives. The green bar is my own scores. When I first saw these results, I understood at a deep level why I had had the intense reaction that I did to the Catholic sex abuse scandals. Look at my Harm and Purity scores (“purity,” Haidt explains, is associated with concepts of sanctity), and look at my Authority score. I was confronted with the idea that the institution I most looked to as a guardian of Purity/Sanctity, an enemy of Harm, and the primary moral Authority, had acted in ways shockingly contrary to those concepts by facilitating and covering up the sexual violation of children. And — this is the key — I have a very low Loyalty score, much lower than the average conservative, and even lower than the average liberal. For whatever reason, the kind of deeply felt fidelity to the in-group simply isn’t present in my own psychology. I am far less anchored to the idea of loyalty to the in-group than most people, and my reactions to the violation of the principles of Harm and Purity/Sanctity were bound to be overwhelming. It’s no wonder, then, that I lost my Catholic faith and departed from the Church; staying put had become psychologically untenable. It’s hard for me to convey how depressed and poisoned I felt there at the end. I bring this up not to open that debate again — so don’t start — but only to explain the psychological foundations of my moral conclusions and actions.

I found these results helpful to me in understanding why I react to things the way that I do, and therefore in using reason to moderate my reactions. I thought about this last night while reading a 2000 book called Why Angels Fall: A Journey Through Orthodox Europe From Byzantium to Kosovo, by secular English journalist Victoria Clark. It’s not a book to read if you are a Western convert who sees in Orthodoxy an escape from the spiritual weakness and moral corruption in Western Christianity — and if only for that reason, I recommend it. Some of the book’s judgments are clearly made from the point of view of a secular person, and can be judged in that light. The picture she gives is mixed — some of these Orthodox she meets are saintly, others are awful, most are a mixed bag.

What I find striking is how compromised most of these people are. Their sins are different from the sins of Western churchmen, but sins they are. It doesn’t surprise me to read that Orthodox churchmen are sinful. The surprising part is learning the details. Orthodoxy is not on the radar of anybody in the West, so we rarely if ever hear about the goings-on of the Orthodox churches, in this country or overseas. I know some readers of this blog think that I rarely post on Orthodox corruption because I’m trying to downplay it, but the truth is, it’s so rarely in the news that I know about these things as much as you do.

The other day, a reader sent me a story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that jolted me:

One priest reported 200 sexual encounters, including some with students at St. John’s University and prep school.

Another recorded the names of dozens of boys he brought to a cabin, some of whom he sexually abused.

Another abuser was paid $30,000 by St. John’s Abbey to support him as he left the clergy.

These are among findings from the first batch of personnel files from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville made public Tuesday. The abbey was required to release its internal files on priests credibly accused of child sex abuse as part of a lawsuit settled earlier this year. It marks the first time the abbey — implicated in clergy abuse cases for two decades — has opened its confidential files.

The files include the abuse accusations, abbey response, and psychological assessments of the men from roughly the 1960s to a few years ago. That includes a 2012 assessment of the Rev. Finian McDonald, who told a psychologist that he had about 200 sexual encounters as a priest.

McDonald reported that his youngest victims were 13- or 14-year-old prostitutes in Thailand, that he had 18 victims while serving as a prefect at St. John’s dormitories, and that he had acted out sexually and abused alcohol during most of his 29 years as a dormitory prefect. Sexual encounters also occurred with adults.

If I had read of this happening in a public school, say, it would have been appalling, but I would not have been filled with nearly the same degree of visceral disgust. It’s the purity thing: because this was a monastery, it was something much more gripping to me.

Last night I read in Clark’s book a description of how sexually corrupt the Orthodox monasteries on Mount Athos had been in the 1930s, and how that preceded a sharp decline in the population of the Holy Mountain until it hit its nadir in 1970. It was really horrible stuff, including things like at the Benedictine abbey. A new generation of monks dedicated to tightening up discipline began reforming the monasteries there in the 1980s, and have brought about a revival. It was a good reminder that Orthodoxy is no escape from any of that garbage, but also that institutions can be cleansed and revived by the faithful. May St. John’s Abbey experience this purgation and rebuilding.

