In the summer of 2005, I reported from a Multnomah County, Ore., courtroom on the story of an unemployed mother — impregnated by a seminary student 13 years earlier — who was trying to get increased child support for her sickly 12-year-old son.
The boy’s father, Father Arturo Uribe, took the witness stand. The priest had never seen or talked with his son. He even had trouble properly pronouncing the kid’s name. Uribe confidently offered the court a simple reason as to why he couldn’t pay more than $323 a month in child support.
“The only thing I own are my clothes,” he told the judge.
His defense — orchestrated by a razor-sharp attorney paid for by his religious order — boiled down to this: I’m a Roman Catholic priest, I’ve taken a vow of poverty, and child-support laws can’t touch me.
The boy’s mother, Stephanie Collopy, couldn’t afford a lawyer. She stumbled badly acting as her own attorney. It went on for three hours.
I’m not sure why, but I watched for a second time the Academy Award-winning film Spotlight, about how the Boston Globe broke the priest sex abuse story wide open in 2002. It was even better than I remembered it. One aspect of the movie stood out in sharp relief: the way so very many people in Boston knew for years that there was something horrible going on with priests and children in the Archdiocese, but engaged in a conspiracy of silence. It wasn’t that they knew details; it’s that they didn’t want to know details. They wanted to look away because facing the truth was too difficult.
In particular, I noticed how even some reporters and editors at the Globe had to face the fact that they had solid reasons to suspect that something like this was going on, but they didn’t want to dig into it. In one of the final scenes, then-Globe projects editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), who oversaw the Spotlight investigative team, has an exchange with team editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), who doesn’t want to let them feel too good about themselves. They too should have been on this case much earlier, Robinson says — and recognizes that he played an inadvertent role in refusing to see what was more or less right in front of their noses.
Watching the dramatized version of the Globe team going after this story brought back a lot of memories. Those names again — Margaret Gallant, Ronald Paquin, Richard Sipe, and others — as well as the shock of discovery, the pain of talking to victims, and the bitterness of feeling a door close within oneself (grieving reporter Michael Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo, tells a colleague that he had always had hope that he would go back to church, but now that’s gone). But that was another country.
What I can’t get out of my mind now is thinking about all the women who have been sexually abused and assaulted by men who got away with it. Take Harvey Weinstein, for instance. Everybody in Hollywood knew what he was doing, or if they didn’t know specifically, they certainly had reason to know he was a lecherous bully. Nobody cared. To tell the truth about Harvey Weinstein would have brought down their world on their head, same as those victims in Boston. It was an informal conspiracy of silence.
There are many, many more Harvey Weinsteins. Why aren’t the women they abused (and in some cases the men) speaking out? That’s a fair question, but in most cases it’s not that hard to answer. The answer to that question is another question: What are the rest of us doing to make it easier for them to speak out?
I don’t know about you, but I find that I’ve had it up to here with everything. All of it. The lying we do, including lying to ourselves. The b.s. that so many of us otherwise decent people feel compelled to tolerate and defend. This about sums it up:
Seriously. We have Clinton criticizing Trump and Moore without mentioning Bill, Trump criticizing Franken without mention own accusers, some feminists defending Franken, Christian leaders defending Moore… damn.
— Brandon Darby (@brandondarby) November 18, 2017
Why do we do this? How can we stand the cowardice within ourselves?
Here, from a scene late in Spotlight, is a partial answer. In this scene, Walter “Robby” Robinson is having a drink with a fictional character named Peter Conley, a Catholic businessman who is very well connected to the Archdiocese. He’s requested this meeting with Robby to dissuade him from publishing the stories. Conley begins by flattering Robby, a Boston native who went to Boston Catholic High, and is part of the Catholic good ol’ boy network. Conley tells him that he’s got a lot of respect in the city. “Baron” is Marty Baron, the new Globe editor-in-chief, and an outsider:
That is how it happens in a lot of cases, in all walks of life, not just the church. You know it as well as I do.
In the spring of 2002, I spoke to a woman in a small Western diocese who worked for the church in a low-level job. A church secretary or something like it. She told me in detail some disgusting things she had seen with her own eyes, evidence of sacrilegious sexual acts I can hardly bear to think about. She told me how she had gone to the bishop with her information about the priest who did these things, and got a phone call the next day from the priest, mocking her. He told her that he knew what she had done, but that she couldn’t touch him, because he (the dirty priest) had the bishop sexually compromised.
That priest went on to abuse children. She gave me his name, and I tracked him down. I found he was at that time in prison in a nearby state doing time for child molestation. (I seem to recall that he died in prison a few years back, but I might be confusing him with someone else.) The bishop by then had gone on to much bigger things, and was leading a large diocese, from which he eventually retired.
The reason she contacted me was because that bishop, in his then-current assignment, was, like many US bishops at the time, embroiled in a scandal involving reassigning molester priests. Somehow she came across my name and e-mail address online, and reached out to me.
I begged the woman to go on the record, to tell the things she knew.
She thought about it hard, for days, because her conscience was eating her alive. But in the end, she couldn’t bring herself to take that step.
“My husband left me and the kids,” she told me. “I’m a single mom. I can’t afford to lose my job with the church.”
If she ratted out the bishop, she would almost certainly lose her job, and she feared that everybody she knew would turn on her. She did not live in a big town. Her concerns were well grounded. I never wrote the story.
I had a fair number of sources who made the same call, but none that stayed with me like that poor tormented woman. Tonight I’m wondering how many children might have been protected had that woman felt safe to tell what she knew.
That was 15 years ago. But the sexual abuse of the weak by the powerful is always with us, in politics, in entertainment, all over. You think it was just the Catholic Church? Wake up. Tonight, in our time and in our places, I’m wondering how many raped or otherwise sexually abused women (and men) would be helped, and how many others would be spared future attack, if those victims felt that they would be defended and supported if they came forward and told the truth.
Tonight I’m wondering why so many of us are such a bunch of moral mediocrities who are prepared to lie and look the other way to protect our sense of order.
Yesterday I read that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, says that she has no reason to disbelieve the women who accuse Senate candidate Roy Moore of attacking them sexually when they were young teenagers, but that she is going to vote for Moore anyway because
“We need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like Supreme Court justices, other appointments that the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions.”
People need the Republican Party more than ever now. You can feel it, can’t you, Robby?
Look at these polling results, via HuffPo:
Only 18 percent of Trump voters think the allegations against Bill O’Reilly are credible, even though it was widely reported that Fox paid out $32 million to settle one woman’s claim against him, and ultimately fired him, even though he was a cash cow for the network.
And only six percent — six percent! — of Trump voters find allegations of sexual harassment against Trump credible, despite audio in which he bragged to Billy Bush about grabbing women’s genitals as a prelude to sexual congress. From the transcript:
Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pu**y. You can do anything.
It’s one thing to say, “Yeah, he probably did it, but I support him anyway.” It’s quite another to deny that it happened, in spite of clear evidence.
(As a conservative, it pains me to observe that Hillary Clinton supporters are more clear-eyed about Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein. But there it is.)
A short while ago, on the recommendation of Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada, who called it the year’s best book, I bought and downloaded Timothy Snyder’s short volume On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century. Snyder, a historian who specializes in Germany between the wars, writes about things people today should do to resist the kinds of tyrannies that came to be in the previous century.
No. 10 is “Believe in truth.” Snyder writes:
To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then on one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
He goes on:
You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual — and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism. … The first mode is the open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts.
Why are so many conservatives so eager to be lied to, to participate in lies, and to disbelieve the truth? Michael Gerson writes today about this administration’s avalanche of lies. Excerpts:
In all of this [the Russia investigation], there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.
What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character — without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle — the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.
But also: Power without character looks like the environment for women at Fox News during the reigns of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly — what former network host Andrea Tantaros called “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” It looks like Breitbart News’s racial transgressiveness, providing permission and legitimacy to the alt-right. It looks like the cruelty and dehumanization practiced by Dinesh D’Souza, dismissing the tears and trauma of one Roy Moore accuser as a “performance.” And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.
This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?
Read the whole thing. My conservatism is meaningfully different from Gerson’s — more Buchananite than Bushian — and so is my Christianity. But he’s right about this. The corruption of conservative religious believers by this Administration and by Conservatism, Inc. more generally is a catastrophe. I mean it: a catastrophe. The Millennial generation is already leaving the church in historically unprecedented numbers The reasons for doing that are complex, and some of them aren’t very good. But this kind of behavior by their elders is putting the boot in their butts as they’re already headed out the door. Besides, how can older conservative Christians speak credibly about the importance of maintaining Biblical sexual morality in the face of challenges from a more sexually permissive culture in general, and LGBT activists in particular, when we refuse to hold politicians and media figures we identify with accountable?
We can’t. Once that credibility is lost, we’ll never get it back, not with most of that generation.
Don’t come at me with “liberals do it too.” Of course many of them do. But that tu quoque excuse would get my children nowhere if they tried it. Anyway, Christians are supposed to believe in strong moral standards. Christians are supposed to believe that the truth will set us free. Apparently, that is not true for the American church.
I’m sure Gerson, who worked in the Bush White House, would disagree with me on this, but the church’s whorish relationship to Conservatism, Inc., didn’t start with Trump. Trump just expanded the bounds of the possible. He grabbed the church by the pu**y, thereby convincing it to melt in his arms.
There is going to be a terrible reckoning for us conservative Christians when all this is over. We will have brought the judgment onto ourselves.
Beyond the fate of the church, a democratic nation where people only believe the truth that suits their ideological preferences will not long remain a democratic nation. We know this from history.
We are an emotivist nation. Prepare for the worst.
Meet Kate Harding: feminist, liberal, scholar of rape culture — and supporter of confessed sexual harasser Al Franken. From her Washington Post op-ed today:
But I don’t believe resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.
Cynics on both the right and left will presume I am passing by this particular steam tray on 2017’s smorgasbord of feminist outrage because Franken is a Democrat, and so am I. (I was even his proud constituent for two years.) In the most superficial sense, this is true. But it’s meaningless to say it’s because I am a Democrat without asking why I am a Democrat. If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today — that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.
Ah. Harding tells us that she doesn’t want Franken to resign, because that would be good for Republicans:
In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term “right thing” leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.
Read the whole thing. There are a number of Alabama Republicans who say they won’t abandon Roy Moore for the same basic reason (i.e., to hand a Senate seat over to a Democrat candidate who is pro-abortion, and to a liberal party). Kate Harding has just given those Republicans justification for their rationale. This is reminiscent of Gloria Steinem’s infamous 1998 op-ed defending Bill Clinton from his right-wing tormenters, establishing what the snarky called the “One Free Grope Rule” for liberal male lawmakers.
To be sure, I’m disinclined at this point to believe that Franken should resign. What he did was disgusting and wrong. He apologized, and his victim accepted the apology. His sexual harassment was, as far as we know, a one-time thing, it did not involve coerced sex, or an attempt to coerce sex. He’s owned up to it publicly, and received forgiveness from the woman he wronged. I am 100 percent in favor of this public reckoning exposing men who sexually harassed (and worse) women, but I think it’s reasonable to draw distinctions between what creeps like Al Franken did, and the darker stuff Roy Moore is accused of, and that Harvey Weinstein did. Maybe in the end Franken does need to resign, but I am not convinced of that. Yet. Let’s see what else, if anything, comes out.
Understand, though: that’s not Kate Harding’s point. Her point is that he should stay because he’s a good Democratic vote. Hers is basically Gloria Steinem’s. (By the way, I looked in The New York Times‘s database for that op-ed; I’m a subscriber, and have been searching for 15 minutes; there are a few letters from readers criticizing the column, but the column itself is not there.)
Andrew Sullivan remembers it, though. From his column today:
… No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on “the right side of history,” or on the right side of a battle between “good and evil,” is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry. It flatters yourself. And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the “good.” These compromises can start as minor and forgivable trade-offs; but they compound over time. In the Catholic church, the conviction that the institution could do no wrong, that its reputation must endure because it represented the right side in the struggle against evil … led to the mass rape of children and teens.
The religious right’s embrace of Trump is of a similar trope. It is not some kind of aberration in the transformation of a faith into a worldly and political cause, it is its logical consequence. The Christian right’s support for a sociopathic, cruel, and vulgar pagan was inevitable, in other words, from the moment the Moral Majority was born. If politics is fused with religion, and if your opponents are deemed evil, then almost anything can be justified to defeat them. Sooner or later, you’l find yourself defending the molestation of a minor. Which is why I have long refused to call this political movement Christian, but Christianist. It is not about faith; it is about power.
But evangelical Republicans are not, of course, the only group susceptible to such corruption. Democrats are human as well, as we have so abundantly discovered. Many of them have also made their political struggle into a secular form of religion, and found myriad ways to defend the indefensible because the cause demanded it. I vividly remember Gloria Steinem’s op-ed defending Bill Clinton’s sex abuse at the time (she still refuses to disown it). I remember how many wanted to conflate sexual abuse with private consensual sex. I also recall a bizarre very-Washington lunch in that period when, for some reason, I was seated next to Barbra Streisand (my first and thankfully last encounter with the singer). I mentioned Paula Jones’s lawsuit — which I’d just defended in the pages of The New Republic — just to see what she’d say. Streisand’s lip curled. “Ugh,” she scoffed. “She’s a little kurva.” I later discovered that this means “whore,” “bitch,” or “slut.” And that was by no means an unusual Democratic response of the time.
Harding’s response is also reminiscent of journalist Nina Burleigh’s 1998 quip that she would personally give Bill Clinton oral sex to thank him for protecting abortion.
The fruits of tribalism. Any liberal who takes Kate Harding’s stance forfeits their right to criticize Roy Moore conservatives — and vice versa.
Back in 2002, I interviewed a Catholic woman who had been blackmailed by her confessor into having an affair with him, even though she was married. She finally broke down psychologically, and sought professional help from a psychiatrist who was known to be a faithful Catholic. (I interviewed him too, and he confirmed her account.) When she and her psychiatrist went to the local bishop (who is now dead, by the way), the bishop told her he had sent the priest away overseas (as he had — that I confirmed), and that if she pursued charges against the offending priest, or made his abuse public, then he, the bishop, would be forced to go after her publicly for her messy past.
She quoted him as saying, “I have to protect the people of God.”
As Sullivan says, this is the same kind of corruption we’re seeing among some political partisans: the idea that we must cover up or make excuses for evil because if we don’t, our enemies will win.
But in the Catholic Church’s case, no external enemy could have done worse damage to the Church than the cover-up bishops. Depending on the current sexual misconduct and abuse reckoning, we may see the same thing in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Sen. Al Franken is a major proponent of Title IX policies that would get college students in trouble and strip them of due process when facing investigations for the exact same kind of misbehavior he seemingly committed.
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) November 16, 2017
The high level source said once crowned king, the prince will shift his focus to Iran, a long standing rival oil empire to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, with fears military action is possible.
He will also enlist the help of the Israeli military to crush Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia supported by Iran, according to the source.
‘MBS is convinced that he has to hit Iran and Hezbollah,’ he said. ‘Contrary to the advice of the royal family elders, that’s MBS’s next target. Hence why the ruler of Kuwait privately calls him “The raging Bull”.
‘MBS’s plan is to start the fire in Lebanon, but he’s hoping to count on Israeli military backing. He has already promised Israel billions of dollars in direct financial aid if they agree.
‘MBS can not confront Hezbollah in Lebanon without Israel. Plan B is to fight Hezbollah in Syria,’ said the source.
I find this plausible, but not quite credible. This is in the Daily Mail, and it’s based on a single unnamed source “close to the Saudi royal family.” Voice Of America reports that the Saudi government strongly denies that Salman will abdicate. But:
“The Saudis have denied any abdication in pretty strong terms. But most outside observers say that the aim is to have Salman abdicate once Crown Prince Mohammad is secure enough to rule in his own right,” David Des Roches, an associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington, told VOA. “People who are skeptical of Salman – and of Saudi Arabia – think the aim of an abdication would be to bypass the allegiance council of senior princes and ensure the crown prince takes over.”
