Rod Dreher

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Trump Is The GOP, And The GOP Is Trump

Rudolf Hess, 1934 (Screenshot from Triumph of the Will)

At the end of Adolf Hitler’s 1934 Nuremberg rally speech, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess took the podium and declared:

“The Party is Hitler! But Hitler is Germany, as Germany is Hitler!”

You can watch it in this subtitled clip from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. If you don’t want to sit through Hitler’s speech, fast-forward to the 10:15 mark to hear Hess. You see what’s happening here: the identification of the Nazi Party with the person of Adolf Hitler, and the person of Adolf Hitler with the German nation, was made manifest and complete.

At the risk of going overly Godwin, those Hess lines came to mind when I read this Politico story about CPAC, in particular, this quote:

“In many ways, Donald Trump is the conservative movement right now,” Jim McLaughlin, the Republican pollster who conducted the survey, told CPAC attendees. “And the conservative movement is Donald Trump.”

The story, by Tim Alberta, is about how thoroughly Donald Trump has conquered movement conservatism. Alberta goes on:

To spend three days at this year’s CPAC, the annual right-wing carnival of politics and culture, was to witness an ideology conforming to an individual rather than the other way around. The president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, set the tone Thursday morning when asked to assess Trump’s impact on the conservative movement. “Well, I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC,” she said. The moderator laughed and so did the audience members, but it wasn’t a joke: Anyone searching for a brand of conservatism independent of the new president would have walked away sorely disappointed.

More:

To some extent, everyone expected to see Trump remake the Republican Party in his image; he became its leader upon clinching the presidential nomination last July and solidified that status for at least four years on November 8. But Trump was not supposed to bend conservatism to his will—at least, not this quickly. Certainly, he has thrilled the GOP grassroots with certain decisions, such as signing executive orders aimed at deregulation, beginning a crackdown on illegal immigration and nominating an originalist in Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But he has also done other things—facilitating a deal with Carrier in Indiana that smacked of crony capitalism; bullying private corporations and individual citizens; declaring reporters the enemy of the American public; asserting a moral equivalence between the U.S. government and Vladimir Putin’s – that would typically put any politician in the crosshairs of the right.

Trump, however, has encountered scant dissent from his party’s ideological base. So he came to CPAC not to pay homage to the traditions of conservatism, but to bask in the supremacy of his own movement, one that he and his allies believe will supplant the outdated orthodoxies peddled for decades by the very people who greeted him like a conquering hero on Friday morning.

Read the whole thing.  What is astonishing is a) how quickly ideological conservatism has collapsed within the core of movement conservatism, and b) how Trump has filled the vacuum with his own personality. Alberta:

It wasn’t just the ubiquitous deification of Trump that was so jarring. It was the degree to which his worldview was accepted, championed and cheered by conservative speakers and attendees with no obvious connection to the new president.

It can’t be a complete surprise that the basic catechism of movement conservatism has lost the loyalty of the faithful. The Iraq War and the financial crash revealed the bankruptcy of GOP claims to competent leadership, but they also revealed the threadbare nature of the left-right establishment consensus in favor of globalized free trade and American interventionism. We need a new conservatism. We have needed a new conservatism for a long time.

But here’s the thing: Trumpism is not a coherent, principled worldview, nor is it recognizably conservative in philosophical terms. It is certainly possible that a philosophically articulate new conservatism will emerge from a Trumpified Right. However, seeing how quickly the movement conservatives of CPAC abandoned their principles in favor of worshipping Trump’s personality is a dark sign. Look at this, from the Politico piece:

“Last year we were talking about a walkout if Trump showed up, and this year it’s all Trump all the time. It has completely changed,” said Dominic Moore, a University of North Carolina student who attended CPAC for the first time in 2016 and backed Rubio in the GOP primary. “Last year the Make America Great Again hats were few and far between. Now they’re everywhere. Last year the speakers were attacking him and now everyone’s done a full 180. They’re all on the bandwagon. Everything has changed.”

One cannot fault Trump for intuiting the fragility of the GOP and of post-Reagan movement conservatism, and knocking it all over. But what is he replacing it with? A cult of personality that depends on demonizing the media? Or what? That Trump was able to overwhelm movement conservatism so thoroughly and so quickly, and that he is remaking it in his image, ought to send a chill down the spines of principled conservatives — even conservatives who (like me) find some of what he stands for (like economic nationalism) worth supporting, at least in theory.

No, I don’t think Trump is Hitler. Still, every American ought to be deeply wary of identifying a political party or movement with a personality over a set of principles. To paraphrase Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, if you’ve cut down all your conservative principles for the sake of investing Donald Trump with political power, what do you hide behind when Donald Trump turns on conservatives like you?

UPDATE: Carlo writes:

The comparison is weak because the reason for the identification is not so much the strength of Trump’s personality, but rather the complete cultural vacuum it is filling.

Well, that’s what I meant. Trump is too scatterbrained, abrasive, and incompetent to be Hitler, even if he wanted to be. The point I was making is that the conservative movement appears to be unmoored from any discernible principles at this point. I mean, love him or hate him, you knew where Reagan stood, because he had stood there for a very long time. Trump? No. I’m not so much worried about Trump as what follows him on the Right.

UPDATE.2: Eric Mader:

Watching the zombielike SJW crowds during the last of the Obama years, seeing the degree to which left liberals have abandoned real pluralism in the name of their non-discrimination regime, and now, on the other hand, seeing the rise of Trumpism, one might even conclude that authoritarianism is more likely than not as an outcome for us. With no principled moderates and conservatives in the room, are we going to be forced to choose between a left-authoritarian and a right-authoritarian regime?

It sounds alarmist maybe. But, in terms of left-authoritarians, look at 1) the self-righteousness and rigor with which the Obama administration pursued its LGBT policies, and 2) the culture on campuses. What will democratic politics look like when these hordes of PC students make up most of the population between age 20 and 40? On the other hand, in terms of right-authoritarianism, the question is simple: What will conservatives be willing to put up with in order to ensure they do not end up being ruled by SJW apparatchiks?

Yes, I think that a Trump-like figure on the left could accomplish the same thing, for the same reasons.

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Pope Francis: Mercy For Child Molesters

Whose side is he on? (giulio napolitano/Shutterstock)

A Catholic priest sent in this shocking, outrageous AP story from Rome. Excerpts:

Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope’s own advisers question.

One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.

The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be defrocked, two canon lawyers and a church official told AP. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.

In some cases, the priests or their high-ranking friends appealed to Francis for clemency by citing the pope’s own words about mercy in their petitions, the church official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.

“With all this emphasis on mercy … he is creating the environment for such initiatives,” the church official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his 2005-2013 papacy and defrocked some 800 priests who raped and molested children. [Emphasis mine — RD]

Note well:

Francis scrapped the commission’s proposed tribunal for bishops who botch abuse cases following legal objections from the congregation. The commission’s other major initiative — a guideline template to help dioceses develop policies to fight abuse and safeguard children — is gathering dust. The Vatican never sent the template to bishops’ conferences, as the commission had sought, or even linked it to its main abuse-resource website.

And so, the precious concept of mercy becomes a byword for perpetuating clericalism and injustice, swaddling it in a slanket of sentimentality.

I don’t get this. At all. Fifteen years since Boston broke the abuse scandal wide open, and … this?

UPDATE: This story reminded me that the victims’ advocacy group SNAP has been hit with a lawsuit by a former official:

The news of his resignation followed the Jan. 17 filing of a lawsuit from former SNAP development director Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who claimed wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior. She had worked at the organization from July 2011 through February 2013.

Accusations against the group included alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims. Donations from sex abuse attorneys made up more than 40 percent of its annual contributions, Hammond said.

The lawsuit alleged that the organization disregarded the interests of abuse victims, neglected to provide sufficient counseling for victims, and used publicity about the victims to drive fundraising,

SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy. The group traveled to The Hague to make its case.

Hammond claimed SNAP used the funds raised for the trip “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.”

The lawsuit charged that “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

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Mormons & The Benedict Option

Should Mormons be reading the Rule of St. Benedict too? (noBorders-Brayden Howie/Shutterstock)

Should Mormons take the Benedict Option? Hal Boyd of the Deseret News asks this question in a column published today. Excerpt:

Additionally, as Dreher admits, in order to preserve the basic rights that permit Christianity to flourish, political engagement is vital.

However, in an age in which America has begun to retrain its domestic focus to provide more help to regions of the nation that have been passed over in the modern economy, it’s perhaps fitting that Dreher is introducing a brand of Christianity that would shift its gaze from the nation’s capital back to local parishes and pews — satisfying the needs of parishioners before politicians.

By rebuilding congregations and the Christian core, Dreher seems to suggest that national influence will come as a natural consequence. After all, when the kingdom of God comes first, those other kingdoms usually seem to follow, even if they come ten minutes late, doubled over and sucking wind.

So should Latter-day Saints choose the ‘Benedict Option’? Perhaps start by reading the book.

I appreciate Boyd’s generous treatment of The Benedict Option in his column. In fact, I write in it that Mormons can teach the rest of us a lot about how to live the Benedict Option. Excerpts from TBO:

Why be close? Because as I said earlier, the church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays—it must become the center of your life. That is, you may visit your house of worship only once a week, but what happens there in worship, and the community and the culture it creates, must be the things around which you order the rest of the week. The Benedictines structure all their life—their work, their rest, their reading, their meals—around prayer. Christians in the world are not expected to live at the same level of focus and intensity as cloistered monks, but we should strive to be like them in erasing as much as possible the false distinction between church and life.

Recall that Brother Martin of Norcia believes that after experiencing life in Christian community, one ordinarily can’t be fully Christian, or fully human, without it. The Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) may not be orthodox Christians, but they are exceptionally good at doing the kind of community building that the monk suggests is a vital part of being a Christian.

Terryl L. Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and an expert on the LDS faith, says this is because Mormon theology and ecclesiology forge unusually strong social bonds within local churches (or “wards”). Mormons don’t believe in ward hopping. They are assigned their ward based on where they live and have no right of appeal. This compels them to work together to build a unified community of believers, not to wander in search of one. Givens calls this “Zion-building, not Zion-hunting”—a reference to the Mormon belief that adherents must lay the foundations for Zion, the community that Jesus Christ will establish at His return.

More:

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul urged the believers there to “have the same care for one another. “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” the apostle wrote. “If one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

The LDS Church lives out that principle in a unique way. The Mormon practice of “home teaching” directs two designated Mormon holders of the church’s priestly office to visit every individual or family in a ward at least once a month, to hear their concerns and offer counsel. A parallel program called Relief Society involves women ministering to women as “visiting teachers.” These have become a major source of establishing and strengthening local community bonds.

“In theory, if not always in practice, every adult man and woman is responsible for spiritually and emotionally sustaining three, four, or more other families, or women, in the visiting teaching program,” says the LDS’s Terryl Givens. He adds that Mormons frequently have social gatherings to celebrate and renew ties to community. “Mormonism takes the symbolism of the former and the randomness of the latter and transforms them into a deliberate ordering of relations that builds a warp and woof of sociality throughout the ward,” he says.

Non-Mormons can learn from the deliberate dedication that wards—at both leadership and lay levels—have to caring for each other spiritually. The church community is not merely the people one worships with on Sunday but the people one lives with, serves, and nurtures as if they were family members. What’s more, the church is the center of a Mormon’s social life.

“The consequence is that wherever Mormons travel, they find immediate kinship and remarkable intimacy with other practicing Mormons,” Givens says. “That is why Mormons seldom feel alone, even in a hostile— increasingly hostile—world.”

I would love to hear more from LDS readers of this blog about these things. Let me say up front that if any readers want to start an argument over whether or not Mormons are “real” Christians, I’m not going to publish your comment. It’s not relevant to this discussion, which is about the kinds of practices that build a thick and healthy religious community.

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The Vagina (Non-Vagina) Monologues

That’s Marquette University, a Catholic college. The reader who spotted this poster and sent in the image said:

I get having the Vagina Monologues as an act of feminism, controversy, and empowerment. And I get banning them because they’re transphobic. But simultaneously advertising for them and denying their underlying premise makes no sense. It captures well the confusion of Catholics who have sought hard to accommodate the world only to find the world continue down its path, leaving their heads swimming.

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Bias, Bigotry & The Benedict Option

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo chides anxious father to ‘teach tolerance’ to daughter worried about males in locker room (Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock)

Look at this tweet by the CNN anchor:

You can read the whole thread here, on his Twitter feed.