I do wonder, though, why so many of us (including myself) require belief in a place where the way of life is pure. Very few of us would agree that utopia is achievable, yet so many of us, in one way or another, have naively idealistic ideas about certain places and ways of life. The impossibility of utopia is something I’m going to have to keep front to mind as I work on the Benedict Option book. Yet it is possible to go too far in the opposite direction, and believe falsely that because perfection is not possible, that any effort to build a better place to live is futile. In my own case, I have used Haidt’s work to build resistance within myself the urge to react so strongly in disgust to certain things that I become incapable of dealing with it, other than to turn away from it. In other words, to build up my capacity for Loyalty.

Here’s something interesting to think about. Haidt’s work has found that Western secular liberals are outliers in human experience, in part because they really don’t have a strong sense of purity. And yet, there is evidence that there is such a thing as “liberal purity,” which Haidt wrote about briefly five years ago. More recently, a liberal blogger wrote about examples of liberal purity, including:

  • Lefty spiritualism tends to make great use of the purity ethic; there is much talk of cleansing one’s self of toxins, and raw and non-meat foods are spoken of as cleaner than their alternatives (think “clean eating”). This is sometimes as narrowly applied to kale and quinoa, and sometimes as broad as not eating fast food or processed food. In either case, the higher, cleaner, greener things are purer than dirty, fatty, mass-produced food.

  • As in all political disputes, liberals speak of their opponents not only as wrong, but as disgusting. Bigotry and prejudice are dirty, and they tar anyone accused of them. This is by no means limited to liberals, but it certainly does not pass them by.

On that last point, my googling around about Haidt, liberalism, and purity brought me to a new column by the race-realist John Derbyshire, who, in his customarily provocative way, says that his getting fired by National Review over racial remarks is explainable using a modified version of Haidt’s theory:

It happens that I read Haidt’s book shortly after my own public shaming in April, 2012. Reading about those questionnaire scores, I was shaking my head at the book. It seemed to me that liberals are not so much light on regard for Sanctity, they just attach it to different objects.

To blacks, for example. The late Larry Auster said that blacks are sacred objects in the modern West. He was right. To say negative things about blacks, or to be thought to have negative thoughts about them, is a blasphemy.

It’s like someone in 13th-century Europe speaking ill of the Virgin Mary. The reaction is just the same. You have violated a sacred object.

That’s what [Nobel laureate] James Watson and I did.

This sacralization of blacks is lurking behind a lot of the campus shenanigans we’ve been reading about the past few weeks.

Like I said, Derbyshire’s language, and his claims, are provocative, but his point is worth considering. I would say that contemporary liberalism sacralizes not ideas, but identities — namely, those they identify as a minority victim of majority oppression. It is interesting to contemplate the extent to which SJW activism on campus this fall has been primarily about purifying the social space. Every time you see the term “safe space,” think “utopia”. And this raises some thorny questions:

1. If liberals have their own sense of purity, why do they find it so difficult to understand conservatives who have a very different sense of purity?

2. If we assume that conservatives do, more or less, understand the concept of purity, then do conservatives object to SJW puritans primarily because they reject what they hold sacred, or because they resent the left’s hypocrisy, i.e., claiming to reject the sacred while actually believing in it as a category? It’s one thing for a religious college to hold its students and faculty to certain standards of purity, but secular universities?

3. Purity claims are immune to secular rationality. To what extent can a liberal society, such as our own, tolerate radically opposed visions of the sacred within its institutions and communities?

4. Similarly, how far can you and I go, personally, to live with something we consider impure for the sake of being faithful to broader goals or institutions? In other words, how much defilement are we willing to tolerate in a specific situation, out of a sense of loyalty?

Seems to me one thing that the SJW activism and college administrators’ capitulation have proven this fall is that purity has become a strong and effective force on the cultural left.

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Mormons & Gay Marriage

Perhaps you heard about the Mormon church issuing strict new rules governing its relationship to Mormons who are in same-sex marriages, and their children. Excerpt:

The new rules stipulate that children of parents in gay or lesbian relationships — be it marriage or just living together — can no longer receive blessings as infants or be baptized at about age 8. They can be baptized and serve missions once they turn 18, but only if they disavow the practice of same-sex relationships, no longer live with gay parents and get approval from their local leader and the highest leaders at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

The church views these acts as promises to follow its doctrine that bind people to the faith.

Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a volunteer organization that supports the church, said he understood why some would find the changes jarring and consider them meanspirited toward children.