Des Roches, however, believes that given that every credible rival to the crown prince has now been sidelined or arrested, there may not be a need to rush to abdicate.
“By now, Mohammad bin Salman has control over all the levels of power. There won’t be a popular upswing in favor of the old guys who got rich. So he can wait for his dad to die and then take over the state in title as well as in practice,” Des Roches said.
The US is already participating in the Saudis’ vicious war on Yemen. You watch: on the watch of that Trump, who allowed himself to be obsequiously flattered by the Saudis, we’re going to let them drag us into another war in the Middle East.
Come now accusations of sexual harassment against Sen. Al Franken. The particular allegation here dates to an alleged incident in 2006. A reader was reminded of how insane the 1970s were regarding sex. Franken was part of the Saturday Night Live writing staff when the show aired skits involving, get this, a lovable pedophile.
Here’s a transcript of one of the “Uncle Roy” skits from Saturday Night Live in 1978. Buck Henry plays a pederast uncle who babysits his nieces Tracy and Terry (Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman). You can find the Uncle Roy skits online (there are three), but I’m not going to embed them here. Here’s part of the transcript I linked to at the beginning of this graf:
Uncle Roy: Oh, Uncle Roy’s got a surprise for you.
Terry: What is it? We want it now!
Uncle Roy: Well, it’s a buried treasure.
Tracy: Is it buried in the lawn?
Uncle Roy: Nooo.. it’s buried on Uncle Roy.
[ the girls scream and yell, and start to dig around Uncle Roy’s pants pockets looking for the “buried treasure” ]
Tracy: [ pulls a box of Jujubes out of Uncle Roy’s right pocket ] I found it! I found it! It’s Jujubes, and they’re so good!
Terry: Oh, boy! Jujubes! [ the girls share ] Oh! Do a magic trick, Uncle Roy!
Uncle Roy: Oh, a magic trick? Okay. [ pulls a nickel and dime out of his pocket ] Here’s a nickel, and here’s a dime. Now, I’m gonna make the nickel.. [ rubs it on Tracy’s shoulder ] ..disappear! [ Tracy squeal with delight ] Here’s the dime, and I’m going to take it and make it disappear.. [ rubs it on Terry’s leg ] ..rubby-dubby-dubby! [ both girls squeal with delight ]
Terry: [ standing up ] Hey! I’m a magician, too! [ Roy looks on with interest ] I can make my face disappear! [ she pulls her nightgown over her head, exposing her panties to Uncle Roy ]
Tracy: [ stands up and copies Terry ] Uncle Roy! Look at me! I can’t make my face disappear, too!
Uncle Roy: [ pulls a Polaroid out of his jacket and starts to take close-up shots of the girls’ panties ] Oh, that’s good magic! You know.. your trick reminds me that it’s Wash Day today!
Uncle Roy: So, why don’t you girls go upstairs and bring Uncle Roy all your dirty little things? [ excited, the girls run upstairs and start throwing their dirty clothes down the stairs to Uncle Roy ] Oh, yes! Littler things! Dirtier things! [ he catches more of the dirty laundry ] Now, why don’t you polish the banister?
I tried to find out if Al Franken wrote that skit,
but my research indicates it was his frequent writing partner, the late Tom Davis. I was wrong — as two readers who watched the Henry interview till the end point out, it was two women: Rosie Shuster and Ann Beatts. Anyway, the reader sends in this more recent clip of Buck Henry defending the integrity of laughing at pedophilia:
Again: Al Franken did not write the Uncle Roy skit, though he was part of the team that aired it. I’m not saying that Al Franken is soft of pedophilia! I am saying, however, that the 1970s and those who were at the leading edge of pop culture’s evolution back then are probably going to have a lot to answer for as more and more people come out about being sexually harassed or assaulted. I’m wondering if this purgatory spasm we’re living through is going to consume way more famous Baby Boomer males than we can even imagine.
UPDATE: Damon Linker is right. Hoo boy, is he right:
Now think of all the pages and interns and young staffers cycling through all of those offices on Capitol Hill, year after year, decade after decade. And the countless thousands of staffers who’ve passed through the White House and executive branch departments and agencies across Democratic and Republican administrations. And all the Supreme Court clerks and assistants. How long until one of these pages or interns or staffers or clerks or assistants, or dozens of them, or hundreds of them, begin to talk and make credible accusations against leading public figures of both parties?
How many unwanted advances, kisses, gropes, coerced sex acts, and other forms of harassment, abuse, and assault are we likely to learn about?
I suspect far more than any of us can imagine.
Already we know that the House has paid out $15 million over the last 10-15 years to settle sexual harassment allegations. And that is surely just the beginning.
The reckoning is coming. Washington is going to weather an absolute hurricane of sexual abuse allegations and revelations.
Bring it on. This is necessary, and important.
Nursery school toddlers are getting lessons from drag queens to teach them about “gender fluidity”.
Children as young as two are taught specially adapted songs by performers including Donna La Mode.
Among ditties suggested for the London sessions is a version of Wheels on the Bus, which goes: “The skirt on the drag queen goes swish, swish, swish.”
Men in women’s clothes are teaching kids as young as two — including one who dressed as Alice in Wonderland — at seven Government-funded nurseries to stop them committing hate crimes in later life.
Youngsters learn specially-adapted trans songs at the sessions and are told stories — one about a teddy bear which realises it is a girl and not a boy.
The Drag Queen Story Time classes are held by Bristol University law graduate Thomas Canham, 26. He hopes they will soon be rolled out across all 37 centres run by the London Early Years Foundation.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. Two years ago, in the wake of Obergefell, I heard a Christian academic social scientist say that yes, same-sex marriage is a blow to Christianity, in that it reveals that the Christian model of marriage has been displaced by something radically different. But save your sky-is-falling reaction, he warned, for transgenderism. If that ever takes off, he said, we are in very, very big trouble. Same-sex marriage still depends on the gender binary, but transgenderism destroys it — and that strikes at the root of what it means to be a human being.
The knee-jerk bullying, victim-group sectarianism and repudiation of reason itself over transgenderism defy belief. The Times (£) reports that a lesbian Labour party women’s officer was allegedly subjected to months of harassment as a “Terf” — a derogatory term for “trans exclusionary radical feminist” – because she took issue with aspects of transgenderism.
Intimidation by transgender activists, in the laughable cause of promoting greater tolerance and inclusivity, has suddenly become the new norm. Examples – such as the Christian maths teacher who was suspended for addressing as a girl a female pupil who identifies as a boy – are coming thick and fast.
As has been noted elswhere, however, the really extraordinary aspect of all this is the way in which the establishment – Conservative government ministers, schools, universities, the Church of England – are meekly falling into line with the hallucinatory requirement, enforced by coercion, character assassination and social ostracism against anyone who dares resist, that we deny the fact that we belong to the sex into which we were born.
The reason for this existential collapse is that the relativist west has so heavily bought into the belief that reality is merely what we decide it to be. Ours has become a culture of radical subjectivity in which there is no such thing as objective truth. Everything is instead a matter of opinion and individual perception.
The ostensible aim of all this is to end discrimination, prejudice and social exclusion. This is untrue. The aim is unilaterally to change the entire basis of society from one governed by external moral rules and duties to one in which the only rule that has any authority is the duty to actualise our own inner potential and fulfil our own desires.
People declared themselves answerable to no moral authority beyond themselves. Human beings would now make it all up as they went along. Since sexual procreation is the way in which a society replicates itself, in order to change the society the rules governing sexual procreation had to be junked.
Normative rules of sexual constraint, marriage, heterosexuality and so on were all dismissed as harmful social constructs. Now human biology is also being turned into a social construct so that it can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will. Humanity itself has to become fluid.
Read the whole thing. Humanity itself has to become fluid. This is the ultimate goal of liquid modernity: to dissolve everything in nature, and to make it subject to the human will. We will have become as gods.
It is hard to overstate the importance of understanding what is happening, and indeed what is being done to us. The constant propagandizing from the mainstream media, from schools, and of course from the LGBT movement, is having an effect. We are very quickly getting to our own Galileo “And yet, it moves” moment, where we have to insist upon the truth of reality despite what punishments come our way.
Did you ever imagine that you would live in a world in which you would have to teach your children the difference between male and female, and why that is important? Did you ever think you would live in a world in which you could lose your job for believing that? Welcome to liquid modernity.
As regular readers know, this is a concept invented by the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, to describe our time. From the Wikipedia entry:
Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence. It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the ‘liquid modern’ man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support, while also freeing himself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.
Bauman stressed the new burden of responsibility that fluid modernism placed on the individual—traditional patterns would be replaced by self-chosen ones. Entry into the globalized society was open to anyone with their own stance and the ability to fund it, in a similar way as was the reception of travellers at the old-fashioned caravanserai. The result is a normative mindset with emphasis on shifting rather than on staying—on provisional in lieu of permanent (or ‘solid’) commitment—which (the new style) can lead a person astray towards a prison of their own existential creation.
And next comes transhumanism, the abolition of man.
If social conservatives and religious believers are to make sense of what is happening, and happening quite fast, in the West, they must understand the concept of liquid modernity. The collapse of sex and gender is not happening in a vacuum. It is connected to a much deeper and broader cultural revolution. I feel urgently about this, readers. Please read the introduction to Philip Rieff’s great and prophetic 1966 book The Triumph Of The Therapeutic. It can be heavy going at times, but stick with it. Note well towards the end of the essay in which he says the cultural revolution underway in the West — this was 1966, remember — was more profound, more radical, than the communist revolutions, which would not be able to withstand it.
Again: you cannot understand the transgender phenomenon, or the cultural normalization of homosexuality, outside of the wider and deeper currents of history. The reason the traditional marriage model collapsed so quickly and definitively in the face of gay activism is because it had already collapsed in the previous decades. Why? Because of the Sexual Revolution, which, as Rieff observes, was arguably the leading edge of the destruction of all norms, and the final enthronement of the Self. In The Benedict Option, I attempt to explain how this didn’t all happen at once, but rather is the culmination of a small but decisive break in the deeps of Western Christianity seven centuries ago, like an earthquake in the middle of the ocean. As the wave has moved across the sea of time, it is now reaching shore with the force of a tsunami.
We have to fight it when and however we can, certainly, but we also have to understand how extremely high the odds are of defeating this thing, given the overwhelming force of the tide. A minor but telling example: conservative parents may think they are preparing their children to hold on to the faith in the face of this nihilistic maelstrom, but when they give their kids smartphones with no restrictions, they are handing them a device through which they are constantly propagandized for and acculturated to liquid modernity.
Remember that professor with whom I began this entry? After his lecture, transgenderism had entered the main arena of popular culture in a bold way. It was so swift and so powerful that it left religious liberty activists I know reeling. They thought maybe we would have a couple of years to get ready for it. They barely had six months. I looked up that professor and called him to get his take on how radically the scene had shifted virtually overnight. I reminded him of his warning to the audience that night: about how gay marriage was tolerable, but transgenderism would be apocalyptic, because it would destroy our ability to recognize male and female, and therefore our understanding of what it is to be human.
Know what he said to me? “It’s time to take the Benedict Option.” He was serious. From the book:
We are not trying to save the West. We are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing. The Rule, with its vision of an ordered life centered around Christ and the practices it prescribes to deepen our conversion, can help us achieve that goal.
None of us will escape the trial to come; the best we can do is to build ourselves up spiritually, morally, and communally to endure it faithfully. I remind you of what Father Cassian Folsom of the Norcia monastery told me, about the Benedict Option: “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what Orthodox Christianity has to offer the West uniquely, with regard to building resistance to and resilience in the face of liquid modernity. I’m thinking about that being my next book.
Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze is a long time non-fan of my work, but I gotta hand it to him: when he’s on target, he’s great. In this column, he slices, dices, and juliennes a deserving subject. Here’s how it starts:
District Attorney Faith Johnson fired Jody Warner, 32, an experienced assistant prosecutor, on Monday after Johnson reviewed an audio recording of Warner drunkenly threatening and abusing 26-year-old Uber driver Shaun Platt over the weekend. In a press conference Tuesday, Warner set some kind of new world record for the least apologetic apology since Donald Trump did Access Hollywood.
Bad enough. But wait. Worse than Trump. Way worse. Through tears and much wiping of the nose, Warner made a completely off-the-wall gratuitous suggestion that Platt, the driver, was some kind of sexual predator and that’s why she got upset. That would have been like Trump saying he had to grab women there in order to proactively protect himself from personal violation.
“Oh my God, you’re an idiot. You are a legitimate retard,” Warner told Platt on a recording he made after he called the cops because she refused to haul her drunken self out his car. “We can hang out. I’m not scared,” she says.
Plus, get this: Warner, an experienced prosecutor of crimes, cried all the way through her press conference, but she also brought along Elizabeth Frizell, an ex-judge who will oppose Faith Johnson in the next election. So this was like a crying, confessional, tragic campaign event.
At the press conference, the candidate, Frizell, also piled on with the lurid sexual innuendos. The Dallas Morning News quotes Frizell as saying, “When you have a prosecutor who has tried sex assault cases for almost a decade, you know the signs. Her concern was heightened.”
No, her drunk-ass horrible behavior was heightened. She is on the audio recording telling Platt, “You’re so stupid I want the cops to come so they can f**k you up.”
He is on the recording he made saying “I am asking you politely to please …”
But she cuts him off: “Now I’m pissed the f**k off.”
See. This is why younger men are afraid to come forward when powerful women abuse them. Powerful women don’t know how to swear.
It gets so much better as Schutze takes this horrible Warner person and her press conference apart. For example, he writes, addressing Warner, who pathetically tried to paint herself as a frightened victim of a male Uber driver who, in her telling, might have been a Millennial Harvey Weinstein:
A man in your position would not get away with your behavior at the press conference. He would not be able to stand in front of the cameras, wipe away tears and make all kinds of simpering little-boy-lost sexual suggestions about the woman he had just drunkenly and verbally abused on tape.
Read the whole thing. It’s worth it.
Last month, I praised an article in Aaron Renn’s free monthly newsletter The Masculinist, which focuses on “the intersection of Christianity and masculinity.” Though I don’t agree with everything he writes, it’s a really interesting and provocative read. His latest issue just came out, and in it, Renn says that he was going to shut down the newsletter until attention from this blog drove a lot of new subscribers his way. Well done, readers! If you want to subscribe to The Masculinist — again, it’s free, go to: http://www.urbanophile.com/masculinist/
One of the topics Renn writes about in the new issue is “Contemporary Christianity’s Low Group Cohesion”. He begins with Risk And Culture, a book by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky that addresses religious belief and community. Renn writes:
They develop a few typologies of communities, including hierarchical, individualist, and sectarian (using sectarian in a neutral sense).
This is a great book that’s very much worth reading. I’m going to borrow their dimension of “group” and repurpose and redefine it for my own purposes. In my formulation, group is a measure of group separation and cohesion based on the value received from community membership and the cost of defection from the community. What do you get if you join a community and what do you lose if you leave it? A community that doesn’t give you much if you join and doesn’t cost you much if you leave is a structurally weak community.
More, from Renn:
If you look at contemporary American Christianity, it’s very obvious that it is a low group environment. The barriers to membership are low, the value derived from membership in the community is ordinarily also low (absent some life trauma, for example), and the cost of defection nearly non-existent.
I think about my own church, for example, which is pretty well known locally for having strong community. What would I lose if I stopped attending there? Would people stop talking to me? Probably not. If I had a serious life problem, such as a major medical problem with my son, would they refuse to help me even if I had abandoned the faith? Not very likely.