I bring this up not for clickbait reasons, but because it says a hell of a lot about why it’s so difficult to talk about the broad LGBT issue in a way that would satisfy the concerns of folks like Emma Green and Matthew Loftus. Here’s what David French has to say about the Cuomo tweet:

Not long ago, if school policies purposefully exposed girls to male genitals, they’d be subject to a backbreaking sexual harassment lawsuit. Suddenly, however, “tolerance” looks a lot like indecent exposure, and indecent exposure is what freedom looks like. This is beyond strange. I’m certain Cuomo would still object to a member of the football team walking straight into a girl’s locker room and disrobing, but he not only doesn’t object to the exact same anatomical features if they’re attached to a trans “girl,” he condemns those who feel uncomfortable. If the declaration that “preteen girls shouldn’t see penis at school” doesn’t resonate, I wonder if there’s really any hope for a common moral language when discussing the sexual revolution.

In this circumstance, not even consent — the final moral firewall — matters. We used to be told that boys and girls should shielded from unwelcome sexual images. Now we’re told that they can be exposed to genitalia even over their strenuous objection, and they’re intolerant if they argue otherwise. Extraordinary.

I completely agree. For Cuomo, this is about nothing other than tolerance. I find that to be morally insane. I mean that seriously: morally insane.

What’s so extraordinary about this is that Cuomo doesn’t even think there’s a rational argument to be made against his view. It’s all bigotry. Because a father doesn’t want his 12 year old daughter to have to see a naked boy’s penis in her high school locker room.

In her review of The Benedict Option, Emma Green observed:

Nothing in this language suggests that Dreher is ready to live tolerantly alongside people with different views. If progressives wrote about the Bible as “a lot of babble about Jesus and God,” using language similar to that of the parent Dreher cites, he would be quick to cry foul against the ignorance and intolerance of the left; his language is dismissive and mocking, and he peppers in conspiratorial terms like the “LGBT agenda.” At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity. The book seems to suggest that mere proximity to people with alternative beliefs about sexuality, and specifically LGBT people, is a threat to Christian children and families.

As I said in this space yesterday, it astonishes me that this is how she read the relatively small parts of the book that deal with homosexuality (and do so in the context of resisting the entire Sexual Revolution, which I see as profoundly antithetical to orthodox Christianity). More Green:

Of course, it will be impossible for conservative Christians to fully escape any aspect of mainstream culture, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans. In fact, many of those people grew up in Christian households much like Dreher’s, or may identify with the feelings of cultural homelessness he describes. Their lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people unlike them—including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?

To his credit, Dreher nods to this, ever so briefly. “The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church,” he writes. “Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.” He does little to specify these past errors, though, and he never tries to answer the broader question: how Christians can live as one people among many in America without learning how to respect and relate to those who challenge their beliefs.

I don’t want to rehash yesterday’s response to the Green piece — you can read it here if you like — but I do want to point out that she has done me a favor. Several friends have told me privately that this is exactly how the mainstream secular media is going to read the book. One sympathetic friend who works in the national media said that it’s going to be impossible for most liberals to read this book with an open mind, because they are feeling so besieged by Trump that they lash out reflexively at anything culturally conservative.

The thing is, it’s not just cultural liberals. At Mere Orthodoxy, the Evangelical Matthew Loftus writes, commenting on Emma Green’s review:

Rod rightfully acknowledges that Christians do need to repent of the ways in which we have harmed gay Christians in the past and briefly mentions the need to love LGBT people, but then brushes off any concern that he needs to spell this out any further. Quite frankly, this doesn’t cut the mustard because all sorts of Christian mistreatment of LGBT people comes under the banner of “love”. I am sure that Rod means what he says by this, but the problem is that his readers don’t know.

By not being more specific, Rod does not distinguish himself between those who have harmed gay Christians in the past. Would forbidding someone who is gay and celibate to be employed by a church be “mistreatment”? (This is by no means a given, as many celibate LGBT people can attest to). Would letting one’s child spend time at a friend’s house with gay parents “disrupt our ongoing formation in truth”? What would “love and hospitality” mean if a child in Rod’s church realized he or she was gay? In places where Christians do continue to mistreat LGBT people, how do we root that out? If we are trying to avoid the “LGBT agenda” and that agenda is usually carried out by people, how do we relate to those people?

More:

If Rod and other BenOp enthusiasts want non-Christians to parse between not wanting LGBT activists to drive Christians out of business and not wanting to get away from LGBT people, they’re going to have to start that parsing themselves because Christians have failed to do this over and over in the last few decades. If they don’t want journalists to make bad faith assumptions about their work, they’re going to have to stop making bad faith assumptions about every possible manifestation of LGBT activism. Most importantly, if we expect the Church to endure the threat posed by the Sexual Revolution (and thrive beyond it!), then explaining how Christians love and serve LGBT people– particularly under the regime which the BenOp anticipates– is inevitably part of bearing witness. A Benedict Option that isn’t good for LGBT people will not stand the test of time.

Read the whole thing.  I take it as a good-faith effort to challenge me, and hope that this response is taken in kind.

It is difficult — really difficult — to come up with hard and fast rules for how Christians are supposed to respond to LGBT people. Do Christians have hard and fast rules for how Christians are supposed to respond to heterosexuals who are living outside Christian sexual norms? Not really, and if they do, I’ve never seen the list. On the other hand, St. Paul is pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 5, at least concerning those within the church:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I was not including the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a verbal abuser, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Do we know better than St. Paul? Are we prepared to say that? If you are a believing Christian and you can dismiss this passage without a second thought, then you are not as serious about the faith as you ought to be. And I would say that if you are a Christian who can accept it without at least a twinge of conscience about people you know in your own life, you are not taking those people seriously enough.

I think the various circumstances under which we may be tested in this way are endless. Matthew is right that Christians are going to have to start parsing this, but it’s hard to know where to start. The only people who have an airtight case are those who accept everything, and those who reject everything. Most of us live in the broad middle, and work our way through these challenges as they present themselves in real life — always remembering that we are dealing with flesh-and-blood people, not ideological abstractions. This is not easy! For example, I’ve told my own kids on many occasions that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of their father. I’ve even explicitly told them that if they were gay, I would feel the same way. But loving them doesn’t obligate me to say that something I do not believe is true, is true.

Many of us white Southerners have had the experience of learning how to love aged relatives who hold horribly racist beliefs, but who are otherwise compassionate people. Many gays have had the experience of learning how to love family members who reject their sexuality, but not them personally. Many straight Christians have been challenged on how to love their gay friends and family while still holding firm to their convictions. These situations are only easy for people who are willing to reduce flesh-and-blood human beings to nothing more than their opinions. Whether you’re a Christian or not, I believe this is almost always a bad way to live.

Matthew raises the question of what, exactly, is a Benedict Option that’s “good for gay people”. Well, what is good? For orthodox Christians, the answer is to live obediently to what we are told is true — and that means lifelong celibacy for gays, as well as unmarried heterosexuals. We cannot abandon what we know to be true, even though it’s a hard saying, especially today. (More on this shortly.) I would submit that learning how to love and serve people who don’t share our beliefs, and who are sinners (as are we) is what serious Christians do every single day. In fact, it’s what everyone in a pluralist society does, or should do.

Do LGBTs and their allies ever stop to reflect on how they should relate to conservative Christians and others who do not share their beliefs about gender and sexuality? Shouldn’t they?

A particular challenge we Christians face today, though, is that our opponents often don’t want to give us any quarter. For example, lawyers are telling Christian colleges and schools that if they don’t want to have courts strip away from them the right to run their institutions according to their convictions about the meaning of homosexuality, they have to take a hard line against letting gay kids, or the children of gay couples, into their schools. I once spoke to the headmaster at a conservative Christian school who said that the board there did not want to take that hard line, but their lawyers said if they stopped short of that, they left themselves open to a lawsuit.

And look at somebody like Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington florist and faithful Southern Baptist. She knew that her client Rob Ingersoll was gay. She still befriended him and served him. But when, after nearly a decade of friendship, she told him that she couldn’t in good conscience arrange flowers for his same-sex wedding — and did so not high-handedly, but holding his hand and speaking gently — he turned on her, sued her, and she is now on the verge of being driven out of business.

There are so, so many stories like this. And now you have someone like Chris Cuomo saying that feeling uncomfortable with exposed penises in your female child’s locker room is bigotry. How are parents and others who do not accept the maximal interpretation of LGBT rights — a line that is constantly moving leftward — supposed to deal with this? When you cannot escape the accusation of hatred — and even legal consequences for it — unless you capitulate entirely, is it really so difficult to understand why some Christians want to avoid contact?

Why is this not obvious to progressives? When they convince themselves that dissent from their position is not only illegitimate, but a prima facie expression of hatred, finding common ground is impossible.

Please understand, I’m not trying to avoid the challenge Matthew Loftus and Emma Green have put to me. I am well aware from writing about these issues on this blog for many years that if I laid down some rules, that would elicit a storm of whatabouttery, e.g., “OK, you say that you wouldn’t object if your kid had a gay teacher, but what about the case where your kid’s gay teacher decided to stop using gendered pronouns in class as a matter of policy? Would you take your kid out of that school?”

Increasingly, we can’t even talk about these issues in good faith. The cost of dissent is too high — and this is a cost imposed on us by the power-holders.

I am open to hearing your suggestions, as long as you offer them in good faith — unlike the self-identified gay commenter in an earlier thread who said that we conservative Christians compel them to “destroy” us. Russell Moore has a very good essay advising Christians how to respond to transgenderism. Excerpt:

If Christians see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, we will be outraged and hopeless instead of compassionate and convictional. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it. [<— that speaks directly to me — RD]

We should stand against any bullying of kids who different from other children, for whatever reason. Children with gender identity issues are often harassed and marginalized. They should be loved and protected. Schools can do this without upending all gender categories. More importantly, churches and Christians can do this. We should hate the bullying of our neighbors, especially children, even more than the outside world hates it.

We Christians believe that all of us are sinners, and that none of us are freaks. We conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult. We must affirm that God loves all persons, and that the gospel is good news for repentant prodigal sons and daughters, including for those who have trouble figuring out which is which.

Alan Jacobs has a really interesting short reflection on Matthew Loftus’s post, with which he strongly agrees, except for the last sentence. Jacobs, who is a dear Christian friend and a consistent critic [actually, a big supporter, but with some reservations] of the Ben Op, writes:

I, and most of my friends and fellow believers who have been highly critical of the BenOp, have very strong motives for thinking that Rod’s diagnosis and prescription are both wrong.

We have an interest in accepting the general cultural consensus about sexuality and gender. And if we can’t manage to accept it, we have an interest in soft-pedaling our beliefs, both publicly and to our children. Accepting, explicitly or tacitly, that consensus may in some cases open doors of professional and social opportunity to us and our families; vocally refusing to accept it would certainly close doors. We have an interest in believing that we can continue to live more-or-less as we have lived, that it is not necessary to change anything radically, or put ourselves or our families at risk.

Now, to be sure, there are certainly people whose interests lie in the other direction: who might lose social position, or be cast out of church communities, or even lose their jobs, if they were to express doubt about the traditional Christian take on sexuality. But that’s not where I, or my friends and BenOp debating partners, are. So what I would really like from many critics of the BenOp — and by the way, I don’t mean Matthew Loftus here, who has a very nuanced response to the whole movement, as you can see, for instance, in this post — is a frank acknowledgment of the dangers of motivated reasoning and an account of what they’re doing to avoid it.

He goes on to explain:

My particular situation, my particular personal and vocational path, leads me to want to be theologically conservative enough to be acceptable to the Christian institutions I love but not so theologically conservative that I can’t get published by reputable secular magazines and publishers. And lo and behold, my convictions perfectly match my interests! How remarkably fortunate for me!

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. What he’s saying, with admirable candor, is that Ben Op critics among the faithful need to think hard about whether they are rationalizing their own failure to live up to their convictions.

One more thing in this long, rambly post. My friend Jake Meador, also writing at Mere Orthodoxy, has a good piece addressed to critics of the Ben Op.  He begins by talking about why the Ben Op proposal makes more intuitive sense to Catholics and Orthodox Christians than to Evangelicals. This is really helpful for me to hear:

Evangelicals, however, hear the same language and react quite differently. There are a couple reasons for this: Partly, it is due to an understandable reaction against more schismatic fundamentalist versions of evangelicalism that seem to have done the same thing Rod is proposing. The consequences were frequently disastrous. (As someone who grew up in such a church, I understand this concern.)