But, he said, he believes the rules are intended to protect gay couples and their families by allowing the children to mature and make the difficult decision at 18 about whether to become fully invested in a religion that holds as a root tenet that their parents’ lifestyle is a sin.

“The idea of family is not just a peripheral issue in the Mormon Church. It’s core doctrine. It’s a central idea that we can be sealed together as a family and live together eternally,” Mr. Gordon said. “That only works with heterosexual couples.”

I don’t know enough about LDS theology to comment on the internal consistency here  — and if you aren’t Mormon, you probably don’t either. And there’s an interesting point in that, one addressed in this terrific column by Jacob Hess, a member of the Latter-Day Saints church, explaining why the LDS see homosexuality the way it does. Hess helpfully describes what’s going on in the conflict between orthodox Mormons and LDS dissenters, as well as non-Mormons who agree with the dissenters, as a clash of irreconcilable narratives. Excerpt:

Welcome to what I call the ‘story wars.’ Front and center in American society, an endlessly fascinating, increasingly intense conflict is unfolding between fundamentally divergent narratives—one woven around the primacy of heterosexual marriage, and the other woven around the celebration of different forms of sexuality and relationships.

Given the sensitivity of these questions, any critique or disagreement can understandably be experienced as a rejection of people themselves, as opposed to a rejection of the particular stories they carry about their identity. In this way, Mormon leaders are taken to be questioning who people are—making it easy to brand Mormonism itself as ‘obviously hateful.’

If that’s what I believed was happening around the new policy on gay couples, I would come to the same conclusion. But I don’t, because I don’t see identity the same way as my friends who identify as gay.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints relish what they call the “restored gospel,” precisely for the new narrative it introduces about who we are and where humanity comes from. It’s a ‘re-storying’ of life that we embrace as a true reflection of things as they are.

This includes a conception of God not as a vapor or an essence or an immensity filling all space, but as a literal Father and Mother from whom all humanity inherits a “divine potential” at the deepest level of our DNA.

No matter whatever else is faced or felt in life, the future possibilities of ‘growing up like Mom and Dad’ touch every aspect of life for the Mormon community. That’s why Mormons get married, enjoy children and family, and have an interest in sharing our convictions with the rest of the world. As one of our apostles has said, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”

Even if you think Mormons are dead wrong, maybe this will help you see how hard it is for us to ‘simply accept’ the identity of non-heterosexual couples as they see it. Barring further revelation from God (which many are admittedly hoping for), doing so would essentially require tossing aside some of our own cherished beliefs about God and the family pathway to becoming like Them.

Read the whole thing.  Again, I cannot comment on Mormon theology, but I am struck by how much this parallels the way orthodox Christianity sees marriage and metaphysics. We too believe that male-female marriage is an icon of God and His creative work, and that it cannot be represented any other way. What’s more, marriage is not simply a representation of divine nature, but also participates in it. In other words, complementary marriage (male-female) is really real, in a way that same-sex marriage cannot be. This is not a legal distinction (because same-sex marriage is a legal reality in many countries now), but a metaphysical one. Though orthodox Christians disagree deeply with Mormons over the nature of God, we share the belief eloquently expressed by Jacob Hess that to discard what the faith teaches about the nature of marriage as a way to participate in theosis, or metaphysical unity with God, is to lose something essential to the faith.

Again, based on what little I know about Mormon theology, the key point to take away here, re: orthodox Christian theology, is that both orthodox Christians and Mormons believe that marriage is not simply the name we give to a specific form of social relationship, but it is also something built into the fabric of reality. As Hess says, you don’t have to believe that story, but if you are going to understand why so many of us on the conservative side of this issue believe as we do, you have to understand that for us, to accept SSM is to deny something we believe is real. And that we cannot do.

This all goes back, of course, to nominalism vs. metaphysical realism. The Christian theologian David Bentley Hart, in his wonderful book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

According to the model that replaced the old metaphysical cosmology, in fact, at least in its still reflexively deistic form, there is no proper communion between mind and matter at all. The mindless machinery of nature is a composite of unrelated parts, in which the unified power of intellect has no proper or necessary place. Even the human mind inhabits the universe only as a kind of tenant or resident alien and not as an integral participant in the greater spiritual order of all things, able to interpret physical reality through a natural intellectual sympathy with and aptitude for it. In mediaeval philosophy it had been a standard precept that the human intellect can know an external object for two related reasons: first, because the intellect and that object both, according to their distinct modes of activity, participate in a single shared rational form (the form, for instance, that is embodied and made particular in a certain pale yellow rose languidly nodding over the rim of its porcelain vase, but that is also present in my thoughts as something at once conceptually understood and sensually intuited in the moment in which I encounter that rose); and, second, because the intellect and that object both together flow from and are embraced within the one infinite source of intelligibility and being that creates all things.