There also appear to be remarkably few things that will get you excommunicated (kicked out) of most churches today, or even just generate problems for you, unless you deliberately rock the boat.
Contrast this with other religions. Islam is extremely high group. Technically apostasy is punishable by death. That’s a pretty high cost of defection. Even though that’s a risk in only a limited number of countries, even in the West officially abandoning the faith will cause a major loss of community, including potentially being cut off by your family, for example. It’s been known for centuries that it is extremely difficult to make Christian converts from Islam.
Judaism, especially Orthodox, is another high group faith, though this is complicated by the fact that Judaism as a religion overlaps with ethnicity. A Jew who converts to another religion such as Christianity incurs tangible penalties, such forfeiting his automatic right of citizenship Israel. Even domestically, conversions from Judaism appear to be frowned upon inside the Jewish community.
Renn uses examples — Orthodox Jews in New York, Mormons,, Benedictine monks — of religious communities that “deliver high value to their members.” They are also harder to leave. More:
Now, high group organizations certainly have the potential for abuse within them (e.g., Jonestown). But that’s the nature of any high value relationship. I can’t think of any relationship that is high value that doesn’t include exposure to potential harm. Think of marriage, for example. It can be a high value relationship, but clearly involves exposing us to possible great hurt by our spouse. But to protect ourselves from abuse, or simply from the ability of organizations to put any constraint on our behavior, is to sunder ourselves from the majority of the value they deliver. Thus the erosion of our politics, many of our communities, etc. along with the decline of institutions that once sustained them. Preventing others from having the ability harm us creates an isolated life, which is itself damaging.
It’s also the case that a high group organization must have the ability to set standards of behavior for members and enforce them (some level of grid). It should come as no surprise that many of the people who complain about abusive treatment by religious groups are those who have publicly rejected some commitments of their organization, and aren’t happy that they have paid a price for doing so. (I particularly notice this among Mormons, possibly because in Christianity and Judaism it’s easier to simply move to a more congenial congregation).
High group organizations and cultures are also able to develop and sustain unique features that make them attractive even to outsiders who aren’t members and don’t share the belief system.
Renn says that historically, “the church would appear to be higher group than it is today.” It policed the behavior of its members, but even as it helped everyone in the community, it “prioritized those who were members of the community (Acts 4:32, Gal 6:10, others).” He goes on:
In my view, if the church wants to create structurally stronger communities, it needs to find a way to become higher group. I’m not going to prescribe anything, but would encourage you to think for yourselves about the following questions:
- What value does being a member of your community provide above and beyond a) that provided by other groups and society at large and b) that is not available on similar terms to non-members?
- What distinctive value does your community bring to the world at large that would render it at least someone attractional to non-members in certain contexts?
- How easy it is to become a member of your community? (Studies suggest a high cost of admission enhances group loyalty. This is one function of military boot camps).
- What standards of behavior, if any, does your community have for members to remain in good standing? Are these objective or subjective?
- What does anyone lose if they leave your community? What is the price of defection from the group?
If the answers to these are not much, not much, easy, very few, and not much, you probably have a structurally weak community.
You may notice that the other high group religions I noted are minority religions, at least in the West. Minority religions need to be higher group in order to preserve their identity at all.
Well guess what? Christianity is now a minority in the West. This might necessitate having a higher group strategy to survive, though I’m not going to make a prediction on this front. But it most certainly gives Christians new freedom to implement a high group strategy similar to the Jews, Mormons, etc. This would certainly be sectarian in a sense, but not necessarily in a politically aggressive mode.
I hope you’ll subscribe to The Masculinist so that you can read the whole thing. There’s more on this subject in the current issue, and also Renn’s thoughts on other subjects.
Renn concludes his discussion by saying that religious communities face “the dilemma of renunciation”: if you make it too hard to get into the community and live by its standards, few people will join. But if you make it too easy, what’s the point of joining it?
Now that America is “clearly post-Christian” (Renn’s phrase, but of course I agree), Christian churches have to decide whether they should try to open the door even wider in an attempt to attract the increasingly indifferent (at the risk of alienating the true believers within), or if they should instead embrace more stringent standards, to thicken the communities that exist. The author doesn’t take a position on the question, but does say that post-Christianity ought to make churches rethink this perennial dilemma.
I take the purer-but-smaller view. I have been part of congregations where the clerical leadership has tried to be all things to all people. It’s discouraging. Going to church was like visiting the Sacrament Factory. You got the impression that the parish wasn’t for anything, other than being content with itself. You could change your conduct, or not change. You could grow spiritually, or stay where you are. Nobody cared. The important thing was that you were present. If you didn’t show up on Sunday, chances are nobody would miss you. These were (are) structurally very weak communities. As such, they are not likely to survive post-Christianity in the long run. Demanding nothing of its members, they inspire nothing in their members.
Ordinary parish congregations are not monasteries, and shouldn’t try to be. But there is a good lesson to learn from the Benedictine rule of hospitality. From The Benedict Option:
Yet even cloistered Benedictines practice Christian hospitality to the stranger. The Rule commands that all those who present themselves as pilgrims and visitors to the monastery “ be received like Christ, for He is going to say , because He will say, ‘ I was a stranger, and you took me in ’ (Matt. 25:35). ” If you a re invited to dine with the monks in the refectory, they greet you the first time with a hand – washing ceremony prescribed in the Rule.
… As guest master, Brother Ignatius is the point of contact between pilgrims and the monastic community. He explains why the monks take Christ’s words about receiving strangers so seriously : “It is kind of a warning: if you want to be welcome in heaven, you had better welcome people as Christ himself now, even if you don’t like it, even if you suffer because of those people, ” he said. “If your life is to seek Christ, this is it. You will find redemption in serving these guests, because Christ is coming in them.”
Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world — to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’ t really welcome anyone.”
The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them. It’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality. [Emphasis mine — RD]
Rather than erring on the side of caution, though, Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance, ” he said . “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in. ”
This is the key to good balance: welcome visitors with open arms, but do not let them do things that disrupt the community’s way of life. By “way of life,” I mean the community’s theological beliefs and the practices it follows to transform itself into more faithful followers of Christ. What Brother Augustine means is that the telos, or “ultimate goal,” of monastery life is to form Christian monks. If a monastery allows visitors to disrupt the daily observance of the Rule, then the monks will eventually lose their ability to be faithfully observant monks, and therefore to bear Christ to those visitors as monks.
The telos of a parish is to form faithful Christians, but not according to lay state, not the particular vocation of monastics. Still, there are certain practices necessary to Christian formation, especially within particular traditions (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, etc.). A healthy parish community will embrace them, and treat them as normative. You are welcome to come visit the congregation, but if you want to be a full part of it, there are certain things that will be expected of you.
It’s like this. I’m writing this blog post in the waiting room at the place where one of my children studies music. I can hear his band practicing in the studio. My son plays guitar and sings. If the band is to make progress towards its telos — becoming proficient in music — there are practices necessary to achieving that goal. If you want to join the band, you have to commit yourself to coming to practice, to being serious about learning music, and working together as a team to help each other reach the goal. If you don’t want to do any of these things, you’re welcome to sit on the sidelines and watch, but if the band abandoned its practices to accommodate your preferences, then it will lose sight of its goal, and lose its purpose. And, the more committed members may fall away out of frustration, and go join another band that takes music more seriously.
(To that final point, on the church front, a youth pastor told me once that he was going through a difficult time at his parish. Half the kids in his youth group came from serious Christian families who wanted their kids to be there. The other half came from families who weren’t especially committed to the faith, but who thought their unruly kids would benefit from being sent to youth group. The kids who were there because their parents made them be were disruptive, making it hard for the kids who really wanted to be there to get anything out of the group. The pastor told me that he didn’t want to send the unruly kids away, but he was tired of seeing the kids who came to youth group because they wanted to learn how to be better Christians being discouraged by the jerks.)
It’s worth asking Renn’s five questions about your own church community. How does your church fare? What does it do well to build stronger, more faithful community? What could it do better — and how?
Hi readers, I’m still without my laptop, and borrowing one for a short time from my son. The Apple store called back to say that they were able to rescue my data from the MacBook Air and put it onto the external hard drive I brought in, but the Apple iOS (High Sierra) update was so damaging that they’re going to have to erase the entire hard drive and reinstall the operating system.
Here’s my urgent advice to you: do not update to High Sierra at this time unless you absolutely have to, and if you do update, make sure to back everything up on an external hard drive before you start the installation process.
Here’s the truth, though: I’m using a Chromebook right now, and I so miss the Apple experience that I just can’t quit Apple, no matter what.
Anyway, I tell you this to explain why posting is light today. I should have my Precious back in hand by day’s end, in which case regular posting and comments-approving will resume.
I’m standing and clapping for Bethany S. Mandel’s op-ed in The New York Times today. If you don’t know her name or her work, she’s a politically and socially conservative Orthodox Jew. As an adult, she was received into Orthodox Judaism by Rabbi Barry Freundel … who, it came out later, was secretly videotaping women as they undressed and entered into the ritual mikvah bath. Mandel was one of those caught on the dirty rabbi’s camera. He’s now in jail. Excerpts from her column:
It’s hard to describe the depth of my feeling of betrayal. As a convert, I wasn’t just another student of Rabbi Freundel. My faith and practice — my Judaism — was shaped by his words, deeds and thought. For those of us victimized by trusted religious leaders, every day is a struggle to disentangle our negative associations of beautiful rituals from the ugly abusers who taught us about their meaning.
An Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Freundel was fixated on the minutiae of Jewish law. He drilled his converts in the proper blessings to say over a banana or a pretzel, and the order in which they should be recited should we happen to eat both at the same meal. This kind of knowledge was the bedrock of my conversion experience. But how could I continue to make myself care about such details when it became clear that the man who taught them to me valued knowing the blessing for a specific food group over behaving like a decent human being?
Despite having grown up as a Jew (my father was Jewish, but according to Orthodox law only the children of Jewish mothers are Jewish), there were many aspects of observant Jewish life that were new to me until the year I spent converting. The foundation of so much of my religious practice is inextricably tied to that period of my life, and thus, to Rabbi Freundel. I have not been to services in years because the tunes sung on Shabbat remind me so much of him.
Mandel talks about how she was lucky in one sense: the evidence of what Rabbi Freundel did to her was rock-solid, because captured on videotape. The women who say Roy Moore sexually assaulted them when they were 14 and 15, respectively, have only their word against his. Never mind that Beverly Young Nelson, the most recent accuser, has Moore’s signature in her high school yearbook, and his handwriting under it identifying the now-defunct restaurant where she was a 15-year-old waitress. Roy Moore denies knowing her, and denies knowing the restaurant, and Moore’s wife denies the restaurant existed, though newspapers from those days show that it was there. A number of people now say that yes, Roy Moore, as a DA in his 30s, was known for chasing barely-legal girls. But without the kind of evidence that convicted the man who violated Bethany Mandel and the other women at synagogue, there will always be people who claim that we can never really know what happened, so let’s not jump to any conclusions about Roy Moore, despite the mounting circumstantial evidence that he did what his accusers say he did.
Mandel recognizes that it’s hard for people within a religious community who feel besieged to come to grips with what one of their own has done, because it stands to hurt the image and the standing of the entire community. More:
For these believers, losing Mr. Moore means losing an outspoken voice for traditional Christian values. He rose to prominence in the evangelical world for giving up his bench as a judge not once, but twice, for placing his religious beliefs ahead of his judicial duties. Last month The Washington Post reported on a poem Mr. Moore recited at a rally at a Baptist Church: “You think that God’s not angry that this land is a moral slum? How much longer will it be before his judgment comes?”
His defenders argue that not voting for Mr. Moore, and therefore losing a Republican Senate seat and possibly control of the Senate, could lead to worse outcomes for Christians than simply holding their noses and electing him to office.
They could not be more mistaken. The damage that will be done to the Republican brand and those Christians who watch their religious leaders stand by Mr. Moore will be irreversible. If he wins, the Republicans may have a reliably conservative vote in the Senate, but one thing is guaranteed: Religious leaders who defend him risk their flock being infected with the same disenchantment I was after the arrest of my rabbi.
Religious leaders often fret that such creeping faithlessness puts society at risk more than any political ideology. As a prominent evangelical put it in a 2006 Washington Times column: “Our peace and happiness as well as our prosperity depend not on any political party or any great leader, but rather upon our return as a nation to faith in Almighty God.”
It’s a lovely message, but one that’s too often discredited by its messengers. The man who wrote that column? Roy Moore.
Read the whole thing. Send it to every religious believer you know, liberal or conservative.
I know you all must be tired of hearing this from me, but you’re going to hear it again, because its importance cannot be overstated. The disenchantment Mandel writes about is a real thing. It happened to me with the Catholic Church, and I wasn’t even abused. I wrote about the abuse scandal for four years, and was immersed in stories much worse than what happened to Bethany Mandel. Some of those people who were actually victimized by priests and then by the Catholic system remained Catholic. Those were men and women who had more faith than I did. I reached the point in which I could no longer believe, any more than a man whose back is broken can stand up and walk.
There’s no need to go back through that process here on this blog post, though I should mention the breaking point was discovering that a sleazy charmer of Father Christopher Clay, a priest who was not supposed to be in ministry until the formal sex abuse claims against him were resolved, had been lying, and weaseling his way into my family’s good graces — and that the pastor of the parish we had been attending knew all about his past, but put him to work in the parish anyway, and — get this — kept this information hidden from his bishop! Both the lying priest and the deceptive parish pastor were known for being staunch conservatives. I trusted them because even though I should have known better, given all the things I had seen, I thought I was incapable of being fooled.
But I was the fool. After that, the dam broke. I found it impossible to trust the institutional Catholic Church. As most of you readers know, I ended up converting to Orthodoxy, but the disenchantment was so profound that I find it difficult to trust religious authority, even as I recognize the validity of that authority. This is a burden I bring into every relationship I have with a priest. It’s not a burden they deserve, but losing my Catholic faith was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, and I cannot put myself in the position to go through that again.
Right after I was outed as a convert to Orthodoxy back in 2006, I wrote a long piece for my blog explaining what had happened, and why.
You’ll see if you read toward the end that I do not let myself off the hook for responsibility for the catastrophe that befell me. In that piece, I talk about how my own spiritual pride and idolization of the institutional Catholic Church set me up for a very big fall. And I talk about how my inability to master my own anger at the injustice the Church visited upon abuse victims and their families led to my own undoing. I still believe that’s true, and when I am asked about it these days in public appearances, I stress my own culpability, not the Catholic Church’s. That’s not because I blame myself alone for what happened to me, but because at this point, I feel it urgently necessary to encourage all believers, whatever their church, not to make the same mistakes I made. Corruption in the church is not only a Catholic thing. Indeed, as I say in that piece, when we entered the Orthodox Church, a Russian at our parish told me that there are far too many instances of corruption in the Orthodox Church for any Orthodox to look down on Catholics. It is our responsibility as believers to prepare ourselves spiritually for a time of testing. It might never come, but we have to be ready for it. If you are spiritually complacent, you will not make it through that time of testing — or, worse, if you make it, it might only be because you committed yourself to self-deception, and even to trashing the reputations of those who pointed out the corruption.
That’s why I’m writing this today, in light of Mandel’s column, and the Roy Moore situation.
I remember back when I uncovered the deception at the Fort Worth parish one of the laymen who was attending there was furious at me. He told me that he was on the parish council, and that they had known about the accusations against Father Clay — and decided to keep them from the congregation. That was a devastating piece of information to learn. So it wasn’t just the pastor and Father Clay lying to everybody else. If this man was telling the truth — and I didn’t try to verify it back then; I just wanted out of that den of deception — it was the inner circle of parish leadership.