A second motivating factor, I am increasingly convinced, is a classically evangelical craving after the approval of our peers. For 30 years we have been trying to tell the world “no no no, we aren’t weird like those otherChristians,” we say with our voice dropping on the word “other.” “We’re normal people like you.” The ways our parents did this differ from how millennials tend to do it, but the end result is the same.

Turning to Emma Green’s review essay, Jake writes:

Perhaps the thing I found most odd about Green’s piece is that she granted that Dreher is coming at the issues he talks about in the book from a fundamentally different worldview that than of most modern Americans, writing that “He is working from a different frame of reference, one that is increasingly out of step with Americans’ ways of thinking about culture.” But then she went ahead and judged the book on the basis of those, from Dreher’s standpoint, foreign moral norms anyway.

In one sense, this isn’t a problem: I don’t know Green’s own religious beliefs, which is to her credit as a reporter, but certainly the beliefs of many of her readers will overlap far more with the mainstream progressive American views on sexuality, which tend to emphasize individual autonomy, non-binary understandings of sexuality, and a high value on acceptance and inclusion. Critiquing the book in terms that your readers will find familiar and agreeable makes sense.

That said, I wish Green would have given more attention to what she called Dreher’s “frame of reference,” because it would have helped her get at one of the key points behind Rod’s book. As more and more polling numbers make plain, we increasingly live in a country that has multiple nations within it. The idea of a cultural consensus that exists across most of the population is increasingly foreign and even non-sensical. Americans increasingly do not simply have disagreements on select matters of public policy; they have disagreements about what goods public policy ought to be oriented toward and even about the basic nature of reality itself.

More:

Green’s piece does a good job of highlighting key points of tension that many non-religious people and more liberal religious people will feel as they consider Dreher’s project.

But it would have been helpful for Green to try and say more about Dreher’s fundamentally different point of reference. What is that point of reference? How do people who share it end up believing the things they believe? She’s an excellent reporter and I’ve always found her to be fair-minded so I would have enjoyed seeing her delve more into this specific point.

Yes, this. Exactly this. Jake said what I have struggled with but failed to articulate. And to be fair to Emma, I could have and should have worked harder to articulate this in our interview. I’ve noticed that I don’t often try to explain why I believe what I believe about sexuality, creation, and teleology, because I have found that critics don’t actually want to hear it. I ought not be that way. I ought to give people more of a chance. Thing is, it can’t be summed up in a few slogans or a tweetstorm. I default to arguing for religious liberty, which entails the right to be wrong, because I know that what separates Christians like me from social progressives is metaphysical, and therefore irreconcilable at a philosophical level. The best we can hope for, I think, is some form of detente. Still, I would probably be better off taking the Ryan T. Anderson Option more often than I do, and offering some kind of case for traditional belief.

This post is already too long, so I’m not going to go into it at length here, but let me give you a rough outline of it. First, “because the Bible says so” is a strong argument within the church, or ought to be. The Bible is very clear about sexual behavior, including (but certainly not limited to) homosexuality. We cannot easily dismiss its authority.

But that is not a satisfying explanation for most Westerners in the church today, I’d wager, and certainly not for those outside of it. The deeper answer is theological, anthropological, and, ultimately, metaphysical. Traditional Christian thought holds that there is divine order (the Logos) that runs through Creation like DNA does a human body. It is the rational ordering principle. And it is not only a principle, but a Person, Jesus Christ. We Christians believe from Genesis that God created man in His image and likeness, and that God also created humans male and female. Because Creation is ordered by the Logos, it also has intrinsic purpose, which can be known. When we humans choose our own will over God’s, we violate the divinely ordained purpose for which we were created. We fail to harmonize with Creation as God intended it to be. This is called sin.

Over the past six centuries, Western man has come to reject the idea that there is intrinsic purpose built into Creation, and instead come to see meaning as something extrinsic — that is, imposed from outside. We put ourselves in the place of God, assigning meaning to our bodies, our acts, and the things of Creation, instead of receiving them from Him. Russell Moore, talking specifically about transgenderism, explains the stakes:

Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human. Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.

This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?

This basic question also applies to homosexuality. Traditional Christians believe that both the Bible and natural law disclose the purpose for sex, and how humans are to use it (as well as laying out the limits on the use of sex). Sexuality is inextricably bound to desire, and therefore is inescapably moral. You may think of it as morally good, certainly, but you cannot plausibly deny that it lacks a moral dimension, unless you’re willing to cheapen the most intimate act human beings can perform together by saying it has no more meaning than buying a box of laundry detergent at Walmart. This, by the way, is what makes sexual desire categorically different from race. Race has no moral component. Sexual desire has to do with how we use our bodies — and our bodies have meaning and purpose.

So, when you say to somebody like me that my views are bigoted, this is about like saying that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is an expression of bigotry.  Michael Martin explains metaphysical realism cleanly:

Indebted to Plato and his Christian Neoplatonist interpreters, realism affirms the existence of universals: abstract, general concepts possessing objective reality anterior to particulars. For realism, universals, that is, are real things (res). The ideas of ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ for instance, precede and inform the actualities of particular women and men. Medieval nominalism, on the other hand, held that only particular things are real and that what the realists called ‘universals’ are only names (nomina), possibly useful for categorization (conceptualism), but devoid of any kind of reality in themselves. In a famous example, Roscelin (1050-1125) held that the idea of the Trinity is, in fact, only a concept that only the Divine Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — can claim reality. . . .

“Two centuries after Roscelin, the nominalist William of Occam (c. 1287-1347) divided reality into two categories: 1) that which we can know through intentionality (observation and experience); and 2) that which we can know by faith. Nominalism, that is, separated knowledge from wisdom and effectively divorced philosophy from theology. It placed most of what had been traditional metaphysics under the sphere of faith and claimed logic and analysis as the tools of the philosopher. Thus, at least at a conceptual level, the microcosm of the mind (or the soul) had been cut off from an integral, cosmological, and spiritual reality, at least as far as medieval epistemology was concerned. . . .

“Our current, postmodern moment — materialistic, technological, technocratic, atheistic — exemplifies a nominalism writ large. Here there are no universals. There are no ideas, no archetypes. Only names. ‘Marriage,’ for instance, no longer embeds universal cultural archetypes of ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ . . . Marriage, previously assumed as the union of a man and woman into organic whole, has been relativized beyond the point of recognition. A collateral ontological shift has also occurred in the postmodern understanding of the word ‘family.’ Perhaps most emblematic of this shift is the new conceptualization of the term ‘gender,’ which, tellingly, has proved the most plastic of all. Does not the notion of elective gender reassignment surgery, like nominalism, assert in the clearest terms that universals do not exist?

Opponents of traditional Christians think we’re talking about morality when we talk about gender and sexuality, which, yes, we are. But more deeply, we’re talking about ontology. This may sound like philosophical jibber-jabber to you, but if you have any interest in being fair, and in understanding your opponents’ point of reference, you should explore this idea.

I can’t expect people who are neither Christians nor metaphysical realists (in philosophical terms) to agree with us, but I believe it is reasonable to expect them to try to understand why we believe what we believe.

Read the whole Jake Meador essay.  There’s a lot more in it well worth your time.

It is true that we live in a nation that is no longer Christian in any thick sense, and that it has been many centuries since the West accepted nominalism. This is the world that traditional orthodox Christians have to live in, and to which we have to accommodate ourselves as best we can without violating our consciences. From my perspective, our opponents don’t come at this from the point of view of advancing pluralism, and figuring out how we can live together in a kind of peace, despite our radically different views, but rather treat it like the Inquisition, determined to stamp out heresy, and to promote tolerance by crushing dissent.

A national newscaster denounces a father concerned about his 12 year old daughter having a biological male undressing in her locker room, calling him a bigot. In other words, it is an irrational prejudice to do anything other than affirm and embrace the new order. And critics still wonder why so many of us feel the need for the Benedict Option!

 

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Our Hawkish ‘World War T’ Elites

From McKay Coppins’s profile of Tucker Carlson:

“Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

Preach. I’m thinking about this in context of the media freak-out over Trump rescinding Obama’s directive on transgender access to public school bathrooms and locker rooms. It never seems to occur to these elites that the Obama administration badly overreached by effectively federalizing bathroom and locker room policy. Do they really think that it’s so obvious that people should agree to let sexually mature teenage males into the bathroom and locker room with their daughters? Do they really think that this is the proper role for the federal government?

Trump didn’t order schools to cease and desist policies that permit this. He only withdrew Obama’s mandate that ran roughshod over public schools in the matter of a highly controversial, intimate decision. The Trump administration simply said that this is an issue that should be worked out at the local level. This makes sense. And yet, given the pious ardor with which elites have taken umbrage, you would think that the locker room door is the new Edmund Pettus Bridge. You have a problem with penis-havers sharing the toilet with your daughter? Bigot!

I just spent the past couple of days driving around Canton, Ohio, a Rust Belt city. Here’s a USA Today piece from last year, during the campaign, about life in Stark County, where Canton is. Excerpt:

Stark County — home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and the National First Ladies’ Library — is particularly fertile ground for the GOP candidate’s criticism of trade deals and his vows to return jobs to the Rust Belt.

The county has lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. To the extent that those jobs have been replaced, it has been with fast-food and health care positions with lower pay and stingier benefits. People don’t necessary believe that Trump can bring back those lost jobs — he can’t, and no one can — but many think he’ll make it more difficult and less attractive for employers to move jobs overseas.

Nowhere is the impact of manufacturing’s decline starker than in North Canton, where the hulking brick shell of the old Hoover vacuum cleaner plant stretches along Main Street. Founded here in 1908, Hoover once employed 3,000 unionized workers in 1 million square feet of space.

But over two decades starting in the mid-1980s, Hoover and later its new owners shifted the production jobs from North Canton to Texas, Mexico and ultimately China. Today, membership in Local 1985 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is down to 16. The union hall across the street from the plant is scheduled to close for good at the end of July.

The county’s largest and most important manufacturing employer, Timken, also faces tough times. Under pressure from activist investors, the company split into two concerns in 2014, one focused on making steel and one on bearings. The split is a long and complex story, but it provides more evidence that the system is rigged against working-class people in favor of Wall Street. Since the split, TimkenSteel, in particular, has been hurt by weak energy markets and foreign competition.

In 2008, Forbes identified Canton as one of America’s 10 Fastest Dying Cities. Nearly everyone I talked to there expressed passionate concern about the opioid epidemic, which is overwhelming resources. Just driving around the city, you can see evidence of hard, hard times. Yesterday, I drove past a scrum of men and women, black and white, standing on a street corner waiting for a bus. They all looked tired, overweight, defeated. And some of their public schools are about to take a big financial hit:

Canton Local Superintendent Steve Milano said the district, which saw its enrollment drop by 11 percent between 2011 and 2016, would receive a double hit if Kasich’s budget proposal is adopted.

He said the district still is grappling with Kasich’s phase out of the tangible personal property tax, which has translated to a $200,000 loss over the next 10 years. He said subtracting another $481,035 would significantly impact district operations.

“In order to make up losses like that, you have to look at when people retire and (ask yourself) do you replace them or not?” Milano said.

I wish Betsy DeVos, the billionaire Education Secretary who fought AG Jeff Sessions to defend the transgender bathroom mandate, would motor over to Canton, pull her limo over and ask those people how important it is to them that girls with penises be allowed to share the bathroom with their daughters.

Our elites, waging World War T, while most of America has a very different fight on its hands. In a CBS/NYT poll last May, 57 percent of Americans said that this issue should be left up to state and local governments — which is exactly the position of the Trump administration. Only 35 percent said the federal government should dictate bathroom and locker room policy in public schools.

“…highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.” Yep.

 UPDATE: A reader commented on an earlier thread:

Did you have any time to explore Canton? It’s a perfect example of the post-industrial decay that spurred Trump’s victory. Downtown Canton is full of buildings that once were beautiful back in the late 19th through mid-20th century but are now mostly dilapidated and empty. The downtown is surrounded by shuttered factories and abandoned store fronts. The median income in Canton is below $30,000. The few people wandering around have a general air of sullen desperation. The whole atmosphere feels like visiting a country that lost a war, or possibly what it felt like to be in a once-Roman city around the year 650 AD. There’s a tremendous sense of loss.

If you visit Canton or places like it, you should be able to understand why the slogan “Make America Great Again” has resonance there. Canton used to be great. It self-evidently isn’t great anymore. It’s a shell of its former self.