Thus to know anything is already, however faintly and imperfectly, to know the act of God, both within each thing and within the self: a single act, known in the consonance and unity of two distinct instances or poles, one “objective” and one “subjective,” but ultimately inseparable. By contrast, René Descartes (1596–1650)—the philosopher most typically invoked as emblematic of the transition from premodern to modern philosophical method—is often said to have envisaged the human soul as (in Gilbert Ryle’s phrase) a “ghost in the machine.” Whether or not this is entirely fair, it is certainly true that Descartes thought of all organisms, including the human body, as mechanisms, and he certainly thought of the soul as an immaterial “occupant” of the body (although he allowed, in some inadequately explicated way, for interactions between these two radically disparate kinds of substance, and even for their collaboration in a third kind of substance).

According to the earlier model, one could know of God in knowing finite things, simply through one’s innate openness to and dependence upon the logos that shines forth in all things, and on account of the indissoluble, altogether nuptial unity of consciousness and being. According to the Cartesian model, however, in which the soul merely indwells and surveys a mechanical reality with which it has no natural continuity and to which it is related only extrinsically, nothing of the sort is possible. This is largely why, for Descartes, the first “natural” knowledge of God is merely a kind of logical, largely featureless deduction of God’s “existence,” drawn chiefly from the presence in the individual mind of certain abstract ideas, such as the concept of the infinite, which the external world is impotent to have implanted there. All of this was perfectly consistent with the new mechanical view of nature, and all of it set both the soul and God quite apart from the cosmic machine: the one haunting it from within, the other commanding it from without.

As I have said, the dissolution of the geocentric cosmos, with its shimmering meridians and radiant crystal vaults and imperishable splendors, may have been an imaginative bereavement for Western humanity, but it was a loss easily compensated for by the magnificence of the new picture of the heavens. Far more significant in the long run was the disappearance of this older, metaphysically richer, immeasurably more mysterious, and far more spiritually inviting understanding of transcendent reality. In the age of the mechanical philosophy, in which all of nature could be viewed as a boundless collection of brute events, God soon came to be seen as merely the largest brute event of all. Thus in the modern period the argument between theism and atheism largely became no more than a tension between two different effectively atheist visions of existence. As a struggle between those who believed in this god of the machine and those who did not, it was a struggle waged for possession of an already godless universe. The rise and fall of Deism was an episode not so much within religious or metaphysical thinking as within the history of modern cosmology; apart from a few of its ethical appurtenances, the entire movement was chiefly an exercise in defective physics. The god of Deist thought was not the fullness of being, of whom the world was a wholly dependent manifestation, but was merely part of a larger reality that included both himself and his handiwork; and he was related to that handiwork only extrinsically, as one object to another. The cosmos did not live and move and have its being in him; he lived and moved and had his being in it, as a discrete entity among other entities, a separate and definite thing, a mere paltry Supreme Being. 

This conception of God, and of the nature of Reality, is more or less what many modern Christians (including, surprisingly, some unaware conservatives!) believe. Whether Jacob Hess understands it or not, he is making an essentially realist argument within the Mormon theological tradition. In that sense, I agree with him. Pro-SSM folks who insist that the only reason traditionalists disagree with them is “hate” and “bigotry” refuse to accept that hate and bigotry have nothing to do with it. Sure, there are plenty of Christians who hate gays, and shame on them. But to dismiss all traditional objections to SSM as nothing more or nothing other than hatred is a cheap and easy out, and one that I don’t take seriously.

In that light, the Mormon action, while harsh, may well be necessary, in the same way that it is necessary to tell someone that if they jump off a cliff, they will not float in the air, but will fall to their deaths. From the point of view of people who believe Mormonism (or Catholicism, or Orthodoxy, or orthodox Protestantism) to tell us things that are true about Reality, and not just expressions of what we think and feel about Reality, to live outside of these truths, or in defiance of these truths, may well mean spiritual death. It is not a joke.