I bring this up because it speaks directly to a problem that Bethany Mandel cites: the unwillingness of religious communities to behave with moral responsibility in the face of serious failures by religious leadership. Mandel writes:
A significant number of friends, relatives and religious leaders have never once mentioned the case to me, despite my role as its most public victim. Orthodox Jews already face an uphill battle in the modern world, they say, and drawing attention to these sordid stories makes that hill that much steeper. These people also prefer not acknowledging what happened to me and so many other women because it’s more comfortable to pretend it never happened.
I too once felt that way. I preferred not to see the abuses in the community I had voluntarily joined as an adult because witnessing my community’s willful blindness to those abuses could send me over the edge. Being the victim of a sexual crime stripped me of that luxury.
I had a similar experience with the Catholic abuse scandal. Again, though I was not myself ever the victim of sexual abuse, I came to identify so strongly with those individuals and family who were that the willful indifference of ordinary Catholics to what had been done and was being done sent me over the edge. Too many Catholics in the pew preferred to turn away from the hideous truth, and undertook a number of strategies to keep from facing it. It wasn’t that they wanted anything bad to happen to kids and their families, but that they acted as if holding clerical wrongdoers responsible for what they had done — both abusers and those in the hierarchy that enabled them — would bring the entire system down, and therefore accountability had to be avoided.
Let me shout this from the rooftops: this is not just a Catholic thing; it’s a human thing.
There is not a single human institution that is free from this temptation, because humans are sinners. Only today, in fact, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, are some liberals starting to say that the left ought to deal with the legacy of Bill Clinton. Back in the 1990s, liberals closed ranks around him, in part because they believed his Republican accusers were so wicked that Clinton had to be defended no matter what. The epitome of this was the national political reporter Nina Burleigh, who told the Washington Post, “I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”
It’s one thing for institutions like the media and political parties to be corrupt in this way. It’s quite another when it manifests in religious institutions. Re-read these words of Bethany Mandel’s:
It’s hard to describe the depth of my feeling of betrayal. As a convert, I wasn’t just another student of Rabbi Freundel. My faith and practice — my Judaism — was shaped by his words, deeds and thought. For those of us victimized by trusted religious leaders, every day is a struggle to disentangle our negative associations of beautiful rituals from the ugly abusers who taught us about their meaning.
It may be true, strictly speaking, that the sins of rabbis, priests, pastors, or other religious leaders do not negate the truths of the faith. But that is legalistic nonsense when it comes down to real life. I’m thinking right now of the young man in Texas who, as a boy, was forced by his priest to perform oral sex on him. He lost his faith, and at the time I heard his story, every time he passed by a Catholic parish, he involuntarily started gagging. Try telling that poor man that logically speaking, he should have held on to his faith, because the sins of his childhood priest don’t obviate the Church’s teachings. I honestly believe that on the day of judgment, God will have more mercy on that broken soul than on Pharisees who rested on legalism to protect themselves and their sense of order.
Roy Moore is not a pastor, but he has made his Evangelical Christianity so much a part of his public persona that he is rightly regarded as a religious leader. He has held himself out as the embodiment of a man of faith, one whose religious principles are the most important thing to him. He has raised his voice repeatedly in judgment of those who, in his view, violate God’s law. Now there is credible evidence that he sexually abused underage teenage girls in his 30s. There is no proof yet, but the evidence is credible. You can be quite sure that the world of unbelievers is watching how conservative Christians react to this news. And you can be certain that the adolescent and young adult children of Evangelicals — especially Alabama Evangelicals — are watching their parents, their pastors, and the adult community in which they were raised, to see how they react to all this.
This is a time of testing for Evangelical men and women in Alabama (and elsewhere). As you may recall, I heard from a small group of Evangelical pastors in Nashville that they were dealing with young believers in their late teens and early twenties — college students, basically — who were having profound crises of faith because of their parents’ and home churches’ enthusiastic support of Donald Trump. At the time, I told the pastors that I didn’t understand why their elders’ support of a politician would cause a crisis of faith. Those pastors told me pretty much what Bethany Mandel wrote here: “The foundation of so much of my religious practice is inextricably tied to that period of my life….” That is, those young Nashville Evangelicals had been so formed by the faith as practiced in their families and church communities that they were having a very hard time separating belief from the means through which they had come to believe.
You can say that they ought to be tougher, intellectually and otherwise, and you might be right, in a sense. But if they lose their faith because they’ve watched their elders, the men and women who first taught them who God is and to love him, champion a Bible-thumping politician credibly accused of sexually assaulting eighth and ninth grade girls, what good will your legalistic chastising have done them?
What does it profit a man to help his favorite Republican politician win a Senate seat, but to contribute to his children losing their souls? The question is not a trivial one.
A couple of my writer friends have weighed in today on the Roy Moore affair. While I generally agree with them, I want to make a couple of distinctions regarding the Benedict Option.
I’d say the siege mentality explains most of the dysfunctional group behavior these days, on left and right.
You see the siege mentality not just among evangelical Christians but also among the campus social justice warriors and the gun lobbyists, in North Korea and Iran, and in the populist movements across Europe.
The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole “culture” or the whole world is irredeemably hostile.
From this flows a deep sense of pessimism. Things are bad now. Our enemies are growing stronger. And things are about to get worse. The world our children inherit will be horrific. The siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.
The odd thing is that the siege mentality feels kind of good to the people who grab on to it. It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world — the noble us versus the powerful them. It gives them a clear sense of group membership and a clear social identity. It offers a ready explanation for the bad things that happen in life.
Most of all, it gives people a narrative to express their own superiority: We may be losing, but at least we are the holy remnant. We have the innocence of victimhood. We are martyrs in a spiteful world.
I get this. It’s a fair description of a lot of people, both left and right. I think it’s what many critics of the Benedict Option think I’m trading in. (Not saying that David does; I’m just using his column to address this criticism I’ve heard from others.)
I do have a deep sense of pessimism about where the West is headed. I honestly don’t know how one cannot have that sense, even if one is not a particularly religious person. I know that is my disposition, that I’m prone to narratives of decline. Yet I believe my analysis is warranted by an objective look at the facts.
Because my religion is more important to me than anything else, I am especially concerned about the decline of Christianity in the West. I don’t know that the world our children will inherit will be “horrific,” but I am confident that it will be much harder to be a faithful orthodox (and Orthodox) Christian in it, on current trends. And I am confident too that secular liberalism — and a post-Christian secular conservatism — is going to be ever more hostile to orthodox religious believers.
Yes, it is possible to believe these things and to believe that it gives you an explanation for all the bad things that are happening to you and your kind, and that you think are going to happen. It is possible to see oneself as a “holy remnant,” a tribe of innocent victims. If you do this, you are bound to fall into a deep pit — especially if you enjoy this stuff. As a young teenager, I remember participating for a year or two in Evangelical “End Times” culture through my reading. It was, for me, exactly the way David describes the siege mentality. I got a weird thrill out of feeling that I was almost the only one in the know (because I knew exactly one other person, my best friend, who was also into End Times prophecy), and that I was going to be witness to the most dramatic years that humanity had ever seen — that is, until Jesus raptured me out.
It didn’t last. Burning out on that stuff cost me my faith for a few years, but I recovered. Whenever I write about the Benedict Option, I try hard to recall how I succumbed as a 12 and 13 year old to that siege mentality culture, and do my best to push back against it in my own mind, so I can keep my analysis as free of it as possible.
But it must be said that cultural pessimism is not always the ground of siege-mentality fanaticism. It is possible to believe that the movement of culture (economics, politics, social beliefs, technology, etc.) is leaving people like you and your kind especially vulnerable to various kinds of loss, and that to survive in the world fast coming upon us requires changing the way one lives. One is not fated to turn oneself into a fanatic, though it is absolutely a temptation to watch out for.
The way to lessen that temptation is to recognize, with Solzhenitsyn, that the line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart. You have to seek humility, and practice accountability. You have to realize that there is no such thing as utopia, not this side of heaven. More on this shortly.
The destructive siege mentality David correctly identifies in the campus SJWs and the go-for-broke Roy Moore diehards, among many others, is a powerful force in our public life today. Nobody can deny it. From my perspective, though, looking at the Christian church in the US (and social conservatives more generally), there’s also a serious temptation to fail to perceive actual dangers because it doesn’t fit one’s preferred narrative. Americans are a deeply optimistic people, in part, I think, because for all our troubles, we have been blessed among the nations. We believe, I think, that somehow, God, or history, is going to pull us out of whatever pit we fall into. The myth of progress is strong with us.
To think that all pessimists — of the left, of the right, and otherwise — are guilty of false consciousness is itself a form of false consciousness. In fact, this next paragraph from Brooks expresses that:
The fact is, the siege mentality arises from overgeneralization: They are all out to get us. It shouldn’t be met with a counter-overgeneralization: Those people are all sick.
It should be met with confident pluralism. We have a shared moral culture, and some things are beyond the boundaries, like tolerating sexual harassment. But within the boundaries of our liberal polity, we’re going to give one another the benefit of the doubt.
I wish I had the confidence that “confident pluralism” would work, but I don’t, because I don’t believe we have a shared moral culture, not anymore, and I see no reason to believe that it’s going to get any better, because the forces driving our society — including technology — are pushing us further apart, and making us more hostile and suspicious. We are re-tribalizing, and that is both a symptom of liberalism’s weakness, and a driver of its decline. To me, believing that we are all headed for a more peaceful, cooperative, mutually tolerant future requires an Olympic-level leap of faith.
This was the premise that many of us who supported the Iraq War based our backing on — I mean, that the Iraqis wanted liberal democracy, and were capable of it. It was not true, and people all over the Middle East paid a heavy price for our delusion. Liberal democracy is not the natural state of man, and was only achieved in the West after a great deal of struggle and cultural evolution. We are losing our capacity to sustain it today. Donald Trump only a symptom of deep weakness in technologically advanced, secular, consumerist, pluralistic, liberal democratic culture. I agree with Brooks that in principle we have more in common than dividing us, but the common ground shrinks every day, and certainly our ability to perceive what we have in common is more and more difficult.
Take a look at this Jim VanDeHei item about political polarization — and be sure to see the Pew graphic showing how far, and how fast, we have come apart. Excerpt:
- Newt Gingrich, in the early 1990s, weaponized warfare politics in a methodical and sustained way. In tactics and rhetoric, Gingrich ushered in a good-versus-evil style that persists today.
- Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went all politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama.
- Facebook and later Twitter, both products of the post-2000 Internet revolution, socialized rage and argument. Now every nut with an opinion could find fans and followers to cheer/egg him or her on. This happened as the middle in politics was officially purged from Congress.
- John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, celebritized rage politics. Until that moment, Republicans typically picked conventional, next-in-line candidates. Palin, made for cable and social media, was the precursor to Trump.
- Facebook, starting in 2015 with command of so much of most voters’ time and attention, algorithm-ized rage. The more emotion you felt and sought, the more the news-feed machine pumped at you. With no one looking, fake news was born and metastasizing.
- Twitter + Trump, starting in 2016, habitualized and radicalized the moment-by-moment rage and reaction of politicians, voters and the media. This created more froth and more fog and resulted in a spike of people who don’t believe real news, much less the fake news pulsing through the system.
Now all of this has been institutionalized. No wonder people don’t trust, like or believe politicians — or often each other.
This six-point sketch has to do with politics, but I’m pretty confident most of these points could be modified to explain how we have become so separated in a variety of categories. I don’t think the “good vs. evil” strategy that seems general in our culture started with Newt Gingrich. What about the Bork hearings, when the Democrats practiced scorched-earth character assassination to stop a judicial nominee? I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat chronology, but my sense is that the source of our decline into moral absolutism was the changes that came upon society in the 1960s, combined with the stark rise in emotivism from that period till now. I watched a couple of nights ago the new Netflix documentary about Joan Didion, and was reacquainted with her great book of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which dwells on the culture coming apart in the late 1960s. It was all there, and boy do I wish Didion were young and out reporting on this new wave of atomization and directionlessness.
The point is that both sides do it because it works — and that it works because tectonic changes in our culture, especially driven by technology and economics, have acculturated us to it.
If our pluralism is no longer confident, it’s because everybody has a sense that the guardrails are coming off, the future is up for grabs, and those who are not like us are a threat to us — because with the state becoming ever more powerful in American life, those who control the state really might be. That, and the fact that so many people are economically insecure, and they have little reason to think that society’s elites care about their fate. In my Benedict Option book and talks, I discuss the concept of “liquid modernity,” and how it has turned humanity from pilgrims into tourists. That is to say, we have lost the idea that we are all going on a purposeful journey in the same direction, and instead consider ourselves to be individuals moving here and there as our will takes us, regarding others as strangers we just happen to run into along the way (and sometimes as threats to our being able to go where we want to go).
And look, here’s an important point, one made with pungent clarity by the political theorist Patrick Deneen in his forthcoming book, “Why Liberalism Failed,” which Yale University Press has just wisely decided to offer at a much lower price ($27): we have arrived at this point because the logic of liberalism destined it.
A lot of pundits are going to be talking about this book when it appears in January, and there’s no pundit whose reaction I look forward to more than David Brooks’s. I hope he reads it.
The second piece from today that I want to talk about is David French’s piece about “the enduring appeal of creepy Christianity.”
Speaking broadly, there are two great, competing temptations that tug at the Christian Church. Both of them are based on the fear of man.
The first is the one that the theologically orthodox discuss and battle the most: the temptation to forsake Christian doctrine to seek the approval of a hostile culture. This is the old argument that the world would embrace the Church if only the Church were more like the world. It is embraced by much of Mainline Protestantism, and it’s the path to religious extinction. In the effort to appeal to the world, the Church becomes the world, and the logic for its distinct existence disappears. Thus the rapid decline of denomination after denomination that has decided to essentially merge with America’s secular culture.
The second temptation is one that attracts the theologically orthodox: the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world. Mothers and fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise.
This second temptation is pernicious. Theologically, it fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth: that this side of heaven we can’t eliminate uncertainty or temptation. We “see through a glass darkly.” We simply don’t have all the answers — for raising children, for sustaining a successful marriage, for thriving in our careers, or for responding to sickness and adversity.
French — who is a conservative Evangelical — discusses how that culture is particularly susceptible to leaders and schemes that promise a surefire way to escape the world’s corruption. More:
Christians — especially the most politically engaged Christians — have been so often mocked and attacked by a secular culture that despises not just the Church’s excesses but also the central messages of the Bible that we are reflexively defensive. When scandalous accusations come, we don’t want “our side” to look bad. We want Hollywood to be the home of the predators, and ours the home of the righteous. But there is no “our side.” There is only Christ’s side, and He taught us clearly that there will be good and evil within the Church. The ancient enemy attacks God’s people from without and from within. The good seed and the bad seed grow up together. There is no perfect community.
This is a very important truth, and the way David articulates it from within Evangelicalism helps me understand why so many Evangelicals have reacted strongly against the Benedict Option without really knowing what it’s about: it sounds to them like one more version ofthe false belief that we can build a surefire wall to keep out the evil world.
Let me say clearly here — because I can’t say it enough — that this is not what the Benedict Option claims. But here again, I believe there is another temptation that anti-fundamentalist conservative Christians can fall victim to: the belief that because Christian communities that try to keep out all evil are doomed to decline into fanatical legalism, therefore we should not try to stand apart from the broader culture in any way. This sometimes manifests itself in Christians telling themselves that “we have to be salt and light,” and therefore we have to be willing to live like the rest of the world. It’s very, very easy to drift into assimilationism, while rationalizing what you’re doing as evangelically faithful.