UPDATE.2: Exhibit A, from the CNN correspondent:

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Trevor Phillips, PC Turncoat

Trevor Phillips (CC-BY-SA Stephen Röhl/Flickr)

Trevor Phillips is a prominent Englishman who was once at the cutting edge of diversity:

October 2000 saw the publication of a report commissioned by Phillips, then chair of the Runnymede Trust, called The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. It marked perhaps the high-water mark of multicultural thinking, and suggested that Britain should become a “community of communities” in which each community would respect the other by avoiding causing offence.

This, says The Guardian, was an expression of the belief that controlling discourse would result in social harmony. And now?:

“Well I think it would be fair to say that I made a big mistake,” he says now. “It was a clear statement that some groups can play by their own rules. That to me runs counter to my own political beliefs. Why I am still a supporter of the Labour party is because I believe fundamentally in solidarity and reciprocity, and I think most on the left have forgotten both of those things.”

Remaining a man of the Left, but refusing to live by PC cant, has cost him. But not as much as living by lies:

I ask Phillips if the threat of expulsion from his political tribe does act as a disincentive to speak out about what he really thinks.

“Depends how much of your life you want to spend lying to yourself,” he says. “I think it’s pretty wearying to get up each day and tell yourself to go advocate for something that you know not to be true. And what is even worse is if you’re in public office or politics and everyone you’re telling this to also knows it isn’t true. Not only are you a liar, you’re also an idiot.”

Phillips blames left-wing elites for the rise of illiberalism in the US and Europe, saying that ordinary people got sick and tired of not being able to say what they thought without being accused of being History’s Greatest Monsters. I also found interesting what he says about how progressive elites police access to their own circles:

“A ruling elite maintains an idea of what’s good and reasonable by a whole series of methods,” he counters. “Who gets advancement, rewards and status? If you don’t hold to the orthodoxy, you stop being invited to meetings. There’s a phrase that people in centre-left politics use: oh he’s very good. What they actually mean is: I agree with him.”

Isn’t it funny how progressives fret mightily about how social and religious conservatives supposedly cannot bear to be in the presence of people unlike themselves, when in fact it is the most woke progressives who agitate for “safe spaces” within which they can dwell without ever having to come into contact with an idea or a person that challenges their delicate sensibilities?

Anyway, read the whole thing. Thanks to reader Tom S. for sending this in.

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Friendship & Encouragement

I’m in the airport headed back home to Baton Rouge after a deeply satisfying few days at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. Before I go on, it is urgently necessary for me to advise any and all readers headed to Canton that the place to stay is Hambleton House B&B. Kathy, your hostess, loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life — and it involves chocolate chip cookies! I’ve never been made to feel more at home anywhere I’ve stayed in my travels.

I was able to spend a fair amount of time talking to professors about the Benedict Option (of course), life in the academy, Christian life in America, religious liberty, and other things that I think about a lot. We share the same concerns, unsurprisingly, but what I take away from this week is a sense of comfort and even confidence. The teachers I was with have a good community among themselves, and it did me more good than I expected to be welcomed into their circle, if only for a couple of days. I live a fairly isolated life, regrettably, so when I get to spend time face to face with fellow pilgrims, it reminds me that I’m not alone, that we’re all working in the same vineyard.

In fact, I’m reflecting on that this morning, and on my own words delivered to the students last night about the importance of embedding oneself in a community of shared conviction — and I’m realizing that I need to work harder at finding and/or creating that kind of community where I live. As much as I treasure being able to be in touch with friends and colleagues online, there’s no substitute for face-to-face fellowship.

So, thank you, new Malone friends. I had forgotten.

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Beliefs Are Not Always Facts

A reader named Salim writes, about The Benedict Option:

I read Emma Green’s review & your response with interest. Without having read the book, it’s hard to know how fair or unfair she was being. (From a reviewer’s perspective, the book has to stand alone, so one can’t expect her to inform her review too much from your blog or the interview).

What struck me is how unaware Green is that the majority culture now represents a belief system. If you asked her, “how should Muslims and Christians live together?”, she would no doubt have a sensible answer very similar to yours or mine. Muslims and Christians should respect each other, collaborate where possible, and keep their disagreements in appropriate venues. It wouldn’t do for shared, public institutions to force people to pretend to agree the other religion’s tenets.

What Green and others often don’t recognize is that their beliefs – especially their beliefs about sexuality – are beliefs. She finds your dismissal of pro-LGBT arguments disgusting where she would find a similar dismissal of Muslim beliefs sensible.

I find that I often have this problem in talking with progressives, even fair-minded ones like Emma Green (who may or may not be a political progressive, but who is apparently progressive on social issues). They genuinely don’t grasp that their take on certain issues are just that: a take. I’m not sure why that is. I have a couple of insights as to why. Take ’em or leave ’em.

For one, social liberalism is so overwhelmingly normative in American journalism that it obscures to those inside that particular bubble how subjective their views are. Fifteen or twenty years ago, two political scientists from Baruch College did an analysis of mainstream media reporting from around 1980 to the present. They found that the national media did a great job of reporting on the rise of the Religious Right inside the Republican Party. But they completely missed the parallel rise of the Secular Left inside the Democratic Party. The scholars hypothesized that because secular liberalism is the default mode of American newsrooms, they could not see what was happening right in front of their eyes. They just saw it as normal.

For another, sexual mores have drifted so far from Christian orthodoxy that Christian orthodoxy simply looks odd, and contrarian — especially to younger progressives, who have little or no cultural memory of how radically American society has changed on homosexuality. The Prophet Anthony Kennedy spoke truly for contemporary America when he said:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Of course that right has limits. It has to; we don’t live in anarchy. In the progressive imagination, it seems to me, conservative Christians are the ones who wish to deny liberty to others. It never occurs to them that they wish to deny liberty to us.

The church has to own up to its own failures too. We have become so accustomed to compartmentalizing our Christianity, and holding to it cafeteria style, no matter our church tradition, that people who don’t do that (or who at least try hard not to) don’t make sense. It looks like bigotry, when in fact it’s mere theological and philosophical consistency. As Salim said, lots of progressives would accept this in a Muslim, whatever their private regrets about the belief, but not in a Christian. I think that has a lot to do with the role conservative Christians play in the progressive imagination as bogeymen.

Similarly, I’ve found over and over that I run into a reaction from liberal interlocutors that can be summed up like this: “You’re driving me crazy. You seem normal and nice and smart, but you believe this preposterous thing because of your religion. Argh!” Look, I subscribe to the New Yorker and The New York Times, drink fine wine, eat well, read widely, like to travel, and so forth — but I remain stubbornly troglodytic on this one issue. It doesn’t make sense to them.

(Nota bene, I’m not trying to read Emma Green’s mind here. I’m just riffing off the reader’s e-mail, and generalizing. Y’all please be nice. You aren’t defending me in any way I want to be defended if you trash Emma Green.)

Salim continues:

[I’m probably more optimistic than you, but I think modern America does a pretty good job at tolerating beliefs & practices. You can be generous or profligate, health-obsessed or couch-potato, teetotaler or tippler, Trinitarian or Taoist, vegetarian or omnivore, erudite or a reality-TV fan, Democrat or Republican, straight or gay, and find very little resistance in the vast majority of workplaces, marketplaces, churches, and neighborhoods. Elite college campuses are occasionally loony, and there are some other exceptions. But mostly, people (at most) note their disagreement and move on.]

Yes, this is true. I was puzzled by Emma’s sincerely expressed concern over how people like me think about getting along with people not like ourselves. Hey, that’s been my daily life for forty years or so! Truly, it is not a big deal. Some of my dearest and oldest friends are atheists and liberals, and I would defend them to the death. And one of my oldest and dearest friends is gay. I think there’s a lot of projection going on from progressives, who can’t imagine that moldy old conservatives like me actually enjoy the company of people not like ourselves, and that we are capable of holding two seemingly contradictory thoughts in our heads at the same time. Emma’s point struck me as so odd because I take pluralism for granted — something that many progressives in fact do not, hence their inability to tolerate religious and cultural conservatives in their midst.

Salim:

There seem to be two core problems for orthodox Christians. The BenOp can help with one, but probably not with the other.

1. How to encourage ourselves & our kids to be holy in a secular world that is utterly suffused with entertainment. The BenOp can help enormously with this.

2. How to maintain the integrity of our institutions against legal assault when they demur from the dominant belief system and praxis. I don’t think the BenOp will make much difference. With or without it, orthodox believers will need lawyers and politicians to protect them from the left’s culture warriors.

I look forward to reading the book soon – maybe you can convince me to modify my views!

Well, I think the book will help Salim understand my POV better, though he may not, in the end, agree with me. In the book, I say that we Christians have to stay involved in politics, if only to protect religious liberty. I talk about that in some detail. But the day is likely to come when the left rolls over us. We do not have younger people on our side. It’s just democratic politics. If we don’t have a Plan B for living out, teaching, and passing on the orthodox Christian faith should our lawyers and politicians keep losing, we will be in serious trouble.

UPDATE: This from a DC lawyer:

I am a very big fan of your blog and your writing – I can say with honesty that encountering your thought some time ago slowly made me realize that it’s okay to be an orthodox Christian (I’m Catholic). Without going too far into my life story, I am (with highly notable exceptions) the typical, millennial DC lawyer.  I went to an elite law school, full of fairly liberal professors and fairly liberal students (many of whom are my dearest friends). Not a single one of my friends regularly attends religious services, besides me.

That small bit of autobiography is why I’m writing you. The article that Emma Green wrote about your book (I pre-ordered it!) was deeply interesting to me because it precisely encapsulates so much of the dissonance I experience just about every day living in the District.  Specifically, the obsession with gay rights as a kind of touchstone, a moral litmus test that one must pass in order to be taken seriously.  And with that, the fact that Emma sadly seemed to miss an opportunity to explicate some of the more fascinating — and, I think, more important — pieces of the Benedict Option.

The most generous defense I can think of to Emma Green’s article, and its general tone, is this:  the world at large, and America in particular, has always failed to live up to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  There has always been war perpetrated by Christian societies; there have always been poor starving to death in Christian societies; there has always been adultery and divorce and pornography in Christian societies; etc. etc.  The list goes on.  Bottom line is that anyone with a basic education knows that Christian societies haven’t always been so Christian.

Being aware of that history, Emma probably rightly wonders: why the Benedict Option now? Why not in, say, the late nineteenth century when workers were treated savagely in factories?  Or in the eighteenth century, when slavery was legal?  Why 2017?  From her perspective, American society has simply failed to live up to yet another (supposedly Christian) imperative: the prohibition on adultery, to wit, homosexual sex.  And if that’s true, then, well, sure.  Under that light, the Benedict Option really does look a lot like Christians freaking out about one particular evil in a society that historically has suffered many of them.

So how does one respond to this line of thinking?  Well, you can probably trot out the arguments better than me (you already have).  We all know that the Benedict Option is about more than stubborn resistance to changing mores. It’s about the motivations and the decades-long, subtle rewiring of basic institutions (e.g., marriage) that have lead to broad acceptance of gay marriage.  In law, we might say that we don’t much mind the holding, so much as we care about the reasoning.  Or put simply, it’s not the what, it’s the why.

One final note (sorry for the length of this email):  for me, one of the most powerful arguments that you have articulated is not actually about society writ large.  Insofar as the Benedict Option is predicated on a descriptive theory of the American zeitgeist, it does indeed discuss and talk about secular trends (even subtle ones that folks like Emma miss).  But the real gist, the real meat, the real normative content of the Benedict Option isn’t about America, it’s about Christianity.  It’s about the structure and organization of Christian living.  Above, I say that Emma focused too much on the what, and not enough on the why.  I think she totally ignored the how:  how should American churches move forward in the 21st century?  That’s the most interesting question, at least to me.

Anyway, like so many of your readers, I have a ton of thoughts about the Benedict Option.  I have a bunch of theories, a plethora of ideas, numerous concerns, but I’ll avoid inundating you with more blather.  Especially since the damn book hasn’t been released yet! Ha.

In any case, thank you so much, Rod, for all your hard work. I sincerely look forward to reading your book!

P.S.  For the record, I really, really like Emma Green’s writing. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person, and I don’t mean any of the above to impugn her or her credibility as a religion reporter.  I hope my account above didn’t come across as too negative.

Thanks so much for all your warm words, and for pre-ordering the book. And thanks for praising Emma Green. I’m a fan, and still am. It’s okay for people to disagree about this stuff.