The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her great little book Natural Symbols, credits Emile Durkheim with the insight that social relations tell us what a society thinks about God: “to the extent that society is confused in its structure of relations, to that extent is the idea of God poor and unstable in context.” The converse must also be true: that the extent to which a society’s idea of God is confused, so too will be its structure of relations. For Mormons, it appears, this cultural-anthropological truth is deeply embedded within LDS theology of the family. New generations of Mormons, like new generations of, well, all of us, first learn about the way the world is through the way their families are, and their immediate societies. This may be good, and this may be bad, and it’s probably a bit of both: I’ve written about how much angst I struggled with for most of my life because until recently, I could not disentangle my relationship with God from my fraught relationship with my father. In our adulthood, we may reject the picture of God and the world that we were given in childhood, or we may affirm it, or, again, we may do a bit of both. I certainly have, and you probably have too.

The point to take here is that family and society inescapably shape our views of God, and of ultimate reality — in Richard Weaver’s felicitous term, our “metaphysical dream.” And vice versa. This stuff is very, very important. In the same-sex marriage debate, we are not contending over trivial matters, not at all.

This brings us to a really good short piece from earlier this month by Tom Stringham, titled “Same Sex Marriage and the Mormon Benedict Option”. In it, Stringham, who is Mormon, explains how it is that the Mormon Church criticized Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but also massively tightened up its own internal discipline on marriage. Excerpt:

However, there is a way of drawing a straight line through all of this, and that line may take the form of a Mormon Benedict Option. The Utah legislative compromise, the stepping away from Kim Davis, and even the church’s mild response to Obergefell all fall neatly under Rod Dreher’s definitional criterion (as far as I can discern it) of strategic retreat without disengagement. The new sanctions on same-sex households, likewise, make for an excellent example of the sort of cultural separation and in-group moral renewal involved in actually implementing the Option.

What would distinguish the Mormon Benedict Option from Dreher’s prototype is that it is growing from the top down and not from the grassroots. We should expect this from the Mormons, who have been led into the wilderness by their leaders before. Following prophets may well be the best way forward—local congregations tend to lack the structure needed for radical change. In all the discussion of the Option it’s worth asking whether non-Mormon Christians have forgotten to find a Benedict, and whether Mormons are now leading the way.

Stringham’s point echoes one that this blog’s reader and frequent commenter Sam M. keeps making about the difficult but necessary Benedict Option practice of drawing strong boundaries and enforcing them. The LDS leadership has decided that this issue is so fundamental to the faith that it cannot tolerate dissent. Whether in this instance they are being too legalistic and unmerciful, or telling a hard but saving truth, is impossible to say without a meaningful understanding of Mormon theology, which I do not have. However, I applaud the seriousness with which the leadership takes its role in maintaining the theological integrity of their faith. Read Mary Douglas to understand why actions like Christians casting aside core symbols like the traditional family costs them far more than they understand.

As I see it, you lose the traditional family, and you will lose the faith. We have lost it in public life, thanks to changing customs and the US Supreme Court, but we must not lose it within our religious communities. Stringham is right: the Mormon leadership understands this better than some orthodox Christians do.

UPDATE: Reader IsaacH writes:

I have been waiting for this topic to grace your blog, Rod. As a Mormon, it blew up a few weeks ago on all my social media pages. I want to share a few thoughts:

1) The first thought I’d like to share is how the media blatantly misrepresents anything they consider “homophobic,” casting it in the worst possible light. This new policy is a perfect example: so many are reporting, incorrectly, that the policy requires children of same-sex couples to “disavow their parents” before receiving baptism or other church sacraments (what we call “ordinances”). This is just untrue. The church requires that children “disavow the practice of same-sex marriage,” which is a far cry from disavowing their actual parents. (Although, as Hess stated in the post you quoted from, I suppose many see those as the same thing.)

It’s a minor but crucial distinction, but the media seem completely uninterested in it, saying that the church will force children to basically disown their parents. Rather, I suspect the logic goes like this: the church is very concerned about doctrinal integrity, and are worried (rightly) that support for same-sex marriage will creep into the church; they also worry that children of same-sex married couples are more likely than the average person to support same-sex marriage than the average member; therefore, there is an additional requirement that children of these relationships clearly state that they accept the church’s teachings on this topic.