As David Brooks rightly says in his piece, we are living through a time of great transition and uncertainty. In an essay on the 1960s published in her collection titled The White Album, Joan Didion wrote that “the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies.” Didion was born in 1934, the same year as my father; they were not the Baby Boom generation. Didion made that observation in 1970, so it wasn’t then as banal as it now strikes us. It seems to me that we are living through a period as tumultuous in its way as the 1960s, though thankfully not one that (so far) features violence in the streets. This is the first time that I, born in 1967, have felt so strongly that the narrative on which many of us grew up no longer applies. Didion’s work has always had in it a sense of impending social collapse. I remember visiting San Francisco back in 2006, a couple of years after having read Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and I found it impossible to trust the blue skies and mild weather as anything but a veil masking doom. Reading that Didion book (cool journalistic accounts of the late 1960s counterculture in the Bay Area) will do that to you. If you’ve ever seen a Didion quote, it’s likely this one from The White Album:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
We have to learn to tell ourselves a different story in order to live through this time without losing ourselves. Or, to put a fine point on it for us Christians, we have to learn how to tell ourselves the old stories in a different way, if we want to hold on to them at all. The story that sustains faith in Roy Moore despite everything is a lie. There is no future to be built upon it. But that’s not the only contemporary narrative that contains within it a fatal delusion.
Gang, my MacBook Air took a dive yesterday afternoon as I was trying to install the latest iOS update (High Sierra). I tried everything one is supposed to do to restart it, and ended up taking it to the Genius Bar this afternoon. It’s still there, and may well be there overnight. This is why you haven’t seen any new blog entries or updated comments today. About an hour ago, I borrowed a laptop from my son, and am working on it now. Blogging will be light until I get my Precious back, though.
It is weird and unpleasant for me not to be able to write when I want to write. All day it has felt to me like sleep paralysis: when you are fully conscious but you cannot make your limbs move. That sense of panic. Weird. Seems like the older I get, the more I am defined by my need to write.
Anyway, thanks for your patience.
UPDATE: Just got a call from the Apple store. They’re going to have to erase the entire laptop and reinstall a new system. Fortunately, they were able to drag-and-drop everything from the laptop onto the external hard drive I brought in. Man. Avoid High Sierra if you can, and if you must update to it, make certain that you have backed up everything on your hard drive to an external hard drive before starting the update.
Nearly 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals said in a new poll that they are more likely to vote for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
A JMC analytics poll found that 37 percent of evangelicals surveyed said the allegations make them more likely to vote for the GOP Senate candidate in the upcoming election.
Just 28 percent said the allegations made them less likely to vote for Moore and 34 percent said the allegations made no difference in their decision.
So, while national Republicans are cutting themselves off from Moore, Alabama Evangelicals are either doubling down on him or don’t care — 71 percent in all. Sen. Pat Toomey today repudiated Moore, saying that we will likely never know for sure what happened between Moore and 14-year-old Leigh Corfman, but her accusations of sexual assault are more plausible than Moore’s denials of same — especially given that Moore conceded the other day that earlier in his life, he had a thing for much younger women. I think Toomey is right, and as a conservative Christian, I think it is important to stand up for this woman.
According to the Washington Post today, Moore is doubling down on conservative Evangelicals:
Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama sought to refocus his campaign on the conservative religious ideals most likely to motivate his base voters, dismissing the national firestorm over allegations that he pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Addressing a gathering at the Huntsville Christian Academy in Huntsville, Ala., on Sunday night, the former judge suggested that he was investigating his accusers, threatened to sue The Washington Post and called on the United States to restore its culture by going “back to God.”
“We can be proud of where we came from and where we’re going if we go back to God,” Moore said at his second public event since The Post reported the allegations of misconduct last week.
“If we go back to God, we can be unified again,” he said.
All of this is going to cement in the public’s mind that Evangelical Christians are morally bankrupt. They have learned nothing from the Catholic Church’s gutting of its own moral credibility because of its own sex abuse scandal. It is possible — unlikely, in my view, but possible — that Roy Moore is not guilty of what Corfman alleges. But the fact that so many of his Alabama Evangelical supporters are willing to stand by him anyway is a fact that will be devastating in ways that they cannot grasp.
Maybe Roy Moore did it. But I have to tell you that the pile on and rush to condemn and destroy the man increasingly strikes me as more politically motivated than based on the allegations, which just provide a nice cover.
If Roy Moore did do to a 14 year old as he is accused of, he should quit the race. (and the alleged victim’s prior unwillingness to tell her story does, in my mind, tend to boost her credibility) But how does Roy Moore go about proving his innocence? We’re to demand he drop out of the race and just disappear whether he is innocent or guilty? I know most of you would like that, but then you all hated him to begin with. When a man is piled on top of by the press and his political enemies at the most opportune moment in the most convenient way to capture national attention and shut down the Bannonite rebellion you’re all opposed to, I think we need to slow down and ask if it is fair. And I’m not sure it is.
I agree with Erickson’s point that one’s reaction to the Moore accusations likely depends on one’s pre-existing opinions of the man, and that it’s worth examining oneself to discern one’s motives on that front. Mostly, though, this is confused thinking. Erickson (who’s a friend of mine) seems to accept the credibility of Corfman, but wants to give Moore the benefit of the doubt because the claim is politically convenient for Democrats and establishment Republicans. It is certainly true that the timing of the Corfman allegation is convenient for Moore haters. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.
Corfman is a Trump supporter, so she has no ideological axe to grind. What does she get out of making these accusations against Moore? Seems to me that she had nothing to gain except hatred and grief, which lots of conservative Alabamians and others are piling onto her. Why didn’t she come out earlier? Look around you at how she’s being treated. Besides, if you have spent any time talking to sex abuse victims, especially if they were kids when the abuse happened, you have no trouble at all understanding why they stay quiet for years. It could be that Corfman felt emboldened by what’s been happening since the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke — in the same way that scores of victims of Catholic priest sexual abuse came forward after the dam broke in Boston.
This does not make Corfman’s allegations true, but it does offer a plausible non-political explanation for why she didn’t come out until now. Also, she didn’t seek out the media to peddle her story. The Post found her. Had any reporter approached her during one of Moore’s earlier races, perhaps she would have come forward, or perhaps not. Roy Moore was a powerful man in Alabama — and still is, judging by the backlash against her for speaking out.
I’m not a fan of Mitch McConnell, and arguably he made this Roy Moore mess for himself by backing Luther Strange over the much more electable Mo Brooks in the GOP primary. That said, McConnell this morning called on Moore to drop out of the race, saying that he believes the accusers. McConnell surely knows that a Roy Moore victory would be a bigger headache for the GOP going into the 2018 elections than a Roy Moore loss. From a Democratic perspective, Moore is the Platonic ideal of a Republican poster boy in 2018. Moore is an anchor that every Democratic candidate for House and Senate will attempt to tie around the necks of Republicans, who are going to face a daunting battle anyway to keep the House.
They face a much easier task in the Senate, given that the GOP only has to defend eight seats, while Democrats have to defend 25. Still, with the political landscape so unsettled, you don’t want to take any chances. The thing that religious and social conservative voters care most about, Supreme Court appointments, depend on having a Republican Senate and a Republican president to go through. Losing the Senate in 2018 might well mean that Trump would get no SCOTUS picks through until after the 2020 election (the Dems will remember Merrick Garland). And even if the Republicans keep the Senate, if Roy Moore is sitting in it, Trump is going to have a hell of challenge getting any social conservative approved by the Senate, because Republican senators coming up for re-election in 2020 will not be eager to open themselves up to attack on that front.
And think for a moment about how Roy Moore will become in the eyes of many Americans — not only liberal ones! — the symbol of politically engaged religious conservatives. Of course it won’t be fair, but you know that it’ll be coming if he wins.
The point is that Roy Moore in the Senate will likely hurt the political causes favored by religious conservatives for reasons many of them are not grasping now, because they’re yielding to tribal emotions. Backing Roy Moore to stick it to the liberals is like smashing your Keurig to show solidarity with Sean Hannity, and then wondering why its harder to find a cup of coffee around your house the next morning.
But that’s politics. What I care about much more than politics is the church.
It is shocking that you don’t see most Evangelical Christians in Alabama saying that they are troubled by these allegations, and calling on Roy Moore to provide a more convincing defense of himself, or drop out. The idea that such an allegation against a Senatorial candidate, especially one whose entire public persona is based on defending traditional Christian values, is of no consequence to 34 percent of Alabama Evangelical voters, and that 37 percent are more likely to vote for him because of these allegations — well, it’s shocking. The “more likely” voters aren’t saying that because they would think better of Moore if he did go after a 14-year-old. They are saying that because if liberals hate Moore, they love him even more.
That is moral corruption. That is loving worldly power over righteousness. For confessed Christians to take this stand is many things, but it is at the very least deeply damaging to their public witness. And not just their public witness, but the public witness of all conservative Christians.
Take a look at excerpts from this op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The author is Kathryn Brightbill:
We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.
I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms. That’s how I was introduced to these relationships as a home-schooled teenager in the 1990s, and it’s the language that my friends and I would use to discuss girls we knew who were in parent-sanctioned relationships with older men.
The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem. It’s a Christian fundamentalist problem. Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, who leads the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment), believes that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant communities is on par with that in the Catholic Church.
The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse. We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention. Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue. It isn’t.
OK, wait. I completely agree with her that this is a problem, and it ought to be confronted and dealt with. I have written myself critically of Doug Wilson, mentioned by Brightbill in her piece, and the way he has handled these matters within his community. I feel very strongly about this stuff. But it is massively unfair to blame all Evangelicals for the actions of some.
More than one-third of all Christians in America are Evangelicals. It is vitally important to understand that “Evangelical” is NOT a synonym for “fundamentalist.” All fundamentalists are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals are fundamentalists. Click on that link for a more detailed explanation. Fundamentalists are very strict Evangelicals who tend to be separatist and hard-edged. No matter where you live and work, you probably know at least one Evangelical. But it’s less likely that you know any fundamentalists. Brightbill, at the end of her op-ed, recognizes a difference between Evangelicals and fundamentalists, but she conflates the two in her lede. I’m pretty sure that most readers do not understand the difference, and think they’re all the same.
My knowledge of Evangelical culture is admittedly superficial, but I would be absolutely shocked if any of the Evangelicals I know personally practice or approved of the kind of creepy pedo-patriarchalism Brightbill discusses in her piece. Brightbill is a progressive Evangelical who was a homeschooled fundamentalist in the 1980s and 1990s, and who says that she had a great experience with homeschooling. She makes it clear in her statement that not all homeschoolers are bad actors, but some are, and that they need to be confronted and exposed. I believe her, and agree with her on that point. Believe me, as a member of a family who has been doing homeschooling in some form for over a decade, few people hate those who abuse homeschooling in the ways Brightbill says more than responsible homeschoolers do. That’s because we know that people who have a deep suspicion or loathing of homeschooling think we’re all like that. We’re not — not even close. But yes, some are, and it is our responsibility to police our own ranks to the extent that that is possible.
Still, the Washington Post just published a good piece putting the “child bride” culture in historical and religious context. In an agrarian context — and America used to be an agrarian nation — it makes sense for women to marry much earlier, and men to marry later. But we have not lived in that kind of culture for a very long time. Key excerpts:
The culture of courting that Easter and Brightbill described is one limited mostly to fundamentalist religious communities, including certain Christian groups and those of other religions, such as some Orthodox Jewish or Mormon communities. For most evangelical Christians, relationships between older men and teenage girls are viewed as wholly inappropriate.
See that? Most Evangelicals strongly reject this, and only “certain” groups within fundamentalist circles practice this. As for Moore:
Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies marriage and families in the United States, said that while people tended to date and marry younger in the 1970s, when Moore allegedly was dating teenagers, an age gap such as that between Moore and the girls would still have been highly unusual. “In the South, in general, younger marriages would have been more common. But we’re talking here about … teenagers going steady in high school — maybe a year or two or three between him and her,” Wilcox said. “You don’t have 30-year-old guys dating a 14-year-old. It may have happened in some occasional context, but it would not have been a cultural norm.”
He said the reaction of most Southern evangelical communities would be “extraordinarily negative. … I would imagine a shotgun involved.”
Right, and it is hard for me to imagine that in 1970s Alabama, a 32-year-old man courting a 14-year-old girl would be taken as business-as-usual. I’m willing to cut Moore slack on the older teenagers, but the 14-year-old was sick stuff, if true. And I believe it is.
Here’s why this Roy Moore thing is going to be a time bomb for conservative Christians.
It is massively important to keep in mind — and I say this as someone who has spent most of his career in the mainstream media — that the prejudices against conservative Christians, especially homeschoolers, are enormous. This is not news to most conservative Christians, I know, but what many may not appreciate is how liberals and moderates are prepared to weaponize those prejudices in an attempt to take away our liberties. If we give them reason to believe that all, or most, of us don’t care about sexual abuse and corruption as long as it helps us to get power, you can be very sure that they will come after us all when they come back to power.
One of the smartest things that the LGBT movement did was to make advancing gay rights in schools a matter of “safety.” Everybody wants safe schools. Nobody wants any kid to be in danger in school. They conflate safety with approving of homosexuality and transgenderism. If you do not approve of homosexuality or transgenderism, then you must be a supporter of social environments in which LGBT kids are bullied — or so goes the logic.
You watch: people who want to regulate or shut down homeschoolers, restrict religious liberty of conservative believers, or in some other way disempower and marginalize conservative churches in the public square, will seize on things like the Roy Moore case to tar us all. As a practical matter of self-defense in our increasingly anti-Christian culture, we have no choice.
Beyond that — and most important of all — if we want to maintain our credibility of the church as a place of moral order, of justice, of healing, of love, and of compassion, we have to be hard on ourselves. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard, and to repent when we fail to meet it. Yes, we will undoubtedly be made to suffer for our beliefs — and that is a blessing, according to Jesus Christ.
But when we suffer for failing to live up to our convictions, then that is a curse — a curse that we will have brought onto ourselves. And we bring it not only onto ourselves, but onto Jesus Christ, insofar as we are supposed to be a reflection of Him.
Too often individual Christians fail to understand this, with public consequences. Back when I was a Catholic, and then shortly after I lost my Catholic faith, well-meaning Catholics were often quick to say that it made no sense for people to leave the Catholic Church, or to turn away from pursuing entry into it, because of the abuse scandal. To them, it was cut-and-dried. All human institutions are bound to fail at some point, they would say, and the failure of priests and bishops say nothing about the truth or falsity of the Church’s claims.
Strictly speaking, they are right. But we are not lawyers or automatons. The all-too-human failures of bishops, priests, and ordinary Catholics affects the ability of people to listen to and to consider objectively the case for Catholicism. How can Catholicism be true, people ask themselves, if this is how Catholics behave?
This is true for every church, my own included. It is not unfair for people outside the church to judge us on how we act. Yes, we are bound to fail, but if we handle failure in the right way, there can be forgiveness. Just think:
An interesting question is what the polls would look like if Roy Moore had immediately confessed, begged forgiveness, and placed himself in the hands of voters.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) November 13, 2017
This, from the Evangelical writer Michael Wear, is worth considering in light of the theological narrowmindedness I identified above. It’s an Evangelical version of same:
So much of evangelicals’ political expression over the last year has been an outflow of this thinking pic.twitter.com/OUno1hzg1Z
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
The reason why some evangelicals are not responding to Roy Moore in the way they should is because it is difficult for them to reconcile the expression of right belief with wrong action.
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
And it some point, “justified by faith” became utilitarian for many. A way to flatten out the human condition, to delineate tribe
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
As I was finishing this long post up, I watched the press conference by the new Roy Moore accuser, Beverly Young Nelson. She gave an excruciatingly graphic depiction of what she says was his attempt to sexually assault her when she was 15 and a waitress at a restaurant frequented by Moore. Accompanied by her lawyer, Gloria Allred, Nelson went on to say that she told people what happened at the time, but she never spoke out publicly because she was afraid of him. But the courage of the other women who spoke about him gave her the strength to speak out.