I think it’s simpler than your model. Obergefell was the catalyst, because suddenly, in constitutional law, orthodox Christian churches became bigots. That ruling gave justification for attacking our institutions, and for demonizing conservative believers. This all happened in the broader context of general Christian belief and religious participation declining.

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Top Jesuit: We Have To Rewrite Jesus

World’s most powerful Jesuit. Listen to what the second-most powerful one has to say (Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock)

Sandro Magister relates content from an interview the Superior General of the Jesuits, a Latin American cleric close to the Jesuit pope, has to say about marriage. Unbelievable. Excerpt:

Q: Cardinal Gerhard L. Műller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, has said with regard to marriage that the words of Jesus are very clear and “no power in heaven and on earth, neither an angel nor the pope, neither a council nor a law of the bishops has the faculty to modify them.”

A: So then, there would have to be a lot of reflection on what Jesus really said. At that time, no one had a recorder to take down his words. What is known is that the words of Jesus must be contextualized, they are expressed in a language, in a specific setting, they are addressed to someone in particular.

Q: But if all the worlds of Jesus must be examined and brought back to their historical context, they do not have an absolute value.

A: Over the last century in the Church there has been a great blossoming of studies that seek to understand exactly what Jesus meant to say… That is not relativism, but attests that the word is relative, the Gospel is written by human beings, it is accepted by the Church which is made up of human persons… So it is true that no one can change the word of Jesus, but one must know what it was!

Q: Is it also possible to question the statement in Matthew 19:3-6: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder”?

A: I go along with what Pope Francis says. One does not bring into doubt, one brings into discernment. . .

Q: But discernment is evaluation, it is choosing among different options. There is no longer an obligation to follow just one interpretation. . .

A: No, the obligation is still there, but to follow the result of discernment.

Q: However, the final decision is based on a judgment relative to different hypotheses. So it also takes into consideration the hypothesis that the phrase “let man not put asunder…” is not exactly as it appears. In short, it brings the word of Jesus into doubt.

A: Not the word of Jesus, but the word of Jesus as we have interpreted it. Discernment does not select among different hypotheses but listens to the Holy Spirit, who – as Jesus has promised – helps us to understand the signs of God’s presence in human history.

Whole thing here. Let those with ears to hear, hear what the second-most powerful Jesuit in the world is saying unto the Catholic Church.

We are living through Big History, for sure.

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Trump & Transgender

Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (a katz/Shutterstock)

This is fascinating, and a sign of the times:

A fight over an order that would rescind protections for transgender students in public schools has erupted inside the Trump administration, pitting Attorney General Jeff Sessions against the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions. The draft order would reverse the directives put in place last year by the Obama administration to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Mr. Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent because he could not go forward without her consent. The order must come from the Justice and Education Departments.

Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, these Republicans said, telling Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her objections. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along. The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

Assuming this reporting is true, I am pleased that the president sided with AG Sessions. Though he is broadly pro-LGBT, Trump surely knows that ordering public schools to let transgenders into the bathrooms and locker rooms is not the place to take a stand. Still, it is fascinating — and important — that Betsy DeVos threw down with Jeff Sessions over this stuff. It shows that even within the broad community of conservative Evangelicals, there is no unanimity on this issue. Think about it: the fact that allowing boys who believe they are girls into a high school locker room is even an issue between conservative Evangelical Christians is a sign of the times.

Last night in the Q&A part of my presentation at Malone, a university in the Evangelical tradition, a student asked why we need the Benedict Option. “Why isn’t it enough just to love Jesus with all your heart, like I was taught growing up?” she asked.

I told her that love cannot be abstract, that it has to take form. I don’t remember what else I said, but as the evening was breaking up, several people who had been present said that the young woman’s question, however naive it might have sounded to some, is an important one. Important, they said, because it reflects the way so many younger Evangelicals have been taught to think — or rather, not to think.

One man who identified himself as an Evangelical described this as “pure gnosticism.” Another one, also Evangelical, said that I probably don’t appreciate the extent to which these young people were formed by emotivism — by the idea that the only thing that really matters is to affirm the right ideas in your head, and to manage your emotions to “love Jesus.”

“The students at my school are all really nice,” said one young man. “The problem is, when that niceness runs up against obstacles in the real world, it’s going to fold. A lot of Christians think being nice is pretty much all there is to being Christian. They don’t get it.”

Today on campus, I met a professor — an Evangelical — who brought up that young woman’s question from the night before, and said that the more he thinks about it, the more profound that question was as an expression of contemporary Evangelicalism. “Their churches have given them nothing but emotionalism,” he said. “They are totally unformed.”

And you know, readers, sweet kids like that are not going to have any idea what hit them. This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to the core. This is what it does. This is why in the years and decades to come, the churches are going to collapse under pressure from the outside culture.

Christian mom, Christian dad, Christian pastor — I’m talking to you. It’s not the fault of these young people that we are sending them out into the world as lightly Christianized gnostics. That’s on us. What are we going to do about it?

The future of American Christianity belongs to Betsy DeVos, because so many of us — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — surrendered intellectually and in terms of authentic discipleship one or two generations ago. We are now seeing the fruit of that. We disarmed our own children. I was once at a meeting of Evangelicals in which I heard a middle-aged woman say, “When can we quit talking about homosexuality and get back to loving Jesus?” What is male? What is female? What is sex? Forget all that, and focus on “loving Jesus,” never mind the implications.

This functional gnosticism didn’t start with the Millennials. This is why serious Christians are going to have to take the Benedict Option.

By the way, because I’m not going to be able to blog again till much later tonight, I wanted to draw your attention to Michael Brendan Dougherty’s tweetstorm about Emma Green’s Ben Op piece. Let me say to you readers that I don’t want you to be unkind to Emma. I respect her and her writing, and still do, despite my strong disagreement with her piece. What MBD says is true, though:

Yes, people. This is it. It’s not running away; it’s training for the long run.

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Redeeming Eros

Cupid and Psyche (nipon thunggatgaw/Shutterstock

As a further elaboration on my response to Emma Green’s review essay on The Benedict Option, I’d like to offer this excerpt from Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new book, Strangers In A Strange Land: Living The Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian WorldIn it, he’s talking about the meaning of sexual love in Christian thought, and how it’s woven inextricably into a web of family and community life:

Again, from [Roger] Scruton: “[A] vow is a self-dedication, a gift of oneself”—open-ended in its commitment to a shared destiny between parties. “A vow of marriage creates an existential tie, not a set of specifiable obligations.” And it’s these irreversible ties, which can’t be revoked, that hold marriages, families, communities, and societies together over time. They’re the sinews of a genuinely human world, connecting the past with the present, and the present with the future. Thus they’re different in kind, not merely in degree, from a contract or a negotiated deal. “[The] world of vows is a world of sacred things, in which holy and indefeasible obligations stand athwart our lives and command us along certain paths,” whether we find it convenient at the moment or not.

The paradox of Christian faith is this: It affirms the importance of every individual, no matter how weak or disabled. God loves each of us uniquely and infinitely. But our faith also binds us in a network of mutual obligations to others. God made us not just for ourselves. He also made us for others.

In this, our beliefs directly oppose a growing dimension of American economic life. The nature of that life, says the Lutheran theologian Daniel M. Bell Jr., may be disguised by its remaining biblical residue. But in practice, it “encourages us to view others in terms of how they can serve our self-interested projects.” Other people “become commodities themselves— mere bodies to be exploited and consumed, and then discarded”:

As a consequence, marriages are viewed as (short-term) contracts subject to a cost/benefit analysis, children become consumer goods or accessories, family bonds are weakened and our bodies are treated like so many raw materials to be mined and exploited for manufacture and pleasure. Those individuals rendered worthless as producers and commodities by obsolescence—the old and infirm—are discarded (warehoused or euthanized) and the nonproductive poor (the homeless, the unemployed, the irresponsible, the incompetent) are viewed as a threat.In current American experience, true to Bell’s words, marriage often resembles a real estate transaction. Two autonomous individuals enter into a limited liability partnership that can easily be dissolved. Children serve as the various shared properties. And in such a world, an unplanned, unwanted unborn child is clearly the most annoying kind of drain on the emotional profits.

Read the entire excerpt at First Things — and better yet, buy the book. It’s essential reading for all small-o orthodox Christians, not only Catholics. It is difficult to present Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality in all its wholeness and complexity, especially in a soundbite culture. You can’t do it in a four-minute television appearance. The stand traditional orthodox Christians take against same-sex marriage is not based on “gays, ick,” but on our view of what the human person is, what sex is for, and what marriage is. As I say in The Benedict Option, we wouldn’t have same-sex marriage if not for heterosexuals revolutionizing the idea of sex and marriage in the Sexual Revolution. Straight people who affirm the sexual autonomy in the Sexual Revolution but who wish to deny the same to gays really are hypocrites. Small-o orthodox Christianity insists on the same standard for everybody.

So many Christians, Catholic and otherwise, who reject what the church teaches on sexuality don’t really know what the teaching is — perhaps because it was never presented to them.

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Is The Benedict Option Good For Gays?

Emma Green’s review piece on The Benedict Option is up today at The Atlantic site. Here’s a link to it. She didn’t really like the book. That disappoints me, because she’s one of the best religion reporters out there, and I admire her work. But she seems to understand that the book isn’t really for readers like her. Anyway, I appreciate the attention she gave to my book. I do want to respond to some of her points, though.

We talked for over an hour a few weeks back. I enjoyed the interview, but I told my wife afterward that I was struck by how much time Emma spent asking me about LGBT issues and the Ben Op, as if that were the main part of the book and the project. I got the impression that the main question she has about the Benedict Option project is whether or not it’s good for the gays. This didn’t surprise me too much, given that she writes for The Atlantic, which has a particular affinity for writing favorably about LGBT culture (e.g., “Meet the Latino Drag Queens Defying North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law”). Still, it struck me as off-kilter — in fact, as an example of progressives and journalists deciding that social and religious conservatives are obsessed with homosexuality, when in fact it is they who are preoccupied with it, and focus disproportionately on it when they see churches not on board with full LGBT acceptance.

And so it turns out that Emma Green didn’t really like The Benedict Option because … it’s not good for the gays. Excerpts:

Donald Trump was elected president with the help of 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court. And Republicans hold both chambers of Congress and statehouses across the country. Right now, conservative Christians enjoy more influence on American politics than they have in decades.

And yet, Rod Dreher is terrified.

“Don’t be fooled,” he tells fellow Christians in his new book, The Benedict Option. “The upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”

She finds this alarmist. But I argue in the book that the de-Christianization of Western culture is a process that has been going on for centuries, and that it is something that has been masked in recent decades by the political influence conservative US Christians have enjoyed. I make the argument that political success is misleading, because it conceals the abject failure of traditional Christians on the cultural front. As I explain in the book, being a faithful Christian is not the same thing as being a Republican. The fact that so many of my fellow conservative Christians have made that mistake over the past 30 years are so helps account for the dilemma we find ourselves in today.

More:

There was a time when Christian thinkers like Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, might have prepared to fight for cultural and political control. Dreher, however, sees this as futile. “Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to … stop fighting the flood?” he asks. “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” This strategic withdrawal from public life is what he calls the Benedict option.

Dreher’s proposal is as remarkable as his fear. It is a radical rejection of the ties between Christianity and typical forms of power, from Republican politics to market-driven wealth. Instead, Dreher says, Christians should embrace pluralism, choosing to fortify their own communities and faith as one sub-culture among many in the United States.

But it is a vision that will not be easily achieved. Conservative Christianity no longer sets the norms in American culture, and transitioning away from a position of dominance to a position of co-existence will require significant adjustment, especially for a people who believe so strongly in evangelism. Even if that happens, there are always challenges at the boundaries of sub-cultures. It’s not clear that Dreher has a clear vision of how Christians should engage with those they disagree with—especially the LGBT Americans they blame for pushing them out of mainstream culture.

Well, let me clarify the judgment in that last line. Quite often secular or progressive people want to know why conservative Christians are so concerned about LGBT issues. They ask it as if there is something wrong with us for our concerns. There are several reasons, but the most pertinent one is this: LGBT activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war. The struggle over gay rights is what is threatening our religious liberty, putting Christian merchants out of business, threatening the tax-exempt status and accreditation of Christian schools and colleges, inspiring the federal government to order public schools to allow transgenders into locker rooms (thankfully, the Trump administration is going to reverse that Obama order), and so forth. We pay so much attention to LGBT issues because we are made to care. Our religious liberty and the doctrinal integrity of our churches, especially our understanding of human nature and the meaning of sex and the family, depends on it.