Why is that so scary for people? A church asking members to affirm teachings they are very public about? What a scandal!

2) The church made a major PR mistake here, and other church’s should take notice. This was a small update made to a church handbook that is only made available to local church leaders — it contains basic instructions on how to administer the policies of the church. So the church did it without fanfare and without explanation. So when it hit the media, the church was caught flat-footed. Rumors flew for days before the church finally put out statements (both text and video) explaining the policy and the reasons behind it. They should have done that beforehand, been up-front with the policy. Many still would have hated the policy, but the church could have better explained its reasoning.

3) I’m tired of people objecting to a policy like this, when really their objection is that the church teaches homosexual relations are sinful. It’s disingenuous. People freak out, not really because of the policy, but because they disagree fundamentally that homosexual activity is a sin. It’s entirely consistent for the church to make policies like that to prevent its members from sinning (in their view) and from supporting sinful behavior. If you disagree that homosexual activity is a sin, fine, but let’s keep focused on the real issue at hand.

4) When the church finally did explain for themselves, they clarified a few things: first, this only applies to children whose primary residence is with same-sex parents; second, this does not apply to children who are already baptized. They also explained, rightly I think, that this policy was at least partially created to protect these children. Imagine joining a church that teaches your current family structure is sinful. Might that cause conflict at home? It’s simpler for all involved to wait until these children are legal adults, then let them make their own decision with their eyes wide open.

5) A brief note on LDS theology: your author above is right, in my view. We view the heterosexual family as a basic building block in God’s plan for His children — us humans. We believe that the nuclear heterosexual family is a direct parallel of the life God lives, and that families formed here can and will persist beyond the grave in the same kind of life that God experiences. Changing this fundamentally changes LDS theology in a way that has never happened before. The church has changed many policies in the past — most notably when it started, then stopped, practicing polygamy; and when it stopped, then restarted, allowing males of African descent into the priesthood — but these past changes would be nothing compared to a changing stance of homosexuality. That would be changing the very foundation of the whole project.

Just some thoughts from a Mormon reader. I don’t love everything my church does, and I certainly think this was a PR fail, but I’m among those who think this policy is probably for the best.

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Captain Higgins for Christmas

You remember Capt. Clay Higgins, right? He’s the St. Landry Parish (Louisiana) sheriff’s deputy who has become a cult figure through his Crimestoppers TV spots. He comes across as an Old West figure, in the best possible way. Here he is addressing a grocery store thief. And here he is putting the smackdown on a fugitive named Bullethead.

It is impossible to improve on Capt. Higgins. Don’t believe me? Here is a message from his wife.
Well, Capt. Higgins now has a line of t-shirts and other swag that he’s selling to raise money for a shelter for homeless people and domestic abuse people in St. Landry. Watch that video from the website. Capt. Higgins is like a Cajun cross between John Wayne and Coach Eric Taylor. I know what I want for Christmas:


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Maximum Frenchiosity

This was the Frenchiest thing I encountered all weekend. We were all sitting around full of turkey and dressing and looking for something mind-rotting to watch. I said to my brother-in-law, “You’re not going to believe how bizarre this is. It’s like eating fondant by the handful.” It was supposed to be only five minutes of gaping at the horror, but then our wives joined us. We couldn’t stop watching:

But wait, there’s more:

My wife remarked, “Gene Kelly is the only man who can show up in a movie wearing a pink shirt and white trousers, and look completely masculine.”

Nineteen-sixty-seven, seems so long ago.

Here is the second Frenchiest thing I saw all weekend:

It’s a May-December marriage for Mary-Kate Olsen.

The 29-year-old former child actress tied the knot with her French banker beau of three years, Olivier Sarkozy, 46, at an intimate Manhattan ceremony on Friday night, a source said.

The reception was held at a private residence on 49th Street, between Second and Third avenues; cocktails were served in a rear garden before the 50 guests dined indoors. Attendees were required to turn in their cellphones beforehand.

Party decor consisted of “bowls and bowls filled with cigarettes, and everyone smoked the whole night,” the source said.

That’s the half-brother of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who also smokes, as does his wife Carla Bruni.