She identified herself as a Trump voter. She said she is willing to testify under oath against Roy Moore if the Senate holds a hearing (under what authority they would do that, I have no idea). It was an astonishing presser. Excerpts from the timeline of live coverage:
I’m not going to erase everything I wrote before the presser, because it’s still valid. I have no idea how any decent person, especially a Christian, votes for Roy Moore after that press conference. It is possible that he is being falsely accused, but you’d have to have fallen off the turnip truck yesterday and bonked your head to believe that.
Roy Moore is a swine. Christians who support him after these credible accusations are a herd of swine into which the demon of lust for power has entered — and it’s going to run the church off the cliff.
“He said ‘You’re just a child.’ And he said, ‘I am the District Attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you,” accuser Beverly Young-Nelson says Roy Moore told her after the alleged sexual assault. (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/3GZNQqIO0A
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 13, 2017
Nelson says Moore would eat at the restaurant where she worked, flirting and pulling her hair starting when she was 15. He allegedly wrote this in her HS yearbook. pic.twitter.com/MeIrRVPUlb
— Alex Silverman (@AlexSilverman) November 13, 2017
Roy Moore's signature from that 1977 yearbook matches Roy Moore's signature on his US Term Limits pledge this year. pic.twitter.com/4gQz9ytZZX
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) November 13, 2017
Boys as young as five should be able to wear tiaras at school without criticism, teachers in Church of England schools are to be told.
Male pupils should also be free to dress up in a tutu or high heels without attracting any comment or observation, according to anti-bullying rules sent out by the Church yesterday.
The instructions for the CofE’s 4,700 schools said they should not require children to wear uniforms that ‘create difficulty for trans pupils’.
The CofE rules say children in nurseries and the primaries that make up the majority of Church schools should be free to follow their own inclinations when they dress. They state: ‘In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration.
‘Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity … Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment.’
In a foreword to the advice, the Archbishop of Canterbury says: “All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders,self-harm, depression and suicide.
“Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God.
“We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem.”
The Most Rev Justin Welby adds: “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”
Well. Certainly bullying of any sort, of any child, is not to be tolerated. But this goes much too far. Earlier this fall, Welby was asked by an interviewer if he thought gay sex was sinful. He memorably replied, “You know very well that is a question I can’t give a straight answer to. Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through.”
But he can give a straight answer to the question of whether Church of England schools should allow little boys to come to school in dresses. If you disagree with him, then you are a bully, according to the rules of the Church of England.
Meanwhile, Joshua Sutcliffe, a mathematics teacher who is also an ordained pastor is facing discipline, including possibly the loss of his job, for saying, “Well done, girls” to two students in his class. One of those students is a female who identifies as male. Her parents filed a complaint against Sutcliffe, accusing him of “misgendering” their child. More:
The maths teacher, who is also a pastor at the Christ Revelation church in Oxford, said he tried to balance his beliefs with the need to treat the pupil sensitively.
He claimed he did this by avoiding the use of gender-specific pronouns and by referring to the pupil by name.
“While the suggestion that gender is fluid conflicts sharply with my Christian beliefs… I have never looked to impose my convictions on others”, he said
He said he had apologised to the student, but said he did not consider it “unreasonable” to call someone a girl “if they were born a girl”.
He apologized to the kid for saying what he said. But they knew he was a Christian, and that he doesn’t believe in gender fluidity, even though he keeps his views out of the classroom (this was a slip). Yet his job is now on the line. The school was apparently not a Church of England school, but still, the Church of England ought to be defending this fellow Christian. Even if it had been a C of E school, I suppose under the new guidelines they would still be throwing the poor man to the lions.
A highly-regarded adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has quit the inner counsels of the Church of England in protest against an “agenda of revisionism” that she says is promoting “an ongoing and rapid erosion of faithfulness.
Lorna Ashworth resigned from the Archbishops’ Council and General Synod, saying: “We have a liberal agenda because the church is not anchored in the Gospel. There is no more conversation about Heaven, Hell, sin, forgiveness, judgment.
Her resignation illustrates the fissure in the church between liberals and traditionalists which is now threatening outright schism. The immediate flashpoints are gender and gay issues. Last July, the synod voted to ban sexual conversion therapy and to consider special services for transsexual people. A motion to permit the blessing of same-sex marriages has been submitted for next February’s synod but has yet to be adopted for debate.
Back in 2012, John Derbyshire was fired by National Review for this column in Taki’s Magazine in which he listed the things he told his children so that they could protect themselves from black violence.
Now, in 2017, The New York Times publishes an essay by Ekow N. Yankah, a Manhattan-based law professor, saying … well, read these excerpts:
As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.
“Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe… .”
That is the black version of what John Derbyshire said.
Yankah says it’s Trump’s fault:
Of course, the rise of this president has broken bonds on all sides. But for people of color the stakes are different. Imagining we can now be friends across this political line is asking us to ignore our safety and that of our children, to abandon personal regard and self-worth. Only white people can cordon off Mr. Trump’s political meaning, ignore the “unpleasantness” from a position of safety. His election and the year that has followed have fixed the awful thought in my mind too familiar to black Americans: “You can’t trust these people.”
It’s true that 58 percent of white voters voted for Donald Trump. I didn’t, but I know plenty of people who did, and the idea that these people are a physical threat to black people is hysterical. There were lots of reasons people voted for Trump. According to this post-election research published in The Atlantic, the white working class voters who provided the margin of victory for Trump voted for him not to spite black people, who weren’t even on their radar. They voted Trump out of 1) anxiety about cultural change; 2) opposition to immigration; and 3) what they regard as for them, the end of the American dream (defined as “if you study and get a college education and work hard, you can get ahead”).
According to NBC News’s exit polling, Trump did better among blacks and Hispanics than good old decent Mitt Romney. Of course Romney was running against a black president, but still, Trump drew eight percent of the black vote, and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote. My point is simply this: there was a lot more going on in the Trump election than race. Using Yankow’s logic, conservative Christians who felt directly threatened by Hillary Clinton’s policies should withhold their friendship from people who voted for her, because you can’t trust those people.
That would be crazy. Still, Yankow says to Trump voters: “I assure you we cannot be friends.” And that’s not all he says:
For African-Americans, race has become a proxy not just for politics but also for decency. White faces are swept together, ominous anxiety behind every chance encounter at the airport or smiling white cashier. If they are not clearly allies, they will seem unsafe to me.
Sure they will, Professor Yankow, because you are a racist.
So, let me get this straight: The New York Times published an op-ed by a black man who says that all white people look alike, and seem like they are a threat, even if they treat him kindly. If a white man wrote a column saying that all black people look alike, and seem like a threat to him, even if they treat him kindly, do you think The New York Times would publish it? The question is absurd.
One more bit from the racist pomposity of Prof. Yankow, who earlier in the piece denies that he writes with “liberal condescension”:
We can still all pretend we are friends. If meaningful civic friendship is impossible, we can make do with mere civility — sharing drinks and watching the game. Indeed, even in Donald Trump’s America, I have not given up on being friends with all white people.
What a jerk. Why would any white person want to spend time with a guy who thinks he’s doing them a favor by granting them the absolution of his friendship? “If [particular whites] are not clearly allies, they will seem unsafe to me,” he writes. How does a white person signal clear allyship? Why should any white person take the risk of being friends with this guy, knowing that if she says something that offends him politically, he will immediately consider her a racist threat, and withdraw friendship?
How threatening is this law professor’s living and work environment, really? Ekow N. Yankah, graduate not of Baton Rouge Community College, but of Columbia and Oxford, teaches law at Yeshiva University. He lives in the West Village, one of the most bourgeois liberal neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Here’s how New York City voted in the 2016 presidential election. Eighty-six percent of Manhattan voters went for Clinton over Trump. In New York City overall, the Clinton vote was 79 percent. The only one of the five boroughs in which Clinton didn’t get at least 75 percent of the vote was Staten Island, which gave Trump 57 percent of its votes.
Staten Island is separated from Manhattan by a miles-wide stretch of water. Observe below. Where it says “St. George,” that’s the upper tip of Staten Island. Manhattan is the peninsula in the upper right hand of this map detail. That’s a long way for Tony Manero’s mullet-wearing grandsons to have to swim to threaten Prof. Yankah’s body:
Prof. Yankah’s law school is in the West Village, as is his home. It’s a ten-minute walk from his home to his office. Are we supposed to believe that Prof. Yankah assumes that every white person he meets in his daily life in one of the most famously liberal quarters in the United States is guilty of crypto-Kluckery unless proven otherwise?
That column was a manifestation of hysterical anti-white racism. But because it was written by a black person who is also one of Manhattan’s elites, it found its way into the pages of The New York Times, a publication that can be profitably read as a field guide to the social psychoses of America’s liberal elites. Maybe some crotchety old white lady will push Yankah in line at the Angelika,, which will put him one Times op-ed away from a MacArthur Genius Grant.
You know what? Many white people who might have been Prof. Yankah’s friend will now choose to keep away from him, because they feel judged by him, or they will be afraid to speak around him. He will take that as a further sign of racism. And if white children shun the Yankah children because their father has taught them that whites are not to be trusted or befriended, the Yankah kids will understandably take that as a sign that their father was right. Well done, Dad, well done.
John Derbyshire lost his job at a leading conservative magazine because he wrote a column on another website detailing his strategy for helping his children protect their Sino-Anglo bodies (Derb is a British-born man married to a Chinese-born woman) from violent black people. I didn’t see that Derb left NR editor Rich Lowry much choice but to fire him. Some things you simply cannot publish without serious consequence, even if they express honestly your fears, well-grounded or not. If you’re white, that is. But if you’re black, you can submit a column to The New York Times saying that all white people are violent racists unless proven otherwise, and that blacks should not be friends with whites, and it will be published, because that is what it means to be a right proper American liberal in 2017.
Imagine what it will now feel like to be a white student in Prof. Yankah’s law class. Do you feel compelled to declare yourself an “ally” of your professor the next time class convenes, out of fear that if you don’t, he will see you as a potentially violent threat, by virtue of your skin color? How can a white student not fear that Yankah will punish him on his grades because of his (Yankah’s) anti-white prejudice — which the law professor stated in the pages of The New York Times? In liberal colleges and universities across this country, conservative professors are being harassed and even driven out by left-wing militants who see racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigoted aggression in the mildest expressions of dissent from the Social Justice Warrior line. But law professor Ekow N. Yankah, graduate of the Ivy League and Oxbridge, resident of one of the most privileged neighborhoods in America, gets to shout his actual racism from the rooftops, so to speak, and you watch: if anything, he’ll be lionized for his “bravery.”
I keep saying that the Left’s obsession with identity politics is legitimizing white nationalists and other unsavories of the alt-right. This is a perfect example of it. Donald Trump really is driving Americans apart on the basis of race and other forms of identity politics — and so is The New York Times. But not all its readers. I offer you the common sense of David H. Eisenberg of Smithtown, NY, who left this comment under the Yankah column:
The article illustrates two sad things. One is the shift in what once was a civil rights movement from the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. that people be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin to one that seeks to solely judge others by skin color and a sense of victimization second to none. There is more than one of these articles in today’s NY Times.
The second is the hysteria over Trump that seeks to bring him into every subject and blame him for everything. Whatever delusions Democrats had about Bush (2.0) and Republicans about Obama, the delusions about Trump in articles and comments is, if not unprecedented, were never so extreme in a long, long time (I say this, despite the fact that I also find Trump completely unsuitable to be president). I’ve read articles or claims where people believe that they can’t have a relationship because of Trump or that they have to medicate themselves b/c of him. I can feel sorry for these people and their kids who will learn hatred from them, except when they become part of the “resistance” and take part, support or even ignore the prejudicial, police-hating, window breaking, car burning, political rally interrupting, first amendment destroying “protesters” on their side, as if it is somehow justifiable if the president is bigoted. They are 10 times more frightening than Trump whatever their skin color.
Yes, and their race and class hatred is calling up more of the same from the fever swamps of the Right. They will never, ever see it.
On the way to Houston on Friday evening, I finished Patrick Deneen’s extremely impressive forthcoming book Why Liberalism Failed, which will be published on January 9, 2018. There’s not a wasted sentence in the whole thing. In fact, I think it is certain to be one of the most important political books of the year. There’s material in there to shake up the certainties of both left and right. The understanding that Deneen, a political theorist who teaches at Notre Dame, brings to his analysis of why liberal democracy is careening into crisis, is piercing, even radical.
I won’t say much more about it here, because I want to wait until the book is out. But Deneen’s argument is so incisive and clarifying that I revised the Benedict Option speech I delivered on Saturday morning, to incorporate some of Deneen’s insights. Why Liberalism Failed helped me understand my own book and project more deeply.
By “liberalism,” he’s not talking about progressivism, or the politics of the Democratic Party alone. He’s talking about the entire system within which we live, and that has evolved in the modern era to this point. Deneen’s argument is essentially that liberalism failed because it succeeded so well in what it set out to do: liberate the consciousness of individuals from any restraints that inhibit their autonomous choice. To be clear, Deneen does not say that liberalism has been a bad thing; in fact, he says it is simply dishonest to ignore the very good things that have come out of liberalism, and that it is absurd to speak of the pre-liberal past as a golden age to which it would be possible to return. That said, his book interprets the systemic crisis we’re in now, and which he believes (quite correctly) is going to get much worse, because the center cannot hold.
I’ll hold back on saying what Deneen says we need to be working toward as liberalism collapses around us, and — listen up! — I don’t want readers to speculate too much on Deneen’s argument here. It wouldn’t be fair to him, because I’ve not laid out his case here. I give you all this prefatory commentary as background to what I’m about to say about American politics and culture in this moment.
The heart of Deneen’s book is a chapter discussing liberalism as “anticulture.” Drawing a contrast between the political theory that emerged in classical culture, and that prevailed in some form in the West until the Renaissance ushered in the modern era, Deneen shows that liberalism depends on a fundamentally different anthropology. To put it crudely, premodern political thought was based on the belief that man could only be fully human if he learned how to restrain his base passions so that he could grow in virtue. Modern man — “modern” meaning from Machiavelli to the present day — believed, and believes, that man is fully human when he is free to make his own destiny, unencumbered by any unchosen obligations.
Deneen says that liberalism is a “comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of liberal liberty.” He talks about how Tocqueville worried that people within liberal democracies would eventually be overcome by their individuality that they would forget that they had any obligations to the past or to the future. In time, liberalism might cause people to lose the capacity for self-governance, because they will have become cut off from a sense of being embedded within a culture, a tradition, a past, a future, or anything beyond themselves. In fact, they have to be, if they’re going to become a fully self-determined individual. This is why Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the natural religion for an advanced liberal society. If you’re going to have a religion, it needs to be one that affirms the path one has chosen for oneself, and that buffers the anxieties of living without ultimate meaning and direction.
(Of course it’s a pseudo-religion, a self-help technique disguising itself as a religion, but those who are dedicated to it don’t yet know that. It’ll take another generation or two before it melts into air.)
If you’ve read The Benedict Option, you know that this is one of its main themes. This was already in my Ben Op talk for the Issues, Etc. conference in Houston (Issues, Etc. is the excellent talk radio show produced by
the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod Lutheran Public Radio in Collinsville, IL, and hosted by LCMS Pastor Todd Wilken. The part I rewrote was the section in which I explained why and how this decline in the church and the fragmenting of society is not simply a problem to be solved, but a condition to be lived with for the foreseeable future. The cultural logic of liberalism — the progressive emancipation of the individual from unchosen cultural restraints — is an avalanche sliding down the side of a mountain toward the village below. The only thing to be done, in my view, is to get out of the village, let the avalanche pass, and go back to help the survivors and start the rebuilding.
I gave my talk on Saturday morning, and spent the rest of the day having great conversations with attendees between sessions — conservative Lutherans from all over the country, and even Canada. It always surprises me to find out how much reach The Benedict Option has had. One pastor who oversees a number of smaller Lutheran churches told me he bought a copy for each of the pastors under his oversight. That’s humbling, but more than that, it’s encouraging, because even though I don’t have all the answers to our common dilemma facing this crisis, I think I’m asking the right questions, the kinds that will prompt us small-o orthodox Christians to work out the answers together.