This is not the fight that most conservative Christians I know (including me!) want to have. But it’s the fight that has been brought to us, and is brought to us every day.

More:

“We Christians have a lot to learn from Modern Orthodox Jews,” he told me in an interview. Many of Dreher’s suggestions appear to echo Orthodox Jewish life, including daily prayers, restrictions on diet and work, and extensive educational networks. “They have had to live in a way that’s powerfully counter-cultural in American life and rooted in thick community and ancient traditions,” he said. “And yet, they manage to do it.”

This comparison is telling about how Dreher perceives the status of Christians in American society. Jews make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and Modern Orthodox Jews are a tiny minority within that group—Pew estimates that they account for 3 percent of all American Jews, or roughly .06 percent of Americans. While it’s impossible to estimate the exact number of Americans who would identify with the ecumenical, theologically conservative Christianity Dreher describes, it is far bigger than the number of Modern Orthodox Jews.

It seems as though Dreher is saying that Christians need to be ready to live as religious minorities. But he fails to acknowledge an important distinction between the two groups, beyond mere size. Jews act like a counter-cultural, marginalized group because they’ve been that way for two millennia—powerless, small in number, at odds with the broader cultures of the places where they’ve lived. The American conservatives Dreher is addressing, on the other hand, are coming from a place of power. For many years, they dictated the legal and cultural terms of non-Christians’ lives. The Benedict option is relevant precisely because America is becoming more religiously fractured, and Christianity is no longer the cultural default.

I think I see where the disconnect is between Emma and me. She can’t shake the idea that political power is the best measure of religious influence. Over the course of The Benedict Option, I marshal evidence to show that Christianity in America, even conservative Christianity, is a Potemkin village, one that’s going to be pushed over in the decades to come, because there’s nothing behind it holding it up.

By far the more important measure is the one sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his colleagues have made of the actual religious beliefs of young Americans, regarding Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Here is an excerpt from The Benedict Option:

This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”

MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.

As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.4 Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.

An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”

These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.

MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.

“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.”

If you want to see the future power of conservative Christianity in America, look to Europe today. If I write with an alarmist tone — and I do — it’s because I’m trying to wake up the churches, my own people, and tell them that we are in much worse trouble than we think. I spoke to a campus minister who came to hear my talk last night in Canton, and he said everything I said about how unprepared Christians are for the world we’re in now, and the world we’re going into, is true, based on his experience.

In the Q&A portion of the event, an undergraduate stood and said, “I don’t understand. You say we have to do this Benedict Option, but what’s wrong with just loving Jesus with all your heart, like I was taught to do growing up?” She was sincere and genuinely confused by what I was saying. My heart went out to her, because her winsomeness and innocence was so palpable, but this world is going to eat her alive.

The pastor who approached me said that young woman is so typical of the young people he works with at the institution he serves. They’re sincere and good-hearted, but they think that’s going to be enough to carry them through. It’s not. The pastor said, “We have to do a much better job of discipleship. That is our challenge today.”

I had a wonderful conversation with a small group that included reader Chad Green, who drove all the way in from Columbus for the lecture. He told a story about a significant sacrifice he and his wife are making to ensure that their kids are receiving real formation in church, as opposed to youth group shallowness. On this blog this morning, Chad reflected:

I woke up this morning thinking about the young lady in the back who asked the question at the conclusion of your talk “Isn’t loving Jesus enough?” Your answer was very patient and kind but I think she was shaken by it. In my experience, there is very little emphasis on orthopraxy in most evangelical churches. There is very little in the way of instruction or discipleship taking place either. Her question re-enforced the awareness of the responsibility I have as a father to impart the faith to my four boys. Those of us who profess Christ as Lord must seize the initiative in our families to instill in our children the faith that has been entrusted to us. I am not sure of all the details of how the Benedict Option fits into this exactly, but a community of Christians reinforcing the teachings in the home is vital to our spiritual survival.

It’s like this: we could have Republican Party-led government from now till kingdom come, led by politicians endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and the lot — and it would avail the church nothing. That is the message of the Benedict Option. American Christians who want to hold on to Christian orthodoxy in a post-Christian society would do well to emulate Orthodox Jews. It’s like this: a young Evangelical high school student told me that her current (public) school is one in which she is only one of a handful of confessing Christians. She said her old public school, the one she attended before moving, had a lot more Christians in it. Yet she says she prefers the school she’s in now, because “at least here I know what it really means to be a Christian.” I asked her to explain. She said that all her youth group friends in the old school are now smoking, drinking, sleeping with each other, and living no different than the non-Christians in that school. The fact that they are members of the youth group allows them to think that they’re really walking the walk, when in fact it’s just cultural Christianity. My young correspondent told me she appreciates the clarity in her  new “post-Christian” environment.

Emma Green focuses heavily on the chapter of the book in which I talk about the Sexual Revolution as having been catastrophic for orthodox Christianity. She writes:

Most importantly, he writes with resentment, largely directed at those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and their supporters—the people, he believes, who have pushed Christians out of the public sphere.

“We are on the far side of a Sexual Revolution that has been nothing short of catastrophic for Christianity,” he writes:

It struck near the core of biblical teaching on sex and the human person and has demolished the fundamental Christian conception of society, of families, and of the nature of human beings. There can be no peace between Christianity and the Sexual Revolution, because they are radically opposed. As the Sexual Revolution advances, Christianity must retreat—and it has, faster than most people would have thought possible.This has had far-reaching consequences in all spheres of life. In the professional world, “sexual diversity dogma” is pervasive, he writes—an attempt by companies to “demonstrate progress to gay-rights campaigners.” In the future, “everyone working for a major corporation will be frog-marched through ‘diversity and inclusion’ training,” he says, “and will face pressure not simply to tolerate LGBT co-workers but to affirm their sexuality and gender identity.”

In politics and culture, “we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it,” he writes. “Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes—they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human.”

That chapter — one of ten in the book — is based in large part on this TAC essay, “Sex After Christianity,” which I published in 2013.  If you want to know the philosophical roots of my position, please read it. And yes, I write in a prophetic, alarmist tone, because that is the actual reality facing the church. In the book, I am clear that this is not the fault of gays, that the heterosexuals who made the Sexual Revolution’s first wave demolished the Christian model of sex and sexuality. I quote Philip Rieff, no Christian he, on how the Sexual Revolution dissolves orthodox Christianity. I certainly don’t expect progressives, Christian or otherwise, who favor affirming homosexuality to agree with me and others who uphold the orthodox Christian view. But I do expect them to recognize how radical what they’re asking of us is, and how accepting their position requires us to surrender far more than we can.

More Emma Green:

Nothing in this language suggests that Dreher is ready to live tolerantly alongside people with different views. If progressives wrote about the Bible as “a lot of babble about Jesus and God,” using language similar to that of the parent Dreher cites, he would be quick to cry foul against the ignorance and intolerance of the left; his language is dismissive and mocking, and he peppers in conspiratorial terms like the “LGBT agenda.” At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity. The book seems to suggest that mere proximity to people with alternative beliefs about sexuality, and specifically LGBT people, is a threat to Christian children and families.

That’s just weird. I have been living and working tolerantly alongside people with different views — including gays and lesbians — for almost my entire life. So what? It’s a big world out there. The threat I perceive is not from LGBT people per se; it’s from affirming the Sexual Revolution, which is something one has to do in order to affirm — not just tolerate, but affirm — homosexuality.

More Green:

[LGBT] lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people unlike them—including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?

To his credit, Dreher nods to this, ever so briefly. “The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church,” he writes. “Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.” He does little to specify these past errors, though, and he never tries to answer the broader question: how Christians can live as one people among many in America without learning how to respect and relate to those who challenge their beliefs.

I really don’t get this criticism. For one, I didn’t “specify these past errors” because the whole question of homosexuality is such a small part of this book. Here is the fuller passage from which Green draws these quotes:

All unmarried Christians are called to live celibately, but at least heterosexuals have the possibility of marriage. Gay Christians do not, which makes their struggle even more intense.

Worse, too many gay Christians face rejection from the very people they should be able to count on: the church. The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in large part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church. Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.

But that does not mean—and it cannot mean—that we should abandon clear, binding biblical teaching on homosexuality. Gay Christians, like all unmarried Christians, are called to a life of chastity. This is a heavy cross to bear, but one that cannot in obedience be refused.

Our gay brothers and sisters in Christ should not have to carry it alone. In recent years, several same-sex- attracted Christians living in fidelity to orthodox teaching have found their voice in the Spiritual Friendship movement. It is based on the writings of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, a twelfth-century abbot.

“Aelred helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance,” writes Ron Belgau, one of the movement’s founders. “Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.”12

That’s an important point, for gay and single Christians alike. Too often chastity is presented only as saying no to sex. Though we can’t deny the real and painful sacrifice the Christian ethic requires of unmarried believers, we should not neglect to teach and explore the good that may come from surrendering one’s sexuality. Though monasticism had not yet developed when the New Testament was written, Jesus said that some are called by God to be chaste singles (“eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”). This is a steep path to holiness, an especially treacherous one in our thoroughly eroticized culture, but a path to holiness it is for some. We have that on Christ’s authority.

It is hard for single Christians to stay on that path, but at least straight Christians have the prospect of marriage to comfort them. Not so for our gay brothers and sisters. Christians—individually, within families, and within parish churches—must give honor, respect, and friendship to gay Christians who have embraced celibacy.

Moreover, gay Christians who reject traditional teaching must still be treated with love, because they too are image-bearers of Christ. Love wins, though not in the way the LGBT movement says. But it still wins. Christians don’t dare forget it.

Hear that? “Gay Christians who reject traditional teaching must still be treated with love, because they too are image-bearers of Christ.” And I would say gay non-Christians too. Those are actual words. That I wrote.

I could be wrong, but it’s hard for me to conclude other than that for this reviewer, affirming homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is the most important thing Christians should do. Inadvertently, this points to why orthodox Christians have to spend so much time dealing with this topic: because the pressure coming against the churches from outside (as well as from sympathizers within) is constant.

It didn’t occur to me to spend much time in the book dwelling on how Christians are to live in a pluralistic world because it’s obvious that we have no choice. In fact, though, I do address this in this section from The Benedict Option, talking about the Benedictine habit of hospitality. I’m writing here about the Benedictine monks in Norcia:

The monks live mostly cloistered lives—that is, they stay behind their monastery’s walls and limit their contact with the outside world. To do the spiritual work they are called to do requires silence and separation. As lay Christians living in the world, our calling is to seek holiness in more ordinary social conditions.

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 are invited to dine with the monks in the refectory, they greet you the first time with a hand-washing ceremony prescribed in the Rule.

Brother Francis Davoren, forty-four, the monastery’s brewmaster, used to be the refectorian, the monk charged with overseeing the dining room. He approached that task with sacramental imagination.

“Saint Benedict says that Christ is present in the brothers, and Christ is present in our guests. Every day I would think, ‘Christ is coming. I’m going to make this as pleasant for them as I can, because it showed them that we cared,’” he said. “That’s a good outreach to people: to respect them, to recognize their dignity, to show them that you can see Christ in them and want to bring them into your life.”

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, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality.

Rather than erring on the side of caution, though, Father Benedict [Nivakoff] 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.”

The power of popular culture is so overwhelming that faithful orthodox Christians often feel the need to retreat behind defensive lines. But Brother Ignatius warned that Christians must not become so anxious and fearful that they cease to share the Good News, in word and deed, with a world held captive by hatred and darkness. It is prudent to draw reasonable boundaries, but we have to take care not to be like the unfaithful servant in the Parable of the Talents, who was punished by his master for his poor, fearful stewardship of the master’s property.

Is it not clear that we are to relate to those outside our communities with love and hospitality? We have to draw the line at the point where that hospitality threatens to disrupt our ongoing formation in truth. I get the idea that it is not enough that we relate in peace and tolerance to our neighbors who don’t share our religious convictions. We must approve.

One more excerpt from the Atlantic piece. Emma Green recognizes that for cultural traditionalists, these truly are alienating times:

And yet, Dreher begrudges a similar fear in people unlike him, including LGBT people who have long wanted to live freely in public—something that was largely impossible when conservative Christians dominated mainstream American life. From this vantage, his Benedict option seems less a proposal for pluralism than the angry backwards fire of a culture in retreat.