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On Casting Blame

Here are a handful of things that we ought to be able to agree on:

  • ISIS does not render the entire Islamic religion evil
  • The Unabomber does not taint the entire environmental movement
  • The Weather Underground’s terrorism did not invalidate the anti-Vietnam War movement’s claims
  • A paranoid lunatic with a record of hating indiscriminately and behaving violently shooting up an abortion clinic is not the fault of the pro-life movement
  • The New Atheists cannot be fairly blamed for Larry Gene Ashbrook, a violent paranoiac who, in 1999, shot and killed seven Texas Baptists while spouting hateful rhetoric about Christians

There is a limit to this line of thinking. Apologists for Communism today maintain that Stalinism was an aberration, which is provably untrue. There has never been a communist society that was not a human rights nightmare. Similarly with Nazism. Over a decade of anti-Semitic propaganda in the German press preceding the Nazi takeover laid the groundwork for the Shoah.

It could happen here, and we had better not forget it.

In our society today, though, we face far more of a threat to free discourse from people who would demonize ordinary speech and belief. Note that I said “demonize,” not “criticize”; criticism is important, and a way of discerning good ideas from bad ones. It is to be expected that political partisans would try to silence their opponents by framing their opponents’ beliefs and words as dangerous. This is what the whole SJW “safe space” movement is about: silencing legitimate dissent.

At this time and place, it’s far more important to resist those who would shout down dissent in the name of “safety.” Today, that threat comes from left-wingers and pro-choicers who are exploiting an act of terror by a mentally ill man to discredit pro-life critics. Tomorrow it may come from right-wingers trying to intimidate and gag their opponents with smear tactics.

There is only one way to have a completely “safe space” with regard to speech: to live in a police state, where nobody can say anything that isn’t officially approved. Is that really what you want? Really? I think more than a few Americans would support that, as long as their side was the one in power.

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You Good Samaritans


View from our Divine Liturgy today at St. John the Theologian Orthodox Mission. The Gospel reading today included the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Father Matthew preached a very strong sermon about the risks a Samaritan of the first-century Holy Land would have taken to have done what Jesus recounts in the parable. And the Samaritan did it for a stranger. Father Matthew laid it hard on our hearts to consider how little we are like the Samaritan, and how much we must repent of our hard-heartedness. He said in particular that reading all the books in the world about the faith won’t make a difference; what is required is to act, to show mercy. The pious Jews who wouldn’t help the wounded traveler certainly knew more about the Law than did the Samaritan — but the Samaritan showed mercy, which is what counts in the eyes of God.

In a typical Father Matthew rhetorical flourish, he ended with, “You don’t need your priest to tell you what to do. Your priest doesn’t need his priest to tell him what to do. We just need to do it.” I love that aspect of Father Matthew’s preaching, how he seems to have anticipated all the evasions we will employ to talk ourselves out of doing the right thing when it’s hard. He has my number, that’s for sure. I’ll be thinking about and praying all week about the challenge he laid on my hard heart.

I found out after the liturgy from our parish’s treasurer that you Good Samaritans who read this blog have donated over $1,100 to our mission since I posted on Thanksgiving my meditation about how we may lose the mission, and how grateful I am for what God has done for me through it. Plus, a family that wishes to remain anonymous — only the treasurer knows who they are — has pledged to give $500 monthly, to make up for what we had to cut from Father Matthew’s salary, owing to our poverty.

I certainly did not post that on Thanksgiving expecting anyone to give a penny; I wanted simply to share my thoughts about loss on this, the first Thanksgiving without my dad, who died this summer, and how I was now facing in this next year the loss of my church, and the spiritual fatherhood of my pastor, who helped me so much, as my own father did. My hope, if I had one, was to inspire readers to be grateful for the good things they have, because all things mortal pass. Prior to this morning’s services, I knew people had donated to us after reading the post, and I prayed for all you generous people during the liturgy today. But I did not know you had been so very kind. It’s humbling for a grumpy misanthrope like me to realize how many good people there are in this world, and to be moved to repent of my gloom. Thank you all so much. St. John Mission is wounded and lying in the ditch, and the mercy you have shown and are showing to us will help us to heal, and, we hope, get back on our feet.

To thank you for your generosity to my parish, I’m going to find a way to make a donation or to do something merciful for the refugees from Syria. I’m not going to say what it is; I’m just going to do it. I want you to know, though, that your mercy has inspired me to pass it on.

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