A couple of attendees approached me separately saying that they had not heard of the Benedict Option before my speech, and it sounds like the book articulates something that they had been thinking and feeling for a long time, but had not been able to nail down. I get that a fair amount. Serious Christians who are paying attention to the culture know that something is seriously wrong, something that defies ordinary means of repair. There is something in the air, for sure.
A few people told me that their congregations are really scared. “Scared of what?” I asked. The answers were all some variation on this:
- they’re watching their numbers dwindle and in some particular cases, their congregations die
- they can no longer make sense of the world
- they see the country falling apart morally and otherwise, and don’t know where bottom is
- they once thought getting America back on track was about getting our politics right, but they have lost faith in politics
- they fear for the world their children and grandchildren are going to inherit
- they’ve watched their adult kids leave the faith, and see that their grandchildren won’t have the faith
- they’ve watched adult children of older faithful members of their congregation leave the faith, and worry that if it happened to the children of those good people, it could happen to them with their own children
- they don’t feel ready for what they intuit is coming, but don’t know what to do about it
Not everyone said all of these things, but everyone said more than one of them. One man told me, “I’m old enough to remember the Reagan years. It felt like we were recovering from the craziness of the Sixties and Seventies. America had a lot of self-confidence then, it seemed like. We were all reminded that things were fundamentally sound in our country. This feels a lot different.”
“It’s not like we had no problems then,” he continued. “Everybody was thinking about the Cold War, and nuclear annihilation. That was huge, and it’s impossible to tell young people today what that was like to live with. But even so, you had the sense back then that things were going to work out somehow. I don’t think that anymore.”
I agreed with him, though I hadn’t thought about it that way. I, too, am old enough to remember the Reagan years (I was 12 when Reagan was first sworn in). It really did feel that for all the challenges in American life, that we were up to dealing with them. That we had something more or less solid to work with. It’s not like that anymore. Again, read the work of Christian Smith, especially his 2011 book Lost In Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.
The fundamentals are gone, or nearly gone. We let them get away from us. As I write in The Benedict Option:
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
We are highly unlikely to recover that en masse. I didn’t get this from anyone at the conference, but one recurring critical reaction to the Ben Op concept is to fault it for not having a grand ideological strategy to replace what it criticizes. But Patrick Deneen writes — and I think he’s correct here — that we have to resist the impulse to “devise a new and better political theory.” Rather, he writes, what we need is “not a better theory, but better practices.” His point is that we don’t know what’s going to come after liberalism, but what we can do right now is the restoration of a strong local culture — within households and small communities, and working outward organically. To put it another way, we cannot “save America” any more than St. Benedict could “save Rome,” and at this point, it’s a waste of time to try. But we might be able to save our families, our neighbors, the people in our church and school, and so forth, by changing the way we live. Deneen:
Perhaps there is another way, starting with the efforts of people of goodwill to form distinctive countercultural communities in ways distinct from the deracinated and depersonalized form of life that liberalism seems above all to foster.
Again, I’ll say a lot more about this when Why Liberalism Failed comes out in January. Deneen’s point is the same as Vaclav Havel’s: only by creating a better life can we create a better system. One day, in the distant future, liberalism’s successor will arise, as imperial Rome’s successors eventually did, after a period of great turmoil and confusion. The church, including the monasteries, had a lot to say about the system that emerged, and that continued to develop towards a more humane ideal. If we want it to do so in the future that will be inhabited by our descendants generations from now, we had better act now to build the communities, institutions, and practices that will make faithful hearts more resilient in the times of trial to come.
I’m thinking right now of an attendee yesterday who told me about a congregation she had been a part of. They were collapsing numerically, and they knew it. It frightened them. But they were still clinging to the old ways of doing things, fearing that to give up anything would mean giving up everything. Mind you, these are not progressive Lutherans, and the proposed changes were not by any means to doctrine. I won’t go into more detail out of respect for privacy, but the point is that here was a congregation that knew in its bones that its days were numbered if it kept doing what it was used to doing, but it lacked neither the imagination nor the courage to take radical steps to save itself and to give itself a greater chance at viability in the future. It was less frightening to them to go down with the ship rather than take radical steps to save themselves.
This is a very human thing. Some friends here in south Louisiana, during the great flood of 2016, went to rescue an elderly man and his wife from their soaked mobile home. The friends said it was uninhabitable, that mold was going to take over soon, and so forth. The old couple refused to leave. My friends didn’t have the authority to make them leave, so they left. As the failed rescuers put it to me, it was too scary for that couple to leave what they knew, even though they could see all around them that the flood had effectively destroyed their home, and that it would rot around them, either driving them out or making them so sick that they might die. Yet, there they sat.
This is how it is with a lot of us conservative Christians today.
One attendee told me she had read The Benedict Option when it first came out, and had come to believe that the election of Donald Trump caused a delayed reaction in a large number of conservative Christians. “If Hillary had won,” she said, “I bet these Christians would have been forced to take a good, hard look at how messed up the system is, and to take the kind of actions you talk about in your book.”
But Trump’s unexpected win gave them an out, she said. Now, though, about a year into the Trump presidency, it’s impossible to plausibly deny that he’s not going to make things better. He’s dysfunctional. Both political parties are dysfunctional. Washington is dysfunctional. The media are dysfunctional. People are tribalizing. It’s not going to get better anytime soon, she said, and Christians who are paying attention, even those who had supported Trump (I got the impression that she had been a Trump voter) knew, or ought to know, that there is no real alternative to the Benedict Option.
Well, I agree with that, but it was interesting to hear someone else say it.
At the conference, I got to visit with my friends Mark and Mollie Hemingway, who both gave speeches. The Hemingways are LCMS Lutherans. In the group Q&A session at the end of the event, Mollie brought up the Benedict Option, and said that when she read the book, it made perfect sense to her, because that’s how her Lutheran parents raised her. I loved hearing that, because it underscores Leah Libresco’s point in the book: that the Benedict Option is just the church being the church, and doing what it’s supposed to have been doing all along, but stopped doing.
This is a very important point. From the book:
In my travels in search of the Benedict Option, I found no more complete embodiment of it than the Tipi Loschi, the vigorously orthodox, joyfully countercultural Catholic community in Italy recommended to me by Father Cassian of Norcia. Motoring with Tipi Loschi leader Marco Sermarini through the hills above his city, I asked him how the rest of us could have what his community has discovered.
Start by getting serious about living as Christians, he said. Accept that there can be no middle ground. The Tipi Loschi began as a group of young Catholic men who wanted more out of their faith life than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
“That used to be my life,” said Marco. “I didn’t know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all my life, not just the ‘religious’ part of it. If you recognize that He is the Lord of all, you will order your life in a radically different way.”
What Marco and his friends found, to their great surprise, was that everything they needed to live as faithfully together had been right in front of them all along. “We invented nothing,” he said. “We discovered nothing. We
are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten.”
We had forgotten. Mollie Hemingway’s parents hadn’t forgotten, though. There are plenty of Christians who still remember, and plenty more who went in search of the cultural memory that their parents, and popular culture, erased — and found it. The answers we’re looking for are here, in our tradition. We have to live them, though — not just read about them, but live them. This, I think, is where the Benedict Option concept does add something new: it frames “the church just being the church” in a consciously countercultural — or, as Deneen has it, a “counter-anticultural” — way, positing the church’s way of life as existing in opposition to the dominant American culture. It is also in opposition to liberalism, in both its left-wing and right-wing varieties, because it refuses to believe the nihilistic lie that we are living in an Everlasting Now, and that man is the master of all things.
Liberalism, and the increasingly powerful administrative state that its progress requires, can take a lot of things away from faithful, small-o orthodox Christians. It can take away our business, our jobs, our professional opportunities, our institutions, and more. But it cannot take away our faith, unless through ignorance, cowardice, laziness, or indifference, we let it drift through our fingers. It was so very encouraging to me to meet Lutheran men and women who are determined not to let that happen to them.
UPDATE: We’ll have a fuller discussion of Deneen’s book later, when it’s out, but to clarify: Deneen’s basic point is that liberalism has failed because it succeeded so well in liberating individuals from a sense that they have unchosen obligations to the past, the future, or to each other. The trouble is, you cannot run a society that way. If you contemplate why “social media” ends up making us more isolated and abstracted from reality, despite its intention to connect us more closely, you’ll be on to Deneen’s argument about liberalism’s paradoxes. But again, we’ll talk about that in-depth later. I should add too that Deneen fully acknowledges the great goods that liberalism has given us, and he says it’s not possible or even desirable to go back to the pre-liberal past. Still, liberalism has reached, or is at least very close to reaching, a dead end, for reasons he explains in his book.
I’ve only got a few minutes before I’ve got to head back out the door for a talk in Houston. There’s not nearly enough time for me to address various facets of the Roy Moore situation, as well as the situation with the now-disgraced comedian Louis C.K., a compulsive public masturbator who admitted today that the allegations against him are true. But I want to say a couple of things.
Take a look at the (NSFW) comment the lesbian actress Ellen Page posted to Facebook, alleging vile sexual harassment by director Brett Ratner, who has a reputation for that sort of thing. It’s not just Ratner. She writes:
When I was sixteen a director took me to dinner (a professional obligation and a very common one). He fondled my leg under the table and said, “You have to make the move, I can’t.” I did not make the move and I was fortunate to get away from that situation. It was a painful realization: my safety was not guaranteed at work. An adult authority figure for whom I worked intended to exploit me, physically. I was sexually assaulted by a grip months later. I was asked by a director to sleep with a man in his late twenties and to tell them about it. I did not. This is just what happened during my sixteenth year, a teenager in the entertainment industry.
Look at the history of what’s happened to minors who’ve described sexual abuse in Hollywood. Some of them are no longer with us, lost to substance abuse and suicide. Their victimizers? Still working. Protected even as I write this. You know who they are; they’ve been discussed behind closed doors as often as Weinstein was. If I, a person with significant privilege, remain reluctant and at such risk simply by saying a person’s name, what are the options for those who do not have what I have?
Emphasis mine. Page’s comment is threaded with Social Justice Warrior cant, but you don’t have to buy into it to recognize that she’s talking about something very real. Her remarks ought to put into context the behavior by studios, agencies, and other Hollywood entities reacting to the burgeoning scandal of sex abuse in the film and television industry. I appreciate that some studios and others are taking this stuff more seriously than, say, the Alabama Republican Party — think about that — but they remind me of the Catholic bishops back in 2002 who expressed public shock and contrition for clerical sex abusers which had been outed by the media. Many of these men were knowingly concealing many more, while trying to give the public impression of moral concern and seriousness. It was public relations.
I remember quite specifically watching one high-ranking bishop on national television pulling a long face and talking about how heartbreaking this scandal was, and how the Church just didn’t realize how bad things really were. At the same time, he and his lawyer were trying to throw journalists off the trail of his own extensive history of sexual abuse of adults under his authority. It’s in the same league as Weinstein.
My point is this: don’t be quick to credit Hollywood with taking moral responsibility today. I believe Ellen Page: a lot of powerful men and women know who the abusers are and have been. The only way there will be a semblance of justice done is if enough women (and men) who aren’t in a position of power find the courage and the encouragement to step forward.
I’ve been thinking a lot today about how much this reminds me of the Catholic abuse scandal, which began to break big 15 years ago. Here is an incredible, almost heart-stopping recollection by the swimmer Diana Nyad, about her own sexual abuse as a young teenager by her swimming coach. Excerpt:
I didn’t suffer the Holocaust. I’ve never been through the horrors of war. I don’t paint my youth as tragic, yet I spent every day of my high school years terrified that it would be yet another day that he would summon me after practice, for a humiliating ride in his car or a disgusting hour in the motel down the street. I wasn’t studying with my friends. I wasn’t home with my family. I was clenching my teeth, squeezing my legs tightly together, waiting to breathe again. And I was silent. Always silent. He assured me that what we shared was something special, that my life would collapse if anybody else knew, that this was magic between us. Our special secret.
One spring day, the elite of our team had a light practice, preparing to leave the next day for the nationals in Oklahoma. We were scheduled to spend a few minutes each in private consultation with Coach in his office, to talk over strategies for our races.
When I headed in for my session, I had zero fear of a molestation episode. We were on campus. The other swimmers were chatting right outside.
No sooner had I begun expressing my worry about not having tapered enough, when he flew from behind his desk to behind my chair. He ripped my suit down and grabbed my breasts. He swiftly dragged me into a little bathroom in his office and pushed me up against a single mattress that was propped up in the shower stall. My body knew its response; I went rigid. He pleaded with me to open up, but my survival system was gripped with fear. His eyes glazed with pleasure as he called me his “little bitch.” I recoil at the word to this day. He bucked, panted, drooled and, once again, ejaculated onto my stomach. My breath was short, in my throat, as he bounced back into the office and called out for the next swimmer to come in. Mortified as I exited past that kid, I aimlessly walked out to nowhere. The self-hatred, the welling shame, was all-consuming. I wasn’t an elite athlete of my school, heading off to the United States Nationals the next day. I was inconsequential. Utterly inconsequential.
These molestations were the cornerstone of my teenage life. I studied. I had friends. I won awards. On the outside, I was a bold, overly confident, swaggering success. But the veneer was thin. On the inside, I lived the perpetual trauma of being held down, called misogynist names and ordered to be quiet. I wanted to be anywhere but here, anybody but me.
I was 21 when I told someone the whole horrid saga for the first time. I took a weekend trip to Michigan to celebrate the birthday of my best friend from high school, and every heinous detail, every recounted word, came spewing forth. The relief was palpable. I wept. My friend cried with me, hugged me, took a long pause and said, “Well, Diana, hold on to your hat because the same thing happened to me.” The same coach. The precise same words. The mattress in the office shower stall. The same covert manipulation. The same special secret. And we soon learned that it wasn’t just the two of us. It never is.
Please read the whole thing. It’s important. And read this short account by the conservative Christian writer Nancy French, molested at 12 years old by her pastor. Excerpt:
At 12 years old, I swooned over my good luck. He picked me out of all the girls at church. But the relationship, especially after he moved on, reset my moral compass. If all the church conversation about morality and sexual purity was a lie, what else was fake? Now that the “family of God” felt incestuous, I rejected the church and myself. Didn’t I want the preacher’s attention? Didn’t I cause this? When I careened from faith, I made a series of poor romantic decisions that later almost cost me my life. Still, I couldn’t very well criticize the church because I was an utter emotional mess.
On Thursday, all this came back to me after I read one sentence in The Washington Post. The article was about allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually touched a teenager when he was in his 30s. A sentence from Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time, jumped out at me.
“I felt responsible,” she said. I swallowed back tears as I read the rest. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.” After her life spiraled “with drinking, drugs, boyfriends,” she attempted suicide two years later. In fact, she didn’t come forward earlier because she worried that her three divorces and poor financial history would make people doubt her story.
This is a common effect of sexual abuse on young people. It messes them up in ways they often can’t understand till later. Makes them self-destructive, mostly because they are poisoned by self-loathing. And because they often do things that give them a reputation for instability and worse, they are seen by others as lacking credibility, even if they are telling the truth.
Besides which, victims know well that nobody wants to confront the fact that figures they look up to — clerics, entertainers, sports figures, and so on — are in fact monsters who rape, molest, and degrade the weak, even children. I saw it happen over and over and over in the records of Catholic priests. They didn’t want to believe the accusers because if the accusers were right, then the framework that those people used to make sense of the world was wrong. Therefore, the accusers must be lying, or have been put up to this by enemies of the Good People, et cetera.