I did not record my interview with Emma, so I could be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure I said that I do not want to go back to the days of the closet. That I think it is a good thing that gays and lesbians are treated with more dignity and respect now. I even supported civil partnerships back in the day. But it’s not marriage. Anyway, how, exactly, do I begrudge a similar fear in people unlike me? If it’s LGBTs, the only grudge I have is that activists and their fellow travelers hold all the cultural high ground today, but act as if they will not be free of fear until the last Southern Baptist florist is strangled with the guts of the last Evangelical pastor. They treat conservative Christians as if we still hold all the cultural trump cards, and point to the election of Donald Trump — an openly pro-gay Republican who doesn’t have a religiously conservative bone in his body — as if that proved anything. You watch: the GOP Congress will not send any meaningful religious liberty legislation to Trump’s desk. If they do, then I might be willing to listen to complaints that LGBTs have to live in fear of the Jesus-Freak mob. From where I sit, we conservative Christians really are in retreat, and are being driven out of the public square mostly because we don’t affirm the new orthodoxy.

You want to talk about tolerance? How much tolerance would a conservative Evangelical or an orthodox Roman Catholic face on most college faculties, in most law firms, in most newsrooms, and in all the other centers of cultural power and formation? This is where the real power is for the long term.

Last quote from the Atlantic piece:

Dreher wrote The Benedict Option for people like him—those who share his faith, convictions, and feelings of cultural alienation. But even those who might wish to join Dreher’s radical critique of American culture, people who also feel pushed out and marginalized by shallowness of modern life, may feel unable to do so.

Well, yes, I can state without fear of contradiction that I wrote The Benedict Option for Christians who share my faith, convictions, and feelings of cultural alienation. That’s why the subtitle is “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”! The Ben Op cannot be all things to all people. It is not going to appeal to secular people or religious liberals. The fact that some people see examples of conservative Christians attempting to hold on to theological and cultural distinctives in a culture that is overtly hostile to them as weird or otherwise threatening — this, in a culture that does not see a threat from other groups doing the same — goes a long way toward explaining why The Benedict Option is so necessary right now. Whether we like it or not, the issue of sexuality, especially homosexuality, really is the chief dividing line within all the churches. When a book with such a wide-ranging Christian critique of contemporary culture gets boiled down to its stance on homosexuality, you understand why this issue, as I said earlier, is the tip of the culture war spear.

Read the whole Emma Green piece. I genuinely appreciate her attention to the book. And I think her essay, however mistaken I think she is on major points, really is helpful in that it signals how non-religious conservatives are likely to read the book.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I just read the Atlantic piece Emma Green wrote about the book, and I was a bit puzzled by some of it. She writes, “it’s not clear that Dreher has a clear vision of how Christians should engage with those they disagree with–especially the LGBT Americans they blame for pushing them out of mainstream culture.”  She also writes,”Their lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people like them–including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?”

There’s so, so much going on in just those quotes, but what really puzzled me was that the article says she interviewed you. There are direct quotes and everything. Did she NOT ask you any of these questions directly? If Green wanted to know what your vision was for variations of the BenOp incorporating LGBTQ people, why didn’t she just ask? Or if she did, did she not include your responses in the article?

I’ve been reading you for a while now. You’ve engaged these issues repeatedly and explicitly on your blog at great length. It’s not hard to find your thoughts on the matter, and it’s clear from reading your blog that your thoughts are complicated, and that while your BenOp’s orthodoxy might exclude LGBTQ folks, you’re not declaring that every BenOp should, especially since the thrust of your critique is aimed at the arc of modernity’s atomizing, self-aggrandizing foundations. (Unless I totally misunderstand it, in which case I encourage correction!)

From my lay perspective, the piece reads like journalistic malfeasance, even though Green seems to strive to be fair. It’s just hard to believe that she read your words thoughtfully, given that the above quotes misrepresent your views. For instance, it’s not that “the LGBT Americans” pushed Christians out of mainstream culture. It was a variety of secularizing factors, including but not limited to the Sexual Revolution, which predates the contemporary civil rights battles surrounding non-hetero sexualities by decades. (Not to mention the degree to which the Church undermined itself in the U.S.) Then there’s the bizarre notion that Christians would be “in fellowship” with “those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings.” I suppose that all of us wrestle with the doctrinal, liturgical, and institutional failings of our church bodies. But fellowship is a practice of unity on central teachings. What does that actually mean? Is Green limiting herself to just LGBTQ folks who have been cast out of conservative churches? Is she encompassing all manner of grievance with orthodox teaching? Doesn’t that vary by denomination? My church, for instance, embraces gay clergy and performs gay marriages. But it is resolutely Trinitarian. Am I supposed to be in fellowship with someone who denies the triune God, even if they denounce gay marriage? Not to mention the fact that even if you, in your BenOp, aren’t in fellowship with an openly gay couple, it does not preclude you from being a good neighbor to them. Apart from Southern hospitality, that’s a part of orthodox Christian hospitality, and a part of the BenOp ethos. Right? Am I the one totally misunderstanding this, or did Green just not do her homework?

This seems to be the condensed symbol in practice. Green seems to wrist-slap you for talking primarily to other Christians at this point, but that may be necessary, since so many of them understand the BenOp the same way she does.

Then again, maybe it’s folks like me who misunderstand it, and I just need to slow down and read your blog more carefully. Just to make sure I don’t repeat Green’s mistakes, I’m just writing you directly. Hopefully you’ll post a response to her piece on the blog that that will clear all this up.

Well, I hope that the blog entry above answers a lot of your questions. I don’t see how small-o orthodox Christianity can reconcile itself to any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage, either hetero or homo, nor can marriage be, for Christians, a same-sex thing. I suppose the question is, what does one mean by “exclude”? I make it very clear in my book that we are not to shun LGBT folks, or mistreat them — and to the extent that Christians do or have done that, we should repent. But that’s not the same thing as affirming that homosexuality is a moral good, or even morally neutral. The question is not really, “What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?” but actually “What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?” Because all the pressure to conform to the new orthodoxy is coming from that side, and a lot of it is punitive. It’s Orwellian how they lament our supposed intolerance, but practice the very thing they purport to condemn.

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White Nationalism In Christian High School

A reader who goes to a conservative Christian high school, and who says he is a white, male conservative Christian, writes:

As someone who’s seeing the rise of Milo’s ideals specifically in teenagers raised in a conservative context in my Christian high school, I feel like I have a perspective that you don’t.

Milo isn’t getting conservative ideas out there in a subversive label that’s appealing to Millenials. He’s a prophet of the deeply un-conservative alt-right. He’s not creating a climate that’s accepting of conservative ideals. He’s creating one that specifically rejects those values as hallmarks of a system that they view as a failure through not being radical enough.

That’s why all the good little Christians at my high school are falling in behind him — not because they actually give a crap about conservatism but because he’s giving angry, aimless young men whose church hasn’t given them anything solid to fall back on an alternate source of values that happens to be steeped in fascist and white supremacist ideals. It’s just as absorbed in identity politics as any social-justice movement on the left is, except focused on white men and not LGBT people.

It has swallowed up most of the guys in the senior class at my school, and I’m tired of it. You can’t just not talk about politics with them, because everything is politics to them. Every discussion devolves into things like which girls are “feminazis,” celebrities dating outside their ethnicity being “white genocide,” and so on. It’s suffocating to feel like if you say “actually, that’s really racist” you’re going to be brushed off as some liberal or a cuckservative. I’m genuinely scared that it’s going to spread to the point where I won’t have anyone I can talk to like a normal human being. This isn’t hyperbole.

I’ve sat and heard multiple conversations in the school hallway about things like how the very concept of legal immigration is “cultural Marxism” and about how if all the blacks in America moved back to Africa there’d be less crime, and Africa would be better off because they would have people who had learned things in America. It’s absolutely nuts, but what am I going to do? I don’t know that any adults would take me seriously if I told them this was a problem. The alt-right has defensive talking points are baked right into the ideology so as to make it more palatable for conservatives, just like how communism masqueraded as concern for the workers in the early days to make it appealing to moderate socialists.

Maybe that’s just the norm for kids my age now, and I’m going to just have to be paranoid that everyone that I meet is secretly a white nationalist.

Wow. I’m going to have to think about this one. I verified this reader’s identity. High school readers of this blog, and college student readers, what are you seeing and hearing in your schools?

UPDATE: Another reader writes:

I cannot comment so much about what is going in high schools these days, but I can tell you that it is downright eerie how stale my college’s chapter of College Republicans is. There is no acknowledgement of the changing and changed situation in America or the world, just reflexive support for tax cuts and poking Russia in the eye. Some of them can quote Hayek at you for hours, but it is a shallow allegiance to conservatism, devoid of real life and creative growth. In a word: stagnant. Like a tree without deep roots, all it will take is a mighty wind to knock them from the comfortable perches held by their fathers before them.

I can believe that. When I was in college in the 1980s, the College Republicans at my school were huge. I can’t see, though, why any intellectually serious conservative college student today would want to give himself or herself over to working in the Republican Party (or anything related to movement conservatism, frankly).

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A Double Standard On Milo?

I received a short time ago this exceptionally thoughtful e-mail about l’affaire Milo from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

Your first instincts on Milo are correct, I think. Milo is a degenerate provocateur and conservatives should be very careful to distance themselves from him. He is a deeply unprincipled person who discredits the Christian faith with his flippant use of it as a flag of convenience. That such an individual was invited to speak at a putative conservative conference is a shameful reflection upon what the movement is becoming.

I think it is important to pay attention to the responses on this issue, though, because they can be revealing.

I wonder whether there isn’t something of a double standard being applied to Milo. A number of darlings of the bien pensants have made similar remarks in the past and haven’t been hounded out of public life on account of them. [The UK gay rights campaigner] Peter Tatchell has suggested that the age of consent be lowered to 14 and, in a letter to The Guardian, praised the courage of a book challenging the idea that all sex between adults and children is abusive. George Takei has laughed and joked about being molested as a 13-year-old by a cute camp counselor, denying that it was molestation and calling it cute. StephenFry created a play about the relationship between a Latin master and his 13-year-old pupil which has been criticized for its minimization of the seriousness of what is actually abuse. He has also argued that girls who had sex with rock stars at 14 weren’t victims. Of course, a significant percentage of the rock pantheon is guilty of having sex with underage girls.

The difference between people’s reactions to statements seemingly minimizing ephebophilia when it comes to their heroes as opposed to their opponents is telling. It suggests to me that people recognize that the issue is a lot more complicated than we would like to think and that they are prepared to cut people a lot more slack if they like them, while being merciless if they don’t. I would like to see all sides ratchet responses down a level.

The strength of reactions on this issue seem to arise from the scale of our abhorrence of the abuse of teenagers and young children coupled with the reality that there really are both grey areas and exceedingly controversial facts in this area, facts and grey areas that we would really like to pretend didn’t exist. Some of these facts and grey areas:

1. Our concept of consent is a highly contestable social construction, which differs sharply from other societies, both present and historical, and which relies upon arbitrary lines that determine a lot of sex that people consider consensual to be non-consensual.

2. Young teens’ sexual experiences with adults are nowhere near as negatively experienced as many suppose. This is especially the case for boys with women, who, in the linked research, reacted three to five times more positively than girls with men.

3. There are some significant gender differences here. Discussions of concepts such as consent tend to dissemble the important but unpopular reality of sexual difference.

Had sex with teenage boys, got a postage stamp (Oldrich/Shutterstock)

4. The attitudes to intergenerational sex or sex with underage men held by some in the gay community. As with the scale of the practice of open relationships, it is something that isn’t good PR for the movement.

5. There seems to be growing reason to believe that paedophilia (which is distinct from hebephilia and ephebophilia) is itself a sort of ‘orientation’, a fact which unsettles many of the popular assumptions of the natural goodness of having been ‘born this way’.

There are strong—and, I believe, necessary—taboos surrounding sexual actions towards minors, but I think it is important to lower the temperature of the discussion and to find ways to talk about some of these complicated realities and unwelcome facts. There are important issues here that are ill-served by being addressed through emotional reaction, rather than careful reason.

I think we are seeing in the case of many new ‘affirmative consent’ guidelines the problems that can arise when we are so concerned to tackle abuse that we fail to attend to the messy nature of reality. I think we might be facing similar problems here. Also, when it comes to the case of paedophilia as an orientation—NOT actions of child abuse—I think that we need to remove the instinctive social judgment that the taboo excites (focusing it on abusive actions, not persons with an unchosen predilection) and provide supportive structures so that such persons do not offend.