Fortunately, we live in a time in which it’s harder for powerful sex abusers to get away with what they do forever. Some do still get away with it, but the odds are better that justice will be done. The reason the Catholic abuse scandal broke so big is because the Internet made it possible to share information. A Boston judge but the trial records into the public record, and it became instantly shareable on the Internet. Reporters and others all over the country were able to see exactly what the Archdiocese of Boston had done for decades, and then started to dig into the records of their local dioceses. Victims became bolder about speaking out. And more of the public were willing to listen.
I wish that the Evangelical church leaders — both national and local — who have been so quick to excuse Donald Trump, and who are not getting on the “defend Roy Moore at all costs” bandwagon, would have the good sense to recognize what the Catholic leadership did to itself with the way it handled the abuse scandal. I’m talking about people like the chancellor of Liberty University:
SHOCKER: Jerry Falwell Jr. is defending Roy Moore pic.twitter.com/U1qHvQDvYf
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) November 10, 2017
What the bishops did — especially in Ireland, but also here — is to severely damage, and even destroy, their moral credibility. This political situation with Trump and Moore is somewhat different, but certainly like enough to take the comparison seriously. I told you this summer that I had been present at a conversation among Evangelical campus ministers and other pastors in Nashville, all of whom told me that they were dealing with a number of young Evangelicals who were disgusted and even thinking of leaving the faith because their parents and their home churches had gone gung-ho for Donald Trump — this, despite his documented lechery. It made the authorities they had looked up to growing up look like frauds.
I remember thinking at the time that it made no sense to me that these young people would leave the church (as opposed to particular congregations) over Trump. But then I thought that this is what a lot of Catholics said to me when I lost my Catholic faith over the scandal. It may not have made sense in the abstract, but it made sense emotionally. The sense of disgust, of rage at the injustice and the hypocrisy, and the inability to trust church authority finally overwhelmed me. I simply did not have it in me to believe as a Catholic anymore.
Back in 2007, Los Angeles Times religion reporter William Lobdell wrote a piece about how covering scandals in the Catholic Church and other Christian churches destroyed his ability to believe in God at all. Excerpt:
“It didn’t look that great,” Stephanie said afterward, wiping tears from her eyes. “It didn’t sound that great … but at least I stood up for myself.”
The judge ruled in the favor of Uribe, then pastor of a large parish in Whittier. After the hearing, when the priest’s attorney discovered I had been there, she ran back into the courtroom and unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to seal the case. I could see why the priest’s lawyer would try to cover it up. People would be shocked at how callously the church dealt with a priest’s illegitimate son who needed money for food and medicine.
My problem was that none of that surprised me anymore.
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.
My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.
Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. It can’t be willed into existence. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.
Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper.
Readers, you’ve heard me say this many times, but I have to say it again: It could happen to you. You think that you’re in control of what you believe, but the day could come — and you might not see it coming (I certainly didn’t) — when you become so angry and alienated from the institutional church that you find yourself unable to believe.
There are things you can do right now to protect yourself, and your faith — and to reach out to protect your friends and their faith. But I am pretty sure that Evangelicalism will lose significant numbers of its younger people over all this tribalism. That would be an enormous tragedy. Who cares if Hollywood studios and talent agencies go down over this? Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people. It’s not such a bad thing, all things considered, if the Republican Party blows itself up. Nor is it such a bad thing if the Democratic Party, which stood tribally by Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, blows itself up.
But the church — now that is something different. Souls are at stake — not only the souls of those so discouraged that they quit believing in God, but all the descendants they may yet father or mother, who may never come to faith because the link in the chain was broken.
The responsibility the Jerry Falwell Jrs of the world will have for that will be enormous. But they don’t think about that. They just think about power. But God is not mocked, not forever.
And these worldly men who claim to speak for Him are freelance ventriloquists for someone else. Don’t forget that.
You men and women who have responsibility for secular and religious institutions, you will be judged. Nothing will remain hidden forever. You had better make it right, and had better do it now, while you can.
Readers, I’m writing this from the Houston airport, where I will shortly be boarding a flight to Baton Rouge. I will be home there for a few hours, then boarding a flight back to Houston. Point is, I will be away from the keys a lot today. It’s hard on a big news day to do this, but hey…
A reader sends in this jaw-dropping story from Bethesda: a church-sponsored preschool is going to start teaching the kids who attend about Jesus, and parents in the affluent DC suburb are horrified:
For as long as anyone can remember, the Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School has been educating young children without including much, or anything, in the way of religious instruction, say numerous parents at the school, some of whom attended when they were children. That secular approach was fine with many at the close-knit school, where families and teachers come from a range of religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds and find harmony in their divergent viewpoints.
But all of that appears primed to change.
The school community was roiled in early October when the Rev. Susan Brown, the pastor at Concord-St. Andrew’s Church, told the school’s director that beginning next academic year, “all classes will incorporate age-appropriate Christian lessons in their daily activities,” according to a letter sent to parents.
“It feels like a crusade where they’re trying to bring God to the godless nursery school,” said Kate Mueller, who is Catholic and has a 3-year-old daughter in the school. “It took so much time and energy and devotion to build what is there now, and now it’s being stomped on.”
It’s a Methodist school, but the decision by the church that runs it to make the school more Methodist is being called, get this, “un-Christian” by a non-Christian:
Darren Higgins, who has a 4-year-old at the school and describes himself as nonreligious, said a compromise at this point would not make much of a difference. He and his wife, who attended the cooperative when she was a toddler, still plan to take their child out of the school and will not send their newborn there, either.
“We wanted to give the church the benefit of the doubt, but the way the church went about it was, in short, a very un-Christian thing to do,” Higgins said. “In truth, bridges have been burned. If they wanted to resolve this amicably, it would have been a fairly easy discussion to have.
“A breach of trust has occurred.”
This change won’t take place until the fall of 2018; the school is giving the parents a year to prepare. It’s the gall of that Christian school, wanting to teach kids about Jesus! And the fact that these rich parents don’t even see how ridiculous their complaining is — man, what a world.
So. I was out of touch all day in Atlanta, gave a talk last night, came back to the house and … well, hello Judge Roy Moore.
Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.
“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.
Corfman was 14. Moore was 32. More from the Washington Post scoop:
This account is based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982, when he served as an assistant district attorney for Etowah County in northern Alabama, where he grew up.
She says she talked to Moore on her phone in her bedroom, and they made plans for him to pick her up at Alcott Road and Riley Street, around the corner from her house.
“I was kind of giddy, excited, you know? An older guy, you know?” Corfman says, adding that her only sexual experience at that point had been kissing boys her age.
She says that it was dark and cold when he picked her up, and that she thought they were going out to eat. Instead, she says, he drove her to his house, which seemed “far, far away.”
“I remember the further I got from my house, the more nervous I got,” Corfman says.
She remembers an unpaved driveway. She remembers going inside and him giving her alcohol on this visit or the next, and that at some point she told him she was 14. She says they sat and talked. She remembers that Moore told her she was pretty, put his arm around her and kissed her, and that she began to feel nervous and asked him to take her home, which she says he did.
Soon after, she says, he called again, and picked her up again at the same spot.
“This was a new experience, and it was exciting and fun and scary,” Corfman says, explaining why she went back. “It was just like this roller-coaster ride you’ve not been on.”
She says that Moore drove her back to the same house after dark, and that before long she was lying on a blanket on the floor. She remembers Moore disappearing into another room and coming out with nothing on but “tight white” underwear.
She remembers that Moore kissed her, that he took off her pants and shirt, and that he touched her through her bra and underpants. She says that he guided her hand to his underwear and that she yanked her hand back.
“I wasn’t ready for that — I had never put my hand on a man’s penis, much less an erect one,” Corfman says.
She remembers thinking, “I don’t want to do this” and “I need to get out of here.” She says that she got dressed and asked Moore to take her home, and that he did.
Asked whether or not the report would upend Moore’s campaign, Ziegler predicted that Alabama voters would be angrier at the Washington Post for “desperately trying to get something negative” than Moore for his dalliances with teenage girls decades ago.
“He’s clean as a hound’s tooth,” Ziegler claimed, before relying on Scripture to defend Moore.
“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Where do you even start with that? It’s okay for a 32 year old man to fondle a 14 year old girl because St. Joseph supposedly did it to the Virgin Mary? What a blasphemous cretin that Ziegler is.
Or this cheap pandering to Christian conservatives?
The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal –– even inflict physical harm –– if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me. (2/4) #ALSen
— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) November 9, 2017
Daniel Dale called a few of the GOP county chairmen in Alabama. This is the kind of answers he got:
“It was 40 years ago,” Alabama Marion County GOP chair David Hall tells me. “I really don’t see the relevance of it. He was 32. She was supposedly 14. She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
“Yeah!” Covington County GOP Chairman William Blocker tells me he’d consider voting Moore even if hard proof of sexual abuse emerged.
“There is NO option to support to support Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee. When you do that, you are supporting the entire Democrat party.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
To which a reader responds:
We have descended to the point where it is better to see a pedophile in office than elect a Democrat. I weep for our country.
I don’t weep. I am still in a state of shock. But I shouldn’t be. If the allegations against Moore are true, obviously he should withdraw from the race. Doesn’t sound like he would — and he might even win. In that event, Democrats will make him the GOP poster child in the 2018 election, and the GOP will deserve it.
Here’s what I don’t get: the eagerness of so many conservatives at this point to double down on defending Moore — this, versus the “wait and see” stance. We already know that credible allegations of sexual predation don’t matter to most Republican voters. In order to believe that Moore is not guilty of something serious in this matter, you have to believe that four women are lying, as well as people those women told at the time what had happened. You have to believe that the woman making the worst allegations — on the record, by the way — is out to get Roy Moore, even though she was a Trump voter in 2016. Again, none of this proves anything, but if Alabama Republican voters put Roy Moore in office, and the Senate seats him, it’s going to be a massacre for Republicans on Election Day 2018.
But: if Moore is elected and the Senate refuses to seat him, think about how vicious the Trumpist base will be in seeking retribution. The White House has called on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true. Alabama voters didn’t listen to Trump during the primary, choosing Moore over the candidate Trump endorsed. So we’ll see.
I think Mitch McConnell must have one of the world’s worst job.
Look, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care if the accusations against Roy Moore are true, that all that matters is defeating the Democrat, then you have allowed tribalism to destroy your moral sense. That’s not something you can recover from easily.
I see from my social media feeds that Catholic friends of mine are disappointed that the University of Notre Dame, under no government compulsion, decided to offer free birth control coverage to its employees. I understand their distress, but let me tell you some good — no, great — news about Notre Dame.
As regular readers know, I recently spent a couple of days on campus, the guest of the university’s Tocqueville Program on religion and public life. I had a terrific time, and came away extremely impressed by the students in the program. Most of them were (are) faithful Catholics or other Christians, sharply intelligent, and engaged with the big questions.
But here’s the thing: I met one young man who identifies as an agnostic, and another who suggested that he was probably “the first black liberal atheist” that I’ve ever met. We had a laugh over that, but here’s the thing: in conversation, I found that those guys who aren’t sure if they believe in God, or deny the existence of God, took theology far more seriously than most believers I know, and displayed an admirably honest sense of inquiry.
I sat at a table and listened to a conversation between the atheist and a visiting Dominican priest. It was deep and substantive. The Dominican — Father Dominic Legge of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC — took the student’s questions seriously, and gave him answers. It was thrilling, to be honest.
I learned that Catholic and other Christians students who want to have a serious and sustained engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition, both in and out of class, can find their tribe at Notre Dame. Yes, it’s easy to find nominal Catholics at a university that big. But if you’re serious about your faith and the life of the mind, there’s a home for you among professors and students at Notre Dame — especially in the Tocqueville Program. It’s important to remember that. There is hope.
Writing in the latest edition of the Italian Catholic magazine Il Timone, Messori took as a point of reference the Polish Jewish sociologist Zygmut Bauman who first introduced the idea of “liquid modernity.”
Bauman observed that the general trait of individualistic modern man is to flow through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and even sexual orientation and gender. Bauman said the modern tendency is to exclude oneself from traditional networks of support, while at the same time freeing oneself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.
This trend towards such unbridled individualism has created societies in which “everything is unstable and changeable,” Messori noted, and referred to the “rapid change” not only in sexual behaviour but also in politics where legislators have given up on long term governance.
Quoting Bauman, he said it is becoming acceptable that “change” is the “only permanent thing” and that “uncertainty” has become the “only certainty.”
But he said this attitude has also afflicted the area of religion and the believer is now “disturbed by the fact that even the Catholic Church — which was an age-old example of stability — seems to want to become ‘liquid’ as well.”
Read the whole thing. As readers of The Benedict Option know, “liquid modernity” is a key concept I draw on for my analysis and prescription. In light of Messori’s commentary, I suppose it makes more sense that the Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a top adviser to Pope Francis, condemned the Benedict Option as incompatible with Francis’s vision.
Along these lines, R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, has some very blunt things to say about the Catholic Church (he’s a Catholic) and its accommodation to liquid modernity. It’s the second item on the list. Excerpt:
This papacy is not hard to figure out. Pope Francis and his associates echo the pieties and self-complimenting utopianism of progressives. That’s not surprising. The Jesuit charism is multifaceted and powerful. I count myself among those profoundly influenced by the spiritual genius of St. Ignatius. Yet there’s no disputing that for centuries Jesuits have shown great talent in adjusting the gospel to suit the powerful. And so, I think the European establishment can count on the Vatican to denounce the populism currently threatening its hold on power. I predict that this papacy will be a great defender of migrants and refugees—until political pressures on the European ruling class become so great that it shifts and becomes more “realistic,” at which point the Vatican will shift as well. What is presently denounced will be permitted; what is presently permitted will be denounced.
Adjustment, trimming of sails, and accommodation are inevitable. The Catholic Church is not set up to be countercultural. Catholicism, at least in the West, has establishment in its DNA. But this papacy is uniquely invertebrate. I can identify no consistent theological structure other than a vague Rahnerianism and post–Vatican II sign-of-the-times temporizing. This makes Francis a purely political pope, or at least very nearly so. No doubt he has an evangelical heart. But ever the Jesuit, he seems to regard every aspect of the Church’s tradition as a plastic instrument to be stiffened here or relaxed there in accord with ever-changing pastoral judgments.
This will not end well. The West has seen a long season of loosening, opening up, and deconsolidation, of which the sexual revolution is but a part. Our establishment is committed to sustaining this consensus. This is why it has been at war with Catholic intransigence, which is based on the Church’s insistence that she answer to timeless, unchanging, and demanding truths. It’s foolish for the papacy to make a peace treaty with this establishment consensus. It’s theologically unworkable. It’s also politically inept. For the establishment consensus is failing, and that includes the sexual revolution, which made many promises that were not fulfilled.
I remember entering the Catholic Church in 1993, thinking that yes, it had its problems, but it was a solid rock on which to stand. It’s only after I came into Catholicism that I fully realized that whatever the Church was on paper, in actuality, all the struggles of liquid modernity were also taking place within the Church. There is no escaping them. But when my local parishes and pastors were squishy and compromising, at least I could look to Rome and the papacy to hold the line. You can’t do that anymore. And that is a nearly catastrophic loss.
Still, it is helpful for any convert to any form of Christianity to know that there is no truly safe harbor. There are safer harbors — Roman Catholicism is one of them, I’d say — but no place is truly safe. I’ll be writing later today about my own branch of the Christian faith, Orthodoxy, and what some new Pew Research says about its condition today. I’d say that Orthodoxy is the safest of all the safer harbors, but again, if anyone outside the faith thinks they are going to escape the deluge by taking refuge in the Orthodox Church, or any Church, they’re deceiving themselves. The best you can do is to embrace a form of Christianity that is deeply rooted in the past, and is more likely to resist the currents of popular opinion. Regrettably, this papacy seems to be working hard to dissolve the steadfast resistance that Rome gave in principle (if not always in reality, at the local level) to liquid modernity.