By the way, in the 1960s, gay icon Harvey Milk took Jack Galen McKinley, a 16-year-old runaway boy, as his live-in lover. I didn’t realize that. According to Milk biographer Randy Shilts, McKinley said he ran away from home and came to New York to throw himself into the gay sex scene. So he was eager.

In the second Obama administration, Harvey Milk got a postage stamp with his likeness and a US Navy ship named after him. So there’s hope for Milo yet, if only he will embrace progressive causes.

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Saith The Man-God: ‘Everything Is Permitted’

Glenn Tinder, on the political meaning of Christianity:

If the denial of the God-man has destructive logical implications, it also has dangerous emotional consequences. Dostoevsky wrote that a person “cannot live without worshipping something.” Anyone who denies God must worship an idol—which is not necessarily a wooden or metal figure. In our time we have seen ideologies, groups, and leaders receive divine honors. People proud of their critical and discerning spirit have rejected Christ and bowed down before Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or some other secular savior.

When disrespect for individuals is combined with political idolatry, the results can be atrocious. Both the logical and the emotional foundations of political decency are destroyed. Equality becomes nonsensical and breaks down under attack from one or another human god. Consider Lenin: as a Marxist, and like Marx an exponent of equality, under the pressures of revolution he denied equality in principle—except as an ultimate goal- and so systematically nullified it in practice as to become the founder of modern totalitarianism. When equality falls, universality is likely also to fall. Nationalism or some other form of collective pride becomes virulent, and war unrestrained. Liberty, too, is likely to vanish; it becomes a heavy personal and social burden when no God justifies and sanctifies the individual in spite of all personal deficiencies and failures.

The idealism of the man-god does not, of course, bring as an immediate and obvious consequence a collapse into unrestrained nihilism. We all know many people who do not believe in God and yet are decent and admirable. Western societies, as highly secularized as they are, retain many humane features. Not even tacitly has our sole governing maxim become the one Dostoevsky thought was bound to follow the denial of the God-man: “Everything is permitted.”

This may be, however, because customs and habits formed during Christian ages keep people from professing and acting on such a maxim even though it would be logical for them to do so. If that is the case, our position is precarious, for good customs and habits need spiritual grounds, and if those are lacking, they will gradually, or perhaps suddenly in some crisis, crumble.

To what extent are we now living on moral savings accumulated over many centuries but no longer being replenished? To what extent are those savings already severely depleted? Again and again we are told by advertisers, counselors, and other purveyors of popular wisdom that we have a right to buy the things we want and to live as we please. We should be prudent and farsighted, perhaps (although even those modest virtues are not greatly emphasized), but we are subject ultimately to no standard but self-interest. If nihilism is most obvious in the lives of wanton destroyers like Hitler, it is nevertheless present also in the lives of people who live purely as pleasure and convenience dictate.

And aside from intentions, there is a question concerning consequences. Even idealists whose good intentions for the human race are pure and strong are still vulnerable to fate because of the pride that causes them to act ambitiously and recklessly in history. Initiating chains of unforeseen and destructive consequences, they are often overwhelmed by results drastically at variance with their humane intentions. Modern revolutionaries have willed liberty and equality for everyone, not the terror and despotism they have actually created. Social reformers in the United States were never aiming at the great federal bureaucracy or at the pervasive dedication to entertainment and pleasure that characterizes the welfare state they brought into existence. There must always be a gap between intentions and results, but for those who forget that they are finite and morally flawed the gap may become a chasm. Not only Christians but almost everyone today feels the fear that we live under the sway of forces that we have set in motion—perhaps in the very process of industrialization, perhaps only at certain stages of that process, as in the creation of nuclear power—and that threaten our lives and are beyond our control.

There is much room for argument about these matters. But there is no greater error in the modern mind than the assumption that the God-man can be repudiated with impunity. The man-god may take his place and become the author of deeds wholly unintended and the victim of terrors starkly in contrast with the benign intentions lying at their source. The irony of sin is in this way reproduced in the irony of idealism: exalting human beings in their supposed virtues and powers, idealism undermines them. Exciting fervent expectations, it leads toward despair.

Read the whole thing. I thought of that Tinder essay — though it’s from 1989, it’s still fresh — after reading this essay about the roots of the Alt-Right not in Nazism, but in Italian fascism. Excerpts:

The character traits applauded by today’s libertarians – ambition, superbia, speed, drive, spin, success and spikiness – are the qualities the Futurists valued. There is fire here but never warmth; appetite but never food. If conviviality has an opposite, it is this: anti-vivial, anti-genial and, in its treatment of the future, anti-generative.

More:

Like contemporary libertarians, the Italian Futurists saw themselves as anti-establishment – opposing political and artistic tradition – and driven, as the name suggests, forward to the future. As Marinetti wrote in the Futurist manifesto: ‘Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute.’ Libertarians, like the Futurists, loathe the past, which they associate with the natural world: the future is artificial, and they want to own it. Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Donald Trump backer, describes himself as ‘way libertarian’, and is heavily involved in the Singularity, a vision of transhumanism that promotes artificial super-intelligence to create the end of natural history.

And:

Central to the Futurist manifesto was an adoration of the machine, to the point where the ultimate aim was the technological triumph of humanity over nature. Marinetti foresaw – and was intoxicated by – the idea of a war between organic nature and mechanised humanity. Futurists fetishised cars, planes and technology in general, loving steel and loathing wood, which came gentle from the natural earth. They wanted to force the Danube to run in a straight line at 300km an hour, hating the river in its natural state (‘The opaque Danube under its muddy tunic, its attention turned on its inner life full of fat libidinous fecund fish.’)

Do read the whole thing, but if you’re like me, you will be gobsmacked by the author Jay Griffiths’ blindness to how contemporary progressive ideologies are also all about “the technological triumph of humanity over nature.” They are also anti-teleological, anti-Christian, and all about will to power. They just draw the lines in different places, and take different routes to get there. Whether it’s making the Danube flow in a straight line or using hormones and surgery and philosophical-legal legerdemain to make men into pseudo-women, it’s all the same thing. If there is no logos in nature, all is chaos.

Ross Douthat is correct: if you don’t like the Christian Right, wait till you see the Post-Christian Right. To that I would add: look at the Post-Christian Left. You cannot deny the God-Man and replace him with the Man-God with impunity.

 

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View From Your Table

Obertauern, Austria

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Stoning Milo The Prophet

Rachel Fulton Brown, who teaches history at the University of Chicago, defends Milo. Excerpt:

Everybody hates a bully, or so we say. Yesterday, the national media bullied a young man into silence who had risen to fame speaking to audiences of young women and men about the lies that the grown-ups had told them for decades.

Lies about the relationship between women and men. That women don’t need men. That all men are potential rapists. That women should aspire to something other than motherhood or they are wasting their lives. That women should like casual sex with strangers, hooking up just for the sake of the orgasm. That the children will be fine if their parents divorce. That abortion is morally good.

Everyone knows these are lies. The young woman who wakes up in the morning having lost her virginity to a man who isn’t there and will not marry her. The young man who is tempted into exciting and transgressive sex with an older man and finds himself trapped by his desire in a lifestyle he cannot leave. The young woman who spends her most fertile years working in a career that leaves her childless at forty because she can no longer conceive and has no husband. The young man who has no ambition to work because he has no wife to care for or children to feed.

But the grown-ups tell them to shut up, not to complain. Don’t they know how awful it is that women don’t earn as much over the course of their lifetime as men? Don’t they know that men are still the ones with all the power, even though the number of men completing higher education has continued to drop? Don’t they know that nobody should be able to force a woman to bear a child she does not want, even if she did enjoy the sex by which the child was conceived?

And then a young man comes along and tells them, they were right all along. The young women wanted to be pretty, not grotesquely overweight. The young men wanted to be strong and vigorous and manly. The young women wanted babies as well as careers, and were willing to make adjustments to their ambition in order to stay home with their children. The young men wanted to be challenged to be gentlemanly and chivalrous.

“Gender roles work,” the young man told them. “Feminism is cancer. Abortion is murder.” And the young women and men cheered for him, because they loved him for telling the truth.

Whole thing here. Bold claims, these.

UPDATE: People, don’t assume that I agree with Rachel Brown. I don’t. I’m just putting her provocative comments out there for your consideration. By the way, she’s profane in parts, so be aware if you click through.

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A Reader Defends Milo

Milo Yiannopoulos (NextCONF/Flickr)

Published with the reader’s permission:

I normally agree with everything you say but I completely disagree about what you said concerning Milo.

I think he explains it quite well in his latest statement https://www.facebook.com/myiannopoulos/posts/851826321621931

and see also the video https://www.facebook.com/myiannopoulos/videos/851905428280687/

Milo was abused as a child by a priest. This has clearly affected him (perhaps even contributing to his homosexuality – he had in the past said that in his case his homosexuality was mostly nurture rather than nature). To cope with the event he laughs about it pretending that he was in control. This way he does not see himself as a victim. I can’t see anything wrong with that.

(See his response for the other stuff. His reference to boys and older men was about 16/17 year olds – above the age of consent – not 13 year olds)

Notwithstanding this abuse he seems to have found the grace within him to forgive (or at least not condemn) the priest who did that to him. And instead of a catholic hating atheist he is someone who always defends the Church and its magisterium (see here for a collection of writing by a hostile atheist: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/barrierbreaker/milo-yiannapoulos-leading-catholic-guilt-evangelist/).

Milo has an audience of young people who are disaffected by liberalism. Instead of just getting them to to hate the left he also feeds a positive message to them (the social conservatism of the catholic church). But he does so in a subtle way. 80% of his speeches are just useless entertaining (for some) packaging but the 20% he does communicate is great and important. The reason he does so is to ensure that the left does not actually engage with him on his positive message (because they think he is just a troll who does not have one). But the way it looks to his fans is that this guy does have a message and not no one is actually engaging with him on the substance. And so he wins by default.

He plays up the sexual libertinism but that is part of the goal. In most people’s minds social conservatism is the same thing as prudishness. And no one likes prudes. As such communicating the message is harder if one is perceived as a prude. Milo plays all that hedonism up so that he is not perceived that. This disables the defence of the interlocutor against social conservatism. And then he explains why abortion is wrong, why contraception is bad, why marriage is between a man and a woman, why same sex couples should not adopt, etc… Milo is probably the most effective communicator of social conservatism that there is nowadays (at least among the young).

And in his more serious moment he does show real dignity and compassion. You saw his video at Memories Pizza. And also other moments where he talks about working class americans and how they have been mistreated. He does genuinely care.

What Milo needs right now is not our vilification but our prayers.

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Question Gender? Your Life Might Fall Apart

From an interview with Andy Izenson, a 28-year-old lawyer living in Brooklyn:

When I moved to the city I discovered the poly community and found all of this support. That was about seven years ago. I only know like one trans person in New York who’s monogamous. Once you start questioning gender, sometimes a lot of other things fall down like a house of cards. [Emphasis mine — RD] If I’ve been told my entire life that I have to be a girl, and if that’s not true, then what are the other things I’ve been told I have to be that might also be fake or not applicable?

I date the occasional cisgender person, but I’m mostly T for T (trans for trans). I have a partner I live with, my statistically significant other, but I don’t use hierarchical understandings of relationships. We live together in a collective house in Brooklyn that’s all queer, all trans, all polyamorous, all very political. I also have a partner who lives in Boston, and another who lives in New Hampshire who I get to see about once a month. I’m just googly-eyed over them right now. I also have a few sweethearts or “comets” in D.C. who I get to see a couple of times a year. “Comet” is a term I heard recently for the type of partner who you collide with occasionally when they come through your orbit in this little burst of brightness that’s brief and beautiful, like a comet.

Izenson says that the Trumpening has caused a disturbance in the Force:

Most of the people that I’m in a relationship with are alarmed and destabilized by the current political climate.

“Destabilized”? How could you tell?

The reader who sent this interview to me took note of the line about everything falling apart once you question gender. Another way to put it is, “Once you start questioning that there is ultimate meaning and purpose in material reality, sometimes a lot of other things fall down like a house of cards.” Andy Izenson is living out the end game of modernity. Andy Izenson is also living in a nuthouse.

UPDATE: A reader writes to say that the reader’s family was part of a conservative private school attended by Andy Izenson as a little girl. The school was not specifically religious, says this reader, but it was full of practicing Catholics and Evangelicals, and observant Jews. “The curriculum was traditional,” says the reader. “You would have been very happy to have had your children in this school.”

The reader is crestfallen to see what has happened to one of the alums. Says the reader: “Despite all we can do to protect our children, we are all dependent on the grace of God.”

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